Modest Expectations – Ghost Moth

I am ruminating on these 40 year old males who, as men in their early twenties, partied in the uniform of a Nazi. Presumably this act was not confined to these two guys, continents apart. It would be amazing if Harry and Dominic were the only ones among the millions of their contemporaries now in the 35-45 age group who had not at some earlier time dressed up as a Nazi for a party, night club or whatever after dark. Added to this, for even those who may not have encountered a Jew during their schooldays at Eton for Harry, or two exclusive Roman Catholic schools for the Premier, WWII was a long time past, and some children of privilege do often have the sensitivity of a warthog. Sometimes in the morning when I looked in the mirror I wondered where my tusks had gone. But that particular animal act was not part of my partying in the late 50’s and early 60s.

The well-known German artist, Anselm Kiefer, was photographed in a Nazi uniform in 1969. He had been born in 1945,(thus 24) and what he did at the time was illegal in Germany. Whether you believe that Kiefer’s interest in exploring the possibility of coming to terms with the Nazi past by transgressing post-war taboos against visual and verbal icons of the Third Reich is replete with irony, as has been stated in an apologia, is up to you. Yet this action has not cast Kiefer into the wilderness nor, to my mind, has he been pursued by members of the Jewish diaspora.

There is a term “Nazi chic” which, as one writer  wrote: “From high end designers to campy trends like “swastikawaii”, ” the iconography of Nazi style has elbowed its way through history, whether its wearers promote its ideology or not.”  You see echoes of this in the uniform of those services which dress in dark leathers and buzz round on motorcycles in pursuit of the errant motorist. In fact, if you look at a photo of a German officer such as General Rommel, you see a man in a well-tailored uniform, and the fashionista that appropriate such a uniform, they do not seek meaning, rather they concentrate on appearance.

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda chief, was very aware of the magnetic attraction of fashion in devising the Third Reich’s militarism.

As another writer says: Uniforms, which have come to be known as one of the most visually-striking elements of Nazi aesthetics, served as one of the principal vectors of propaganda in the Third Reich. In biology, a vector is an organism, typically of the biting sort, that transfers a disease from one being to another – Nazi uniforms did just that. However, instead of fleas transferring the plague, the Nazis used clothing to present propaganda that conveyed their message of racial dominance and militarism without uttering a word. Uniforms operated as an arm of the Nazi ideals of Volksgemeinschaft, in English, a people’s community and Gleichschaltung, the idea of bringing everything in line with the values of national socialism. The Nazi uniform aided in the destruction of personal identity and smoothed out the differences between German citizens thereby constructing both an egalitarian and passive society.

When I was at university, I went to many parties and there was never any question of us impersonating Nazis. We knew people who had survived the concentration camps – the number on the forearm. I clearly remember these numbers on some immigrants I met. There is nothing so shocking in seeing images of concentration camps, even if they were grainy and in black and white. I reckon that many of my contemporaries saw the same images, and there was no way we would don the swastika.

Moreover, many of our teachers had been in prisoner-of-war camps.  So, impersonating the Japanese was taboo (unless cartoonish) but there was never any “Tojo chic” that I know of. The POWs may not have been gassed, but their living conditions were hellish; yet they were members of strength and they refused to relive their life in captivity – well, not in front of us who had lived through World War II as children.

Charlotte Rampling, The Night Porter

Some of those who have studied this area believe the genesis of “Nazi Chic” can be attributed to the film the Night Porter, where a concentration camp survivor resumes a relationship with her Nazi captor, who is now a night porter in a Viennese hotel. It is said that Dirk Bogarde regretted his role as Night Porter, but it brought notoriety to Charlotte Rampling. What “Nazi chic” brought to the fashion-conscious uniformed services was leather – the black or grey leather jackets, leather gauntlets, leather leggings. Thus, when you pass members of the uniformed services, it is interesting to see how many of those services have adopted black shirts. Nazi Chic?


I must say that I have been to most of the places featured on the ABC’s Backroads. Initially I resisted looking at this series, because the trailers reminded me of an endless loop of old Women’s Weeklies replete with “human stories” of a crowd of old inhabitants, the more eccentric the better, and young people making a go of it in the bush with an endless succession of dances, pubs, race meetings, and cake stalls.

Strahan, Tasmania

I remember that I had been told that the ABC team descended on Strahan in Tasmania, and at the end of this recent Backroads episode I wondered how enlightened the visitors would be about this little township beyond a few elegant images of a most photogenic Australian region. Stories of brutal convict prisons may be a historic backdrop, but they have next to nothing to do with the reason for Strahan’s continued existence.

And as for showing that waterskiing record; what the hell was that to do with Strahan, apart from being held there. The organisers, the Horsehead Water Ski Club, are located far from Strahan in West Kentish in Northern Tasmania, and as far as I know they have never come back – nor for that matter have I ever seen anybody waterskiing on Macquarie Harbour.

What else? The guy with the smart ocean-going yacht Stormbreaker – images of tannin-stained water, an introduction to Macquarie Harbour; images of the 1982 Franklin below Gordon River protest, which stopped a dam being built on the Gordon River, and where the Stormbreaker picks up those adventurers who kayak the river. It would have made sense for the ABC crew to have kayaked the river and been picked up by the Stormbreaker, rather than the presenter just being briefly on board with glass in hand without explaining the relevance of ecotourism to the area.

The other image of the Strahan episode was that of the Ocean Beach, and the tragedy of the periodic beaching of pilot whales and, despite all the endeavours by the locals, mortality is high. It is a recurring tragedy, and there are many bones of whales under the sands,

What was grating was the appearance of a couple of the Maunsell women wandering the Ocean Beach. They were shuffling broken shells and pieces of stone – and trying to say these are relics of Aboriginal habitation. Their contention was these were parts of a midden. The idea that a midden could survive on a beach with such ferocious storms is ridiculous. Yes, I have seen middens at Trial Harbour further up the West Coast, but not in such an exposed location as the Ocean Beach.  As for fashioning stones, I have been shown an Aboriginal quarry elsewhere.  Aboriginal quarries where stones were fashioned are mentioned in The Aborigines of Tasmania, H. Ling Roth’s book first published in 1890. The idea that the Aboriginals would have a quarry on a windswept beach and moreover had any use for them there strains credulity. Yet the Backroads crew fell for such nonsense.

Heather Ewart has been the main presenter and she comes across as lovable but a bit of a boofhead, who gains her rural legitimacy by being brought up in the Victorian countryside near Murchison. I was disappointed but not surprised by this last but one Backroads episode about Brunette Downs. It would have been useful to know more about the Australian Agricultural Company, which owns and operates a string of properties, feedlots and farms, comprising around 6.4million hectares of land in Queensland and the Northern Territory, including Brunette Downs. This equates to roughly one per cent of Australia’s land mass.

What made me particularly shudder was Ewart dressing up for the race meeting which is held in June each year, and which seems to have been the centrepoint of the episode – a race meeting, which was an all-white affair, aping the social calendar of metropolitan meetings.

But what saddened me in watching the Brunette Downs episode, is that there seemed to be little interaction at a personal level between whitefella and blackfella. Sure as one the Aboriginal men, Elvis said working conditions had vastly improved – and one of the older white men entrusted to training the newcomers said how much he had learnt from the Aboriginal stockmen, a theme not further pursued as Backroads reverted to the Blue Hills view of the Bush.

There was no time where blackfella and whitefella were interviewed together, which suggests that was the reality. The ABC is always footnoting everything with a statement about what “country we are on”, but the fact is that Brunette Downs is part of a business, which claims one per cent of the Australian land mass.

In 2014 the Federal Court made a momentous decision. In session in 2014 in Tennant Creek the Federal Court granted land rights (excluding mining rights) over 37,000sq km (including Brunette Downs) to the “Kulunurra (Anderson), Purrukwarra, Karrkarrkuwaja (Kalkalkuwaja), Jukatayi Palyarinji, Walanja, Kurtinja, Kuakiji/Lukkurnu, Kunapa, Jalajirrpa, Mangurinji, Kujuluwa, (Y)ijiparta, Gurungu/Kulumintini and Warranungku”. I don’t remember that being footnoted on the Backroads episode.

In the crowd that day {in 2014} were old ringers in cowboy hats and wrangler jeans and the younger men in baseball caps and urban streetwear. One elder reminisced a few men lived with him at Connells Lagoon between Brunette and Alexandria, with the women and children in town because there was no school.

He said: “Us kids were born in the saddle and we got paid in bread and beef. You can’t stay around the camp, old people had to go out and walk, out and hunt, looking out for food. They used to send us out to the stock camp, do a little work around the kitchen, helping the cook out, just for a feed. In those days we went hunting in a wagon, no motor car. We used to walk from Alex to Brunette. It was about three nights on the road, walking and a wagon just to carry a bit of swag and a bit of water.”

Those words said in 2014  voiced  conditions once occurring at Brunette Downs; the same year a waterskiing record of no relevance was broken on Macquarie Harbour. In one episode of Backroads, the question of what has occurred in respect to land rights was not addressed; in the other the Backroads crowd highlighted an event of no moment to the Strahan community – yet so much of real relevance is ignored.

Is that all there is?  A race meeting and a waterskiing event to characterise the essence of an Australia back road. Not a mention of land rights nor the forthcoming referendum.

In a year when there is a proposal to give the Aboriginal people a Voice – for what? To determine the horses to run on Annual Cup Day at Brunette Downs or judge the fashions on the field there?

Why not answer the question of what has giving land rights to the Aboriginal people done for those living on Brunette Downs – much more fruitful than sitting on a rock on West Strahan beach waiting for a water skier cavalcade to pass by on Macquarie Harbour. Or was that Godot?

Far Removed

People always remember those who were at school and made good – and not only made good but became a household word, hobnobbing with the rich and famous until they become the object of hobnobbery. One such person is Sir Michael Parkinson CBE.

I have a friend who came from the same village, Cudworth, as Parkinson.  Yorkshire men they went to the same school –  Barnsley Grammar School in Barnsley – the nearby town. Both are passionate supporters of Barnsley FC – The Tykes. They have once won the FA Cup in 1912, but currently lie mid-table in the 3rd level of the Football Association. I am sure you need to be Job to be a supporter, given the Tykes’ lack of success.  That might just describe a South Yorkshire child of a coal miner. The comment was made about Parkinson’s claim that his father worked six days a week, 12 hours a day, a mile underground. One other respondent thought that a bit odd as his father had worked eight hours a day for five days a week, as his dad was a “deputy” like Parkinson’s father and believes both fathers would have been employed on similar terms.

Barnsley Grammar School

Parkinson did not endear himself to his old boy contemporaries, when he said that “Barnsley Grammar School did for education what myxomatosis did for rabbits”.

As my friend said “Every year all kids around the age of 10 years old in Barnsley and district sat examinations called the 11 plus. The top 150 boys and 150 girls were then offered places at Barnsley Grammar School for boys and the Barnsley Girls High respectively.

He went on to say: “I thought Barnsley Grammar was an excellent school with mainly good teachers and great sporting facilities. With one O Level it sounds like Parkinson was in the lower graded classes i.e. the ‘E’ stream. That’s where kids of poorer academic ability ended up. In the cruel way of school kids they were known as the ‘thickoes’ but not to their face … that could be dangerous.  For Parkinson it just goes to show there’s a life without O Levels – in his case a brilliant one.

For Parkinson, in his autobiography, wrote: “I didn’t like the school and it didn’t like me. I decided at a very early age … that I didn’t want to have anything to do with the place. I wanted to leave as soon as possible.

I dropped out of the “express stream”, which fast-tracked brighter pupils into taking their O-levels a year early, and went into the A-stream. And that’s where I stayed until I left at 16 with two O-levels – in Art and Literature – to my name.

It didn’t matter to me. From the age of 12, I knew I wanted to become a journalist.

The description of the class to which Parkinson was consigned was not unusual then. This bottom class at my school in Melbourne was called ironically Remove, which was a subconscious hint to the boys in the Remove that they would languish at the bottom of the academic ladder. Hence nobody stood in their way to leave school, and then the age one could leave school was 14 years. I remember my first vacation job was just after I had turned 14 years. This one was in the public service assembling files, for which I was paid £3/6/7 a week. At least this was only a vacation job – taught me a lot, but mind numbing if you did not turn the tasks into a game.

One of the reasons one was sent to Remove was if one was hopeless at mathematics, as Parkinson admits he was. Overall, his complaint about school was the standard of the teaching staff. Generally, the poor teachers were consigned to the least academic. One of my sons was sent at one stage to remedial maths. His teacher was a guy who had been a teacher when his grandfather was at the same school. He was not much of a teacher when I remember him at school, but he provided a stern pastoral role for the boarders. By the time of my son being at school this fellow had been at the school for a good 60 years. My son realised how little the old boy knew, and his uselessness was compounded by him constantly dropping off to sleep. In other words, they were hiding a faithful servant on the edge of dementia. As my son said, he knew more mathematics than this poor old man.

Nevertheless, it is also said about poor teachers that they dislike children, and I had the experience of one teacher, who had a massive tantrum in front of the class. He sent the whole class to be caned by the Principal. It was a non-streamed class at that stage; we were not caned. After that incident he really hated us, and we were not blameless. Nevertheless, at that time, which would have roughly coincided with the time Parkinson was at school, the quality of teaching was sometimes bizarre; and some of the characters were indeed consigned to the Remove class.

But in the end, what did it matter to a guy like Parkinson, as one of his fellow old students, said.

Retreat to Cleverness?

I reckon Pelosi would not have wasted the time with such cuteness as reproduced below. This is the problem of self-conscious intellectual pretentiousness – imagining themselves as latter day Ciceros. Obama did have a bit of the rhetoric rather than action which, in the case of this guy below, does not bode well in what is going to be free-for-all legislative savagery over the next two years. For instance, what is his index for success, say of “freedom over fascism”.

Here is what he said, in part:

Hakeem Jeffries

Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) got off to a flying start in the 118th Congress with what will forever be known as the “alphabet speech”, including this bit of acrostic poetry: 

We will never compromise our principles.

House Democrats will always put 

American values over autocracy. 

Benevolence over bigotry. 

Constitution over the cult.

Democracy over demagogues. 

Economic opportunity over extremism. 

Freedom over fascism. 

Governing over gaslighting. 

Hopefulness over hatred.

Inclusion over isolation. 

Justice over judicial overreach. 

Knowledge over kangaroo courts.

Liberty over limitation. 

Maturity over Mar-a-Lago. 

Normalcy over negativity. 

Opportunity over obstruction. 

People over politics. 

Quality-of-life issues over QAnon.

Reason over racism. 

Substance over slander. 

Triumph over tyranny. 

Understanding over ugliness.

Voting rights over voter suppression.

Working families over the well connected.

Xenial [hospitality] over xenophobia. 

‘Yes, we can’ over ‘you can’t do it,’ and

Zealous representation over zero-sum confrontation.

Makes one want to weep – how bloody awful the flight of rhetoric is, from one so crucial.

Mouse whisper

I am always mildly interested in why the French call a bat – chauve souris. You know, bald mouse. First, a bat does not look like a mouse. The only mice I’ve seen hanging upside down were a couple of mates into murinyoga. Anyway, the naming is a mixup. It should be cavannus souris – night owl mouse. Has a bit more class. “Cavannus” is Gaullish Latin!

Modest Expectation – Dear Green Places

This past week, the world has witnessed Earth based scientist intervention through The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft colliding with the asteroid Dimorphos, with the intent to change the asteroid’s orbit. The objective was achieved, in so far as it hit the target.

The 572kg DART spacecraft collided with the estimated 5bn kg asteroid Dimorphos at 22, 530 km/hr about 11million kms from Earth. The spacecraft hit about 17m from the asteroid’s centre. It will take about two months to find out whether the Dimorphos orbit has been altered as a result of this collision.

Yet at the same time the World has been powerless to counter the growth of hurricanes and just watches, as we did last week, the destruction caused to a number of American cities in Florida in particular.

Then there are earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, all of which we can predict, but unlike eclipses, which we can predict to the minute, natural disasters have a wide variance.

The recently retired climate adviser to President Biden has been reported as saying:

So we’ve worked for the past year with experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey and our own Office of Science and Technology Policy to put together the Climate Mapping For Resilience and Adaptation web portal. You can go down to the census tract and look forward. That’s particularly salient, by the way, at a time when under the bipartisan infrastructure law, we’re going to be investing over a trillion dollars in new infrastructure. Let’s make sure that communities know what the risks are and so the infrastructure can be designed in a way that will withstand what we’re seeing in Florida right now.

He uses the word resilience because climate change must be met with continuity of government policy. You can collect all the information but for instance if you are unable to snuff out a nascent hurricane or move its direction so it blows itself out without affecting life or property, then how will we cope with climate change, where more and more the extreme today is the norm of tomorrow.

Meanwhile, there are suggestions to counter hurricanes (typhoons or cyclones) – (a) a set of giant tubes sucking the warm surface water down, or (b) a set of giant wind turbines to guard the shore and in so doing disrupting the hurricane with their vanes. The problem is the number required. One estimate is 78,000 in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m not sure the good burghers of the Florida condominiums would enjoy the view of a turbine forest. But you never know. They could be painted different colours to looking like candy. Yet indicative of the required density, as there are only 15,000 wind turbines in the most populated North Sea, it may resemble a clutter of so many “windmills in your mind” enough to blow the Floridian auricles.

The Lowana Cottage

Nearly 20 years ago, we purchased a beautiful custom-built pole house in Strahan. Strahan had grown as a fishing port located on Macquarie Harbour, a deceptively large stretch of water, with a narrow entrance with dangerous tidal currents called Hell’s Gate. The harbour water is the colour of tea, because of the tannin eluted from button grass which covers the peat bogs. Generally it rains most days of the year on the West Coast, so tannin being washed into the harbour over eons has permanently coloured the water.

However, this is the story about a small, corrugated iron cottage. It was situated on Lowana Road at its eponymous whistle stop location which is, in the local Aboriginal language, the word for “girl”.

Across the road was the King River, with its sulphur stained stony and sandy shores to a river still contaminated by the tailings from the Mount Lyell mines.

Once a railway ran past the cottage taking ore from Queenstown where the mining operations were transported to Strahan where it was shipped out. On its journey back to Queenstown, the train was back-loaded with coal and coke, stores and equipment and food, as well as providing passenger services for mine employees who elected to commute, while living in the seaside “resort” of Strahan.

The Abt Railway had been constructed to transport the ore across the Rinadeena Saddle, a very challenging climb and therefore on a 3’6” gauge this was a distinct German-patented rack and pinion railway named after the Swiss engineer, Carl Abt, who had added his name because he had improved the original rack and pinion mechanism. The engines had been built and shipped out from Glasgow.

Thus, with its compact green steam engine it would toot as it passed the cottage on its way up to the wharf at Regatta Point where the King River entered the Harbour. At Lowana, there was a crossing with a sign saying to beware of the train. Here there is also a gap in the bush through which the King River could be seen. Over the course of the past 20 years rehabilitation of the shore vegetation has begun, and the reeds and sedge have begun to grow, masking the sulphuric pollution. Yet it is estimated that the River will take hundreds of years to be cleansed.

The cottage would have witnessed the Abt engine hauling the copper ore filled trucks to the port. Meanwhile over the course of the mine operations 100 million tons of copper tailings flowed down the King River

It was a neat cottage. It has stood on its own. People rented it, and a large pink rhododendron grows in the front garden, partially obscuring the front of the cottage. There are camellias round the back of the house. There are clumps of a lily of the valley. Arum lilies intrude along the drive. This exotic patch is framed by man ferns, and the papery melaleuca. Behind the forest thickens with blackwood and unfortunately blackberries have infested the native vegetation.

After 1963, the railway was no more. Transport of ore by rail was rendered uneconomical and the rail was torn up and a road constructed. Thus, when we passed the cottage we would follow a narrow unmade road around the river’s edge until it reached Teepookana, where a steel truss bridge spanned the King River. The red-coloured bridge over the river had fallen into decay by the time we first ventured to Strahan. We were advised not to take any vehicle onto the Bridge, but the view of the river was spectacular there, but there was no way right across unless you wanted to swing on a girder. However, you could still climb on the Teepookana plateau, which we did one day, seeking the Huon pine which was supposed to be growing there. The problem was we climbed up the sandy track through scrub, mostly heath and melaleuca. Eventually, with not a Huon pine in sight, we gave up and went back to the car.

We had gone the wrong way. We should have gone down from the plateau to the river, not up to the ridge. Later we found the clump of pines with their tell-tale bare branches poking up from the distinctive foliage. Much of this pine had been cut down in the century before. The Huon pine still grows in the forest, but in much reduced circumstances. This pine only grows on the West Coast and while the wood is beautiful, the trees themselves are like the dowager duchess, all fronds and gnarled with bare branches betraying old age.

Then after nearly 40 years, the proposal came to reconstruct the railway as a tourist attraction. The road was closed beyond Lowana, and the whole railway was rebuilt from Queenstown to Strahan along the original route. It took four years to rebuild and was re-opened in 2002. Remembering riding on one of the earliest trips, open to the winter cold and rain before the installation of window panes in the carriages, it was quite an experience going back and forth.

The railway has been plagued by maintenance gremlins – need to replace sleepers, the maintenance of the rolling stock, a landslide. Today, the railway is split in two travel sectors. It is now called the Wilderness Railway. The steam train runs from Queenstown only as far as a station called Dubbil Barril; the diesel motor runs from Strahan to Dubbil Barril. But who knows when the line will open again for through travel. Meanwhile, each train turns around.

People still live along the line, but the road now ends at Lowana, where the railway line, having replaced the road, vanishes into the rain forest. Further back on the road, there is a house alongside the railway line – and close by where pastures which extend to the edge of hilly tropical forest, where the blackwood take over.  Once there was a small herd of belted Galloway cattle with their distinctive magpie colour. Over the years, the animal husbandry has diversified, the Galloways have gone and the acreage, now with its collection of animals, advertises farm stays.

However, the cottage now lies empty. The last inhabitant, a nurse who brought the cottage back to life, has long gone and no one has lived there since. The front door is off its hinges; and all the window panes have been broken. Now, the bush is slowly encroaching on the once carefully-tended garden of the once equally well-cared for cottage, but it is Spring and the rhododendron and camellias are in full flower. But for how long. Will they remain defiant against the encroaching forest?

The Old Man and The Key

From the time I read The Old Man and the Sea I have always been a fan of Ernest Hemingway. Over the years, I have tracked Hemingway in a sort of a way. Maybe we both liked the same places. I know that in the suburb of Oak Park in Illinois, where he was born in 1899, I tripped on the broken pavement and left my facial imprint on the grass verge. Parenthetically, Oak Park has the highest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, some of which were either recently constructed or were built at the time of Hemingway’s birth. Frank Lloyd Wright architecture has always been another of our interests as in general has been the Chicago School, which also spawned Walter Burley Griffin (but not his creative spouse and avatar, Marion Mahony).

However, over the past few years my attention had been diverted from my episodic Hemingway Trail.

My memory of Hemingway was rekindled by a recent article in NYT. Key West was one of the places where Hemingway lived for a time. In fact, the house still retained the Hemingway association through the persistence of his six toed cats. I remember they were everywhere when we visited Key West some years ago.

Following the Hemingway Trail can also involve a Bar crawl, and the particular Hemingway watering spot in Key West was Sloppy Joes, owned by Betty and Telly Otto Bruce, and known to his friends as Toby. Toby Bruce was part of Hemingway’s inner circle, not only as his right-hand man, also sometime chauffeur and as a competent mechanic. One would expect that Hemingway, the bar fly, would not leave his mark without a signature drink – in this case it was a daiquiri concocted by Toby.

Sloppy Joes Bar

However, the gist of the NYT article was that in 1939, after his second marriage crumbled, Hemingway left his belongings in the storeroom of Sloppy Joe’s. He never returned to collect them. As the NYT reported: after Hemingway’s death, his fourth wife, Mary Hemingway, went through the material, packed up what she wanted, and gave the rest to the Bruces.

This trove then spent decades uncatalogued in cardboard boxes and ammunition storage containers, surviving both hurricanes and floods.

Eventually, Betty and Toby’s son, Benjamin “Dink” Bruce and a local historian, Brewster Chamberlin, began creating an inventory of the haul in consultation with the Hemingway scholar Sandra Spanier, who rejoices in the title of The Pennsylvania State University, University Park General Editor, The Hemingway Letters Project.

It was here, amid bullfighting tickets, cheques, newspaper clippings and letters from his lawyer, family members and friends like the writer John Dos Passos and artists Joan Miró and Waldo Peirce, (whose portrait of Hemingway appeared on a 1937 cover of Time) that they discovered a stained brown notebook. Inside was Hemingway’s first known short story, about a fictional trip to Ireland, written when he was 10 years old.

I was tempted to say – so what? What is it about Hemingway that fascinates. This was a man who wrestled with his demons before eventually shooting himself with a double barrelled shotgun. Hardly the death of the Hero, with brain and bone fragments splattered across the room. Left unrecognisable in death at 61 years.

I stood at the bollard at the end of Key West gazing out over the Caribbean, facing a fiery vermillion sunset. So, confronting its belligerent beauty thinking that Cuba was just across the horizon where The Old Man fished. I hoped then to see Cuba one day. This I did a decade later, but I never saw The Old Man.

End of the line


My favourite flower is the State emblem of NSW, the waratah (Telopea speciosissima). The waratahs, with the distinctive florets is only available in limited amounts as a cut stem in October. Generally red, white waratahs sometimes appear on the market. Each stem is not cheap, but with appropriate handling they might last two weeks in a vase. Sadly, every time we have tried to grow them in the garden, we have been unsuccessful

In Tasmania, we had noted at various times along the Murchison Highway  or on the Belvoir road west of the Cradle Mountain turnoff, clumps of the Tasmanian waratahs, (Telopea truncata). They are more of a bush with less florets than their NSW cousins. Normally, we do not come to Tasmania in early Spring, but three years ago we decided to plant some Tasmanian waratahs at Strahan – they died, probably not enough water and not enough TLC given the plants were little more than seedlings.

We then bought a number of more mature plants, which were hybrids. They were much more robust and are thriving. However, when you drive around Strahan at this time of the year, the Tasmanian waratahs are no longer shrubs, they are more trees smothered as they are in Tasmanian waratahs.

They are a wonderful sight and it took years before we recognised the addresses where the telopea are located because, when they stop flowering, they become just background lush green foliage. And I must admit until relatively recently I had never thought of waratahs being part of the Strahan streetscape. There had been none on our property, but there now are. It changes the perspective.

You wonder whether there is another industry for this town. After all, Tasmania is famous for its flowers – lavender, tulips, and not forgetting the delicate mauve of the opium poppy flower. Why not a market in Waratahs of the telopea truncata persuasion?

Mouse Whisper

Have you ever thought of this? 

Newspapers are dispensing with cartoons and very few have cartoon mice depicted as heroes unlike films.  In fact, newspapers have never been partial to mice cartoons.

In contrast, in films mice are almost always portrayed in a positive light, as opposed to cats that are very often antagonistic and villainous. As I was reminded, we have Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pixie and Dixie, Jerry from Tom and Jerry, Speedy Gonzales (and Slowpoke Rodriguez), Mighty Mouse, Danger Mouse, and the Great Mouse Detective to name only a few of the characters.

The Great Mouse Detective


Modest Expectations – Leyland Sprinter

Near the end of last year, we decided to decamp to Tasmania for February because we reckoned then that February was the worst time to be in Sydney – always so humid and oppressive. Hopefully we would be climate-wise. Little did we think what would eventuate.

I have jokingly said that having a place in Tasmania is an insurance against climate change. Macquarie Harbour is on the West Coast and is six times the size of Sydney Harbour. Unlike Sydney Harbour, the number of people living in the rim of the Harbour is minuscular – there being one permanent settlement, that of Strahan, which is home to both a fishing and a tourist industry. Salmon farms dot the Harbour.


In my blog I have written twice about my view as a lover of Tasmania. In a blog I wrote about a year ago, inter alia, I mocked the pitiful amount being allocated to bushfire control. The West Coast of Tasmania has been thought immunised against bushfires, because it rains on average every second day of even the driest month, February, and thus having about 160cm rain annually has been some insurance. Bushfires have ravaged the area, but mostly in the mining area around Zeehan to the north where fire erupts from the Savage River iron ore mines.

This was the case in 1982 when a fire was sufficiently worrying for there to be some evacuation of Strahan. The fire had apparently been started by some mutton birders trying to smoke the bird nests in the Ocean Beach dunes, as a preventative measure against any tiger snakes that might be in the burrows. Somewhat exciting if you put your hand into a burrow and you grasp a tiger snake rather than a mutton bird. Anyway, the resultant fire spread through the scrub and nearly burnt the township down.

Nevertheless, while we have been here, there has been a small bushfire near Tullah, which I mentioned earlier in my blog – and another in a more remote area, threatening the Truchanas Huon Pine Forest reserve; a fire in that area would have been equally as devastating as if the bushfire in NSW in the summer of 2019-20 had not been halted before it reached the Wollemi Pine habitat in the Blue Mountains.

The latest news on this bushfire in the south-west is that as a result of concentrated ground works and co-ordinated water bombing, the fire had downgraded from Going to Under Control with aerial firefighting resources and remote area fire crews continuing to work their way around the boundary edge identifying and extinguishing hotspots with continued aerial support.” That report was a week ago, and there is no evidence that local circumstances have changed.

But worldwide, circumstances have changed. Climate change is now an entity which governments are freely blaming for the conditions which have caused the extreme flooding events that have occurred in both New South Wales and Queensland recently. Terms like “one in a thousand years” calamity is meaningless when it is clear that there has been a change in the environment in which we are living.

The solution to repeated fire and flood is to provide the defence, especially when in this neoliberal world designed to value exploitation rather than conservation, building on flood plains or in the areas liable to engulfed in by bushfire seems to have been acceptable.

Clearing our own property is one thing, but when your land is hemmed in by plots of land that are neglected, with local government unwilling or unable to enforce the clearance presents a problem, as we do, then we do have a problem. The owners of the neglected plots are lost in the fog of the titles office; so we have cleared most of an adjacent plot, taking out eucalypts which threatened to fall or were already leaning over our house, which the previous owners had built close to the boundary of the property. To complicate matters two of the blocks of land now don’t have any access to a road, since the road which exists on the town plan has not nor will ever be built.

We have probably dodged the bullet as we go into autumn, but in fire prevention there is still much to do, irrespective of how complicated the situation is.

Governments have spent money to ensure that most parts of urban Australia have clean water – this is already a matter which we take for granted, but it spares a flooded community from cholera or other waterborne diseases which are endemic in less fortunate communities.

I remember those stories, apocryphal or not, of unscrupulous developers who used to subdivide land which only was visible at low tide; but in regard to flood plains, the lack of scruples is only a matter of degree. The cry of “caveat emptor” applies even when the information is symmetric, which is not the case in this world of hustlers and grifters, some of whom graduate into government, as we have seen.  Australia has yet another big clean up job ahead of us, because the stinking mud is not only on the streets of Atlantis, which used to be called Brisbane, but all across this land so strikingly described by Dorothea Mackellar.

Vera Putina’s little boy

The Winter War – Finland v Russia

Greetings to Ukraine. Once upon a time Finland too fought the Russian Army with everything we had and was able to hold on to our freedom and independence. That’s what we wish for you as well. The whole Europe stands with you.” – A message from a Finn who fought against the Soviet Union in  the 1939-41 War who is still alive at 98.

In one way, the number of options for the outcome of the Russo-Ukrainian War are diminishing. They all revolve around Putin’s mental state, now that it has been determined that the Ukrainians are not a pushover. Even in those areas where it would be expected that the people would be little different from the Crimeans, there seems to be vicious fighting. The Ukrainians are not rolling over.”Those Neville Chamberlains” in the US State Department who offered Zelensky asylum did not appreciate his strength. If Zelensky had accepted, that would have been the end; but Zelensky has ditched appeasement in the face of the appeasers.

For Putin, this is very inconvenient. Everybody talks about his unpredictability; but I believe he has the predictability of the tyrant. Thus, it was not long before he sent in his thugs to assassinate Zelensky. How many times he will try to repeat it, who knows! Yet when people become unhinged, as he apparently has, then do we observers put everything down to unpredictability?

While he is using the usual modern warfare device of bombarding the civilians by missiles and bombing, he must break Ukrainian morale to have any chance of winning. The Russians must husband their very finite resources. They are not endless, a very important variable now that the Ukrainians are putting up such resistance.  The cost of Putin’s war should be soon, if not already, affecting the Russian population, given the sanctions and the strength of the opposition. The Russians have tried to compensate with mastery of the cyberworld, which did not have a major “combatant role” in their attempted conquest of Afghanistan. I suggest that with NATO and others supplying both military hardware and essential food and other commodities, the war will be won once the USA can reliably control cyberspace. It would be interesting to know what is the cyber surrender equivalent of the white flag.

If Putin did not have a nuclear arsenal, then life for NATO would be less complicated. NATO will just continue to use Ukraine as a surrogate to do the fighting – and eventually exhaust Russia. Obviously, a mad Putin could make good on turning his nuclear preparedness into an all or nothing nuclear winter – at least in the Northern Hemisphere. What the Chinese decide to do will ultimately decide the length of the War.

Destruction caused by Putin’s war

The fact that the world is experiencing climate change is one good reason why the Russians should dispose of Putin, but he has learnt the tactics of previous Russian despots, where Russia has not only survived but thrived. The only hiccough occurred in the late 1980s when Russia had a rational leader in Gorbachev.

One clue to future action is how the Russians deal with the Ukrainian nuclear reactors. They could continue the boneheaded initial bombardment or think that by doing so the World will watch a new phenomenon, namely the deliberate destruction of  nuclear reactors with all the consequences that will entail. Maybe there is a playbook for such an occurrence, learnt from the Chernobyl disaster (when there was once peaceful co-operation). If the nuclear reactors were to be seriously damaged that would be an excuse for any sane person to seek an armistice, I would think.

Anyway, it would give the Orators of Davos something to think about as, having hurriedly packed their Louis Vuitton luggage and checked the time on their diamond encrusted Rolexes, they headed out into the nuclear cloud in their luxury Gulfstreams.

“A stray orange hair to be flicked off the nation’s sleeve.”

I first became acquainted with George Will through the New York Review of Books as a very astute and perceptive critic. I have never met him, but he is of the same vintage as myself. An Oakeshott conservative, but with an insight not dulled by ideology. He has been a Republican, but now writes regularly for the more Democratically aligned Washington Post.

In many ways Will serves as a policy digestif, enabling the unpalatable to be analysed rather than immediately disposed of.

Presuming that as a senior member of the media and as also a student of history, he can make links that may not be immediately apparent. He has depth of experience able to fathom what have the been the quotient of all his senses over his 80 years. Thus, George Will has both literary subtlety and savagery.

This piece below should help you assess whether this veteran has more than a fine use of words or a sentence that Trump should indeed experience at some stage, when his “sin taxes” become too much to accommodate and a “prigioni lifestyle” threatens.

Floundering in his attempts to wield political power while lacking a political office, Donald Trump looks increasingly like a stray orange hair to be flicked off the nation’s sleeve. His residual power, which he must use or lose, is to influence his party’s selection of candidates for state and federal offices. This is, however, perilous because he has the power of influence only if he is perceived to have it. That perception will dissipate if his interventions in Republican primaries continue to be unimpressive.

So, Trump must try to emulate the protagonist of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”. In Mark Twain’s novel, a 19th-century American is transported back in time to Britain in the year 528. He gets in trouble, is condemned to death, but remembers that a solar eclipse occurred on the date of his scheduled execution. He saves himself by vowing to extinguish the sun but promising to let it shine again if his demands are met.

Trump is faltering at the business of commanding outcomes that are, like Twain’s eclipse, independent of his interventions. Consider the dilemma of David Perdue. He is a former Republican senator because Trump, harping on the cosmic injustice of his November loss in 2020, confused and demoralized Georgia Republicans enough to cause Perdue’s defeat by 1.2 percentage points in the January 2021 runoff. Nevertheless, Trump talked Perdue into running in this year’s gubernatorial primary against Georgia’s Republican incumbent, Brian Kemp, whom Trump loathes. 

In a February poll, Kemp led Perdue by 10 points. Trump failed in his attempt to boost his preferred Senate candidate in North Carolina, Rep. Ted Budd, by pressuring a rival out of the race. As of mid-January, Budd was trailing in the polls. Trump reportedly might endorse a second Senate candidate in Alabama, his first endorsement, of Rep. Mo Brooks, having been less than earthshaking. Trump has endorsed Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin in the gubernatorial primary against Gov. Brad Little. A poll published in January: Little 59 percent, McGeachin 18 percent. During Trump’s presidency, a majority of Republicans said they were more supporters of Trump than of the GOP. That has now reversed.

Trump is an open book who has been reading himself to the nation for 40 years. In that time, he has changed just one important word in his torrent of talk: He has replaced “Japan” with “China” in assigning blame for our nation’s supposed anaemia. He is an entertainer whose repertoire is stale. 

A European war is unhelpful for Trump because it reminds voters that Longfellow was right: Life is real, life is earnest. Trump’s strut through presidential politics was made possible by an American reverie; war in Europe has reminded people that politics is serious.

From Capitol Hill to city halls, Democrats have presided over surges of debt, inflation, crime, pandemic authoritarianism and educational intolerance. Public schools, a point of friction between citizens and government, are hostages of Democratic-aligned teachers unions that have positioned K-12 education in an increasingly adversarial relationship with parents. The most lethal threat to Democrats, however, is the message Americans are hearing from the party’s media-magnified progressive minority: You should be ashamed of your country.

Trump’s message is similar. He says this country is saturated with corruption, from the top, where dimwits represent the evidently dimwitted voters who elected them, down to municipalities that conduct rigged elections. Progressives say the nation’s past is squalid and not really past; Trump says the nation’s present is a disgrace.

Speaking of embarrassments: We are the sum of our choices, and Vladimir Putin has provoked some Trump poodles to make illuminating ones. Their limitless capacity for canine loyalty now encompasses the Kremlin war criminal. For example, the vaudevillian-as-journalist Tucker Carlson, who never lapses into logic, speaks like an arrested-development adolescent: Putin has never called me a racist, so there.

Forgotten Ohio Ukrainians rallying against Putin’s war

One Ohio aspirant, grovelling for Trump’s benediction two weeks ago said: “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine.” Apparently upon discovering that Ohio has 43,000 Ukrainian Americans, this man Vance underwent a conviction transplant, saying, “Russia’s assault on Ukraine is unquestionably a tragedy,” and emitting clouds of idolatry for Trump’s supposedly Metternichian diplomacy regarding Putin.

For Trump, the suppurating wound on American life, and for those who share his curdled venom, war is a hellacious distraction from their self-absorption. Fortunately, their ability to be major distractions is waning.

Albored Part IV – No Longer Unready?

I have admitted that Albanese is probably not unready, but he is unsteady. He strikes me as a guy who has grown up in the kindergarten of factional politics, but really does not communicate well outside that factional circle.

He is fortunate to have some bloody good women who have shown the guts to stand the incompetents up, and hopefully, on a change of government if that occurs, they will team with some of the aspirants running for ostensibly safe Liberal seats as successful candidates.

I was worried by the absence of Penny Wong and the short statement that she has been ill has been left at that after she turned up on the Insiders program.  The problem with presenting the Albanese foreign affairs approach is to work out what it is. Wong’s comment on Insiders:

Working with partners in the region to build our collective security, to diversify our export markets, secure supply chains, provide renewable energy and climate solutions, avert coercion, and respond to natural disasters. By investing financially and intellectually in the security and stability of our region – because defence capability on its own won’t achieve this. We share with ASEAN states an abiding interest in averting hegemony by any single power – so this is where our energy must be applied.

In responsibility terms does the distribution of Ministerial Portfolios need to be reviewed – Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Defence, Environment Protection? In Government, the responsibility for legislation, both future and existing, needs to be clearly defined; and yet the intrinsic danger of having exclusive enclaves centred around such legislative responsibility makes talk of co-operative government nothing more than meaningless waffle. The question is whether Albanese will have the innate skills, intelligence and authority to assure his Ministers work together.

The obvious question is if you, Albanese, get into office, what do you do on day one, because if you dissect this paragraph above, it is an overwhelming agenda – so large it leads to policy paralysis. The policy drought is evident with so much discussion on nuclear submarines, which are of no immediate relevance – and given the lead time, how relevant ever, except to continue to create for the huge hole in the Budget. If Albanese stepped back and thought that nuclear submarines are the panacea, then he is as blinkered as our supremely unintelligent Prime Minister.

I believe that the defence of Australia, as is the case everywhere, is yet to move from a traditional discussion of muskets and cannon balls. As Putin is demonstrating, it is all about killing more civilians of the “Away Team” than the “Home Team”.  The Russian armed forces are seeing the people as the real target. Just look at the Ukraine. It is the war which confirms that the most vulnerable are this target. Children and mothers are the prime target, with the latest atrocity being the bombing of a children’s hospital, irrespective of what the propaganda says to the contrary. Putin may claim that everyone has been evacuated; but tell that to the mothers in labour inside the hospital as the bombs fell.

Unlike the countries which have constituted the battlefield over the past 20 years, Ukraine does have a network of underground bunkers, formerly called train stations (which were an important bulwark in the bombing of Britain 80 years ago). The lessons of the Ukraine War are and will continue to be relevant, rather than government solely succumbing to the blandishments of the armaments manufacturers for more and more lethal toys, which if used will destroy us all.

In one way, just the vastness of a very dry continent with a dispersed population, yet with areas that are intensely populated, provides a defence for Australia, the strength of which needs to be exploited in any future conflict. Albanese seems to have succumbed to the one scenario of invasion, given how much sinophobia has framed the foreign and defence policy of the current government.

Just one simple question? How quickly could our underground accommodate our population, how many of them and how strong would our underground need to be to withstand a missile assault?

The other critical area is cybersecurity – far more important than a few pieces of military or naval hardware. Is the arrangement of the current capacity, in all its diverse acronyms, the right way to conduct our national security? I well remember the Hope Inquiry which Whitlam instituted in 1974. It did not help prevent his dismissal the next year.

While much has changed, Hope’s biographer, Peter Edwards, has written that the principles Hope outlined then remain fundamentally important today: effectiveness must be matched by accountability; intelligence assessment must be separated from policymaking.  Intelligence and law enforcement should also be kept separate.  Most importantly, both intelligence assessment and national security policymaking must be whole-of-government processes, based in the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio, with no single department or minister to have undue influence.

The first decision on day one is more pragmatic. What do they do with Mr Pezzullo, given the number of strings that he has pulled under the Coalition? Presumably Albanese believes it is essential that he is removed and neutralised in his ability to have any influence.

The next decision on day one of a new Government is to review the head of the Australian Federal Police, Reece Kershaw. The danger of authoritarian governments is that they crave a secret police to enact their vengeance; and unfortunately signs are that that is occurring in a complacent Australia.

The problem is this drive towards a police state, whether it is called plutocracy, oligarchy or just plain dictatorship, is muddied with cyber security. I have not seen this matter explicitly addressed by Albanese. As someone who studied Georges Sorel, I am well aware that a secret police is the result of the authoritarian mind, whether extreme right  or left wing. Australia should not underestimate this scenario, given the example of Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, who were not allowed to release information about our underhand dealings over oil with Timor-Leste. The Guardian did not hold back in a report of the matter where Howard and Downer were described as “shills for the corporations”. Albanese has not disclosed his position, because the whole conduct of the Australian Government in this case reeks of secret police.

Maeslant storm surge barrier near Rotterdam

Climate change is the other enemy, against which it has been shown that Australia has almost no defence.  Flood mitigation by the Dutch has been going on since the 13th century. The Netherlands, built on a series of sandy outcrops primarily that of the Rhine, had suffered from the ravages of the North Sea well before “climate change” came into the lexicon. The flooding of the Netherlands in 1953 was the biggest wake-up call. As one writer put it:

The greatest lesson to be learned from the Dutch is perhaps less about engineering and more about mindset and culture. “It’s easy just to talk about technological and engineering solutions, but a lot of the problems surrounding sea-level rise are legal and political. The Dutch have a legal and political system that is united around dealing with water issues; they’ve been doing it for a thousand years.”

As a result, their technology provides an avenue for combating floods, which has been used in attempting to waterproof New Orleans. Yet here, the only discussion about flood mitigation seems to be around raising walls of dams.

Bushfires present the problem of occurring in isolated forested areas under a hot sun and strong north winds, lit by a lightning strikes.  In this country, the approach to bushfires should be inculcated from childhood; bushfire prevention and the community response to fire should be part of the school curriculum. As we age, so increases our responsibility and skill at dealing with probably the greatest enemy of all – fire – particularly when lightning is man made such as by a missile attack. Not sure how this has been discussed by Albanese in his quest to be Number One.

It is a curse that when war flares, conservation of the planet in the long term is replaced by survival in the short term. All the fossil fuel villains of peace time are now life savers. That is the Putin legacy, trying to maintain an order different from that which only exists in the mind of a madman.

That is one lesson of history at this time, for Albanese – John Curtin.

I may not have said that several weeks ago, but just how much times change has been shown by the events of the past two weeks.  Remember the instability of the previous United Australia Party leadership in the events leading up to the entry of Japan in WWII; the touching of the forelock to a useless ally before Curtin won Prime Ministership. Would any of our current leaders have stood up to Churchill and brought our troops back from North Africa as Curtin did in 1942? (Remember Menzies had previously committed Australian troops to the ill-fated Crete campaign under the thrall of Churchill.)

Since Curtin, there is no Australian Prime Minister except Whitlam who has put Australian policy in the world first and refused to send our young men and women as cannon fodder as an excuse to defend freedom. Will Albanese be the next?

Rupert’s Quote of the Geek

The alleged comment of the Australian General, explaining the delayed deployment of the Army to the NSW floods because it was initially too dangerous.

Try Ukraine, Buster!

The Armed Forces are said to spend $40 million annually on advertising, which seems to suggest the war preparation is a succession of jolly japes, with imagery reminiscent of Coke ads in camouflage.  Even Sportsbet has joined in trivialising military imagery to sell gambling. Often in such imagery there is a grain of truth.

Mouse Whisper

There is a photograph under spotlight of eight Russian soldiers in an elevator – all looking as they were escapees from a KAL cartoon – well allegedly these heroes of the Putin special operations decided to take an elevator up to the roof of a Ukrainian building, and the Ukrainians just turned off the power to the lift.

Could the Russian soldiers be that stupid? But whether true or not, the lift occupants do look a little bewildered apart from the one with his balaclava drawn over his head where only the eyes can be seen – it has that black humour which accompanies tragedy.