Modest Expectations – Megazoom in my Jeans

My wife always wears a gold pendant round her neck with the head of a leopard. It is neither an heirloom nor some totem warding off the dark spirits. She simply likes it. I bought it for her in South Africa on impulse, but mindful that she is a part time wildlife photographer and has been to Africa on many occasions to do just that – photograph wildlife. She has the eye; she has the skills.

Nevertheless, this is just an entry point into a mention of another pendant that was purchased on a British Airways plane when such facilities were available, and before Alan Joyce introduced strap hanging on his Airbus festooned with images of himself as a pooka. Sorry I must have dozed off.


In this heart-shaped silver pendant was a rose gold sliver of a tiny angel. It was manufactured out of Welsh gold. In my last blog, I discussed the mining of silver in Northumberland. We tend to think of Great Britain minerals in terms of coal and tin – and in the case of Wales, slate.

Here is gold that is Welsh.

Welsh gold has been mined in south Wales since Roman times and more recently, from the mid 19th century onwards until 1939, in Snowdonia in what was more a gold stumble than a rush.

Welsh gold has royal approval. Since Lady Mary Bowes Lyon married the future George VI in 1923, most, if not all, of the prominent royals have had their wedding rings made of Welsh gold. Twice for Charles III!

Not enough to entice my wife to wear her Welsh gold round her neck. She prefers the elegant leopard, one of her favourite Africans.

Dennis Pashen

When I heard Dennis had died, my first reaction was of disbelief. For a guy who epitomised life, this was heresy that Dennis was dead.

Then it sank in and when I heard the circumstances “Yes, that was Dennis, dear impetuous Dennis”.

When I first met Dennis, he had not long left his general practice in Ingham.

I found him somewhat of a shock. There was this bearded bloke with a loud voice confronting me. I don’t remember exactly where, because his manner of greeting never changed even when we became good friends.

In Dennis, I found someone who called it how he saw it. He did not dissemble. He loved company, his role often came across as too overwhelming, but underlying everything there was a caring and generous person. But he was a person always on the go, as though he had to cram as much as possible into his life.

However, although I knew him; there was stuff about him I could not quite understand. Sometimes I detected a hesitancy in his bravado, as though there was an inherent shyness, and he needed a façade to cover this sensitivity. When he was in charge, this innate sensitivity was converted into the leadership quality few of us have, but which made him a good leader because he was very aware of the people around him and their aspirations.

I disagreed with him on a few matters where his enthusiasm verged on the quixotic, but it did not interfere with our friendship.

The most important person in his life was his partner, Vicki Sheedy. She understood his foibles; she provided a degree of tranquillity for him. I remember once visiting him in Mount Isa, when he was in charge of the University Department of Rural Health there. It was a weekend and he was alone with his dog. He was uncharacteristically quiet and it was easy to see he was depressed. That time there was no Vicki; Dennis remained silent despite our trying to cheer him up, and it was an awkward meeting. He would not admit he was missing Vicki, but fortunately he came to terms with his own need.

There were many other meetings, but it is for others to list his achievements, his awards, his employment. Nevertheless, there was one occasion which exemplified our friendship. We were forced to share a motel room in the Queensland outback town of Julia Creek one night. This caused great hilarity among the assembled others.  Of course, in the morning there were mutual accusations of snoring keeping the other awake. Actually, I had slept well.

Dennis was a child of Northern Australia, but with Vicki, he moved to Tasmania, to picturesque Middleton overlooking the D’entrecasteux Channel opposite Bruny Island. Vicki and he looked after his mother, Cleo there until she passed away. Dennis bought a boat; Vicki developed a magnificent garden.

Dennis did not retire. He worked as a general practitioner all over Tasmania, more than just filling in. He was attempting to build a coherent rural medical force. We own a property on the West Coast, and Dennis was often working in Queenstown, and he stayed with us in Strahan on many occasions. But he was always on the go; gone by seven in the morning. The world had to be confronted; to be treated. He was revered on the West Coast.

If Dennis were looking over my shoulder, I’m sure he would have corrected me on some of the things I have just written; but before I could reply he would be off in a plume of car exhaust.

Yes, Dennis, I miss you, dear friend. We all do.

The Forgotten Organ – The Thymus

I found out by accident that one of my cousins had died. Over the years, I hardly saw him. However, there was one year when our paths crossed. It was 1966. He started to become very weak despite being diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a rare chronic autoimmune disease marked by muscular weakness without wasting and caused by a defect in the action of acetylcholine at neuromuscular junctions.

The treatment relies on inhibiting the breakdown of the acetylcholine, which facilitates electrical signals travel between the nerves and muscles. The use of such a drug can reduce muscle weakness, but the tablet needs to be taken several times a day. Normally people with myasthenia which is treated can live normal lives, but in his case the drugs were not seen to be working, the condition was “fulminant”, and he was clearly dying.

It was a time when the investigative tools were not as developed as they are today. But his clinical profile changed, and the cause of the intractable disease was revealed. He developed an acute mediastinal syndrome. His face became suffused.  The veins on his neck stood out. He had some difficulty in breathing. He obviously had a mass in his mediastinum, the potential space between the rib cage and the vital structures in his neck. The mass needed to be removed immediately.

My involvement continued because, as one of the pathology registrars, I was called up to theatre because the senior thoracic surgeon was deep in an operation, and I realised he was operating on my cousin. When I arrived in theatre, I was able to see that the surgeon was removing a large mass from the neck. This was successfully removed.

The thymus

The organ removed proved to be a large thymus. There was no sign of tumour. The pathology finding was confirmed as thymic hyperplasia. The thymus, which is an organ concerned with the integrity of the immune system, generally is vestigial by adulthood. It lies between the upper lobes of the lungs behind the sternum.

The thymus is associated for some unknown reason, when pathologically enlarged or has a tumour, with the kind of fulminant myasthenia gravis my cousin had.  Recent evidence may suggest thymic myoid cells, which are muscle-like cells in the thymic medulla, may trigger the autoimmune response in myasthenia gravis.

My cousin was 24 years of age at the time of the operation, had a difficult post-operative recovery, needed treatment for the rest of his life, but died in September. He was 81 years.

People with myasthenia gravis normally can expect to live a so-called normal length of life. My cousin reached four score plus one, although I note that his death notice stated he died of cancer.  Rest in peace, my cousin – but for those few months in 1966, he was the subject of much medical interest, and ultimately resolution of what would have been a completely avoidable death if he had succumbed then.


I listened to Arthur Sullivan’s Irish Symphony this morning. My wife looked up and said the first movement was pleasant and reminded her of Mendelssohn. By the fourth movement the music was looking for a Gilbert libretto. The music had that bounce, that prance, that unmistakeable sound of Gilbert and Sullivan.

I always remember that my father had the whole Ruddigore score on 78s. It was one of the lesser-known Gilbert and Sullivan scores, and there was a gothic element to it. I think my father liked the overture in particular, but Gilbert and Sullivan operettas were never much to my taste. No doubt Gilbert’s words were clever and contained a harshly comic appraisal of Victorian society. In themselves, the libretti were variably clever, yet they could be overlain by melodrama sketched out on a maudlin Victorian canvas.

Nevertheless, when I was an early teenager, I saw the film about Gilbert and Sullivan, really a forerunner of the Odd Couple genre. Sullivan was a somewhat prissy composer and Gilbert, the wordsmith, whose middle name was Schwenck was so apt. He was a “schwenck”; Robert Morley played Gilbert as himself. It was an effortless performance when you play yourself, as Morley did. I don’t remember the ending being so cringe-worthy. My memory was of Gilbert who outlived Suliivan sitting on a bench, a neutral satisfied pose of reflection, not the ghastly ending of a rebel who had been socially neutered by Victorian mores.

Richard D’Oyly Carte was the catalyst for the Gilbert and Sullivan relationship, which began with the satirical Trial by Jury. I remember this was the first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta I saw. It was paired with another short farce called Cox and Box where the music was Sullivan, but the libretto was by a guy called Burnand.

D’Oyly Carte built the Savoy Theatre in 1881 to house the pair’s works. This was followed by his construction of the Savoy Hotel. In the film D’Oyly Carte was played by Peter Finch. He played the role perfectly, never overtly intruding but adroitly managing an often difficult inter-personal relationship between the two.

I remember for some reason choosing The Savoy Operas as one of my school prizes. I think I was trying to please my father. The prizes given at that time were beautifully bound, but mostly well outside the interests of young boys.

Later in life we came to stay at the Savoy Hotel, spent Christmas one year in a suite overlooking the Thames. The Savoy always had charm.

But there is one idiosyncratic fact about the Savoy Hotel. There is a cul-de-sac and it is the only street in Great Britain where the cars drive on the right hand side. The reason is quaint. By approaching the hotel on the right-hand side of the road, either the chauffeur or the hotel’s doorman was able to open the door without walking around the car. This would allow the lady to alight from the carriage and walk straight into the hotel.

Does Michelin Bullock have the Appropriate Inflationary Characteristics? All Pumped Up, Her Salary on the Rise? 

The Treasurer and the Gov of the RBA promoting the non-inflationary puddin’ bowl haircut

Michele Bullock, who was deputy governor prior to her promotion to the top role last month, earned remuneration totalling $828,313. That sum was almost 12% more than in the previous year when Bullock was an assistant governor for part of the period.

Hardly inflationary? 

A great deal has been said about this bureaucrat, Michele Bullock, who seems to have had a constricted life experience as if she has been incarcerated since graduation in an economic monastic nunnery writing illuminated manuscripts.

She has worked almost continually in the Reserve Bank Closed Order since graduation and has taken a vow of silence to only speak to fellow nuns and monks and to select economists and politicians before retiring back to her comfort cell. She then is well shielded from the harsh reality of a person living on the basic wage, the ultimate inflationary scourge when they hold out the begging bowl and ask for more. Perhaps a few groats here and there for the peasantry, according to her edict, to be rendered toothless and with the standard Reserve Bank “puddin’ bowl haircut”.

Now known as the RBA

Seriously, do we have to endure this person for the next five years?

Dutch Boy with the Ambiguous finger

The Dutch sociologist Hein de Haas is currently Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam, a post he has held since 2015, He has written widely on immigration, and what drives the policies relating to the confusion which it causes so-called liberal democracies.

Liberal democracies face a trilemma of reconciling three distinct aims: the economic need for migrant labour; the political desire to be seen to be controlling immigration; and the moral need to treat migrants and asylum seekers as people with rights and dignities. The seeming impossibility of achieving all three has led governments to pursue an overt policy of being tough on immigration, an often covert policy of increasing net immigration flows and a willingness to sacrifice the rights of migrants and asylum seekers to economic and political needs.

What the obsession with immigration does, De Haas observes, is make it easier to turn questions about social policy and home into a debate about an external threat to the nation. It turns immigrants into scapegoats and allows politicians to absolve themselves of blame, casting themselves as crusaders against that outside foe.”

The above appeared in The Guardian Weekly under the by-line of Kenan Malik on 17 November. 

That is a calm academic analysis of what has been a deplorable spectacle culminating in years of inhibiting the migration of the refugees into this country. I’m not happy with myself for not speaking out earlier. But what would it matter. If one accepts and then appropriately compartments the Aboriginal assertion of having been here since Adam, migration has been a major driver in this country. Sometimes, the Aboriginal people may wish to contemplate why they fled so far from their African origins.

We are all migrants of sorts. Generally, people emigrate because they are looking for a better life.  Australian migration from Europe has been complicated by its birth as a nation of convicts – a British prison for felons, vagabonds, the dross of British society guarded by a band of corrupt soldiers for whom rum was the preferred currency. The fact that some of the early administrators were enlightened was more an accident I suspect, but early white Australia must have been a not only unruly but also a deeply prejudiced society.

Gradually, migration was governed by the conditions in the country of birth. My great-grandfather came to Australia with his family to escapes the Irish potato famine, and my wife’s family to escape Lutheran persecution by the Calvinist Frederick William III of Prussia.

As I said above, people look for a better life.

In 1979 in the mangroves in front of the eponymously named motel in Broome there was an abandoned Vietnamese lugger. Then it was very recognisable being very close to shore and recently arrived. Between 1976 and 1986, 94,000 refugees from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam settled in Australia. About 2,000 arrived by boat. The Australian Government then was very tolerant. I remember writing a piece during this time about the Australian Navy patrolling those waters seeking illegal fishing, with a particular concern for trochus shell – not pursuing asylum seekers.

The climate has changed. Over the years, the xenophobia, a characteristic which was exemplified by The White Australia policy and the fear of the “Yellow Peril” advancing south from Asia, has re-emerged. Among some Australians there is a visceral hatred of the black, the brindle and the yellow. The analysis above by Professor de Haas exemplifies the challenges, which are made worse by the fomenters.

The Fomenters have caused Australia to pay a great amount of questionable money to incarcerate immigrant boat people in New Guinea, Nauru and even Cambodia. I remember that the $40m allegedly paid to Cambodia for one poor sod settled there, unable to speak Cambodian, eking out a living as a street vendor. The amount of money wasted has never been properly investigated; the head bureaucrat who supervised this national disgrace was sacked this week. But corruption was widespread in his Department and in the places where the asylum seeking immigrants were imprisoned.

Head Fomentor

The Head Fomentor, Dutton the ex-copper, still wanders around with his bag of racial hatred and conspiracy.  Remember in 2018 he described African gangs terrorising Melburnians so that they would not go out to restaurants at a time when the level of crime was actually falling across Victoria.

As the SBS responded at the time: “The depiction of Africans as packs or gangs has led to even more profiling and scrutiny of the community. The rising “fears” have since taken a bigoted turn with leaflets displaying pictures of black men being circulated in Melbourne with a call to stop. The language paints African men as uncivilised animals, hunting for their next “victim”.

Now, because the High Court has deemed unlawful the detention of some refugees, Dutton has been at it again, bullying the Parliament to force the detainees on release to have inter alia ankle cuffs and be subject to curfew. Group punishment for a group which may have a few murderers and sex offenders, who could have been treated separately. We have a border force, a Federal Police and numerous security staff. Dutton shows how gutless the politicians are not to stand up to him.

Some with guts should show the same moral integrity shown by some of my generation in seeing White Australia overturned. Stand up to the Fomentors; otherwise beware the disintegration of Australia as a civilised democracy. Extremism is always lurking under de Haas’ trilemma.

Don’t Let the Secret Out!

In 1980, I went to the British Medical Association (BMA) meeting In Newcastle on Tyne, and at the dinner we were regaled by the President of the Irish Medical Association, who gave the usual humorous unmemorable,  Hibernian speech. We dined on Avocat norvegienne, Filets of Sole Veronique with all the trimmings and for dessert Pêche Clarence. I still have the menu, which lacks the wine we drank.

Alistair Cooke

The next year, the BMA ventured to San Diego, as their first meeting overseas. I wished I had gone because Alistair Cooke gave the major address. With his normal droll tone, he is reported to have said to this medical audience: “Sometime in the nineteenth century, a medical degree descended like a small halo, and ever since the ordinary citizen has been secretly dazzled by it. The retention of the serpent as a logo has certainly kept alive the notion of the doctor as the possessor of a strange and subtle wisdom. Cherish and protect this illusion. It has not yet occurred to the layman that doctors – like cab drivers, schoolmasters, politicians and television repairmen – can be very good, indifferent, bad, or downright stupid.”

“Don’t let the secret get out!”

Without Comment

Rabbi Brian Walt

On Nov. 13, Rabbi Brian Walt of West Tisbury was among some 40 rabbis who gathered in front of the US Capitol to pray for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war. The rabbis — part of a group called Rabbis for Ceasefire — mourned the 1,200 people killed by the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 and grieved for the approximately 240 Israeli hostages taken by the terrorists. They also mourned the Palestinians, now said to number about 14,000, who have been killed by the Israeli counterattack in Gaza.

Since that day in Washington, Rabbis for Ceasefire has grown in number to about 200. To Walt, that number, while still relatively small, reveals an increasing willingness in the Jewish community to speak out on a highly emotional and divisive topic: “What it shows is that more and more rabbis are feeling they can call for a cease-fire,” he said. From The Boston Globe 

Mouse Whisper 

William Auth was the editorial cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer between 1972 and 2012. This cartoon below was published in the week ending July 4, 1982.

Seem familiar?

Modest Expectations – Kleopatra

Memo to the ABC news readers:

Is coronate a real word?

Definitely coronate with blue feathers

It is actually a word and has been since the 17th century. However, its usage has been confined to flora and fauna – and as an adjective, not a verb. So, a bird may have a plumage “coronate with blue feathers”.

Just look up your friendly Wikipedia. The genus Carolus Rex Britannicus was crowned, and coronate in plumage spectral.

Lowe Zest

I am not a banker nor intimate with the obstacle course which seems to present itself to those who desire to be our Reserve Bank Governor. Philip Lowe always seemed to be a furtive mouse who had inherited his job by being a diligent bureaucrat who had spent his working life in the Reserve Bank.

è Bassa

From childhood I knew the Governor of the Reserve Bank was important because his signature appears on bank notes and he was the person to whom the population should genuflect as he was the Keeper of the Vault. Like Roman Catholic cardinals, the governorship has been confined to males. Then Philip, with his furtive smugness at a time when it was de rigeur to nurture zero inflation, made a fatal prediction about the reappearance of il diablo di inflazione. Unlike the Dan Brown hero, Robert Langdon, his statement that il diablo was not to appear until 2024 was absurdly wrong. It had re-appeared two years earlier and from then on, as the house mortgage flames started to consume the population, confidence in his judgement and the Reserve Bank in general sank. This has made his position untenable. But the Mouse continued to roar – not so much roar but to explain to anybody who would listen that he should be re-appointed at the end of his seven-year term which finishes this coming September, presumably for another seven years.

Yet his whole bespoke body language emits an eroded self-confidence behind his wan smile and glittering eyes. In all, he is a creature of poor communication skills. Contrast that with the urbane behaviour of the Deputy Prime Minister when he is obviously peddling even more arrant nonsense but does have the relaxed benevolent communication skills of the oleaginous snake charmer.  Tragic that should be true as seems to be the case.

Instead of making it clear that Mr Lowe should have been given an emeritus role in advising on the problems of monetary policy in Macquarie Island, the Government brought in a review of the Reserve Bank. It would be surprising if you employ, as the Government has done, a person with a stake in the Canadian and UK way of doing such things, that she would not recommend a similar system, even if it has apparently not worked well there. Irrespective of the validity of that position, it would be tragic to replace a personality who failed in a crisis with an overseas system which has not done any better.  Introducing a range of part-time economists into a revised Board would seem to unnecessarily diffuse responsibility. Even if the decisions are made public, the actual names of how the Board voted would remain undisclosed.

I thus believe it is timely that a former Chairman of the Board, Ian Macfarlane, in a salutary article in the Australian Financial Review said: “I must also intrude a personal note at this stage. When looking back on my career, at least 80 per cent of my knowledge base was the result of on-the-job learning.

Many other people in senior positions have reported the same experience. But the proposed external experts, who are already handicapped by being part time, will also have no on-the-job training. 

The final twist is that after five years on the committee, by which time they will have had some valuable on-the-job training, they will have to leave and be replaced by a novice.

Putting Macfarlane into context was that he served in the Reserve Bank from 1979 onwards. He was the Governor of the Reserve Bank for ten years between 1996 and 2006 and was praised as one of the best Governors the bank has had, given that he had several critical periods in the economic fortunes of the nation to navigate. The fact that he was compelled now to write in defence of the current system, where not only power but also responsibility is very identifiable, why change the system because for a few months on Australia has somebody in the role who has palpably failed. Single point accountability in the ability of the Governor makes failure very obvious, as does success.

As soon as the Budget is bedded down, the Government should announce the name of the new Governor, looking first for the best we have in the Reserve Bank but then also canvassing talent elsewhere. In assessing suitability, it is important to learn from the experience of promoting someone who, even 40 years ago when he was a young man, was perceived as having very limited communication skills, even if he was very intelligent, with an appetite for work. It is significant to note that Lowe, unlike Macfarlane, has never worked outside the Bank.

But there is one last point which Ross Gittins has injected into the discussion of the future – that of a dedicated monetarist being appointed to the Governorship. He refers to the review of the Reserve Bank: While rightly criticising the Reserve for encouraging groupthink, the report is itself a giant case of groupthink. It accepts unquestioningly the conventional wisdom of recent decades that there’s really only one way you could possibly manage the economy through the ups and downs of the business cycle, and that’s by manipulating interest rates. 

Gittens sarcastically dismisses that currency manipulations are the only way to regulate the economy; and the Review Committee being full of the same were also guilty of groupthink. He goes on to reveal his Keynesian bent by adding: Any role for “fiscal policy” – changing taxes and government spending? Didn’t think of that but, no, not really. Just make sure it doesn’t get in the way of the central bank. Apparently, slowing the growth in spending by directly punishing the small proportion of households young and foolish enough to load themselves up with mortgage debt is “best practice”.

Treasurer Chalmers be careful what you wish for?

We’ll know if the Wheel caused that Weal!

One of the most difficult words for those who grew up with the “th” sound is to pronounce it correctly. Even the Irish, who used to have the “th” sound in Old Irish, now don’t bother and listening to the lilting Hiberno-English, the “th” has been contracted to only a “t”.

This leaves another sound and that is the pronunciation of “wh”. If those learning English get used to the few words where the “w” disappears as in “who” and all its different forms of case and “whole”, then how do you pronounce “wh” as different from just plain “w”.

Some would say there is no difference because usage is superseded by the sense, the meaning. Take “Whether” and “Weather”. The syntax would give the sense, as much as the sound.

However, take confronting two women of similar appearance. One conceivably could turn to your companion and say “Which is which?”; but although unlikely you may be asking “Which is witch?”

I remember there were teachers in my youth who taught us to say “wh” is though we were blowing; and I always remember the Masefield poem “Sea Fever”, and the phrase “the wind like a whetted knife” and being encouraged to blow “whetted” not “wetted’ – because the “wh” simulated the sound of the wind blowing.

Listening to John Masefield, even though he was very elderly at the time, reciting his poem “Sea Fever”, there may be some who say that Masefield gently acknowledged the difference between the two, as there are both words with “wh” and “w” in the poem. Yet his pronunciation is hardly convincing if one is trying to discern a difference in pronunciation.

Therefore, on the basis that “whetted” could have been considered as truly onomatopoetic but not obviously so by even the author, I’m afraid I must conclude that “whither” has indeed withered.


The first time I came to the Southwest was in 1976 to visit my brother Tony, who had bought a ranch, where he lived, in Española, New Mexico. Even though Tony was the younger one, he led the way, as always; he loved this land first. When asked Tony used to say that he liked to live in New Mexico because with the mesas being so high they made the heavens nearer and he felt closer to God. Dedication by Barton Wright in his book “Classic Hopi and Zuni Kachina Figures”

We go through periods when we fall in love with locations and when we do, we tend to accumulate several objects to remind us of the place. One of these is a modest collection of 14 kachina figurines, the work of the Hopi tribes in the American South-west.  The Zuni, a companion tribe, created similar figures but they were harder to come by as we found to be the case.

Taos is the township where much of my love of this area is centred. I first went to Taos in 1982 but have been back since. Taos is a couple of thousand metres above sea level, and in these spare mountains is where Taos has remained since its foundation in the early seventeenth century. I think it is where I first saw kachinas and my fondness for Taos will always remain. One can collect kachinas and yet never get close to obtaining every different one.

I have always wanted the one called Melonhead, and I saw one in a store in Taos. I prevaricated and after thinking overnight about purchasing, I decide to buy it. The store did not open, belying the sign on the door. Bugger!  We had to leave as we had to get back to Santa Fe. Some years later, we purchased one on eBay – a Melonhead.   When it arrived, it was not the best carved example, and certainly not of the same standard as the one we left behind, but it was colourful and adequate. Anyway, we love it.

My other favourite is the Snow Maiden, which is a demure, simple, yet captivating figure which, unlike so many kachinas, has a recognisable human visage, because these dolls are the acme of a people who expressed their animism in the form of these cottonwood figurines. The carving exhibits varying degrees of complexity, but it is an art of carvers with some inherent quasi-religious licence.

The Hopi’s driving force has always been the ongoing need for water and its importance is reflected in the complex rituals designed by the Hopi to invoke the supernatural in assuring water for consumption and for farming in what is an arid area.

As the author of Hopi Kachinas has written, when the rain clouds drift over the villages, it is the rain-bringing kachinas who are there.

“The clouds hide not only the faces of the Hopi’s departed ancestors who, taking pity on their grandchildren, are bringing them rain, but an almost infinite variety of kachinas who have other functions beside rain bringing.”

The clouds are representations of an intangible world, akin to heaven.  The human race always seems to look upwards for spiritual inspiration and having to interpret the celestial nuances in a material form. For the Aboriginal people in Northern Australia, the Wandjina fulfils this function; for the Hopis it is the kachina.

The Hopis go further, dressing as kachinas and performing rituals commencing in December and ending in July. In December, it is a matter of releasing the kachina spirits from the underworld, as depicted by chambers called kivas which exist below the Hopi villages. The dancing rituals continue until mid-summer, when the men are required for the practical task of harvesting the crops which have grown under the benison of the kachina spirit. It is these which are interpreted through the figures.

Kachinas are a polyglot world of figurines and the carved cottonwood interpretation has the charm not only reflecting the Hopi skills but also the imaginative interpretations. When you want to purchase one you are confronted with the mythology of having continuity in the carving from one piece of wood, with all the intricacies involved. Some, like our Snow Maiden, may have been carved in one piece, but some of the others, with all the frills, could not conceivably be done as a single piece. This does not detract from the intricacies of many, often reflected in the price.

Kachinas are a reminder of a race of people with this particular way of expressing its belief system, just like Australia’s Aboriginal people have a unique way of expression given that they both have an oral tradition. Frank Waters wrote in The Book of the Hopi that the Hopis “regard themselves as the first inhabitants of America. Their village of Oraibi is indisputably the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the United States”. Oh, I haven’t mentioned the Clown Kachinas, but the Clown is ubiquitous in most cultures. Is there a clown in Australian Aboriginal culture; if not, why not?

Being eclectic does help give meaning to our wonderment of this planet’s diversity. For us, even such a modest Kachina collection is one testament to that.

My first article

In my second year after graduation, I was employed at Geelong Hospital as the Pathology Registrar. Most mornings were consumed with post-mortems and, being a regional hospital, we were entrusted with all the forensic post-mortems as well. Mornings were busy but I learnt the trade and the importance of its role in understanding why a person had died, especially at a time when other forms of post-mortem examination, such as imaging, had yet to be developed. Even now the demise of the regular post-mortem is regretted. Yet it is a casualty of current convention and the fact that in this now multi-cultural Australia, post-mortems are abhorrent and interfere with the burial practices of some religions.

Vern Pleuckhahn

I was fortunate to work under the tutelage of Vern Pleuckhahn, who may not have been the most scholarly pathologist but was certainly the most political, especially in promoting to need to have a first-rate forensic service to assist the Coroner’s office. Even then his pathology service was the best equipped of regional pathology and he was always on the road to Melbourne enlisting support. His deputy, David Buntine was as quietly efficient as his boss was ebullient. Pleuckhahn later achieved his moment of fame in his evidence which was crucial in overturning Lindy Chamberlain’s conviction.

One morning when we opened the chest of a dead young women, it was a sight that even Pleuckhahn had not encountered. Blood was everywhere and overshadowing the heart was this large balloon of blood. The woman had a history of pulmonary hypertension, and it was confirmed as we examined the heart and aorta.  There was coarctation of the aorta, which caused it to be narrowed. In other words, instead of being a wide tube, a genetic fault had rendered it such that the blood from the heart, instead of freely flowing, was blocked. At the same time, this woman had a patent ductus arteriosus, a vessel which provides a short circuit for the blood to move directly in foetal life from venous to arterial circulation thus bypassing the lungs, but which normally closes off at birth. The combination of these defects meant that the heart was pumping blood directly into the pulmonary circulation at a far higher pressure than would occur in the normal person.

This had caused her death because the pulmonary artery, which normally takes blood from the right ventricle to the lungs, came under a level of stress for which it was not designed. However, instead of bursting out, the blood had tracked into the artery lining creating a false passage ending in a cul-de-sac, hence the red balloon. It was called a dissecting aneurysm of the pulmonary artery. Dissection of the aorta is a relatively rare cause of death; but dissection of the pulmonary artery? At that time, only eight had ever been reported in the World literature.

So, with the encouragement of a large number of people, I wrote up this rare case study. I was not a genius; it was others who generously allowed me to be the single author. I tried to find out whether there was incidentally any history of Marfan’s syndrome in her family. In shorthand, if I say Marfan’s syndrome, think of Abraham Lincoln with his tall thin stature, long fingers, high arched palate, problem with the eye lens, and of course, since the syndrome encompasses a suite of connective tissue disorders, the prospect of dissection of the aorta, but not as in this very rare case – dissection of the pulmonary artery.

Without the post-mortem, it would never have been discovered – but then what does it matter beyond being the subject matter for my first case report-cum-scientific article published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 1966, when I had moved on from Geelong. Nevertheless, I still remember my time in Geelong, and have written about it previously in my blog. Plus, there is something special about your first paper published in this medical journal, which although often dismissed then as the “blue comic” was important to a new graduate searching for a rung on the career ladder.

Keep The Home Fires Burning

I have a deep abiding disgust at the treatment of Prince Harry, a chap clearly still troubled by the loss of his mother. Diana truly loved her sons and yet saddled with a father, so emotionally crippled by the lack of affection he, Charles, received as a child. I know what it is to lose at a young age a mother who was integral to my life and showed her ability to deeply love her son.  In contrast, so awkward and unable was a father in trying to provide affection.  He tried hard, but he to me was always “Father” never “Dad”.  Then he re-married. It was a shock to the system, which only years later I realise how disturbed that action proved to be on my teenage mind. I never got on with my stepmother, who was undoubtedly good for my father in providing the companionship he craved. He too had received an affectionless childhood. But at least my stepmother had not been my father’s mistress while my mother was alive.

I have not led a blameless life, but I believe importantly that I know some of the demons that Harry has faced. His whole mien is that of gentle confusion. Whether he is intellectually bright or not is immaterial, he was born in a world of gilded privilege, and as I have written before within the gilded carriage, stalks evil disguised as beauty. Baudelaire and Rimbaud have alluded to this in their poetry. Therefore, young Harry, once your mother died you were doomed to walk on the “wild side”, no matter what trappings of rank were accorded to you.

But Charles III has been anointed to be the Head of the Anglican Church, the only part of the coronation service which has any meaning to me, as it conveys one of the essential beliefs that maintains my Anglican faith, and that is Apostolic Succession. What is the basis of belief if one does not believe in a discernible line of the head of your Church to Jesus Christ and thence to that other prime Mystery – that of the Trinity. I do not pretend to be a theologian, but my faith depends on how I personally interpret my being an Anglican, and the matter of Apostolic succession. As for myself, I believe firmly in the principles of the Church by reciting the Nicene Creed, which inter alia include the words:  In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

When I saw Prince Harry walking alone down the Abbey aisle amid all the puffed tawdriness of Tradition, I was reminded of what Jesus Christ said, according to the Gospel of St John.

 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

This was the chance of the newly anointed King had to call Harry up to his throne and with William show that he loved his sons equally, and invite the two to embrace and repeat the words of Christ in this regard. This was the chance to show forgiveness, to show his generosity of spirit.

But no; in true Chuck style he flubbed it under the eagle eye of the Camilla Queen, a woman so perfectly cast as the stepmother that I too remember.

Mouse Whisper

Private Eye had a minimalist view on the Coronation last Saturday.

Man in a Hat sits on a Chair.

My response as Murine Laureate for which I get a Furkin of Rye annually as my emolument:

Five Bob

On The Nob

Of this Blob

On the Job

For his Battenberg Mob.

A very patriotic Battenberg