Modest Expectations – Song of Joy

We are sailing on Le Lapérouse, one of Ponant’s cruise ships, which is on an eight day cruise up the Vietnamese coast, commencing from Ho Chi Minh City. The weather reflects the fact that it is still the rainy season. This Ponant ship was constructed in two parts by VARD, one of the major global designers and shipbuilders of specialised vessels. Headquartered in Ålesund in Norway and with approximately 8,000 employees, VARD operates seven shipbuilding facilities, three in Norway, two in Romania, one in Brazil and one in Vietnam. VARD also develops power and automation systems, deck handling equipment, vessel accommodation, and provides design and engineering services to the global maritime industry.

The hull was constructed in the Romanian city of Tulcea, which is the major settlement on the edge of the Danube Delta, but the ship was outfitted in Norway, and the Scandinavian influence is shown in the clean lines and the light airy fittings which seem to be beech or pine. The trip between Tulcea, through the Danube Delta (predominantly Romania but including the Ukraine and Moldova) to Norway takes three weeks and it was towed by tugboat the whole way. It must be an interesting journey these days to enter the Black Sea towing a partially finished ship. Unless you have been there, you do not appreciate the Delta’s immense size, and stopping off on one the many settlements in the Delta, as I had done on a previous trip down the lower Danube, I learnt that the villagers spoke Ukrainian not Romanian. There is much cultural intermingling.

Le Lapérouse hull, under tow

The ship, as its name suggests, is determinedly French, although curiously it is registered in Mata’Utu, the largest settlement in the Wallis and Futuna Islands, a French territory north of Fiji and west of Samoa.

On the bow of the boat, flutters the Breton flag – nine alternating black and white stripes in the upper left canton of which, in serried rows, there are what look like eleven scarecrows – not the stated description impenetrable in my heraldic illiteracy. The captain of the ship is a Breton.

Before we embarked, we all had to be tested for COVID-19 in Vietnam. I might add it cost around $22 for two of us, whereas when we were tested earlier in the year prior to going to New Zealand, it cost in the region of $120 from one of those “cut-price” pharmacies. Thus, all the passengers who boarded the ship were RAT negative, but on the first day one of the crew was reported to have tested COVID positive and from then on, all the crew wore masks. There were no more positives reported.

The food is mostly French, the wine is French, the chefs are French, the waiters are mostly Filipinos or Indonesian and the sommelier comes from Djibouti. The service is superb, but still there are gangplanks to be negotiated, and tours are for those who can walk over uneven streets and for three nights, there was weather, with “pitching and rolling” in a three metre swell. Nature is there to test not cuddle one. Fortunately, the typhoon in the Philippines was tracking away, but we were still left with strong winds from the north.

Nevertheless, the two cabins for disabled passengers have been outfitted well, with quasi-timber floors, not tiles which are notoriously slippery, irrespective of the vigour of the boat movement. The cabin is spacious, and the shower space has been cleverly designed to accommodate a wheelchair, but not so large that the ambulatory disabled cannot grasp a hand rail.

The passengers are mainly French; there is a smattering of Americans, 18 Russians – and about seven Australians, including a retired nurse from Canberra, who classifies herself a seasoned Ponant traveller having been on four cruises including this one, although this one was more courtesy of an enforced COVID confinement on the previous cruise resulting in credited days on a future cruise.

The large cruise ships have emerged from a period where they were seen as villains in the spread of COVID-19 and that there was something squalid about this form of leisure – the love boat, excessive drinking, a casino and theme park on the water with variety shows, games and boorishness admixed into some forced jolliness.

Ponant is none of these. Perhaps the price deters some and these boats have much smaller numbers of passengers and promises of French chic, personalised service, no herd-driven demand to participate in onboard activities, sensible flexibility in the rules and exotic locations. To what was promised: I would say “yes” to the first four.

The problem with the places where this ship berthed is that they were working ports, and to see the historic and natural sites one had to go well away from the dock for whole day excursions. Perhaps some time in the future Vietnam will have more “cruise ship docks” given the country is looking to develop this area of tourism, together with the massive resort developments taking place along the coastline with its palm fringed beaches. Vietnam has been a preferred holiday destination for both Russians and Chinese tourists, and while the Chinese have developed their own casino resorts they are probably empty at present while China remains effectively locked down. Nevertheless, the long bus excursions from cruise boats would still remain.

Ha Long Bay

I contemplated several and paid for the Ha Long boat excursion, but in the end I suspected the boat transfers may prove too difficult and didn’t go – reports of unstable portable steps more suited to giants and small, rocking boats confirmed it was the right choice. No doubt the huge limestone rocks which dot the Ha Long Bay justify recognition by UNESCO as one of its spectacular World Heritage sites, but not if venturing to see them is more ordeal than being able to appreciate their uniqueness. Fortunately, the view from the “main channel” when you enter the Bay provides sufficient exposure.

To me the challenge was to take a cruise to compensate for several cancelled because of The Virus in 2020. In the intervening two years my level of disability has increased so choice of cabin and activities requires planning.

Among the 94 cabins there were two for the disabled. As I said above, they are so well appointed that they should serve as models for all ships setting aside space for the disabled, so different from the airlines.

However, let me be frank and it may be my own experience, but Asia does not yet do disability well. That is not to say that people do not try and be unfailingly helpful, but they are untrained and nobody in many cases has thought about access nor the needs for showers, toilets and beds to be disabled-friendly. Rooms provided with rails, nonslip floors, chairs – firm enough so that one can get up unaided – a feature that equally applies to the bed.

This is increasingly going to be a challenge to the tourist industry as the number of not only wheelchair bound, but the ambulatory disabled increase – a very fertile ground for the entrepreneur prepared to challenge this whole area of Aids to Daily Living, even on holiday.

Fraser and the Fishing Boats

Fraser was right to claim successive governments did not withstand similar pressures as he had experienced, but he sees these as pressures of hostile and xenophobic anti-refugee community sentiment: the long-term agenda of immigration officials was of greater weight in Australian politics, expressing itself as an insistence on governments and Immigration Ministers. The “mandarins at the border” did not abandon the templates they had developed, and eventually they found future governments who would progressively implement their agenda. During 2010, former Prime Minister John Howard’s Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock would boast about ‘his’ “interlocking suite of measures”.. Philip Ruddock  was referring to policies he brought to the Parliament; yet another view might argue he merely claimed for himself the proposals first tabled at Fraser’s 1979 Cabinet meetings.

(From James Smit, “Malcolm Fraser’s response to ‘commercial’ refugee voyages” p 103) 

Colourful Vietnamese fishing boats ply their trade along the coast. They are the same vessels that sailed with refugees to Australia. Seeing them, I was reminded of the first time I went to Broome. I had booked into the Mangrove Motel which was located on a sandy knoll and from my window I looked onto a forest of mangroves and beyond out to that distinctive azure sea which is the Indian Ocean. The difference between low and high tides can be much as 10 metres. Perched in the mangroves was a beached Vietnamese fishing boat. It was 1979. Over the years whenever I returned the boat was more decayed until there was only a remnant of the keel left.

Yet despite the conclusion reached in a review of Fraser’s contribution, between 1975 and 1982 when he was Prime Minister, 60,000 Vietnamese came to Australia, but only 2,000 who came were identified as “boat people” or “queue jumpers”, as Minister McPhee called them at the time. Most of the refugees came from South Vietnam, some were opponents of the incoming communist regime or had worked for the foreign forces. Those fleeing in the fishing boats still had to negotiate the Indonesian and Philippines archipelago, where they were attacked by pirates, the women raped, and all those on the boat including children murdered. Those who did reach Australia were allowed to stay and were not inhumanely towed out to sea.

The acceptance of these Vietnamese owed much to Whitlam’s ditching of the “White Australia” policy, which had underpinned much of our community attitudes, particularly to non-Europeans, since settlement in 1788.

The end of the 1970s found Vietnam still in turmoil; the concurrent rise of the Khmer Rouge and their Killing fields in Cambodia just aggravated the strife in Indochina in the aftermath of the “American War”. Arising from the criminality of the use of carpet bombing, napalm on villagers, inhumanity spread like fertilizer over the Indochinese countryside. Retribution was often brutal. Yet in Australia, with a blind eye to what was happening in the World, Government has maintained a policy of obstruction of those trying to reach their perceived safe haven, Australia, unless “they played the game”.

The use of the term “queue-jumpers” exemplified this response akin to “chaps, play the game.” Despite all, Australia has a vibrant Vietnamese population, the older generation having given way to a generation born in Australia.

Just like the election of 1966, the conservative party in Australia has been unerring in pushing the “yellow peril” button when in electoral strife. John Howard was, to me, the epitome of the curate’s egg, hard boiled.  The various exercises under his stewardship designed to prevent asylum seekers coming by boat, demonised the people smugglers, and then imprisoned those trying to escape conflict. Their crime? “Not playing the game” was added to the charge sheet.

It was an expensive solution. One source has it that in 2021 the annual cost, per person, to the Australian government of detaining and/or processing refugees and asylum seekers was estimated as follows: almost A$3.4m to hold someone offshore in Nauru or Papua New Guinea; A$362,000 to hold someone in detention in Australia. The deal struck between Cambodia and Australia to take refugees, which was brokered by Morrison, then Immigration Minister, in 2014, ended four years later after the Cambodian government had pocketed A$40m for ten asylum seekers, only one of whom stayed in Cambodia. He was last heard of in 2019 without assistance, a Muslim in a Buddhist country, no access to Cambodian citizenship and forgotten by Australia.

It is easy to tolerate inhumanity when you are shielded from its excesses. The demon is the people smuggler, and so it goes, there is something morally wrong in endeavouring to use whatever means at hand to reach Australia. However, given that Australia was up to doing questionable deals in response to getting rid of asylum seekers at great cost, it would have made more sense to locate an immigration department presence on one of the Indonesian islands and cut the middleman out. Then, perhaps the public disgrace where the Tamil family were treated so appallingly could have been avoided.

At several stages, given that we have an apartment in what was Frydenberg‘s electorate, I contemplated a hunger strike, but given my general health, it would have been futile, but then standing up for something you believe in is essentially an exercise in futility.

I always think of the IRA soldier, Bobby Sands, who died in 1981 aged 27 in the Maze prison, maybe an urban terrorist but a man who believed passionately in a cause for which he was prepared to die. After all, the litany of beatified persons, who died for their belief, forms one of the Christian Church’s traditions. Their images are cast across Christendom and they live on as labels of churches, cathedrals and basilicas.  Plus, you have a particular day in the calendar where people may worship your hallowed name.

But not Bobby Sands.  Misguided … depends on whose perspective – a person who faced his own mortality, but yet has no church in his name. I could not do what he did, with the walls of rationalisation I had constructed to reassure myself.

Anyway, the Tamil family are now happily ensconced back in Biloela, and my gesture perhaps would just have been recorded on a sheet of newspaper in the recycling bin.

Cosmetic or Not

Typically reserved for the rich and famous, cosmetic surgery was, and still is, desired by many women and men, regardless of financial constraints. In today’s world with numerous financing options available, it becomes just a matter of “what would you like to do first?” 

I grew up in an era when plastic surgeons were highly respected. The advances they had made during the World Wars in fact defined the specialty. By definition a plastic surgeon needs to be very skilful, and given the level of disfigurement of some of the war casualties, the surgeons had to be patient, knowing where they were going with each procedure – facing challenges which were then thought insurmountable. Through experience the surgeons improved the outcomes for their patients while also gradually defining the specialty.

Sir Benjamin Rank

Sir Benjamin Rank was the doyen and because of him and his team, Melbourne became respected worldwide as a centre for plastic surgery. I was fortunate in many ways to have known so many of these highly skilled surgeons; one I classified as a friend, another two were in my year of medicine, one made an outstanding contribution in determining the blood supplies to skin and underlying tissue of various parts of the body; the second combined plastic surgery with ophthalmology, a sub-specialty which, even now, is increasingly directed towards improving appearance rather than correcting deformity and extirpation of tumours.

I had a bad car accident in 1981 and among my myriad injuries was one where my chin struck the steering wheel. It had previously been shown when I had any dental work that my bone is very dense. When my chin struck the steering wheel, I sustained a cruciform lesion, suggesting my tissue between steering wheel and jaw imploded. My jaw was not fractured, so although sore, no wiring was required, but my chin was damaged far beyond just stitching up a complicated laceration. It needed plastic surgery.  The tissue which had sagged around my jaw line had to be fixed. Multiple operations and bandaging to help to hold the repaired tissue followed. Meticulous it was; now what remains is a meandering scar on my chin, hardly visible. But it is 41 years since the accident and cosmetically it has stood the test of time.

Thus, cosmetic surgery is not standalone expertise, conjured up without regard to the rules of mainstream plastic surgery. Why these so-called aesthetic surgeons, essentially general practitioners who have created their own tribe, are allowed to practice is probably due to the fact that much of the work lies outside Medicare.

The other myth that these aesthetic surgeons hide behind is that any medically qualified practitioner should be able to undertake the practice of medicine. Is that a full stop? It may have been so, even at the time I graduated, since it was assumed that as a student we were exposed to all aspects of medical practice – here was the leap of logic – and thus were competent. That mantra of see one; do one; teach one …

Prof Mark Ashton

It was a fallacy then and it is a fallacy now. It is appalling that Mark Ashton was harassed by the Health Department after he blew the whistle on the shonky practices, which passed as “cosmetic surgery”. Plastic surgery is all about outcomes. Cosmetic results – yes important, but in the hands of a competent surgeon what would you otherwise expect? At the simplest level this may be just removing a tumour from the skin. However, it is vital to remove all the tumour otherwise more surgery will be required to determine the tumour edge. A competent surgeon gets this right first time to avoid trauma to the patient and additional cost – to either the patient or the taxpayer (and this depends on the results of pathology and whether the lesion proves malignant or not). In my case once, the plastic surgeon did not get the edge, but he was quick to realise that he had not done so, and the additional operation was done efficiently with an excellent result- it has not recurred in 30 years.

I‘m very much a believer that all plastic surgery should be under one set of best practice rules. Those cosmetic surgeons who have learnt the practice involved in creating a temporary illusion that the ageing process can be combatted should abide by the same standards that I would expect from a plastic surgeon undertaking lifesaving rather than lifestyle operations. To me it is so obvious. The dark side of this area of surgery was caught on camera, where the supposed surgeons were engaging in disgusting antics, while performing liposuction. Unbelievable.

The area has been subject to multiple investigations by the media, but the prime response has been the lawyers threatening a class action. However, what of the government and organised medicine?  Most of these cosmetic cowboys join the Australia Medical Association knowing how loath it is to criticise its constituency – or rather to call for a total revamping of the regulating and disciplining agencies.

The scandal of the raid on Professor Ashton shortly after the 60 Minutes TV exposé, by Federal Government regulators, made me think of dark corridors or coffee bars where scuttlebutt is devised, and shock-horror – money can change hands.

If I were Government, I would initiate an investigation into how the raid came about, and just who was the whistleblower. Or was there one?

In the meantime, I would bring the whole practice of plastic surgery including cosmetic surgery under the one regulating body, offer the chair of such a body to Mark Ashton for five years, together with staff including a panel of qualified plastic surgeons to review the competence of all those practising and generally fix this appalling mess. If this means obtaining the Kabuki doll appearance has to be carved out in another country, so be it.

I wonder what Sir Benjamin Rank would have done; but then we live in different times. That does not mean Australia should be inflicted with a class of people – that of incompetent practitioners – in their case laughingly called cosmetic surgeons, should be able to display their incompetence and general disregard for their patients and leave it to the reputable area of the Australian health system to repair. Furthermore, those cosmetic surgeons who are providing competent, quality procedures should welcome such a move.

A good story

The following report appeared this week in the Boston Globe. Why it is a good story is evident, and I realised how little I know. But this article I’m glad I read.

Explorers Bradford Washburn and Robert Bates travelled to the remote Yukon wilderness in 1937 to climb Mount Lucania, but a month of bad weather that preceded their trip had left the Walsh Glacier, the starting point of their expedition, covered in “fathomless” slush and “cut to ribbons by dozens of new crevasses.”

The poor conditions made it impossible to get a flight off the glacier after their climb, so the men hiked more than 100 miles to safety, shedding supplies that would have been too heavy to carry. It was one of the more remarkable survival stories of the past century.

Nestled in the cache they left behind were cameras that Washburn, a renowned photographer, had planned to retrieve a year later but never did.

Instead, a seven-person expedition team recovered the cameras in August, 85 years later and more than 12 miles from where they had been left. The team of explorers announced their discovery last week.

Washburn, who died in 2007, would become one of the world’s top mountaineers, in addition to his work as one of its foremost cartographers. In Boston, he would be known as the man who built the Museum of Science into one of the premier institutions in New England.

The explorers found a portion of one of Washburn’s aerial shutter cameras, a Fairchild F-8. They also recovered two motion-picture cameras with the film loaded, a DeVry “Lunchbox” camera model, and a Bell & Howell Eyemo 71, as well as mountaineering equipment.

Conservators at Parks Canada, which oversees national parks in Canada, are treating the cameras to see if any images can be recovered.

The idea to recover the cameras came from Griffin Post, a professional skier who had learned about the cache while reading a 2002 book about the explorers’ harrowing journey, “Escape from Lucania” by David Roberts.

Post read Washburn’s journals, enlisted the help of scientists, and this year led two expeditions to the glacier in Kluane National Park and Reserve in the northwest corner of Canada in search of the cameras.

“You do all this research, you have all this science-based reasoning, and you think it’s totally possible: We’re going to go in there and look in this certain area, and it’s going to be there,” Post said Saturday. “And then the first time you actually see the valley of the Walsh Glacier and how massive it is and how many crevasses there are, how rugged the terrain is, your heart kind of sinks and you’re kind of like, no way, there’s just so much terrain.”

To find the items, the team enlisted Dorota Medrzycka, a glaciologist who interpreted maps and historical observations of the glacier’s flow to determine where the cache might be. But she could only provide estimates, and the group spent days searching the glacier.

“It would take us the whole day to walk 10 kilometers up glacier and come back to camp,” Medrzycka said. “And going up, there was quite a bit of crevasses, so there was a lot of zigzagging to try to find spots to jump over them.”

The group could not simply return to the spot where Washburn and Bates had left the cameras, because the glacier’s flow had changed the landscape.

Glaciers move at a constant speed from one year to the next, but not the Walsh Glacier, Medrzycka said. Unlike most, it is a surging glacier, which means that every few decades it moves more quickly for a period of a year or two.

In a normal year, the Walsh Glacier typically flows less than 1 meter per day. During the surge, it moves more than 10 meters, or about 32 feet, per day. Since the 1930s, there have been two surges.

Toward the end of the team’s weeklong trip in August, Medrzycka noticed two anomalies in the pattern of the ice, which she guessed had been caused by the surges, and was able to calculate a new estimate about where the items might be.

The revised estimate ended up sending the team to the items the next day.

“Knowing that the educated guess I made actually paid off and was right, it’s a very incredible feeling,” Medrzycka said.

Her findings also provided a new data point about the glacier that will be helpful for researchers.

“We can now better understand the change in the dynamics on Walsh Glacier and potentially be able to better predict how this specific glacier might change in the future,” Medrzycka said.

Whether the surging was tied to climate change was unclear, she said.

Climbers Bradford Washburn (right) and Robert N.H. Bates near the summit of Mount Lucania around July 1937. Until their summiting, Lucania had been the highest unscaled peak in North America.

“This irregular flow, that means that they are not behaving like other glaciers in the region,” Medrzycka said. “It’s difficult to say how much of what happens on Walsh Glacier is related to anything climatic or if it’s just internal behaviour.

The team was backed by Teton Gravity Research, a company that creates media showcasing extreme sports and plans to release a film about the item recovery.

Post said that though it seemed unlikely, he was cautiously optimistic that researchers would be able to recover images from the cameras.

“It was so unlikely to find the cache in the first place after 85 years,” he said. “Yes, it’s unlikely that some of that film is salvageable — but maybe it is.”

Mouse Whisper

The Italians have a phrase “come un ghiro” as in “ho dormito come un ghiro” – I slept like a dormouse, meaning I slept well, which is not surprising given that our dormouse cousins spend up to six months in hibernation. Like the T-Model Ford which could be any colour as long as it was black, dormice are any colour as long as it is Hazel; unless they are of the edible dormouse variety which was a delicacy favoured by the Romans and still persists as a delicacy among the countryfolk of Croatia and Slovenia, where their fat little bodies cooked are supposed to rival squirrel in their greasiness.

Oh, and you can tell a dormouse from a rat because the dormouse has a furry tail whereas the rat has a scaly tail. Just thought you’d like to know, if you’re looking to put one in your teapot to cook and mistaking cousin rat for one of them … just joking.

The dormouse’s head may have been in the teapot, but John Tenniel ensured the furry tail remained visible.

Modest expectations: Then off to Sydney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(a)      everyone chosen has the opportunity to refuse,

(b)      only expenses would be paid,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you are Young 

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

President Ramon Magsaysay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ngarrindjeri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Angel Falls if it ever existed outside Venezuela.

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

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

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

The migrants believed they were headed for Boston.

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

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

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

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

Governor Ron DeSantis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oak Bluffs is ritzy? Who knew?

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

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

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

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

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

Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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

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