Modest Expectations 263 – A Frank Commentary

An Easter Poem

Albino afro

            He sit in clink

His eyes a salmon pink


Pigmented Southern gent

            He sit in cell

With TB racked adrenal

Jaundiced fundamentalist

            He sit in gaol

His shrivelled liver up for sale

The custodian on his plinth

            He who cry perfection

I am up for re-election

And who am I to release unto you

            And they as one cried

He who washes white

Release him, the white

            Because white is safer

Just as the Communion wafer

The three men

            There chained are led out

The restless mass as one do shout    

No that is not what we mean

             His colour out of whack

                        You take him back

and tar him pitch black.

When I was a small boy, I remember my mother had a beautiful amber necklace, the colour of which was not too dissimilar from that of the Roman perfume pot (pictured above) in the British Museum, except that the necklace was more translucent. When she rubbed it with a piece of fur, she demonstrated how the amber attracted a small flake of paper. To a small boy who had never heard of an electrostatic charge, it was magical. I was just observing what the Greek philosopher, Thales of Miletus had first observed around 600BC.

Amber has always been a favourite gem of mine. As I reported in an earlier blog, the Amber Room in the Catherine Palace in St Petersburg, 30 kilometres south of the city, is a dazzling exercise in butterscotch amber although it is a reconstruction (the Nazis having removed the original room which was never found).

Amber, the resultant of the fossilisation of pine resin millions of years ago, is found on the Baltic Coast. (It is also mined in the Dominican Republic, the source of blue amber and in Myanmar). Visiting Latvia even today, the amount of amber fashioned into cheap jewellery and trinkets is everywhere. The Latvian amber is opaque and what I would call custard yellow. I don’t find it appealing, but perhaps I was just exposed to touristy dross.

Based on the age of the amber bead, the researchers speculate that it may have reached Spain via the ancient trade networks of the Sepulcros de Fosa culture, which arose in Catalonia during the Middle Neolithic period before disappearing between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.

To the archaeological experts of that period, it has just expanded knowledge of the range of European trade in the Neolithic period. One can still see evidence of this neolithic Catalonian culture in the funerary objects and the evidence of cave habitation. It should be realised that when our forbears linked the Aboriginal people to the Stone Age, they undervalued the level and sophistication of communication between these people, already culturally different, where language was one point of this differentiation. However, trade was one means that the various groups began to accommodate to this cultural diversity.

There are currently about 7000 languages spoken around the world, but this number is probably down from the peak of human linguistic diversity which occurred around 10,000 years ago, just before the agricultural revolution. Before that time, all human groups had been hunter-gatherers, living in small mobile tribal societies. Farming societies were demographically more prosperous and group sizes were larger than among hunter-gatherers, so the expansion of agriculturalist settlement likely replaced many smaller linguistic groups.

Today, there are few hunter-gatherer societies left and so our linguistic diversity reflects this European agricultural past. The Australian continent was the end of the line, and when an Aboriginal person boasts that his people are the oldest civilisation, he or she is saying that the civilisation is the oldest, unchanged.  There are 250 Aboriginal languages for about one million people, which tends to agree with generalisation above about hunter-gatherers (145 of these languages are still spoken).

The amber traders five millennia ago were part of a civilisation that vanished in what we call progress, but others may not. It serves to illustrate that the Aboriginal people did not conform to the whitefella progress to what is termed “civilisation”.

They developed a complex society based on being hunter-gatherers; so much so, for instance, that there was no drive to invent bows and arrows (one of the few peoples living on a land which was both tropical and temperate, coastal and desert – and where winter was comparatively mild.) White Australia failed to recognise this complexity and stigmatised them as “Stone Age” people.

This plaintive cry that the Aboriginal people did develop a post-agricultural revolution culture seems akin to the cultural cringe, which inflict some of our Australian whitefellas of Anglo-Celtic stock who have longed for the climate and mores of ‘The Old Country”.

You know being able to grow root crops was somewhat an advance on felling a wallaby at fifteen metres with a boomerang, where we whitefellas could not even see the animal. But we whitefella post-agriculturalists could plant root crops; obviously making us so less primitive. Really?

As for the Dark Emu, “Bruce, pull the other tuber – and by the way would you like a bush tomato, you know, the amber-coloured one. No need to have a sabbatical on banks of the Tigris now.”

The Most Over-Governed Parish in The World?

There he was – a man who plays the screen villain so well with a voice as beautifully modulated as that of Peter Lorre or Alan Rickman. I had sometimes wondered “Where was Eric?”

But no, on election night, we were witnessing the revenant, Eric. He was there in all his distinct personae, carefully reinterpreting fact persuasively to his extreme positions. He was this “partial” commentator, being broadcast nationally on “impartial” ABC television.

But then Eric is from “aways”, like we are. All Tasmanian invaders. Eric was more exotic, born in Stuttgart. His German lineage is what may be conservatively described as “right wing”. For example, quoting Wikipedia, Eric’s great uncle, Otto Abetz, was a Nazi SS officer, German ambassador to Vichy France, and a convicted war criminal. Eric’s grandfather was Karl Abetz, a professor of forestry science, who joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and became general consultant to the Reich Forestry Office in 1942.

But back to the main narrative. I advised Bill Snedden to develop a Tasmanian strategy after the 1974 election. I had noted there had been large swings in three of the electorates. Under the Australian Constitution each of the founding States was guaranteed at least five electorates. This led over time to the number of voters in each of the five Tasman electorates being far fewer than those of any electorate on the mainland. While other electorates could be created, modified or deleted, those in Tasmania remained much the same.

At that time in 1974 Tasmania was blessed with 79 local government areas, but Snedden wrote to each, specifying that “we were here to help”. He appointed one senior opposition politician to be in charge of the portfolio, Bob Ellicot. Labor held all five seats then, and it seemed to be a rational policy to entice Tasmanians to vote for the Coalition. Given how close the numbers in the House of Representatives were, call it “cynical” or “bribery”, it worked when the Bass by-election was called the next year with the retirement of Lance Barnard. Subsequently at the 1975 Federal election, all the seats became Liberal.

The fact that a military equivalent of a drover’s dog from aways won the Bass by-election reflected the neglect the Whitlam administration (he had excluded Barnard from discussions on the proposed 25 per cent tariff cut because it affected garment workers in Launceston) for Tasmania. The landslide victory in Bass was several months too late for Snedden’s survival.

But back to the main narrative. As one perspicacious commentator has said: “minority government is one that the majority of voters do not want.” I suspect it was Bob Brown, who consolidated this thread in Tasmanian politics by his fierce independence.

Tasmania has been lampooned as the place where if there was a tree, cut it down, especially native tree; if it was a river, dam it, and if it was a native animal, kill it. I remember when the sawmillers and the Hydroelectric Commission (HEC) ruled the State. Then there was the Mount Lyell mine, which turned Queenstown into a moonscape and the minerals used in the extraction of the copper and silver polluted the King River and Macquarie Harbour to such an extent that it was estimated that would take 200 years to clear up the pollution.

Then there was the annual Avoca wallaby shoot, counterpointed by the guilt realised of having rendered the Tasmanian tiger extinct by 1936. For years the Tasmanian press was full of reports about the sighting of this extraordinary marsupial. But these have gone more or less quiet. All that is left is the unwritten requiem.

But back to the main narrative of the recent election. Here there were two leaders. One, the Labor leader Rebecca White who has never had a real job; the Coalition Premier, Jeremy Rockliff, a farmer on a family property in northern Tasmania. Jeremy had alerted the wider global audience to spending $12m on a chocolate fountain, the enchantment of a Cadbury monument to dairy chocolate in the lead up to the election.

That aspiration was coupled with a proposal to build a huge stadium to be used a few times a year in a prime Hobart location – for an Australian Football League based in Jolimont Melbourne Victoria. This AFL office is in a choice location, so why should not a putative stadium for the Tasmanian Tigers be equally well located?

But then the AFL handed its clubs a total of $393m in funding for the 2023 season, and still made a profit of $27m. What about the foetal Tasmanian Tigers? The AFL could fund the stadium in say, Glenorchy, on cheaper land. The Premier before the election was acting like one of the “joy boys” – the cheerleaders for the Jolimont jock-strappers. There is a pathetic aspiration of wanting to be loved by the players, to rub shoulders with the liniment of champions. Will a billion dollars do?

Well, Jeremy did lose the election with a swing against his Willie Wonka aspirations – only lost 12 per cent. But he retained government.

The method of voting, the Hare-Clark system, used to elect seven members for each of the electorates based on their Federal counterparts leaves the eventual election result taking several weeks to emerge. Eighteen is the magic number for election; it was clear early in the count that no Party would reach that figure.

Labor did miserably, but the Greens picked up five seats. In other words, these two parties which have been in an uneasy alliance before totalled fifteen seats between them. As with most matters in Tasmania there are a couple of maverick independents. But then there is the charismatic populist. Jacqui Lambie is the classic authoritarian personality, who in the end will “piss” her erstwhile followers off by her actions.

Not that she isn’t smart, but one witnessed her having three of her acolytes elected in the Tasmanian election, while at the same time breaking up with her colleague in the Senate. She publicly boasts that her Jacqui Lambie Network has no policies. It exists because “La Duchessa’ is just her – a media apparition with a distinct personality and a voice which epitomises the knockabout Australian larrikin.

Yes, I do love Tasmania. It gives you everything, good and not so good, as long as you stay for enough time.

I Will Not Fly Qantas, Until They Boot Out the Joyce Clones

I remember the worst flight I ever experienced was between Townsville and Cairns in November 1956. I have written about it elsewhere, but in short, I was a passenger on TAA DC4-Skymaster, which ran into an electrical storm. Being unpressurised, the plane could not ascend above it; nor for that matter fly under it. It was dark, but I remember still clearly the beautiful sunset at the Townsville airport before embarkation. There was no hint of what was to come.

TAA DC4-Skymaster

In that year, over 400 people died in commercial flight accidents, the largest loss of life being over the Grand Canyon when two commercial airliners collided with 128 people killed. There was one fatal accident in Australia when a Royal Flying Doctor plane crashed with five on board near Derby. All died.

It was a time when flying was not as safe as it has been up until now, even though the number of flights was far less.

I used to travel over 50,000 airmiles a year, even after I retired before Covid intervened. I was a Qantas Platinum frequent flyer with a substantial cache of frequent flyer points. I never had any doubts about the safety of the airline, although I noticed that the standards in the cabin had begun to slip; damaged seats not fixed, inflight screens that did not work. The meals were increasingly frugal, and the leg room increasingly modelled on that provided for Irish leprechauns. The number of staff to assist seemed to melt away. Delay between anything happening increased.

It was about this time that I needed assistance, and as much as the ground staff tried, often I wondered whether I had been forgotten. My plight symbolised the Joycean fanatical cost cutting affecting customer service. The further one got away from this person, the service often seemed better. For instance, I flew Qantas Air Link frequently, and could not fault the service, even though the planes were increasingly shabby.

My loyalty to Qantas remained.

But not now. The constant news about the airline fills me with foreboding. Overall, the sacrifice of safety to boost the payout to Joyce will come back to haunt the Government. Joyce played the politicians with blarney and the mirror of exclusivity.

In return, I read Qantas has an ageing fleet of planes, not to be replaced because Boeing, the major supplier has also borrowed from the Joyce playbook, sacrificing safety for profits, epitomised by bits of their planes falling off or the controls being ungovernable.

Then get rid of your experienced, highly competent workforce as though there were no tomorrow. Nothing like having a disgruntled workforce or outsourcing critical areas where who knows the level of quality control. Then make sure you have no way of training and hiring a highly trained workforce – no succession planning except the top job.

The policy at present seems directed to induce artificial shortages; abandon air routes that are “not commercial”; increase the price of flying; maintain the monopoly by unfair if not illegal actions.

The resultant is a feeling of uncertainty. Yet there were no commercial airline crashes in 2023. One flight, Yeti Airlines 691, a turboprop ATR 72-500 stalled and crashed while landing at Pokhara in Nepal. All 72 people on board were killed. For some reason, it was not considered a commercial flight. ATR is a Franco-Italian aircraft manufacturer headquartered in Toulouse.

An air crash by a Qantas or Virgin flight where all are killed fortunately may be very unlikely – but is the government doing anything about confronting and minimising the rising risks, the result of compromising safety for assuring shareholder and Master Joyce’s profit?

The consequence of one disaster would be accompanied by public lamentations, pestering the relatives about the dead always portrayed as angels without fault, the repulsive sentence “we are taking the matter very seriously”, and politicians wedged in the exit doorway of the Chairman’s Lounges headed by the Prime Minister pushing son Nathan in his metaphorical pram of privilege. Then there are the endless Royal Commissions enriching lawyers and finally coming up with 500 recommendations, most of which will be ignored.

Plenty to do now I would have thought. Much cheaper and will assure safety before the fact.

Can Prostitution be Treason? Is it just a Reversible Equation?

A 2008 quote from President Donald Trump’s eldest son about his family’s assets.

“In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. said at a New York real-estate conference that year. “Say, in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo, and anywhere in New York, we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Trump Jr.’s comment has taken on new meaning amid the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

America executed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953 for less. The Financial Times summarised the background in an article three years ago (sic). “There is now no doubt that Julius recruited Communist agents and passed information to the Russians, but recent evidence has proved that the always flimsy case against Ethel was based on nothing more substantial than personal prejudice, anti-Communist paranoia, and outright lies. On trial, essentially, were not her actions, but her political beliefs and reputation.

Ethel was pursued by the odious Ray Cohn, the aide to Senator McCarthy. Cohn later became a mentor to Trump. Cohn seemed to have sexual fantasies about Ethel Rosenberg, who at 35 years with two young boys, was executed on the order of President, Dwight D. Eisenhower for doing nothing more than being loyal to her husband, Julius, whose espionage amounted in the end to less than a row of proverbial beans. Certainly not enough to be put to death.

After all, parenthetically, is this the same America who want to put Julian Assange away for up to 175 years for telling the truth or if they could, judicially murder him; whilst letting that grub, Sam Bankman-Fried get only 25 years for stealing $8 billion from customers?

It seems so. A substantial number of Americans nod benignly towards Trump and his relationship with Putin, but then the Rosenbergs, whatever they were, did not deserve to die. I don’t think the Rosenbergs thumbed their noses at the American community as Trump has done, fomented by that metastatic Australian malignancy.

Mouse Whisper

Talking of the Orange, Trump won a couple of trophies at his own golf club this past fortnight. Rick Reilly, a golf journalist, in 2019 wrote a book about Trump’s golfing prowess entitled “Commander in Cheat”. 

“Trump doesn’t just cheat at golf,” Reilly wrote. “He throws it, boots it, and moves it. He lies about his lies. He fudges and foozles and fluffs. At Winged Foot, where Trump is a member, the caddies got so used to seeing him kick his ball back onto the fairway they came up with a nickname for him: ‘Pele’.”

Surprise, surprise. He is a no-show at projected pro-am tournament, where his booting skills would be very difficult to justify-unless he was classified as four-legged and had the stick in his mouth and named Niblick. Yuk!


Modest Expectations – Going Around with the Dog

Treacherous implies readiness to betray trust or confidence. perfidious adds to faithless the implication of an incapacity for fidelity or reliability.

One must admire in one way the gall of Qantas. Presumably with the spiv who walked Gall Way home set the tone. Qantas want the customers to pay for the compensation for the bastardry committed by itself on the same customers. Higher prices, projected introduction of a true cattle class confined to strap hanging on aircraft. Who knows what further pain would Joyce have inflicted on us for years, as he looted the airline.

His successors seem not to have learnt.

No, you miserable sods, reduce the dividend to those shareholders, who have basked in your bastardry, earning gross financial returns generated by this unmitigated bastardry, engineered by the little Irish-Australian now skulking in some mansion, perhaps in the aptly-named Dublin suburb of Goatstown. Funnily enough, he does not want return to face the music – the Moonflit Concerto being a favourite piece of his.

I have confined myself to so few uses of “bastardry”! There seems to be no corresponding word for it in Gaelic.

Nothing has changed because the government we voted for has allowed them to develop a complete monopoly. Time to nationalise this disreputable embarrassment which fell twelve places in the rankings from 5 to 17 this year. But then Virgin Airlines fell from 43 to 46. This coming year, watch the free fall continue. 

Brat is a Brat is a Brat

There is an acquaintance of ours, a former teacher who decided to volunteer at a local school as a teacher’s aide.She was faced with a brat, a common manifestation of the male growing up. She went to encourage him to behave, by calmly admonishing and telling him, “c’mon, do some work.”

To which this man-child responded “Step back. You are making me feel unsafe”.

This sense of entitlement in one so young!

Oh, for National Service.

But then who am I to talk! A life speckled with entitlement. Nevertheless, from experience, if you keep saying that Ponsonby Minor, I assure you that you will soon learn the meaning of “unsafe”.

Olive Oil 

Homer called it liquid gold. To Hippocrates it was “the great healer”. These days olive oil is used to sauté vegetables or dress salads—but it is once again becoming a luxury. In September prices reached their highest level since records began, rising by 117% year-on-year according to the International Monetary Fund. Olive oil is seventeen times as valuable as crude oil weight for weight; in 2019 it was seven times cheaper. Why has the price shot up? – The Economist 13 December 2023.

The price has shot up because the crops have failed in Europe, or rather, not lived up to expectations. There is the matter of climate change and even though Australia does not rank in the top ten olive producers, our crops do not seem to have the same problems as Europe is experiencing. We should not get too smug, because Australia is the seventh biggest importer of olive oil in the world. The Mediterranean diet certainly has a hold here. Australia has come a long way since my first experience of the rancid oil that Spain used to dump here.

Spain produces about 40 to 50 per cent of the world’s olive oil, and together with other major producers, Italy and Greece have experienced extreme drought and heat, even beyond the tolerance of this tree which grows prolifically, as I thought, in less arable land enjoying the climate, “baking summers and mild winters”.

The impact of Xylella fastidiosa

Compounding the crisis, as reported in the Economist, in Italy, Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium, has ravaged trees. The disease, which is spread by insects, is thought to have been introduced by an ornamental plant from Costa Rica in 2008. It has since killed an estimated 21 million trees. The bacterium is transmitted exclusively by xylem sap-feeding insects such as  grass sharpshooters and spittlebugs. These are unknown in Australia – at present.

Other factors contributing to the shortages, beside the overall increased costs, has been that Turkey has kept its whole production to itself, thus exporting nothing.

In our household we only use Australian grown olive oil, and because I worked there for many years, we almost always use Cobram olive oil, grown in the Murray Valley not far from the township of Cobram. My wife used to buy the extra virgin olive oil in the 3 litre cans, but now buys it by the 750ml bottle, since she is more likely to be able to buy it on “special” in the bottle.

The point that I recently made in the blog is that we planted a tree outside the front gate. Sometimes we were able to harvest it before some thief would strip the tree. One year we harvested five kilograms, but olive trees have minds of their own, and sulk if you don’t look after them, and they do grow old as ours has, given it will be 40 years old this coming year.

But I have always thought, and talked about it often, if we, brown fingers can grow an olive producing tree, why can’t the local council convert the whole street into an olive grove and at harvest time, close the street off and have an Olive Harvest Festival.  From there it would be up to us to arrange for our batch of olive oil to be produced. After all, this would be a start, and who knows!

Perhaps even Popeye would come.

Ian Taylor

You normally casually flip through the school magazine, scan the uplifting editorials, look at the photographs of smiling success, glance at the obituaries, and bin what some may think is an absurdly expensive magazine of gloss and colour.

Prof Ian Taylor

Then there was this article on Ian Taylor, who was in my year of Medicine at the University of Melbourne. When we enrolled in Medicine, it was the only medical course available in Victoria. Moreover, the University of Melbourne was then the only university in Victoria.

From my year 12 at school, including Taylor and myself, about 20 went into Medicine, which was about ten per cent of the first year. There were many very smart fellows and women, although our year had about 25 per cent women. It was 1958 after all.

In my opinion, and I have voiced it privately, Ian Taylor has made the greatest positive contribution of any student in my year of Medicine. I would go further and say that he was among the greatest Australians of his generation. A nomination for a Nobel Prize has been mooted.

Why? The article puts it clearly and simply. His work on being able to transplant whole segments of the skin, subcutaneous tissue, muscle and bone where there was a common blood supply was revolutionary. It enabled the operations where a flap was needed when there had been loss of tissue because of cancer surgery or extensive trauma to have a shortened time of recovery. Nevertheless, I feel that anything further I write about his many skills would be an inadequate acknowledgement of this great man.

“Benny” Rank scrubs up at the Heidelberg Military Hospital

But then Melbourne was the place to be if you wanted to become a plastic surgeon. This was because of the presence of “Benny” Rank. Sir Benjamin Rank, as he was to become, was the doyen of plastic surgeons, having earned his reputation during WWII. His appointment to the Royal Melbourne Hospital (later at a specially designed unit at the Preston & Northcote Community Hospital {PANCH}) enabled him to establish a facility whereby a succession of highly skilled plastic surgeons, such as Taylor, was trained. They were also a group of innovative surgeons.

Rank did not suffer fools, co-wrote a definitive text on hand surgery and emerged from WWII as the father of plastic and reconstructive surgery in Australia, in particular Melbourne. It was Rank who inspired Taylor. We were in many ways a very lucky generation of doctors, who were taught by men and women (although women doctors were thin on the ground). There were some very impressive nurses whom we came in contact with who all saw war service. One of the distinguishing features about this group was their teaching prowess, with us gaining the benefit of their experience. Yet I can’t remember any of them talking about the War, even though many of them had been prisoners of war of the Japanese in Changi.

From my point of view, I have benefited from the skill of these trained surgeons. I sustained a car accident in 1981 where my chin sustained an implosion injury, and this injury required multiple operations. I ‘ve also had multiple skin cancers removed, including on face and ears. My current plastic surgeon was trained by Ian Taylor. He is highly skilled and before commencing practice, Nick Houseman obtained a Doctor of Medicine at the University of Melbourne – then a higher degree – gained by defining a particular vascular supply to a part of the body, being the first to do it. He was supervised by Taylor in this research endeavour.

The problem is that the reputation of plastic surgery has been compromised by a bunch of doctors who essentially dabble in cosmetic procedures without the training. Belatedly, as usual, AHPRA have now recognised that cosmetic surgery has been full of not only untrained incompetent medical practitioners, who have done a course set out on the back of a cereal packet, but also the fraudulent. All this dross should have been wiped off the medical map long ago.

Under the then current law, anyone with a basic medical degree or a GP or dermatologist could call themselves a cosmetic surgeon, even though not registered specialist surgeons, who receive eight to 12 years of postgraduate surgical training, unlike this mob with “cereal packet diplomas”.

For exposing this malfeasance, Mark Ashton, a prominent plastic surgeon was raided by unspecified “health department officials” following a spurious anonymous smear.

The problem with AHPRA is that it is about as tough as a bowl of cucumber soup. It tries to be palatable for everybody; but we shall see its ability in tackling the resulting recommendations from the Review.

This country is privileged to have high standards of plastic and reconstructive surgery, as epitomised by Ian Taylor.  The article written in the school magazine should be amplified and used to reinforce the need for the imposition of strict standards and to expose the backdoor influencers who would want to water down any of the conditions imposed by the reputable plastic and reconstructive surgeons.


We have spent many Christmases outside Australia. I have mentioned some of them, where the Christmases were more traditional.

The most different Christmas away from the holly and the ivy and decorated Christmas tree was when we were staying in Little Governor’s camp in the Masai Mara.

The highlight of Christmas morning was a visit to a Maasai village, and because there had been substantial rain, the ground was a swill of mud and animal excrement.  The tall slender Maasai women performed their traditional dancing  but with the women ululating.

Christmas cheer as they offered us their bead jewellery, at a price.

And then it was over. Maybe when I hear the processional hymn “Once in Royal David’s City”, who knows whether this applied to the Maasai village as much as anywhere else more conventionally Biblical, given how happy and joyous was the atmosphere engendered by these remarkable dancing women.


I have been to Argentina several times, but every time it has been when the country has been relatively stable, and not under the rule of the military.

In the late 80s, the Argentinian national airline started offering trips between Australia via New Zealand to Buenos Aires. I was lucky to be offered a trip there on one of the early flights, in exchange for a few articles that I would write for the medical press.

In those days, you could not reliably fly between Sydney and Buenos Aires without stopping. Returning to make the ocean crossing, one first had to fly south to Ushuaia, located between the Beagle Channel, glaciers and eternally snow-capped peaks on Tierra del Fuego, to take account of the prevailing Westerly winds.

In those days the Chilean airline flew as far as French Polynesia in clapped out Boeing 707s. Anyway, it was the time of Pinochet and I would have nothing to do with anything Chilean while he was in power.  Today Lan Chile flies to Australia, the planes are relatively new, and there is the added attraction of being able to visit Easter Island. I have visited Chile on several occasions since Pinochet’s demise, but not Easter Island.

To me, Patagonia is as synonymous with Argentina as the tango and Evita Peron. It is one of the places where Charles Darwin explored, temporarily leaving the “Beagle”, where he received some of those intense insights which led him to the Origin of the Species. Disappointingly, tango was a tawdry tourist show in San Telmo, near the centre of Buenos Aires, and Peron was the tomb of Evita in the extraordinary cemetery at Recoleta, where I felt that de Chirico may be round the corner of the next street of mausoleums, painting. To gawk at the dance or at the Peron bier was tourist grist, but the drive from the airport at Bariloche was not quite what the tourist expected.


Bariloche is approached from the windswept Patagonian plain. You come in through the shacks of the Chilean Indian refugees. Perhaps “refugees” is too harsh a word since Bariloche lies near the Chilean border and there were few jobs at home in Chile for these Indians. It is somewhat ironic that the only Indians in Argentina are of Chilean stock.

It confirms what our companion murmurs when we see a black man singing on the Florida, one of the main streets in Buenos Aires. He is probably Uruguayan. Argentinian history’s heritage is exclusively on the European white side.

There is a mass of undistinguished light industrial factories, and then suddenly the lake can be seen and there is Bariloche – a German mountain village, complete with excellent chocolate, fine porcelain, and a hotel called Edelweiss, our room with a balcony lined with flowerboxes and overlooking the lake – Nahuel Huapi.

Arrayan (bambi) trees

Across the lake was an island where one finds the arrayan trees -the so-called bambi trees because of their cinnamon-coloured trunks, dappled like the Disney fawn, Bambi. Hence these trees create groves of magical trees, which brings out for a moment that sense of wonderment I once had as a child.

Even though we arrive in mid-summer, the nights are cool enough to enjoy both raclette and fondue – and it is evident that there is also a strong German Swiss influence in this resort.

Some of the brochures say the town reminds one of Bavaria – there, predominantly German settlers had settled from the last part of the 19th century onwards.  And that word “onwards” had dark connotations.

It is reputed to be one of the places where prominent Nazis fled to avoid the retribution. It is alleged that the mastermind for this movement was a Vatican bishop, an Austrian named Alois Hudal.  He was reputed to have gained from President Peron around 5,000 Argentinian visas, which he used in his ratlines to enable these war criminals to flee to Argentina, where they fashioned themselves as in the main German settlers. It was here that the Israelis apprehended Adolph Eichmann, took him back to Israel for trial and subsequent execution.

Bariloche is where we took our first look at the Andes. We hire a car and driver to make the trip to Mount Tronador, where one of its peaks is in Chile and one in Argentina. We can see the peak this day, free from the clouds which often cloak it. We fumble around on the moraine at the end of the glacier and climb the rocks beside a mountain stream which cascades from the side of the mountain, but we do not make any serious endeavour to climb onto the glacier or attempt to follow the stream to its source. Yet the trip has taken away that uncomfortable feeling of a village, which we might have been sharing with war criminals.

We would never know because we left Bariloche soon after.

Mouse Whisper 

According to the Energy Information Association (EIA), Venezuela, with 304 billion barrels of oil reserves, is in first place, followed by Saudi Arabia (259 billion), Iran (209 billion), Canada (170 billion) and Iraq (145 billion). By comparison, the United States has proven crude oil reserves of 44 billion barrels, that puts the country in 10th place.

And Venezuela wants to invade Guyana next door to get more oil reserves. We need another war around the globe like we need a cerebral gulch.

Yet Guyana only has reserves of eleven billion barrels.

Maduro, the proliferately spending Venezuelan President apparently has not heard of the Micawber Principle. “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

Modest Expectations – At 70 degrees north, no Pines beyond

The first Royal Commission commenced in August 1902 and ended two months later in October 1902.  The Royal Commission was established to inquire into and report upon the arrangements made for the transport of troops returning from service in South Africa on the S.S. “Drayton Grange”.

Drayton Grange

The Drayton Grange, a 6600-tonner, was a troopship chartered to return Australian soldiers from the Boer War in South Africa. With more than 2000 aboard, the ship was overcrowded and unsanitary, with inadequate medical facilities.

By the time the ship docked in Melbourne on August 7, 1902 at the end of a month-long voyage, five were dead and another 12 died subsequently.

From the ship docking in Melbourne to enactment of the Act, to appointment of Chair, to handing down the results of the Royal Commission took two months.

There were no specific recommendations. But this paragraph apportions a level of blame, “We find that the responsibility for what, under the circumstances of the troops and the nature of the voyage, was undue crowding of the vessel, for the insufficiency of hospital accommodation, and for the defects in the deck sheathing, rests with the Imperial Embarkation authorities in South Africa; for the non-landing of the sick with the authorities in West Australia; and for the failure to improve, and the unnecessary aggravation of, the undesirable conditions in the vessel, on the Officer Commanding Troops and the Medical Officer in Charge.”

Royal Commissions take a considerable time. Perhaps Mr Justice Toose, who undertook an investigation into veteran affairs in the 70s, set the exemplar for the timeless Commission. He asked for several extensions, and there was often a tone in ridicule about this Inquiry which extended for five years for 800 pages and 300 recommendations.

Toose’s exercise has been dwarfed by $600m spent on the Disability Royal Commission; the Government’s response is not to implement the 222 recommendations in its 6845 pages, but to set up a Taskforce of bureaucrats to respond, thus delaying any implementation by at least 18 months.

Why the length? To justify the Royal Commission, which remains divided in its recommendations and service. Think about the time and cost for a split decision.

Given it was headed by a former Federal judge, Ron Sackville, once described as a law reformer, his Commission’s major recommendations just tread the familiar line of a new Act, a Disability Commission, and a complaints mechanism. Big deal; could have taken a good dinner to come up with these recommendations.

Recently, at the Australian Legal Information Institute (AustLII), the Attorney-General, Minister Dreyfus, made a lukewarm comment ending in a crafted ambiguous conclusion, where “clarity” would not be the word I would use.

None of this is to say that royal commissions should necessarily be a government’s ‘go to’ option when a difficult issue arises. Most areas of public policy are best dealt with by the ordinary work of policy development by Ministers and their Departments, and even when an inquiry is merited, a royal commission might not be the most appropriate kind. Very often, matters concerning the operation of government will be best dealt with by an ordinary administrative inquiry.

Nonetheless, it is certainly clear why royal commissions have occupied such a significant role in our system of government over such a long period.”

Dreyfus had recounted, prior to this excerpt, that Royal Commissions had advantages. These were independence, information gathering, and to hear vox populi. All are relative. How independent can it be when the government selects the commissioners; information gathering can be subjective, as can listening to the people, although this takes a bleak view of government. But why not? This current government, increasingly prone to secrecy, does not make me more supportive of royal commissions, expensive exercises in marching on the spot.

The major problem with Royal Commissions is that they raise expectations.  The government looks for the recommendations with which it broadly agrees, and often these are the most trite.

To me, a useful Royal Commission should make recommendations, which are not “feel-good” waffle, but should isolate the changes which could be made, theoretically from the next day.  Key recommendations must be coherent and limited in number. It helps if one happens to be reductionist in approach. It provides that clarity which Dreyfus advocates.


Brunel, along with numerous young models, was a frequent passenger on Epstein’s private jet, according to flight manifests. The agency owner also allegedly received $1 million from Epstein in 2005, when he founded MC2 with his partner, Jeffrey Fuller; although Fuller and Brunel denied any such payment from the billionaire pervert in 2007, when rumours started swirling, Sarnoff got confirmation from a former bookkeeper at the agency. Whether the money was a secret investment in MC2, or a payment for Brunel’s services as a procurer, is unknown. Brunel also visited Epstein in jail.”

Now there is one industry that needs to be examined – the fashion industry. Not only does it create a great amount of detritus, but the question is how many occupational health and safety rules does it violate?

For instance, a modelling career for women starts between 14 and 16 years and is over by the mid 20s. It is an industry which cultivates the “stick insect” look and emphasise that ugliness by forcing the models in very high heels to traverse the catwalk in that uncomfortable stalk, which seems to be de rigeur.

For example, in one instance more than half the models in a US survey found were told they wouldn’t be able to find any more jobs if they didn’t lose weight. So, not only are models being pressured to lose weight, but they’re being told that their livelihood depended on it. As the writer said, “this immense pressure to lose weight in order to protect your ability to make a living is unacceptable. It’s incredibly damaging to models’ mental health and their overall safety and wellbeing.”

Health professionals are always concerned with anorexia and bulimia as well as body dysmorphia in young females. Once you step into the malnutrition zone, then there are consequences, not the least of which is osteoporosis. The overlay of mental health in these women, especially when they are discarded for a younger wave of aspirants, undoubtedly leaves a legacy.

The 2017 movie “Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image” was made by an Irish born US film maker Jenny McQuaile. It reveals how beautiful pictures in magazines or TV shows in the fashion industry have actually affected the current generation of women and young girls.

In a comment on the film: it linked the exposure of images of underweight air-brushed female bodies to unhealthy eating habits and decreased self-esteem, so poor body image can lead to even more serious consequences. Overweight status, self-perception found that girls who were unhappy with their appearance were at a significantly higher risk for suicide. The evidence is overwhelming.

Against this, there is the further depressing statistic that Australia is  the second largest per capita consumer of textiles in the world, after the USA. Indeed, the average Australian consumes 27 kg of new clothing a year.

Revenue from the Australian apparel market is expected to reach $20 billion before growing by slightly more than two per cent per year until 2027. The industry contributes 1.5 per cent to the Australian GDP, generates $7.2 billion in exports each year, and employs more than 489,000 people – 77 per cent of whom are women. There lies the kernel for the case for government not interfering in the catwalk disease. It creates income.

The other resistance would come from the “social X-rays” that form the catwalk audience. It beats me how one could not be repulsed by seeing these emaciated nymphets in the flesh, unadorned by the photographer’s illusionary tricks to emulate images of unattainable perfection; instead, they look as if they have been released from a concentration camp decked out in grease paint.

The racing industry relies on dieting in jockeys trying to keep weight down to 54kg, above which life for most jockeys’ rides is limited unless they are in the top echelon or are a jumping jockey, and in this later instance their races are confined to Victoria and South Australia.

You just must see such jockeys in their forties with their sunken cheekbones and hollow eye sockets – excessively thin and also liable to osteoporosis. Unless you are dwarf, this prospect awaits. Some of the jockeys on the tiny side have an extraordinary physique with disproportionate limbs, but it is a more dangerous occupation – falling off a horse at full gallop in the middle of a race is more so than marching down a catwalk.

A study in Victoria in which jockeys completed an anonymous questionnaire, resulted in 75 per cent reporting routinely skipping meals and 81 per cent restricted food intake in the 24 hours prior to racing. Sauna-induced sweating was used by 29 per cent of respondents and diuretics by 22 per cent to aid in weight loss prior to racing. Smoking is less prevalent and induced vomiting and the use of laxatives are more in the realm of the fashion industry – not to mention use of the peacock feather.

At least, the racing industry has made token recognition of the problem with raising the minimum weights in most races. There are well-placed photographs of the champion jockeys with judicious use of healthy diets and strenuous exercise. But then, have they metaphorically been air-brushed?

Hence the need to evaluate whether Society is aiding and abetting an unhealthy lifestyle, which nevertheless suits a cohort of influential people. Moreover of course, there is the view that an individual has the freedom to do what they wish; but does a fourteen year old have that unfettered right to condemn herself into a life of starvation and slavery? I think not.

In a Brown Study

Millennials come in for scorn from the dealers I meet. Millennials don’t want things; they want “experiences,” according to opinion surveys. Many dealers are befuddled by this attitude as well as by millennials’ texting and tweeting. Antiques are not easily translated to the digital realm. They’re not part of the point-and-click universe. They’re not Instagrammable. Look at us on this brown couch! And look at this thumbtack Windsor chair from 1825 in faded yellow paint. It has such a rich “patina,” the touch of history. Nope. That’s just a worn-out old chair. – New England magazine

I remembered one of my contemporaries was besotted with brown furniture. He lived in one of those large Victorian mansions with high ceilings, poor lighting and faded wallpaper. The fittings, the staircase all brown – and moreover the furniture was brown – different shades of brown, but nevertheless very brown. If it was not mahogany, it was French polished or varnished, all to a high-quality brown.

Mahogany is exotic – Cuban or Honduran was always part of the description. There is an Australia hardwood eucalypt, which is called among other names, Australian mahogany.  Another major contributor to this brown diaspora was the native cedar, logged from Queensland forests. I have a red cedar desk which my great-uncle owned and used daily in his work as a well-known early Melbourne architect. There was a what-not which he purchased, always mentioned to me as Chippendale. It was not.

Thus, I had inherited from both my maternal and paternal lines a considerable amount of brown furniture, to which I added further items when we moved into our terrace house in Balmain in 1987. Then it was not cheap, and in fact the bookcase was very expensive, being beautifully made with inlaid decoration.

In one of our storerooms sits a round walnut table, used for many years for dining. Walnut is brown enough to be unwanted, as this is.

But that was another era. Now brown furniture is shunned. The current open space house with few interior walls encourages a light and airy existence with clean cut steel and corian kitchens. Then there are glitzy bathrooms where the standalone brilliantly white bathtub made of fibreglass and stainless steel reinforced with polyester resin, stands in the a room bordered by wash basin, shower recess and toilet. Here, use of brown tiles would be somewhat confusing.

And after all, who has a brown car in their double garage after you walk through the laundry where, if you are hunting for brown artifacts from a lost Brown Age, it is there you may find such relics. But probably not.  Even the cleaning equipment is variegated in colour- and “whitegoods” are just that, unless the essential utilities are now with facades of blue-grey steel -be it a washing machine or refrigerator.

Now left on the footpath, sideboards, chiffoniers, tables, cupboards line the roadside. The markets have crashed; the word “antique” is increasingly anathema. “Vintage” is now substituted for “antique” in those fairs where period pieces were once sold.

I have looked at this brown study from a home-owner’s perspective, but then there is the various young generation’s perspective bought up on IKEA, where furniture is not decorative. It is purely utilitarian.

I remember when I was in a University College I took a Victorian vintage nursing chair into my study, because I thought it would provide a convenient place to rest to read a book or to just “crash”. I left it there when I left College. Initially, I regretted leaving it there. But time has confirmed the correctness of the decision. It would have been very expensive to store.

Maybe the nursing chair has remained in the College, souvenired, or more likely it has ended up as firewood, very much the fate of so much of this brown detritus from another Age. Years on, it may have survived awaiting to be recovered, a sombre counterpoint to the hedonistic modernism, a symbol of a world browning in the change in climate.

There is one solution that my wife has used. We had a very well- constructed mahogany chest of drawers, very chestnut. My grandparents had brought it back from Britain in 1919. Thus, it had lasted a long time. My wife decided she needed some storage and rather than throw out the solid brown chest and buy a new one she asked the painter to give it a distressed blue finish. He did an excellent job, and it now complements the back room, where an equally distressed painted bookcase faces it – but the aforementioned brown cedar desk still occupies one corner of the room, as a quiet reminder.

In Search of the Native Beech

Great Western Tiers

Nestling hard against Tasmania’s Western Tiers, at the end of a gravel road winding through the tall eucalypts, is Habitat, a native plant nursery. We drove there after disembarking from the car ferry at Devonport. It is at the back of Deloraine on the other side of the Meander Valley. The Valley itself which was massively flooded at the same time last year was now brilliant green, its pastures covered by the dots of sheep. The ewes had been lambing prolifically. This tableau was Acadian, there being barely a cloud in the sky.

Our destination was near Liffey, but not on the road to the Liffey Falls. We were instructed to turn left and follow the bush road. Habitat appeared to blend with the bush, but this is where for 21 years they have harvested seeds and grown the plants from this seed.

They had closed their retail outlet earlier this year, now “growing to order” and have sufficient orders not to take any more until the end of 2024. Then the owner said she would be taking a “sabbatical” with her husband in 2025, and then they would be taking orders again from 2026.

Even though there is temperate rain forest at the bottom of their property, they had been ordered to evacuate their property because of nearby bush fires twice in the 21 years. They are in a high risk area with one narrow exit road lined by tall mountain ash and an understory of dense bush.

We were there to pick up five native deciduous beeches which we had ordered in March (and which I wrote up in an earlier blog). These had been left over from the previous year’s orders.

She said that the two most difficult plants to cultivate are the Tasmanian waratah and the native beech, which incidentally is the only native deciduous tree. In Strahan, there are numerous Tasmanian waratah bushes, all now in flower. So much for difficulty – once they like their surroundings.

But what of the beech?

She gave us tips about where to plant the slow growing beeches, in damp half shade, well-drained soil, and a protective wire cage around each to keep the wallabies away.

So here goes!

Rich with pollution – So much for Reducing Emissions

Need I editorialise …

Executives at Suffolk Construction have used the Boston-based company’s private jet nearly 250 times since last year to fly from Hanscom Field to destinations such as Aruba and Aspen, Barcelona and Rome, Martha’s Vineyard and Napa Valley, according to a new report.

Gulfstream Aerospace 550

Suffolk’s 19-passenger Gulfstream Aerospace GV-SP 550 flew every two or so days, its Rolls-Royce Pearl engines pumping out an estimated 2,329 tons of carbon emissions, the report said, which catalogued the climate pollution from flights to and from New England’s largest non-commercial airport.  First appeared in the Boston Globe.

Mouse Whisper

There was recently an interview conducted by Michael Rowland, the personable ABC breakfast presenter. He was talking to the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, who happened to be in Winton in the far west of Queensland. There is a certain irony of the symbolism – especially when the discussion turned to the Qantas decay.

Winton was the place where Qantas was founded in 1920, which meant it is the second oldest airline in the world. KLM, the Netherlands airline, was founded the year before.

Winton was also the site for the last commercial plane crash, when, as reported on 22 September 1966, an Ansett Vickers Viscount 832 aircraft on a scheduled flight from Mt Isa to Longreach caught on fire and crashed approximately 16 km from Winton, Queensland. It struck the ground at the edge of a clay pan and was immediately engulfed in flames, killing 20 passengers and four crew members.

Modest Expectations – Additional Problem

In 2004, when owing to accidental bipartisanship between then Opposition Leader Mark Latham and Howard, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) was abolished.

This was written by Jon Altman. I was somewhat bemused by the comment in Crikey when they were listing interventions in Aboriginal Affairs by government, it seemed to draw upon this comment. When such an assertion is made, it should be complete. The action should not be divorced from the antics of Geoff Clark, ATSIC’s last Chair, which provided that unsympathetic political duo of Latham and Howard, natural bedfellows separated by Party allegiance, the excuse to close ATSIC down. Mention of Howard and Latham immediately engenders a reaction from the instinctive “YES” to such a decision. ATSIC was a Hawke initiative enacted in 1990 and, despite Howard reducing its funding when he came to power, would have survived if the Man from Framlingham had not manoeuvred himself into the role of ATSIC boss.

As The Conversation has recently reminded its readers, ATSIC’s primary roles were to formulate and monitor programs, develop policy proposals, advise the minister and coordinate activities at all levels of government. It spent Commonwealth government funds on specific programs, measured in terms of achieving social justice.

Sound familiar? There has been some discussion about the difference between ATSIC and the Voice – none of which is particularly convincing. There is no guarantee that the Voice will not end up like ATSIC, except if the referendum is passed it will be enshrined in the Australian Constitution. However, just because it is so enshrined, it does not mean that Government needs to do anything about it. For instance, the provision of dental benefits for Australians is enshrined in the Constitution, but no Government has ever addressed this power.

Mr Clark

But back to the embers of another time when an Aboriginal organisation had been assigned considerable responsibility and funding. The sparks still fly from once was a vibrant organisation. Ironically in this coming October when we have ben asked to vote on the Voice, Clark and members of his immediate family have been arraigned on over 300 charges of fraud, with the case set down in the Victorian County Court. They were first charged in 2019, and the basis for the charges stretches back years before 2004 when ATSIC was being trashed. Now why has Geoff Clark not been asked about the Voice?

He is an inconvenience, but he would not be the first or the last to be what the media call a “colourful personality”.

Was Ronald Dale Barassi the Greatest Australian Rules Footballer Ever?

Ron Barassi died this week at the age of 87.

I grew up playing Australian Rules football. The twelve elite football teams were part of the Victorian Football League.  In 1957, my club Essendon played extremely well in the second quarter of the second semi-final and won the game. It was unexpected given that Melbourne was highly favoured, having won the premiership in each of the previous two years. Thus, I, the optimist, went to the Grand Final, where Essendon were again facing Melbourne two weeks later in the Grand Final. I found myself behind the goals to which Melbourne were kicking in the first quarter.

The ball was bounced and was kicked towards the Melbourne goal. Suddenly, out of the pack Ron Barassi exploded, grabbed the ball, kicked the goal. In less than a minute, the Grand Final was over. Barassi went on to be best on ground, kicking five goals. Melbourne won by 61 points.

That was Barassi, the fearless, the impetuous, a football genius in a very good team, such as Melbourne which won six premierships between 1955 and 1964. The only time Melbourne lost unexpectedly was in 1958 when Barassi was brutally taken out of the game.

Barassi’s style of play presaged the change in the game which occurred with the introduction of the interchange. Coaching Carlton in winning the 1970 premiership over Collingwood he told his team to move the ball forward at all costs. This use of handball was an example of a Barassi masterclass. Interchange was eventually introduced in 1978, and handball execution is one of the main areas which separates the champion team from the lesser teams.

My other reminder of Barassi was very different. I used to drive the Hamilton Highway every other week. It was far different from the Princes Highway which also connected Geelong with the Western District of Victoria. It was essentially a speed track as mostly it passed through small townships, and in parts was very straight. The joy then was traffic on the Hamilton Highway was sparse, there were few trucks and police patrols were rare.

Lismore is a small township on the Western Plains about 100 kms from Geelong, where I would sometimes stop for a pie and coffee. Approaching the township from the west is an innocuous line of trees. In October 1976, Barassi was driving his blue Mercedes when he wrapped it around one of these trees, seriously injuring himself and his passenger, Neil Roberts, also a former champion footballer. Both eventually recovered, but Barassi lost his spleen, which meant that he had to take prophylactic antibiotics for the rest of his life.

Every time afterwards when I drove through Lismore I saw the tree remnant which remained. It served as a reminder of an episode where both Barassi and Roberts dodged the Fell Sergeant.

Even more so when it occurs to yourself. A major car accident on country roads is a test of the will to live, as I found out almost five years later when I wrapped myself around an electricity pole near Shepparton.

It is strange what you remember, when others have a closer association with a man who had the presence that would suck up the power in any gathering he joined. This is a special quality, which in turn made it difficult for him to have ever been anonymous – even if he ever would have wanted to be. 

Plied with Privilege

This week, Delta Air Lines announced sweeping changes to frequent-flier perks that will start in 2024. While the airline says its revamped system has “simplified” the SkyMiles program for repeat customers, it’s actually dealing a significant blow to the middle class of travellers, inciting outrage on social media and promises from some to quit flying Delta altogether.

In a Tuesday announcement, the Atlanta-based airline detailed how it would make it much more difficult to earn coveted Medallion status. Simultaneously, it plans to take away unlimited access for American Express cardholders to its Sky Club lounges, some of the swankiest in the United States.  Washington Post 16 September.

Essendon Airport

If you take a plane from Essendon Airport in Melbourne, it is as though you are vaulted back into a time when it was the major airport. It is still a place used by some of the small regional airlines.

There was no problem parking. It is free.

You would mill around as you do now. There is a café where you can buy coffee and a snack. The call for your flight. Paper ticket checked. You stroll out to the plane. There is no security.

That was how it was once in simpler times. Of course, plane travel then was relatively uncommon and comparatively expensive.

When I first joined Bill Snedden as his principal private secretary in 1973, Snedden had access to the airport manager’s office. This enabled him to make private phone conversations and shielded him from the “glad-handers”.  Lounges did not exist back then in the early seventies.

No lounge, but fashionable 70’s purple seats

There was no security then to negotiate. This was fortunate, for Snedden was notorious for being late. There was one occasion when I had to wrangle delaying the plane to Canberra until he arrived. Oh, for the good ol’ days, when the media cut you slack and there were no barriers to boarding, bar the ticket.

Snedden always flew Ansett until its demise. I became inured to travelling almost exclusively on the airline. I was surprised when I was invited in a friendly letter from Ron Eddington to join the Ansett equivalent of the Captain’s Club. I always thought it a case of mistaken identity, and my membership was withdrawn a few months before the airline went “bottoms up”. It was certainly convenient, and it was a time before the iPhone changed the dynamics in relation to ease of communication.

Once frequent flyer points became available in the 1980s, they were awarded to individuals, this privilege did not differentiate the payer, and employers made rules on a case by case by case. Membership gave access to lounge facilities, but airlines set up further special privileged areas to shield the Chosen. It was just a variation of the ancient differentiation between patricians and plebeians, although with a difference. The Frequent Flyer lounges became themselves differentiated depending on the frequency of flying – bronze-silver-gold-platinum hierarchy.

The reason for privacy which provided once a legitimate excuse back before the lounge proliferation was rendered obsolete with the advent of mobile phones. The lounge land lines were no longer required, and when one reflects on the whole matter of privacy, in these Captain’s Clubs with their concentration of the important, there are only so many corners for the conspiratorial phone exchanges.

Takes all types

The Qantas’ Captain’s Club is essentially a concierge service for the politicians and their ilk to send off their accompanying staffers to ensure that they would be at the front of the queue when there are “stuff-ups”, which became the Joyce signature contribution to airline travel.

Thus, the Captain’s Club members have endured minimal pain. While ensconced in their Lounge they gossiped over their single malt, in the Departure areas, the ordinary passengers milled around with minimal service, minimal information.

I just stopped flying, even though once the wheelchair arrived, “going to gate” had been well organised, but even in this service there were cracks.

Joyce knew precisely that everybody loves a “freebie”, especially if it projects an aura of exclusivity. He was not the only one, and once the Joyce brand of toxic leadership becomes a distant memory, the privileged Captain’s Club will resume transmission, perhaps a slate of those eligible, with a limited number of Captain’s pick. It should be acknowledged, that the new CEO cut her gold implants on determining who was on and who was not on the List. The List of those inducted into these Halls of Name should be published. But the single malt will remain, as will the sophistry of the reasons for the continuing existence of this pool of privilege. Unless Qantas takes the route of the American airlines and make itself even more unpopular.

Nevertheless, there is an important administrative dimension to the top-end exclusivity. At least, they have herded those with a sense of entitlement into the one space, and thus when there is a “stuff-up”, you do not have these individuals and their retinue running free around airports crying out how important they are and why they should be number one in the queue and thus potentially causing even more chaos.

Finally, as illustrative of those days when there were no lounges but there were still persons of entitlement, one of my colleagues told me that he was at the Delhi Airport as a staffer for a very important Head of a very important Government Department awaiting to be called to their flight when a Douglas DC-8 crashed short of the airport, killing 10 of 11 crew members, and 72 of 76 passengers. The Very Important Bureaucrat’s response: Bugger the crash, I need to get back to Australia.

The chaos thus had not deterred the Very Important Bureaucrat from ordering my mate to get him on a flight. The airport was closed, but Sense of Entitlement trumps everything, even if my mate could not even find a phone. 

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS)

Having worked with and for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), I was somewhat surprised by the latest advertisement seeking contributions from the public. Depressingly all the images are of whitefellas being treated in what are unconvincing imagery. To spend a great deal of money to provide an aerial medical service to the outback stations and small settlements without any acknowledgement that one of the major communities which require the service RFDS is the Aboriginal community.

To show a service which is all-white at a time when there is a community debate on the place of Aboriginals in the future of the nation is also somewhat insensitive.  Then when you look up the search engine, RFDS was certainly linked to the Voice – but only because there are two TV programs of those names being produced by Channel 7.  One the normal bodice-tearing dramas where (a) the RFDS provides an action-packed background for the activities of over-sexed screen doctors and nurses and (b) the Voice is an all-aged vocal contest to see who can scream the loudest and a set of judges who speak in exclamation marks.

Data on the impact of providing health care for Aboriginal communities is incomplete. Quoting one data set, it showed that between July 2013 and December 2015, the RFDS conducted 75,763 aeromedical retrievals, equivalent to 83 aeromedical retrievals per day. Indigenous status was recorded for 62,528 patients. Of the 62,528 retrievals, 17,606 (28.2%) aeromedical retrievals were Aboriginal Australians from remote Australia.

When I first worked with the RFDS, many of the key performance indicators (KPI) were based on aircraft performance rather than health care. Under Clyde Thomson, then CEO Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (SE Section) and for a crucial concurrent period Chair of the Broken Hill Hospital, the RFDS ran health care clinics at Wilcannia, a predominantly Aboriginal town on the Darling River 100 km to the east of Broken Hill. With the introduction of the Sydney University Department of Rural Health, Aboriginal health care became a very important component of RFDS health care.

Thus, 20 years later, here is an RFDS advertisement seeking donations, with ne’er a mention of its contribution to Aboriginal health care. As I said above, depressing.

Who would have thought it!

There are seven States which deliberately or inadvertently still have Confederate symbolism.  The most Confederate characteristic is the gaudily painted Cross of St Andrew. But there are others, such as the State of California, hardly a Southern Republican State, which have a different symbolism. Nevertheless, the symbolism is linked to the Confederacy. The challenge is whether anybody cares despite the exhortation at the end of this description.  Well, as long as the Cross of St Andrew is banished. In the case of California, it is that bear! Read on.

In June 1846, a couple dozen American men in what was then the Mexican region of Alta California took over an unarmed fort in Sonoma and raised a flag painted with a red star, a grizzly bear and the words “California Republic”. Some of them were maybe a bit drunk.

A few weeks later, a U.S. naval squadron showed up in Monterey, and its confused commanding officer raised the Stars and Stripes and claimed California for the United States. The “Bear Flaggers” lowered their banner, and four years and a war with Mexico later, California joined the Union as a free state, meaning slavery was banned. Decades later, in the early 20th century, a version of the Bear Flag became California’s state flag.

So what does all that have to do with the Confederacy? 

First, California might have been a free state on paper, but it wasn’t in practice. Many of its early American settlers were proslavery Southerners who brought enslaved people with them, and others enslaved the Indigenous people there, including most of the Bear Flaggers, according to historian Jean Pfaelzer in her recent book, “California, a Slave State”. Enslavers used slave labour in the gold mines, advertised slave auctions in newspapers and went to great lengths to conceal from their human chattel that they were actually legally free. Numerous records show California abolitionists purchasing enslaved people to grant them the freedom they were already supposed to have.

As the nation descended into civil war, Californians were fiercely split, and a number of communities flew the disused bear flag to express their support for secession and slavery. Some even proposed the Pacific states break off and form their own nation.

In 1911, the bear flag design became the official state flag, and once again the move was stained with racism, journalist Alex Abella wrote in a 2015 opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times. The flag had been revived again by the Native Sons of the Golden West, a Whites-only fraternal group that pushed anti-Asian immigration laws and whose president wrote in 1920, “California was given by God to a white people, and with God’s strength we want to keep it as He gave it to us.” The lawmaker who introduced the flag legislation in 1911 was a member of the group, according to Abella, and proposed anti-Asian legislation in the same legislative session.

“It’s time California dump that flag,” Abella wrote. “Like the Confederate cross of St. Andrew, the Bear Flag is a symbol whose time has come and gone.”

Mouse Whisper

I got a free ride – tucked away in my straw nest in the Car. We went to Queensland, and I was able to catch up with my banana-bender relatives.

Then I saw them.

What were those long poles doing lining the highway at intervals? There were about 20 metres high and near the top had cross bars, which gave the impression of a very elongated Cross of Lorraine and short pieces of white pipe. Enquiries found that they were gliders’ poles to enable the sugar and squirrel gliders to cross the highway, and even if they don’t make the top they often land down the pole and scramble to the top. If the distance is too far to glide – thirty metres is taken as a benchmark – a box rope ladder is strung between the two poles, and thus the glider can climb across the remaining distance “unglided”. Got to watch out for the circling hawks and eagles though.


Modest Expectations – William Randolph Hearst

Todd Sampson.  What a groovy folk hero with a cool propensity for those laconic T-shirts with “Meaning”. The boy who emerged from the poverty-tinged town of Sydney, a coal town on the tip of Canadian province, Nova Scotia. Born 53 years ago. Environmentalist, vegetarian, swinging from his own heroics, Sampson ran a major advertising agency which legitimised him appearing on the ABC “Gruen” show as a regular panellist. Given that the show likes to pillory those advertisers who demean business with dodgy advertising, I wondered why the program had never touched Qantas.

But then Todd Sampson, the avowed environmentalist has been a non-Executive Director of Qantas Board since 2015; that committed consumer advocate is a Member of the Qantas Remuneration Committee and a Member of the Audit Committee; sharp-eyed defender of public good is de facto Defender of the Qantas Business Practices.

Need I say more. Crikey has. It has labelled him “egregious”. I suppose that term has validity for a person who has over 200,000 shares in Qantas and an annual remuneration of close to $300,000 from the Irish ATM of the late, unlamented Alan Joyce.

Geoff Allen

I mentioned Geoff Allen in my blog earlier this year. I have not seen Geoff Allen for years but in the article that he wrote in the Australian Financial Review recently, I detected that the Geoff whom I knew when he and I were still young men, still burned bright.

Geoff Allen eventually ran a very successful consultant business, but while working for Bill Snedden when he was both Federal Treasurer and Leader of the Opposition, Geoff was keen to build up both his contacts and knowledge in policy development in politics.

In 1978, Bill Callaghan, director of the Australian Industries Development Association (AIDA) retired. He had been a close associate of “Black Jack” McEwen in the Department of Trade before taking on the role in 1968. He was succeeded by Geoff, who had been developing his profile in academia after he left Snedden in late 1973.

Geoff was always interested in the creation of a research/policy development area within the Federal Liberal party. The drivers were a group who had worked together at McKinsey’s and had gone on to be successful businessmen or Liberal Party apparatchiks. One of the McKinsey people was Rod Carnegie and he, John Elliot and Jim Carlton were strong supporters of the concept, and Geoff Allen played an important role in assuring Snedden’s support.

It was a characteristic of Allen in that he was true conservative, his smile concealed a ruthless streak and, in several instances, I witnessed how he protected Snedden. I was interested to read his article.

He did not mention his own direct involvement in the AIDA, which was essentially a foil for “McEwenism” and the whole question of sheltering business from overseas competition through tariff walls. But as Allen writes, without mentioning his hidden hand, the AIDA became more progressive, “pursuing a more open economy and a progressive policy agenda through pioneering research- based advocacy.” That in the proverbial nutshell is the Allen strategy.

Allen is critical of the current Secretariat being the public face of the Association, as it leads to polarisation, and a predictability of reactivity and defensiveness in response. He believes the office bearers of the time should be the face of BCA.  mentioning the early successes of the BCA, he sets out where he believes the BCA has drifted. The BCA’s early endeavour in enterprise bargaining and the introduction of a GST, to get the BCA to see the other side’s arguments can be attributed to Allen.  His journey with his Chair, Rod Carnegie to visit 80 CEOs was a very Geoff Allen tactic. The quality of “schmoozing” is vastly underrated unless, like both Carnegie and Allen, they were both very adept. Avoiding confrontation while progressing one’s agenda in the Australian political system which is built on an adversarial foundation is quite a skill.

Allen stepped down in 1988 and went on to form his own successful consulting firm, hiring on the way Vince Fitzgerald which added to the intellectual content of his firm. After he had left, Allen pointedly notes Keating excluded the BCA from any participation in the 2010 Vision summit. Rudd was equally incandescent, as Allen says. The perception that the BCA was too close, if not coincident, with the Liberal Party had destroyed its effectiveness as a broker.

Jennifer Westacott – hardly a Geoff Allen

Once grandees of the Liberal Party, as Allen identifies them, were vocal in advocating the BCA should be to the Party as the ACTU is to Labor, objectivity was lost.  I suspect knowing Allen, he did not see it that way, and it may have been one of the precipitating factors in Geoff setting up his own consultancy firm.

In reality, the BCA has declared and meticulously maintained its aloofness from party politics”. Here Allen expresses his own philosophy which sits at odds, with the recent appointment of a Liberal Party hack to the position of CEO of BCA.

Allen is critical of the drift to the BCA adopting ideological approaches, and where vested interests overwhelm public interest. Allen’s concern is the climate change denialist position fostered by the fossil fuel industry is now the policy of the BCA. Evidence is tossed to the wind, but Geoff, what would you expect of a Board of which Alan Joyce is a member?

On the positive side, Geoff Allen is still heard and his article is clever and pointed as only Geoff can write.


Some weeks ago, The Economist had one of its special reports and this one was reviewing the current situation.  I wrote a letter to The Editor, and given I am a person from another age, and the publication has limited space for letters, it was unsurprisingly not printed.

What was important was that the review of IVF that I directed occurred in 1988, an early stage before commercialisation of the procedure inserted the significant profit motive. Once IVF was assessed to be a business opportunity then scientific objectivity was hard to find in a fog of public relations.

My letter started (sic):

In 1988, my group was asked to evaluate IVF in Australia by the Australian Government. At that time there were 18 clinics offering basically the same IVF. It was difficult to work out the level of success, which we measured as “live baby in the basket” – counted as “one” even if there were twins or triplets. It was a time when there was still that unfortunate “wow” factor of the octuplet, where unscrupulous doctors were inserting many eggs at the one time. Added to this we uncovered the practice of counting the so-called chemical pregnancies as representing a successful treatment.

Trying to find out the actual success rate was difficult but in the end we estimated 8.8 per cent. Not discussed openly was that the more unsuccessful treatment cycles a woman endured, the more mentally compromised she became. As the Economist article pointed out, there are now added procedures, such as egg harvesting and storage available, but female age and male infertility were and are still substantial barriers to a successful pregnancy.

The Economist article reported a study, by researchers at New York University (NYU), observed just 543 patients at one fertility clinic in New York. But their paper stands out because it followed real clinical outcomes for almost two decades, while most other studies are based on mathematical modelling. The researchers found that 39% of the women were able to have at least one baby using the eggs they had frozen, which may have involved multiple attempts over the 15-year period.

What is meant by multiple attempts?

It is an area where public policy is dictated by the “smiling baby syndrome”, significant pressure from lobbying-savvy individuals, the profitability for the venture capitalists, the asymmetry of information to potential parents and the egregious nature of the advertising. This is coupled with the questionable nature of some putative treatments that continue to stigmatise what is a procedure which, when I agreed to undertake the 1988 review, I came to with a positive attitude, but came away less so.

I finished the letter there, and from the time of this early review of ours onwards, I have maintained an interest. The problem is that there are more variations in IVF introduced over the subsequent decades. I found there were some troubling situations that had developed. From the earliest times, the profit motive was very strong within the services, despite protestations of the primacy of the public good.

The second was the proposition that one sperm, if picked correctly, could fertilise the ideal egg. To me this had the aroma of eugenics given how nature assures fertilisation. Further, where it was the men with infertility, many could not cope with themselves being “the culprit”. How this scenario has played out was barely discussed in that recent report

Yet, the recommendation that Australia consider IVF funding support for Indonesia at the same time supporting funding for family planning, was something else.

I have read that in the younger woman you get a 55 per cent success rate. What happens when you just plan for a natural birth, if that is a word still in use? What is that rate in the same person?

I’m sorry, but the figures overall still do not stand up. Perhaps somebody can stop the carousel and give a frank answer.

The Musical Cigarette Box

One of the major characteristics of our family’s failings is that we tend to be collectors, yet not hoarders.

For years, among the extensive bric-à-brac, my aunts had collected was a music box. But the music box was also a cigarette dispenser.

One pressed the button; the music box played one of its two tunes in its repertoire as the central area gracefully revolved, the bakelite doors opened revealing a cigarette holder behind each door. The box stayed open for enough time to take a cigarette before the doors clicked shut and the music finished.

My wife retrieved it as it was being thrown out after the last of the aunts died. She had been interested in its novelty nature when it had stood on the piano among all the other gewgaws. It is German, modest in its construction, made of varnished pine with six decorated bakelite doors to which the cigarette holders were attached on the inside.

I really had never paid much attention to it. To me it was a music box until it was pointed out that it served as a cigarette holder.  They became very fashionable in the 20’s and 30’s when women were being encouraged to smoke and when it was ascribed with a certain elegance. Some of the cigarette cases made in that era were superbly crafted.

But there were other indications of the societal acceptance of women smoking. For instance, the long individual cigarette holder became an accessory for women who wished to smoke without the brown grubbiness of the unfiltered cigarette on their refined porcelain fingers. Cigarette cases took on more feminine characteristics, delicately made of gold or silver by high-end manufacturers.

My mother apparently smoked Balkan Sobranies before I was born. These Sobranie cigarettes were then perfect for the refined women’s taste. The Balkan Sobranie was black with a gold tip. It was redolent of the Turkish cigarette although manufactured then in London. To me it was really the “all spice” version of a cigarette, but just as deadly as any other cigarette.

Nevertheless, in the years before WWII with women increasingly smoking, fug was fashionable; and one only needs to look at the films of the time to understand that my parents must have adapted to living in this mist of mortality.

And the music box played on.

Just a Jewish Cowgirl from Brooklyn

The following article which appeared recently in the Boston Globe was written by Noel Schaffer, a journalist who writes for the Boston Globe among other journals and papers. He is obviously interested in the music scene. This is a delightful piece, about a time I barely remember.  I do love her rendition of Route 66. Anyway, Mr Schaffer, I have lightly re-edited your piece and am grateful to be able to re-publish it in my blog.

The Bay State Barn Dance mentioned in the article is a live stage show reminiscent of The Grand Ol’ Opry and Nashville, Arkansas and the Ozarks and New Orleans and Louisiana blues. The Barn Dance is spruiked as “jam-packed with musical guests, comedy bits, old-timey sponsor announcements and surprises, all taking place on a full stage set!

Started last year, the Barn Dance is staged in the Cabot Theatre in Beverley, a suburb of Boston. Described “as a North Shore treasure, a legacy of the visionary showmanship and architectural passion of the Ware Brothers”, it was opened for vaudeville and silent movies in 1920, and at the time was said to be “the most impressive auditorium of its size east of New York.” 

With that, on with Mr Schaffer’s article:

Mimi Roman

In 1954, a young country singer named Mimi Roman took to the stage of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and made her first record, backed by a dream team of session players that included guitarist Chet Atkins and producer/pianist Owen Bradley.

When it was done, Roman wrote all the musicians thank you notes. “I didn’t realize they got paid. I thought they had done it as a favour. Talk about the height of naivete!” laughs Roman, 89, speaking from her Connecticut home. But Roman could be excused for not knowing how Nashville worked: She was a Jewish girl from Brooklyn whose love of horses and cowboy songs led her to become one of the most unlikely country music attractions of the 1950s. Now Roman is making her first singing appearance in 40 years in Beverly, at an event celebrating the premiere of a documentary film about the 2022 Bay State Barn Dance.

Roman was born in 1934. Her mother was a Radio City Music Hall Rockette. Her stepfather ran a successful pickle business, which allowed Mimi to enjoy the horse stables that were plentiful in an era when Brooklyn still had some wide open spaces. “There was a bridle path so you could ride from Prospect Park to Coney Island,” says Roman, who also won rifle-shooting competitions.

Mimi, who used her stepfather’s last name Rothman, entered the Madison Square Garden rodeo queen contest twice but came up short. Hearing that a top MSG official was antisemitic, she dropped the “t” from her name, and promptly won the 1953 pageant. Within months, she appeared on TV shows hosted by Paul Whiteman and Arthur Godfrey.

Decca Records shortened her name to Roman and invented a fictitious backstory that she was born in California that survives to this day online. Roman would go home to New York between sessions and tours, where her showbiz peers, including Elvis Presley, would visit her.

“We would go on little dates to the movies. He was the sweetest guy, an absolute gentleman,” she remembers. Presley tried referring Roman to the management services of Colonel Tom Parker, an opportunity she is still glad she turned down.

Despite working with Patsy Cline’s producer, Owen Bradley, none of Roman’s excellent Decca sides became smashes — she thinks it was because the label didn’t offer DJs payola. But on the strength of her performances, she was tapped to join the Philip Morris Country Music Show, an 18-month barnstorming bus tour headlined by Carl Smith. The tobacco company, looking to generate good will after being criticized for making a donation to a civil rights organisation, offered free admission with proof of purchase of one of their products.

“I got on the bus and said, ‘I don’t want any Jew jokes,’ and they were good about it,” says Roman. Still, going from New York to the segregated South was a shock.

The early ‘60s saw Roman move from the country circuit to the Brill Building near Times Square, a music industry hub. She sang jingles for Sprite and Doublemint Gum, released pop records under the name Kitty Ford, recorded demos for songwriters Paul Simon, Burt Bacharach, and Carole King, and appeared onstage in “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Mimi Roman left the music business for real estate and hasn’t performed in 40 years.

She kept her hand as a radio DJ, a singer with a local band, and an extra in films including “Tootsie.” “One day I was singing and looked at the audience and I said, ‘I’d rather be down there than up here,’ and that was it.”

In recent years Roman discovered that her country records had an overseas following among rockabilly fans. The German label Bear Family reissued her Decca sides. Last year Joe Hopkins released a charming documentary about Roman and produced a pair of releases drawn largely from Roman’s own collection of acetates: “First of the Brooklyn Cowgirls,” a compilation of unreleased ‘50s tracks and radio and TV performances, and “Pussycat,” a collection of Kitty Ford sessions.

Word that Roman was living in New England reached promoter Beck Rustic, who was constructing an event to celebrate the premiere of a documentary about the Bay State Barn Dance, an Opry-style revue that was the centrepiece of last year’s final New England Shakeup rockabilly weekend. The film will screen on Friday at The Cabot in Beverly.

“I’m excited and still kind of dumbfounded that people want to hear me. It’s nothing I could have forecasted,” Roman says. “I’ll be there with my boots on. In fact, it’ll be the same pair of boots I last performed in. They still fit!”

Cowboy Caviar

Texas Caviar

This was one of the recipes from the Washington Post, which appeared in the last week. Also known as “Texas caviar”, the name attracts attention especially given the reprint of the Brooklyn cowgirl article above. “Brooklyn Cowgirl”! “Cowboy Caviar”! How exotic!

The following ingredients are those for this Yee-haw speciality:

  • 400 gms black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 400 gms pinto beans or 2 cans (800gms) if you want more beans, drained and rinsed
  • 400 gms corn, drained
  • 6-8 diced Roma tomatoes 
  • 1/2 large diced sweet onion
  • 2 diced avocados
  • 1 bunch fresh finely chopped coriander
  • juice of 3 limes
  • sea salt, to taste


In a large bowl combine beans, corn, tomatoes, and onion. Fold in avocados and coriander to the bowl. Add a pinch of sea salt. Stir to combine.

Even a cooking klutz like myself could manage to prepare this dish where the “caviar” is black-eyed. 

Mouse Whisper

It is always informative to look back on a person’s career as was written then. The following appeared in the SMH, 17 years ago, in an interview with Alan Joyce.

His mathematical skills have been far more useful to his aviation career than a pilot’s licence. The Irish-born Joyce holds a master of science degree from Trinity College, Dublin, with a double major in physics and maths, which has proved invaluable when facing complex revenue management issues such as forecasting the percentage of no-shows on a particular route on a particular day (which allows the airline to over-sell seats by up to 3 per cent).

Given what we know now, one can imagine how Joyce honed such skills over time until such mathematical skills allegedly have become the basis of criminal behaviour. He would not be the first one who allegedly has taken that route, in his case ensuring that he has squeezed every last drop from the Qantas Lemon he has fashioned and the suckers he has cultivated and fertilised (also known as the Board but according to reliable sources to be re-labelled The Planks).

Modest Expectations – All aboard for Wakefield

I last had lunch with Tom Reeve and a few people at the Mixing Pot in Glebe about 16 years ago to thank him for all the support he had provided us in the consolidation of the Broken Hill University Department of Rural Health and his general interest and leadership in improving and maintaining health care.

Tom Reeve

The Mixing Pot has been closed for years and Tom Reeve died at the end of last week, just short of his centenary. Others are better qualified to write about his life, but the progression from being a doctor in the mining town of Collinsville in Queensland (about which he wrote) to be the leading thyroid  and oncology surgeon in NSW and Executive Officer of the Australian Cancer Society demonstrated the breadth of Tom Reeve’s experience and influence.

One memory I have of Tom and Ross Webster (then recently retired from the University of Melbourne but acting as part-time Director of Medical Services at the Broken Hill Hospital) was them sitting in the garden of the Menindee Hotel having a beer. It was in the mid 90s. This was before the hotel burnt down and therefore the backdrop was still the old hotel where Burke and Wills stayed on their journey up North.

Reeve and Webster made a different mark on Australia, when they worked together in Broken Hill for that all to0 brief a time.

There was one flower in that courtyard – a lone red hibiscus. Strange what you remember. As the hibiscus and all flowers are fragile, so is human life. The beauty of flowers, like the enjoyments of life, is fleeting. This quote with its link sums up that privilege of working with Tom. Fleeting – yes; but also so very substantial.

The Problem with having only one Joyce

My real worry in flying Qantas is that it is now an unsafe airline. An irrational fear, but it is embedded in my psyche.

I fuss over the number of frequent flyer points I have accumulated. At present I have over 700,000 points but I doubt the value of the Qantas program. I seem to be bombarded with emails wanting to sell me a whole raft of goods in which I have little interest. Yet try to use them for flights, especially business or first – squeezing through the eye of the needle by comparison would be a doddle.

I once preferred to fly British Airways and their customer service, including its rewards for loyalty program set a standard. I remember the rewards, a touch of luxury with a stay at the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris and a weekend at Belltrees in the Hunter Valley. In those days, British Airways even offered an upgrade on Concorde. Days that have long vanished.

I had always travelled domestically with Ansett, and I found their service was very good. I travelled thousands of kilometres around Australia and abroad with Ansett, until it went broke, leaving me with over 600,000 unusable frequent flyer points. I switched to Qantas for domestic flights. I did not harbour any resentment for the Ansett loss.

What has happened?

Ansett collapsing was inconvenient and I had to build a new frequent flyer profile with Qantas, which I did, rapidly reaching platinum status. All this suggests that I wanted to be pampered. No, I just want efficiency and certainty. I have paid for flights with Qantas with that expectation.

The six years before the COVID-19 epidemic arrived, I developed a different insight. I contracted an auto-immune disease, which became chronic and with the chronicity I have become increasingly disabled.

This meant that every time I fly, I need a wheelchair. Distances in airports became just too great to walk. This has meant that for me to board a plane, assistance needed to be co-ordinated. I have experienced other airlines and other airports in a variety of countries as well as across Australia as a comparison.  Depending on other people to get you to and from the plane and the uncertainty that entails does not sit well in one’s psyche when the airline that you are used to coincidentally reduces the level of its services. Part of that is the policy of cramming more and more into economy class. Disabled people need more space not less. Qantas seems not to have given this much consideration.

Qantas has been run by a CEO whose culture is the budget airline reducing customer service, aggressive treatment of his workers, while he panders to his Board and the shareholders. To him, the plane is no better than a bus, but the cost of a ticket is anything but.

How will his legacy be judged – not now, but say in five years?

But there are even limits to Joyce, the Scrooge. He also has a touch of the Heeps, the sycophant. The Chairman’s Lounge system with an associated concierge service is a cheap way to pander to those persons of influence including, so it seems, their children. This has been a Joyce discretionary power, providing a perfumed screen shielding the politicians from the stench of Qantas’ decline in service for the masses. He can manipulate access to the flights using earned frequent flights for his coterie. It is all distasteful, but then the Australian bunyip aristocracy laps it up.

Maybe I am melodramatic, but the level of complacency and non-concern about the overall deterioration, even with the pitchforks at the gate clamouring for change, is mind blowing.

Prime Minister, don’t you t’ink the livery on the plane advocating “yes” shows how well our airline is appropriately politically correct?”

Maybe. I’m afraid that what Joyce substitutes for an airline, is now a hollowed out advertising hoarding, and hardly a suitable vehicle for carrying passengers in comfort.

Stress and The Emergency Department

I spent nearly seven hours in the emergency department one day last week. I had an uncontrolled nosebleed for 36 hours. The bleeding would stop with pressure on the affected area, but then would start again once pressure removed.  I had stopped the anticoagulant immediately. Still, it takes time for the anti-coagulant effect to wear off.

I went to the emergency department at 11.30am and was home for the evening news at 7.00 pm. I had only gone to emergency department with one clear objective, to have an ENT specialist cauterise the nasal bleeding point as I had been bleeding since late Sunday evening. At times, as I have written above, I thought the bleeding had stopped since I had stopped taking my anti-coagulants and was applying considerable pressure as well as placing gauze plugs up into the nasal canal.

When I arrived the promptness of a nurse getting me a wheelchair and showing concern was interrupted by the receptionist clerk who seemed to have lost something, fussing around, while I sat in the wheelchair. All the time I was glad that the blood was not gushing out as it had been earlier. Eventually, he found what he was looking for and I was allowed to proceed. I passed through the first set of doors and was wheeled into what was labelled hilariously RAFT (Rapid Assessment of First Treatment).

It took me over three hours to see a doctor, and then in the meantime the nurse-driven protocols started annoying me. When I was shown to have high blood pressure – which was already known – I was given a tablet without any reference to my current drug regimen, nor was there any instruction about further treatment. Then another nurse bobbed up wanting to take a blood sample, which I worked out was an INR test, which has been shown to be useless for the “novel” oral anticoagulant measurement that I had been taking. I pointed that out, and the nurse beat his retreat.

The protocol enforcers were ever present and had to be beaten off. I came in with a nosebleed, and yet they wanted to take blood for various pathology tests, and fortunately I had the results of blood tests done a few days before. ECG. Why? Chest X-ray. Why?

I was told my refusal of blood tests (the results of which apparently would take two hours) would further delay any prospect of treatment. At that point I spat the dummy well and truly, and no blood test was taken. I had my complete pathology profile which had been obtained the previous week.

There was no questioning about whom my local doctor was – no sense of referral back to my local doctor. They seemed not to notice I had compression stockings and leaving me in a wheelchair for such a long period was not a good strategy. Fortunately I had a sheepskin, but even sitting on it there was still prolonged compression of my thighs. It was not optimal.

Eventually I was examined by an emergency physician and an emergency physician registrar, and they discovered a small, ulcerated nasal area anteriorly. However, they then admitted that they did not have the equipment to cauterise the area from where I was bleeding. Thus, I had to go up to the ENT outpatient clinic, where I waited for a further hour, the last patient for the day; a lonely sight sitting in the vast outpatient area. Why I could not have been sent there hours earlier is totally due to this protocol driven bulk handling of patients.

I remember when I was responsible for the Casualty aka Emergency Department at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, we reduced the waiting time to an average of fifteen minutes. It was before the advent of emergency physicians. Some of my colleagues have wondered about the long term value of having this intermediate specialty lengthening the time for patients being seen in order to justify it being a separate specialty rather than a salaried hospital practitioner with common sense.

The Emergency Department is stressful enough without having a person like myself being kept there because of the requirement to be examined by a doctor labelled “emergency physician”, when they didn’t have the equipment to treat me anyway. Simple common sense would have referred me direct to ENT outpatients, and saved hours waiting – but as I was reminded more than once, priority is determined on clinical need, notwithstanding most of those presenting can be quickly triaged out of the Emergency Department to a more appropriate clinical setting.

Here the ENT registrar was a young doctor training to be a specialist. She fixed me up in half an hour, to be reviewed in a week, when I can go directly to the ENT Outpatient Clinic without having to be checked through “The Hospital Customs”, once known again hilariously as the Emergency Department. She also prescribed me oxymetazoline HCL nasal spray to be used three times a day for five days.

Finally, after all this stress, I could not be discharged until I was given the “green light” by a clerk attached to the emergency department. Mercifully, the ENT registrar intervened so that she had permission to discharge me. Otherwise, as my wife observed, we would have to stage a prison break.

I was once a doctor, then I was listened to by government; now I am a customer with the added experience of being a patient to complement the knowledge I’ve built up in years of practice. Am I now listened to by the next generation of policy determiners?  No way – I’m just a mug emergency department statistic in a wheelchair, my knowledge of my medical condition not taken into consideration.

You see, when I ran the Emergency Department, I would have looked at the presenting complaint, and quickly confirmed the provisional diagnosis and sent the patient to the appropriate specialist unit or to be seen. I have never had any time for collecting patients.

Epistasis – An Addendum

There were ambulances parked outside the hospital. We had contemplated calling an ambulance at one stage when my nose bleed was particularly acute, and we were unable to bring it under control. In conversation with the paramedics, my wife found out that ambulance officers, including the paramedics, have no special training in stopping a nosebleed, apart by compression for up to 30 minutes. Let me say that compression for that length of time is difficult to sustain, as I found out when my nose was bleeding, seemingly uncontrollably.

Added to the fact that ambulance officers or emergency physicians are unable to staunch the blood except by pressure, it is appropriate for treatment of this condition to be reconsidered. I have since read the NSW Health sheet on nosebleed, and none of the protocol recommendations were used by those in the emergency department. I did it myself (well until eventually the emergency department registrar removed the gauze plug I had inserted).

I was bleeding anteriorly, but as I read on through the material on nose bleed, postnasal bleed may be a far more serious condition requiring specialist attention without delay. One can lose blood very quickly as the postnasal space is the terminus for a vascular plexus to which two arteries contribute.

Finally, it was also incidentally discovered that I have a deviated septum. I remember I sustained a heavy blow as a child boxing in an inter-house final. A deviated septum, means that one of your nasal airways is smaller than the other and more likely to bleed. You live and learn.


Each year for more than 15 years now, we benchmark the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The point is, what will we do about this gap? Truth is important, but it must be followed by action. Identifying the problem is only a start. The next question is what do we do? And this is why we need a Voice. That’s why the Voice is our first priority. We must change the process to ensure governments and bureaucrats respond to the voices of ordinary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people who truly represent their communities from the grassroots up to the decision-makers in Canberra.

The Voice will be an authoritative representative body elected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It will be a committee, in a sense, an advisory committee, to make representations on behalf of First Nations peoples. No special legal powers to write or implement policy, but the moral power of representing the true Indigenous population of this country. Representation that is consistent. – Rachel Perkins.

Charlie Perkins

The fondest memory of many I had of her father, Charlie Perkins, was the time I was walking across King’s Hall during the dinner break, when Mick Young and Eric Walsh approached us and addressed Charlie: “You coming to dinner with us, Charlie?” It was an invitation designed to publicly humiliate me as I was pointedly excluded. Charlie turned to them and said quietly, “I’m going to dinner with Jack Best.” It was recognition the Aboriginal people were not unquestionably beholden to the Australian Labor Party. It was also recognition that, once he determined a course of action however trivial this gesture may appear, Charlie would follow through.

I knew Charlie at the height of his power. I believed he was too much constrained by the bureaucracy. He was too much of a free-flowing spirit.

Now we have his daughter on the “truth-telling” bandwagon. This is a Marcia Langton ploy to shut down discussion. Truth is what Marcia determines; whereas the stories incorporating the myths and legends belong to each tribe, as it was how they may be interpreted in terms of natural phenomena. We constantly hear that the Aboriginal people have been here for 60,000 years. Then there are thousands of years of silence broken by secondary sources and much speculation. No truth here.

Here, storytelling is important to fill the gap, especially where such tradition is in the main oral. But that is not truth. Truth is something that is accepted – such as the dark side involving the complicity of Aboriginal troopers in the massacre of other Aboriginals and the fact that Aboriginals collected Aboriginal skulls now being repatriated back to their ancestral burial grounds alongside the more commonly stated “truths” about whitefella actions. This is one of my aims – to remove the sense of whitefella guilt and expunge this insidious so-called “truth telling” as if “truth” only exists on one side of the ledger.

Once we admit that we all live an imperfect world, which will always remain so, then there will arise a Voice which, for a brief time, I shared with Charlie as we sat around a campfire outside Old Parliament House 40 years ago. Surely there are other examples that could give meaning to the Voice, as a call for mutual respect in which sins of the past are cleansed rather than weaponised.

My Favourite Gourd

One of my favourite reminders of times we spent in Maine near the Canadian border overlooking the Bay of Fundy is a gourd. My wife had bought it in Maine. I had always associated gourds as water containers that Mexicans lugged around the desert strapped to the sides of their burros.

Yet gourds were found growing all through the New England area from pre-historic times. The earliest gourd carving was found on an archaeological site in Maine and has been carbon-dated to 6,500 years ago.

As one authority has written, growing gourds may have been spread initially in conjunction with improvements in fishing techniques, with small gourds used primarily as net floats. In this scenario, gourd growing spread northward from the coastal plains of the Southeast into river valleys of the Midwest and Northeast as fishing became more significant. The growing of gourds was fully compatible with a fisher-gatherer-hunter lifestyle.

Gourds have been grown worldwide for thousands of years. They have little food value but their strong, hard-shelled fruit, in addition to being used as fishing floats, have been long prized as containers and musical instruments.

This lightweight “container crop” would have been particularly useful to human societies before the advent of pottery and settled village life and were grown before there was any systematic horticulture.

Thus, gourd harvesting was not an impetus for widespread horticulture nor did it necessarily trigger a transition to the Agricultural Revolution.

Women may have grown gourds, but the possible role of women in fishing activities as noted above is more ambiguous than is their role in gathering and eventually domesticating the food plants along the eastern seaboard of Northern America, well prior to white settlement.

Gourds being used for folk art has a long history in south-west USA among the Indian tribes such as the Apache, Hopi, Zuni and in Central and South America among Indian tribes, particularly those of Guatemala and Peru. But I had no idea that gourd carving occurred in Maine. Some of the carvers are the descendants of the local indigenous people.

The gourd my wife purchased has the patina of leather and is unexpectedly light. It is easy to see why the gourd was used as a bag. But our gourd with a narrow opening with a rim of pine needles would be an inconvenient vessel.

Pine needles are only one such decoration; porcupine needles are also used. The needles are usually baked in glycerine water (and dye, if colouring them) for four hours and then dried for 3-4 days. This preserves the needles from breaking.

Our gourd seems polished amber in colour with its circular walls etched with figures of prehistoric horses which seem to have been transferred from the cave paintings of Altamira.

Overall, a piece of art which attracts the eye, and carved in Maine!

Mouse Whisper

The F-16 offers Ukraine the ability to safely strike targets hundreds of km away, deep in Russian-controlled territory. That’s vital if any ground offensive is to succeed.

An American declaration about the refusal to send the latest F-16s to the Ukraine because they might fall into Russian hands is a ludicrous excuse. This implies that you would be using your worst equipment (or at least equipment no better than the inferior equipment of the other side) in all warfare. War is not fought that way, and we all know that.  Just imagine the RAF, in the Battle of Britain, saying that the boffins advocated they use Sopwith Camels instead of Spitfires for that same reason.

Really you American squirrels should stop treating us Australian mice as though we are drongos.

Australian speckled drongo named Barnaby

Modest Expectations – Timor Leste

Timor Leste

Normally I just make an association with the number of the blog with the title, and let the reader deduce the association. But I have had to alter the title of this blog from Tonga to Timor Leste with the fall of Liechtenstein, to accommodate the number 197. Why? Because in the latest FIFA rankings issued on 22 December, Liechtenstein have fallen two places in the rankings, where San Marino rounds out the 211 ranked nations.  As a result, Tonga and Timor Leste have moved up one place each in the rankings.

Following the recent World Cup, Australia and Morocco have made the greatest advances up the ranks, each rising 11 places. Morocco is now at 11 and Australia 27. Canada and Qatar fell the furthest, each cascading down 12 places to 53rd and 62nd respectively. Wales slumped to 28th, registering a fall of nine spots. Denmark has fallen eight spots to 18th position and Serbia is down eight spots to 29th.

Brazil still heads the rankings with Argentina second and France third, with Belgium plummeting to fourth.

Ceduna 2002

We met a few people once in Ceduna like Jay Pasachoff whose death, at 79 years of age on November 20th, was reported in an obituary in a recent Economist (December 10-16th). In Ceduna there was a total eclipse of the sun in 2002, and the Allens and the Best-Sargeants decided to venture across to view it. Like much of which we did together, it was a spur of the moment decision. When we had done the same for the Sydney Olympics, we bought the original package, which included tickets for the Opening Ceremony. That spur of the moment decision was timely; the proposed trip to Ceduna was not.

The immediate problem of getting to Ceduna was solved by our flying to Adelaide and getting a lift with the Allens who drove over from Melbourne and picked us up at the airport. There were 780 kilometres still to drive. We senza Allens had previously been to Ceduna on a memorable occasion when my wife injured herself on the way to the airport and by the time she had arrived to meet me in Adelaide (I had been in Whyalla) she was unable to walk, but that can wait for another blog .

However, on this occasion we went the inland route through both the townships of Wudinna (where there is a mini-Uluru, Mount Wudinna) and Kimba (where the Big Galah glowers down upon the traveller). The second problem which had faced us was there was no accommodation in either Ceduna or Streaky Bay.  We should have anticipated that, given that Ceduna itself is isolated except for the Aboriginal communities in the West and Streaky Bay in the East. Any other accommodation was over 100 kilometres away and only in a caravan park. Fortunately, I knew some of the Prideaux family and I contacted one of the elders whom I prefer not to name for cultural reasons, and she said they had an empty Aboriginal owned house in Ceduna. Yes, she said we could have it for the week. Given how difficult accommodation was, it was a Godsend to be able to rent such a three bed-roomed house in the centre of town.

As a side comment, if one wants to get the freshest King George whiting, Ceduna certainly was the place, when we were there.

Like many small, isolated settlements, Ceduna has its own distinctive culture. One often finds Pitjantjatjara people in Ceduna. They roam around the Great Victoria Desert, which lies between Ceduna and their settlements in the far North of South Australia, in settlements such as Ernabella and Fregon. Aboriginal people can be reticent, but ask them what mob they are from and they‘ll open up.

The eclipse had lured a number of them across the desert; their traditions had bequeathed the landmarks so they can go safely from one place to another, where we white fellas would only see stone and sand and spinifex. Research studies have revealed that “Pitjantjatjara communities would project sacred stones at the eclipsing Sun whilst chanting a particular song—always with success. The act of casting magical stones at the Sun strengthened the medicine man’s status in the community since he was always successful in bringing the Sun back from the darkness, averting the evil and saving the people.”

The Aboriginal medicine men were often very shrewd, and before modern science knew that this was a natural phenomenon upon which to base their illusionary magical powers. It is amazing what was once seen as a mystical expression of a higher power, whatever called, can now be as precisely calculated as what will happen tomorrow to us cannot. This particular eclipse was thus slated for 4th December 2002, and expected to start between 6.38 pm and 6.45 pm on that day. The total eclipse would last for 32 seconds, the longest time in any of the places across Australia. We duly went down to the beach, the clouds cleared, donned our eclipse glasses and settled down to watch the spectacle. I had been in Melbourne on October 23, 1976 when the city was plunged into that eerie light of the solar eclipse, but since I was in a built up area without any protection for my eyes I did not see the eclipse directly.

At Ceduna, it was different. Once the eclipse came, it was as in all the textbook descriptions but being there experiencing the passage, the penumbra, the diamond effect of the sun reappearing, it was all so worthwhile. Thirty-two seconds of a light which is described as “eerie” is that of a special dimness, so hard to define if you have never experienced it. If there had not been some whooping, it would have been silent – a silence most fauna respect. Then the eclipse was over, the sun emerged.  We did not get up and immediately fold our deck chairs. We just kept looking out to sea.

Jack Pascachoff was, for 50 years until his death, the Professor of Astronomy at Williams College Massachusetts and director of its Hopkins Observatory. To him “the perfect alignment, in solemn darkness, of the celestial bodies that mean most to us” gave a primal thrill that was indescribable. As a self-styled “umbraphile”, a shadow-lover, his greatest joy was to stand in that brief darkness cast by the shadow of the Moon”.  His College is ranked as top in national liberal arts across the USA, and is located in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in the Berkshires and is one of the oldest colleges in the country. The school was originally a men’s college; women were first admitted in 1971 – almost all students are resident.

Pascachoff had observed 75 eclipses, and we met some of these eclipse devotees in Ceduna – but do not remember Pascachoff among the crowd. These people travelled from one eclipse site to the next, which at that time was Chile, I heard one of them say. Well, as I say, some people collect teddy bears, and others obsessively try and visit every State in the USA.

In reading the obituary, I loved the anecdote of an eclipse in Manitoba, when he was shocked by the drivers who just turned on their headlights and kept moving. As one would say, takes all types…

He enthused his students and an even better eclipse was forecast for 2024, with totality from Mexico to the Canadian Maritimes. He wanted everyone to observe it. As for him, he was already plotting hotel reservations in Sinaloa, the place with the best view.”  Maybe now his view will be unique.


I am in “the throwing out” phase of my life. While not pathological, I tend to keep correspondence I should have turfed out years ago. But there is a certain nostalgia for my several careers. For instance, I moved out of clinical and laboratory research at the end of 1971. Some of my co-authors went back to the own countries.  I had corresponded with them while we finished collaborative work, and then I moved on. I kept the reprints, and I wondered what had become of them in the intervening years. I found out one was deregistered over 20 years ago for falsifying consent forms for his clinical research; and the other has been showered with honours as an eminent professor clinician. Their notoriety is recorded on Google, and for better or for worse these two research chums had not just faded away without leaving any trail.

Vivian Bullwinkel

The problem when you throw out correspondence, I am walking with ghosts. Not all the old correspondence went into the wastepaper basket. For instance, there are some very friendly correspondence. In 1988, I wrote a book for the Bicentenary entitled “Portraits in Australian Health”, one of whom came from interviewing Vivian Statham who, as Vivian Bullwinkel, survived the Bangka Island massacre where all her fellow nurses were gunned down by the Japanese in 1942, and she survived wounded but able to nurse herself back to a state where she was able to spend the rest of the war as a prisoner of war tending to other POWs.

Initially she had declined to be interviewed, but relented. Even in her interview, at least at the start, her husband was present and she was a little wary throughout, but after I sent her a copy of the book I was very pleasantly surprised by her letter in reply in which she thanked me and praised the content and the style. Such letters are what encourages one to live another day

Given that life is a cascade interrupted by changes of direction, I have met a great many people, and so many have contributed to my tiers of paper. One can kid oneself that they are archives; really it is underlying vanity that some person will want to write one’s biography in the future – as if one’s life provides a unique insight worthy of such.

With the help of three of my grandchildren, we emptied out two large storerooms, and then this evacuation ground to a halt. Obviously word of the experience had gone down the line and emptying dusty storerooms was not for them, even if it was their grandfather’s so-called heritage. At one stage, no 2-grandchild asked point-blank why I was keeping all this stuff. The problem is that there are regulations which insist on records being kept for a varying number of years, and when you are working, it is easier to store more than less. But for a perspicacious teenager, that was a lame excuse.

I wish I had written a diary from whenever. The blog is a useful piece of technology which pen and paper, and scrawled notes, and annotated files could never be. However, I had the foresight to at least have a set of “Personal” files, but even that has been in a chaotic state because filing is always a problem when you live an itinerant life.  I hope to have sufficient time at least to catalogue the stuff which provides a useful legacy. Nevertheless, as I say a diary would have helped, although imagine 60 years of compulsively written diary. Would have spent less time in the non-members bar. Maybe.

The Essential Breakfast

If there were no other meal in the day, I would always choose breakfast.

I was musing about this because in the morning when all the various rituals I have to follow – the ablutions, the tablets, the skin medications, the compression stockings – have finished, then breakfast comes along. It is a time of enjoyment as my wife is a very good provider. While she has a routine with variety of either mushrooms on toast, or bacon sandwich, or muesli, or boiled eggs, or scrambled eggs, or avocado and tomato on toast, or omelette.  Welsh rarebit is reserved for St David’s Day.

My favourite is the poached eggs that she conjures. Long ago these eggs were cooked in those soulless metal poachers, which produced those semi-lunar firm, maybe eminently edible – but essentially breakfast via the tradesmen’s entrance.

My wife’s poached eggs are sublime. In Italian, poached eggs are called uova camicia, literally eggs in a shirt. The shirt analogy gives an impression of a free-flowing white tail floating in the hot spring water. These are not the poached eggs, neat compact white nuggets, uova in canovaccio , highly professional but in the end  lacking the abandon of my wife’s expertise.

So much enthusiasm for an ordinary chook’s egg – not from the araucaria with their blue eggs; or duck eggs with their rich yellow yolks or speckled quail eggs.

She also makes a mean uova strapazzate – such a demonstrative word for scrambled eggs. The Italians say it so well.

But back to the start. My original introduction to breakfast as a child emerging from infancy was porridge. One of my earliest memories was the sight of porridge bubbling away on the wood-fired stove of my aunt who had married into a Scottish clan. I always remember her gentle boiling of the oats, which she stirred in milk and water, clockwise. Counter-clockwise was considered unlucky. I was always intrigued when my aunt added salt to the porridge and yet before we ate it, we smothered it with brown sugar. I learnt that for hot liquid you ate from the edge where it was cooler. I remember there was always a sprinkle of wheat-harts on the top, to keep us all regular, the meaning of which I did not understand at the time.

Years later, I learnt that porridge was stirred with a spurtle, a round rod with a smooth surface which prevents the oats from adhering as one stirs and thus preventing the porridge from clumping together. These spurtles were turned from Huon pine and form an unusual present for my Scottish friends – cheaper than whisky. Today, I rarely have porridge; and except for Weet-bix we never ate the products which the Seventh Day Adventists through John Kellogg and his disciple Edward Halsey had foisted onto the Australian breakfast menu. On my mother’s rather lengthy list of proscribed people were Adventists. There was one cereal exception and that was rice bubbles with their characteristic “snap, crackle, pop”, which I, the kid, insisted on pouring the milk over to elicit the sound. The actual consumption was very much a secondary phenomenon.

I always want tea in the morning and, as varieties of tea multiplied, I have settled on Earl Grey tea as the preferred one. A minor point was that my mother insisted on never having Bushell’s tea in the house; never knew why.  At the same time during the War, coffee was very difficult to obtain, and chicory was the substitute. I remember Turban essence!

Countries where tea does not form part of the normal breakfast, I suppose I tolerate, except when the tea is made with the water not boiling. After my mother died, my father had Mrs Ruff come in and cook our breakfast which was invariably fried eggs and bacon every weekday morning. As you would imagine, this is not now my favourite breakfast even when it is offered “sunnyside up.”

I suppose university, when I barely woke up before lectures, was a time I ate very little breakfast and where instant coffee was de rigeur. It was a time when I first became acquainted with Italian style coffee – the cappuccino and the long black. Breakfast was always rushed, a piece of fruit, a piece of toast. and not enjoyable, unless the marmalade was special. Otherwise, Vegemite abounded; or in my early years it was Marmite.

And of course there was one fad, which became a stable on the breakfast table, and which mostly I avoided especially when I was dieting – and that was orange juice. “OJ” is calorie packed and moreover I sympathise with the American writer who commented: “Scientists still don’t know exactly why orange juice and toothpaste combine to create a taste somewhere between sauerkraut and battery acid, but the suspicion is it has something to do with sodium lauryl sulphate, the primary ingredient in toothpaste’s cleansing agents.”

Then for ten years in later life I used to live for part of the week in a motel in the Victorian town of Cobram where I was working. My breakfast invariably was a plate of sausages, and these sausages were the best breakfast sausages I had ever tasted. For the first time in years I had time to read the paper and have a meal I really enjoyed, day after day.

There have been memorable breakfasts. One was in a hotel on the island of Guernsey, where the boiled eggs were just “runny” right in which to dip “the soldier toast”. The other was at the Randolph Hotel looking out on the Oxford streetscape and tucking into a plate of kippers.  Then I have also written a poem about the time we had breakfast on the Moonie River among the coolabah trees, which is soon to be published. The Moonie flows by the settlement of Flinton, where we were staying at the time, in Southern Queensland near the NSW border, before emptying into the Barwon River near St George.

Nevertheless, overriding every breakfast is the perfect cup of tea. I unfortunately have the propensity of not drinking mine until it has passed its prime. There is a point when tea is sublime, but you have to know the point when you have drunk of it.

One way of Putting It 

Thus it is with a feeling of guarded optimism that we, as a nation, reach the end of this disturbing year and, thankfully, enter the holiday season. The festivities are somewhat subdued this year, as inflation forces consumers to cut back; according to the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Conifer Statistics, the Median Household Christmas Tree Height (MHCTH), which last year was “LeBron James,” currently stands at “Danny DeVito.” – Boston Globe.

Mouse Whisper

With acknowledgement to Mr A.B. Paterson:


(or if we had no Joyce in the matter?)

On the outer Baku where the churches are few,

And men of religion ride donkey,

On a tarmac never cross’d ‘cept by folk that are lost,

One Alan Joe Joyce has a shonky.

For our pocket Ulysses the last verse goes something like this…

And Joey Joyce has been made an AC

And the one thing he hates more than sin is

To be asked by the folk who think him a flea,

When oh, when will he bloody well finis’ 


A Courageous New Year to you All from Me and The Mouse

Baku International Airport

Modest Expectations – Building a B-B-Q

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

John Howard 2000

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

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

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

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

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

John Howard 2022

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

Halibut and Homer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tonight’s dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homer and Kenai Mountain Range

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

Borders are Edgy

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

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

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

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

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

The Overlanders

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

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

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

Helen Grieve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Unexpected Consequence

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

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

Putting the Queue on the Rack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

Ian Roberts