Modest Expectations – Nisi

Today was Melbourne Cup day. You know, the sporting event that stops a nation. Except we have just driven 800 kilometres from   Dubbo to Broken Hill. It is not the first time we have driven between the two cities, but it served as a reminder that going on a long journey with yourselves through the Outback of Australia is a reminder of our diversity. Australia prides itself on its multicultural diversity, but even to my urban eye, Australia also has great climatic diversity.

In the brochures which highlight this diversity there are always pictures of the Great Barrier Reef, tropical rain forests and beaches, Uluru and red deserts, and the Sydney Opera House. However, along a road on a hot day, diversity springs out at you if you care to look.  The subtle changes in the landscape are there. The problem of being the driver is that one drives essentially with a strip of bitumen in front of you. Traffic is increasingly sparse the further you penetrate into the country.

The thin strip of bitumen

Whenever I go on one of these trips, I say to myself that I must learn more about eucalypts. There have been multiple experts who can tell a gum tree variety just by running their eyes up and down the structure. The fragrance of Australia is breaking apart a newly picked gum leaf and smelling it. Describe the smell and you describe Australia as it has been for thousands of years.

Between Dubbo and Nyngan, there are a number of small towns. This is wheat country interspersed with natural habitat.

There is a white blanket along the sides of the road. They are tiny white everlastings that nature has gathered into posy-like clumps and then strewn through the bush.

As the soil becomes drier, everlastings give way to small clumps of salt bush dotting the landscape and foreshadowing that there is saltbush country beyond the horizon.

The scrub varies from open woodland to areas of brigalow, with the grey feathery foliage atop a black trunk, the mallees – greenery close to the ground, then clumps of native cypress, some gidgee trees. These are interspersed with the gum trees I wished I could identify.

I well remember driving from Bourke to Goodooga in the north of NSW and my companions identifying the trees as they would their relatives. The most striking of all of them was the leopard gum. Each of these trees and others reflect microclimates in each of these areas being distinct, which in turn makes the whole landscape such a diverse experience.

On our trail today, animal life is scarce – one emu, no kangaroos, a number of feral goats, no cattle and a small flock of sheep in saltbush as we neared Broken Hill.

After Nyngan it is 130 kilometres to Cobar. At Nyngan, in a unprepossessing iron shed which houses the toilets, we find that rarest of commodity, soap – and something in my wide usage of such facilities I have never seen before – paper towels, all maintained by the volunteer group that run the adjacent wool shearing shed display.

Contrast this with the stop at the MacCulloch Range wayside rest area which boasts a children’s playground, a barbecue and a long-drop toilet without toilet paper – and where the birds are conditioned to congregate around the toilet when occupied, because the outside wash basin discharges its waste water directly on the ground for the birds to drink. Here there are several plaques identifying NSW Ministers who have made the journey to unveil them – one in recognition of the completion of sealing of the road between Nyngan and the South Australian border in 1972 and the other for the creation of the children’s playground and the other facilities there! Talk about turning up for the opening of an envelope – but then the latter was Carl Scully.

However, that stopover is closer to Wilcannia than Cobar, which owes its existence to its copper mines. Then it is 260 kilometres to Wilcannia from Cobar, with no settlements in between.

Wilcannia stone

Wilcannia was once a thriving river port where boats were loaded with the wool clip and sent down the Darling River. The magnificent buildings made from the distinctive Wilcannia stone attest to a past colonial magnificence. I was once shown the quarry from which the Wilcannia stone was extracted. It was disused although stone remained under a cover of bush. The stone makes beautiful cream coloured buildings, so much in synchrony with the intense clear sunlight. Perhaps the quarry has been worked out – but the stone would still attract use for building if that is not the case.

Wilcannia is now an Aboriginal town as it has been all the 30 years since I first stayed and worked there. Here was where I learnt so much about the Barkinji people. Today in 40 degrees heat, parked in a nearly deserted main street, we watched the Melbourne Cup on a laptop.

This year travelling the route was somewhat unusual in that rain had come and turned much of the country green.  The salt bush seemed to coalesce with this greenery. The red earth still broke through, and in particular there were some areas which had not received much rain.

The last kilometres through to Broken Hill pass through a plain almost devoid of trees. While there was a rim of hills in the distance, this land was flat and green – it seemed to be a continuation of the Hay Plains to the South, which are so treeless they give an illusion of a flat earth. It is said these plains are the area which most effectively demonstrate this illusion.

At last Broken Hill nears, we turn our watches back half an hour to South Australian time. Now on all sides we see what many people describe as the engine which made Australia – the huge silver-lead-zinc deposits – after the gold rush petered out. There is no way Broken Hill can be described in one paragraph.  I’ll reserve that for another time since this one day in the Outback stands alone – yet another tincture to colour the wonderful commodity – experience.

Old Broken Hill

The Three Horsemen of Politics 

“To spend a third of life in unproductive idleness seems a dreadful waste to some people, and now and then they decide to shun the slothful practice evermore.  No one has yet succeeded. After a couple of sleepless nights they are as sleepy as anyone else, eventually become incoherent and irrational and seek the season of all natures.”

                  The last six words are stated by Lady MacBeth.

When I listened to the tirade from Minister Frydenberg demonstrating his basic ignorance of what Daniel Andrews had done, I could not believe it – coming from the mouth of someone who in all public demeanour before has shown control albeit behind a quizzical expression.

So what did this outburst signify?  Many applauded him for it. I did not. I thought the content wild and illogical. I have watched politicians over the course of 50 years. Published many years ago in the print media, but seemingly forgotten, I have been jogged to repeat what I said then.

There were three challenges for politicians that I identified.

  • Sleeplessness
  • Isolation
  • Boredom

As I wrote about sleeplessness, it seems to be a badge of honour of some politicians not to sleep. I remember that Margaret Thatcher boasted about how little sleep she needed. She ended up with dementia. When I first wrote about the deleterious effects of lack of sleep, there was not the evidence there is today about its link with Alzheimer’s and Lewy body dementia.

I have always likened sleeping as the time you put out the cerebral garbage.  This image seems to have been validated by scientific evidence. When one does not sleep, then the garbage in the form of amyloid or other toxins is left to accumulate in the brain.

I well remember the experiment of “the tipping cat”. Here the cat would just be allowed to fall asleep and then immediately be tipped up. This was repeated time and again, eventually turning the cat into feline paranoia.

The image of Frydenberg scribbling away and then launching into the tirade made me wonder about how much “good sleep” he is getting. From a forensic point of view it would be interesting to know what he actually scribbled, and the psi impact on the paper hopefully not reflected in the way Trump violates paper with his black signature.

So that is the first question I would ask of Frydenberg. What about your sleep?

Turning to isolation; the figure brooding, looking out the window – the Person Alone – is supposed to indicate strength and a thoughtfulness, the ability to sustain 40 days and nights in the wilderness. However, the reality is that most politicians hate isolation. My thought is that when they all moved to that new Mussolini era-architecturally inspired mausoleum called New Parliament House, to offset the innate isolation of the long corridors and the vast atria with offices designed for excessive space with the consequence of distancing themselves from us plebs, the politicians employed more and more staff. In the Old Parliament House, people lived close to one another, which in itself reduced isolation – apart from which, the place was so small no one could fit a large number of staff.

However, now politicians have to work in a building which structurally promotes isolation enhanced by the ever-increasing levels of security; then, when a pandemic appears, the frailty of those isolated is shown. When isolation is a negotiable commodity, then it can be brushed aside – but when isolation comes with compulsion to save the health of a nation, then it becomes very challenging because it is real, physically.

Because in a pandemic that’s exactly what they should happen -one isolates oneself.

Another problem with isolation is that it breeds ignorance and, when combined with sleeplessness, an inability to adapt. One of the ways to combat this is to listen, not as a public relations exercise, nor one looking for an anecdote to bolster your belief system, but as a genuine effort to discover alternative views. I always remembered the politician who said he went to meetings outside his comfort cocoon, because there was often times one comment or an idea would jolt him from his “cocoon of isolation” and make him think further. Isolation thus has a mental component.

The final component which has grown over the years to feed isolation has been this obsession with security. The activities in the Middle East have fuelled this, together with the increasingly inflammatory comments from politicians revelling in the inferno of populism. When I first entered the political scene, security was not the industry it is today. Even when there was the attempt to assassinate Arthur Caldwell, then the Leader of the Opposition, in 1966 there was no knee jerk response. Security has now become an industry – a commodity – to be traded- and alongside its growth are the vested interests. It is no doubt a contributor to isolation, but how much? One can only say that if one believes it is important to combat “the politician as an isolate” it needs to be factored into any considerations.

Then there is boredom. People believe that hustle and bustle is activity. This boredom was exemplified by the criticism of Mr Albanese’s office. It sounds like a playground with or without a sandpit. The problem is that there is not enough real work for these characters to do. They then just play endless games of “gotcha” in between their sycophantic acknowledgement of their various politician employers.  As I once wrote: “Boredom and its consequences have the effect of pushing away some people who could have been important contributors. It would disastrous if, at the centre of the political world, are solely those who delight in the entrails of boredom, and who actually revel in gossip, ritual and games.”

In the intervening period I have witnessed how true most of this is. There is no reason to believe that Frydenberg ever gets bored, but it is reason for him and others in high places to be aware that boredom breeds mischief – bouncing between venial and venal. Staff members need useful work to do and if that doesn’t exist, you don’t need them.

Therefore, if a government does not have an optimistic agenda demanding substantial policy discussion, hope is rationed and eventually boredom thrives from a lack of hope, because there is nothing to do but obfuscate, let forth tirades and generally be unpleasant. Because there is that ghost of the Cheshire cat and all it conceals, to goad. Then add sleeplessness and isolation and it becomes a toxic mixture!

Paul Collier – Lest we forget

I don’t know whether his name has been mentioned in the Disability Royal Commission. I very clearly remember meeting his mother though.

At the time I was on quixotic mission handing out voting cards at the Woodcroft booth in the seat of Mawson. Dr David Senior, a rural general practitioner friend of mine, was standing on a single issue of saving the Royal Adelaide Hospital, a perfectly good building on North Terrace, rather than have it replaced with an extravaganza further up the road. The new hospital has since been built; it has had huge commissioning problems but is a legacy to that man of impeccable judgement, Mike Rann, then Premier. This judgement was attested to by his chummy relationship with Lance Armstrong.

Then, as now, Mawson has an ALP member. The electorate is a predominantly outer suburban electorate, but also includes a significant slice of the state’s wine industry and now extends to include Kangaroo Island. Woodcroft, where I was handing out cards, was very suburban – wide streets, not many trees, the signature brick veneer homes but not McMansions.

This is where I met Paul Collier’s mother. Collier was a quadriplegic, highly qualified who, at the age of 21 had the accident which rendered him with this severe disability. This had not stopped his advocacy for the disabled and he had formed the Dignity Party. He was on top of the Party ticket for a place in the Upper House, but 11 days prior to the election, he died from a cerebral haemorrhage. His name had remained at the top of the ballot. His votes were passed on to the second person on the ticket, Kelly Vincent, a young woman with cerebral palsy, who was duly elected and served one term, and tellingly was not re-elected in 2018.  The conventional stated reason for this was the change to optional proportional voting. If so, this is an indictment of how the community viewed her candidature, not important enough to either vote for or preference her, disability and all.

But then in March 2010, I shall never forget that extraordinary woman, having just farewelled her son two days before, handing out how-to-vote cards for her dead son’s Party. I did not discuss her motives with her; she was still wrestling with the grief.  She had told me enough.

When I wrote this to Mike Steketee, a journalist I knew well then, I myself was not disabled, as I am now. Once I found out the complexity of being looked after, as I have, I recognise how difficult it all is. Frankly, I don’t know why you need a Disability Royal Commission over four years. What will it tell me in its recommendations about what should be done that I do not already know.

The labour intensity of keeping people alive is huge and thankless; one problem of medical science – from the marginally viable 22-23 weeks pre-term to the centenarian with dementia – is intent on keeping them alive at all cost.  An increasingly number of people recognise, as they do elsewhere, prolongation of life of an obsolete product is about cutting losses – but tell that to the religiously superstitious! It was reported this week that almost 50 per cent of those who have died in aged care in Australia from COVID-19 had dementia.

Society is conditioned to mourn the dead, often a self-conscious piety when it just boils down to how, in personal terms, the dead are just names. We fumble in how we express ourselves when we feel nothing. Going to funerals as a matter of form is not grief. Grief is a solitary situation, and when you lose your mother as a boy, it lives with you for the rest of your life.

Disability has been raked over. Let’s assume the cost is considerable; the modelling light on “how much” flashes “a lot”.  In these times with a government in deficit, if you want to care properly – you need a tax.

Confront the country with the figure for care for a moderately disabled person if treated individually at home or in an institution; then ask each taxpayer individually would they be prepared to pay that tax, given that around every health problem is a shell of fakery and profiteering associated with the privatisation of aged care. The Disability Royal Commission should be able to answer some of the questions underlying the statement in this paragraph.  If they have, then why the need for extension?

Apart from the here and now I faced the dilemma of how to confront disability almost 50 years ago when I was a young doctor responsible for an adult rehabilitation ward. One day in 1971 a 12-year old boy was admitted, paralysed down one side, a spontaneous event without apparent cause.

He was a bright boy and I had immediate empathy with him. I saw him every day. He came from the country, but nobody came to see him. His parents seemingly had disappeared at the onset of his medical condition when the boy was transferred to the city. It is very difficult to be child in a rehabilitation ward where most were elderly. For some reason, it was difficult to discharge him, because facilities for a child soon to become an adolescent with all that meant were poorly differentiated. Adolescent medical care as a specialty was in its early stages.

Thus, for respite on a couple of weekends with the agreement of the hospital, I took him home so he could experience family life.  Our sons were seven and five at the time.

We lived very close to the hospital. My then wife and I contemplated whether we could go further and seek to take over his future care and education. We consulted a range of heath professionals, before initiating anything. We never mentioned it to anyone – we were not adopting “a pet” to be discussed over morning coffee. The question was whether we could give him a better life, not him to be regarded as a trophy.

We both agreed the question was whether we could be both appropriate “foster parents” or “adopted parents”. In the end we were dissuaded; we had to cast off any incipient emotional ties. However, for a period we wondered whether we had done the wrong thing. As it turned out, we probably did the right thing – but how would you know as we did not maintain contact. We did ensure that he would be cared for in the short term and not be forgotten. No Royal Commission could have helped us then or, I suspect, now.

In hindsight, given where we both are now, it was obviously right, but then nobody will ever know what would have happened if he had become part of the family. Dwelling on such matters at an individual level gets one nowhere, except to think that Ron Sackville must have wisdom which the rest of us do not. 

Mouse Whisper

As someone who remembers the toll of the 1980s, this piece from the New York Review of Books is sobering, so much so that if a mouse could shout from the rafters and not squeak, I would say loudly:

There is a terrible fear that the toll on health care workers from COVID will have been in vain if Trump’s failure to effectively tackle the pandemic continues, if testing is not ramped up to levels that allow for identification of carriers and contact tracing, if distribution of protective equipment is not done rationally but rather through nepotism and profiteering, if experts are removed from important positions after questioning incompetent political leadership, and if reopening the economy is done haphazardly to fulfill talking points on cable TV in hopes of gaining re-election. 

Perhaps the greatest lesson we can take from the AIDS epidemic is one that came after the movie star Rock Hudson died, effectively removing the blinders that President Reagan was wearing. Reagan, a friend of Hudson, at last ceded authority to scientists like Fauci, who knew how to speak to the public about illness and create a sense of common cause, and to mobilise both the public and private sectors to triumph over a virus that had never been seen before and many believed could not be effectively combated.  AIDS arrived as a murderer; now it can be shackled. We are nowhere near that point with COVID-19.

Modest Expectations – Spitzbergen

It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice. 

Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government.

Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess?

Oliver Cromwell on getting rid of the Rump Parliament

Cromwell

In the first weeks of working for Bill Snedden in 1973, I remember the office in Canberra was visited by a delegation of Myall Lakes’ miners. At the time, Myall Lakes was a major source of mineral sands, the source of the then new wonder metal – titanium. They were concerned with the intention to close the mining. It seemed genuine and that they were not proxies for the mine owners since they had a union representative with them.

In their minds there was no consideration of the need to preserve the beaches and dunes that constituted part of the landscape. It was understandably all about their jobs, a familiar theme. A very relevant theme now that there is an intention to close some coal mines in the region.

Hawks Nest

I knew about the Myall Lakes at close quarters because a decade later, after the mining had been closed down, I and three others walked the colourfully named trail between Mungo Brush and Hawks Nest. It was a very varied walk through coastal rainforest before emerging upon dunes and then back into scrubland and wetlands. It was a superb if challenging walk, the last part of which was through a marsh where there were supposed to be blocks of wood forming a boardwalk. This had collapsed in places and we were forced to wade through water up to our waists, and then at the end of the walk to rid ourselves of the leeches. However, on that day, I was very much a conservationist.

The miners thus had come to Snedden as a last resort, because they had been told that even the union was not supporting the sand mining being retained. Yet this was not far from Newcastle, where the ALP is electorally entrenched.

What could we do about it?

Snedden chose to be publicly sympathetic. He realised very clearly that there is a political divide in this country, where one side saw representing its task of protecting labour, including here the role of the State, as paramount. Any support in any case would have been seen as opportunistic and fleeting, while alienating traditional supporters.

On the Liberal side, which Snedden led at the time, essentially the policies were around encouraging individual enterprise and the development of wealth, independent of the State, yet not entirely disregarding that the State had a crucial role. It provided certain services, which had been shown or were deemed better to be public enterprises. The problem with such a separation is that in a democracy, such attempts at differentiation are riddled with inconsistencies, paradox not to mention conundra.

Disaffected union members thus do not easily fit with the so-called Liberal side of politics when a basic two-party adversarial system forms the basis of this country’s democracy. The adversarial system has been distorted by the alliance of the protectors of free enterprises with the agrarian socialists who, in their purist ideological form, have been known to ally themselves with the ALP briefly.

There are other elements. The sectarian division in the ALP, which has resulted in once defenders of worker rights, albeit with more than a tincture of Roman Catholicism, separating themselves into the DLP. They crossed the political divide, were regarded as renegades by the ALP and eventually were destroyed as a Party. Elements remain as a core reactionary Falangist rump now embedded in the conservative side of politics far away from their traditional roots. Their ideological basis aligns more easily into the “new liberalism” which has evolved.

The other political party, which probably has progressed beyond the charismatic individual, is the Greens party, but there is no discounting the effect of Bob Brown on promotion of environment protection in Tasmania.

However, a proto-anarchic party, which paradoxically has blind beliefs as a substitute for reasoned policy, is doomed to irrelevance. As was shown in Western Australia hugging trees wearing a twinset and pearls does not win a constituency.

In the end, political parties which do not progress beyond the individual who sets them up or the individual who works the Senate system, primarily but not exclusively a Tasmanian phenomenon, exists so long as they exist. Who still remembers Brian Harradine and the antics he inflicted on this country to secure largesse for Tasmania? So in your lifetime, you were influential, but that Life of Brian, your legacy?

I believe very much in the definition of conservatism that to change your view can be done by persuasive evidence-based reasoning. However, such logic seems to be in short supply these days.

The problem with politics in Australia as I have written elsewhere, is that vested interests typified by the urgers, rent seekers and mercantilists on both sides of the political spectrum have emerged to distort and compromise the political process. They have one basic belief, irrespective of what side of politics they profess, and that is: “Government is an ATM. All I need to have is a password; that is a politician in my wallet”.

Vested interests squeeze out those who have a belief that the political party of choice will take account of your views, if you are a member.

It was salutary watching the 2010 documentary of the GFC debacle and how Wall Street and an array of “respected” academia were involved in almost destroying the world’s financial structures. What happened to them? Many of the perpetrators ended up not only with handsome dividends but also as faces among Obama’s trusted advisers.

Was anybody prosecuted as a result of the Wall Street shenanigans? Nope. No wonder Obama paved the way among the deprived for the ascension of a “saviour” who has avowed to clean the swamp with a broom, he himself infected by fake news and conspiratorial theories.

The Haynes Banking enquiry in this country showed the extent of our diseased society, but already the Government are unravelling the structural cures so recently put in place. Symptomatic?

Don Chipp had the right idea when he used the slogan “Keep the Bastards Honest” as his party’s brand. Unfortunately, Chipp did not have the intellectual capacity to articulate policy arising from what was a strong call for change and, most importantly, integrity.

However, 40 plus years on, with ongoing corruption so evident across the political spectrum, the demand for a “National Integrity Commission” is the perfect way in which what seemingly is a simple issue could become the centrepiece and rallying call for a national party. The issue should be attractive to most of the independent members in the House of Representatives. It seems a single issue, but it is not.

A simple single issue upon which to campaign has the potential to focus the electorate – an Integrity Commission – so much to say about how to promote such a body; so many reminders of integrity lacking in the current crop. Contemplate a party with a pristine white banner with a blue “I” one way-intersecting at right angles with a blue “I”. Maybe throw in a few stars as well.

Eureka may at last have a long term meaning.

The problem with any centrist party is that it has to have a structure, funding, and a strategy attuned to that. In an earlier blog, I suggested a Haircut Party aimed at reducing the entitlements, perks, and the overstaffing which politicians are afforded – something which would test those already within the “parliamentary tent”.

Being a member of Parliament as I identified in articles I wrote years ago when the entitlements and perks were far from what they are today had a number of challenges and bogeys. Staffers then had legitimate policy roles, rather than just harassing bureaucrats and playing puerile undergraduate one-upmanship scherzi. The individual targets such as the choleric Craig Kelly are many, but need to be franked in terms of lack of integrity.

I mention this just to assure those who do glance at this blog, that the two notions are not incompatible – a good haircut gives one a good view of integrity.

However, I am also mindful that after Cromwell died, five years after he uttered the above exhortation, the Rump resumed and needless to say, they exhumed Cromwell’s body and hanged him.

Says something for cremation – but also about embedding policy so that it has no single author.

The Spectre of Parkinsonism

The discussion about post-infective sequelae to viral infections should not surprise anybody. However, those people who carelessly disregard history should at least take notice that the possibility exists.

I had an uncle. He was a very active, successful businessman who built his father’s agency into a profitable business. He was closely involved in attracting Roger de Stoop and his Belgian enterprise in high-end fabric weaving to set up a factory in Melbourne.

However, during the 1930s as a young man my uncle contracted encephalitis lethargica, the aetiology of which has never been worked out beyond an influenza-type pathogenesis being suspected. It was also known as “sleeping sickness” because of the severe alterations in sleep patterns. Within the family, I was told that my mother helped nurse him.

In any event he seemingly recovered and was fit enough to serve in World War 2. However, in the late 1960s, he began to show neuro-psychiatric symptoms, which were initially diagnosed as “anxiety attacks” for which he was prescribed chlorpromazine. That just made him worse, and soon after he was diagnosed as having Parkinsonism, which rapidly progressed – the trembling hands, the mask face, the rigidity. It was the time that levodopa had just been introduced and to that was added the then experimental dopa decarboxylase inhibitors to try and dampen down his movement fluctuations. In hindsight, once his prior medical history was disclosed, the association with his prior disease was made.

The disease progressed and he eventually died, not the death that such a previously active man would have wanted. Nevertheless, even though I was never close to him, I have two strong contrasting memories of him. One was the uncompromising man with a fierce expression in his late forties telling me off in no uncertain terms when I was barely twenty-one – and rightly so; and the man 12 years later in a wheelchair barely able to talk. We two were alone briefly then. I got up to leave, shook his trembling hand and said good-bye. It was the only time I have ever touched anybody on the cheek; his brother, my father, had died years earlier when I was not allowed to see him until he was dead, cotton wool already stuffed in his mouth. But that needs more explanation at another time.

However, the spectre of Parkinsonism is real, especially if theoretically there was a long life ahead of you before the Virus came. I wonder whether it will be associated with a loss of smell, one of the symptoms of the Virus infection, because that may suggest an entry point into the brain along the olfactory cranial nerve, which is not only the shortest cranial nerve but also originates in the brain itself (rather than the brain stem, unlike all the other cranial nerves, except the optic nerve).

We shall see.

There is always a solution

It was a Saturday morning. The phone rang. It was my son. I was working in Broken Hill at the time and coming to visit me, he was in Mildura. He had been booked and had a ticket to travel on the Eastern Airlines Cessna 402 flight. However, he arrived in Mildura at the same time as the camera crew, with its baggage, which was about to film a Coca-Cola commercial outside Broken Hill.

The tiny settlement of Silverton outside Broken Hill had served as the image of the Australian Outback in multiple films, and the road out to the Mundi Mundi plains was the backdrop for the early Mad Max movies. The Mundi Mundi Plains are flat land stretching to the South Australian border, and sitting on a rock overlooking the plains watching the sunset makes one realise how lucky you are to be an Australian as long as it was not a set for Mad Max.

Mundi Mundi Plains

Coca-Cola was rumoured to have a set somewhere on the plains where they shot commercials, and who was this young man with a ticket to stand in the way of a commercial eulogising dark fluid which looks like haemolysed blood but a tried beloved method of stacking on calories for many generations of the world’s youth.

Anyway, son was bumped, and when he rang he presented me with the problem. There was one fight on Saturday; none on Sunday. He enquired whether there was anybody flying to Mildura that day who could pick him up for free. There wasn’t. We quickly dismissed the idea of him hiring a car to drive the 300 kilometres between the two cities. The cost would have been prohibitive for someone of his then age hiring a car under “remote” conditions. Hitchhiking: forget it.

However, there was one outfit from whom I could charter a plane and pilot. They said they could accommodate me – at a price. The pilot had to be roused and when he arrived unshaven, I ignored the fact that he drank a whole bottle of milk immediately.

All systems go.

I phoned the Mildura airport and let them know to tell my son that I was coming down to get him. I went with the pilot, who still stank of alcohol. Despite all the signs, it was uneventful; an hour down and an hour back. I cannot remember the type of small plane, but it was adequate to fit at least four. Flying to Mildura and back on a clear morning as this was before the thermals made their presence felt was diverting. It was a time when the waterholes were filled after substantial rain. When that occurs, it took about a year or more for them to dry out, if there was no more rain – and the farmers used to sow them – it was a harvest of pocket money. Generally, two harvests could be obtained. A tremendous sight.

Yes, I remember clearly this morning and these vivid spots of green, distinct from the unending blue grey of the saltbush, blending as it does into the ochre of the desert.

I always remembered this morning as one in which a potential disaster was so quickly solved – at a price. My son was given a taste of why Broken Hill is what it is – a place that everyone should see before they die. It is the essential Australian whitefella legendary Outback.

My son met Pro Hart while he was there, said he was broke, and did Pro Hart have anything he might have for free. Pro Hart probably thought he was an urger, but generously remembered he was probably the same when he was my son’s then age. The son still has the purse with the Hart dragonfly painted on one corner.

In a way, it was a variation on that wonderful “The Gods Must be Crazy”. Here the Coke bottle stayed in the plane, and bumped my son onto the tarmac. Never thought that I was a bushman or my son was a surrogate for the Coke bottle.

Andrews – a Career going North?

The future is not about his response to COVID-19. Andrews made the wrong decision, just as he narrowly avoided a similar debacle had he allowed the Grand Prix to go ahead in March. If he had done that, and it must have been a close call, Melbourne’s “first wave” may have been as bad as the second. So I hope he remembers who gave him that advice to pull out. Otherwise he would have been cactus.

The Health Minister, Jenny Mikakos, recently resigned and conveniently, being a member of the Upper House, her resignation will require no by-election to fill her vacancy and thus few ripples. Depending on the media, she will become a footnote and then forgotten like so many. However, the parliamentary election of her successor may generate a platform for some of the more infantile in the Opposition.

Ultimately no matter how softened, Andrews will be tainted with the decision to hire the private contractors. Whether it was out of contempt for a Department over which he once ruled or not, Victoria was ill-prepared for a major public health emergency. The problem with Victoria, and Melbourne in particular, is that the politicians are continually being told how wonderful medicine and medical research is in Victoria and thus there is a belief that Victoria can weather all ills because of the Parkville precinct. It is more the Parkville rather than the Stockholm Syndrome. Generation after generation of politicians and business leaders have been lulled into believing this.

In this sea of self-congratulation, public health was a casualty. Now public health is very central, and what is happening clearly has been painful for those within Melbourne in particular; but are we witnessing what has to be done when the Virus calls. It is obviously shambolic elsewhere in the world where the Virus is rampaging. Does it need politicians with the resolve of Andrews and his tactical skill to control the outbreak?

Andrews tried the carrot but needed the stick to bludgeon the Virus out of the community. Victoria has surely seen a winter of discontent, but Australia faces a summer far better placed than elsewhere in the World, where the Virus has already conquered and colonised. Here the Virus is being forced into the underground – a terrorist force nevertheless, which will break out. Think ISIS; think Virus – a smaller form, but nevertheless terrorist.

Thus, the challenge for Andrews is to know when his anti-terrorist support is strong and reliable, able enough to be maintained, so that he can “declare a peace” and free his people, who are now knowing the anguish of wartime.

Are the lessons learnt in Victoria generalisable? What time is required to suppress the Virus once it is rampant? What is important is that Andrews has overseen a bungle, responded decisively, and did not cave in despite some attempts, particularly by some elements of the media intent on giving him a permanent pariah status. The legacy of these decisions is yet to be known in full; the Virus has been suppressed – but at what cost?

Reponsibility has been handpassed from Department to Department. But we all know. Of course, who caused the stuff up was the Channel-9 cameraman.

Penitents in Holy Week

In the end, scherzi aside, let’s face it, if you stand out there as the Premier has done, enduring all the slings and arrows day after day, recognise that this is an act of penance. Soon, the penitent can remove the purple drapes, forgiveness has been given? Who knows whether the electorate will give absolution. In the meantime, Victorians, you should move on. There will be no Pallas Revolution.

Mouse Whisper

“Thanks be to God,” Father Ted was breasting the bar of the Balaclava pub in Whroo when he heard.

He remembers when his mate from school, George Pell, could not travel back to Australia because of health problems.

In 2016, supported by a two page medical Report, “Cardinal Pell’s office in Rome issued a statement at the time saying his heart condition had worsened, making it unsafe for him to travel.”

In 2020, glory be, miracle of miracles, a medical report unnecessary because of such a miracle, Cardinal Pell did not issue a statement that his heart condition four years later has improved to such an extent, he was able to scuttle back to Rome on Qatar Airways.

Or perhaps the clouds of civil cases have begun to gather.

Modest Expectations – Round & Round

There was much hype surrounding the 20th anniversary of the Sydney Olympic Games with the spruiking by the ABC of their biopic, Freeman. Given the cloying, hagiographic way many of these biopics are constructed around sporting celebrities, one might have anticipated a certain predictability with a treacly voiceover. Therefore, I planned to give it a miss.

However, the television was tuned to the ABC during the Sunday night meal and it was just left on. I started watching with the eye of the sceptic prepared to switch it off. I did not. It was a fine depiction of an extraordinary woman.

I must say that at a time where the world is devoid of genuine heroes and heroines (if that word is still allowed) Cathy Freeman stands out. Running 400 metres faster than anybody else in the world was the centrepiece, but in relation to the woman herself it is, in the end, incidental.

Yet without this extraordinary talent, she would have been yet another unrecognised good person, one of those who form the spine that anchors this country. She is Indigenous. It marks her out. She provides that sense of grace that was so well emphasised by the beautiful unnamed Bangarra dancer, and as with Cathy Freeman, grace is so natural – more than just a physical attribute.

This artistic portrayal, far from complicating the vision of Freeman winning and thus being a source of distraction, made me realise that this was more than just an expression of the filmmaker’s sensitivity, it demonstrated something rare in the Australian psyche – a genuine unsentimental view of what grace under pressure is all about.

Freeman engendered on that night a sense of optimism in a country which wallows in its veneration of failure – Burke and Wills, Gallipoli and Fromelles immediately springing to mind.

Now, two decades on, she has remained the same determined person dedicated to doing good without constantly reminding us of it – that was one message that I took from this biopic.

Thick as a Plantain

Queensland is a different world, to a point. When I was first exposed to the public service in Queensland, I was amazed to see and feel how centralised the system is. It so closely approximated attitudes in the Victorian public service, which I experienced when I had worked there, that I felt quite at home.

The authoritarian personality dominates the centralised mentality of Queensland public servants. It was almost to a level that paper clip distribution in a Camooweal government office depends on the signature of the Departmental head in Brisbane.

When the authoritarian personality is combined with a healthy dose of xenophobia and lack of intellectual integrity it perfectly describes Pauline Hansen. Yet such a perception of her underpins a preparedness of Queenslanders to elect her – time and again.

Her tearful retreat whenever she is under political fire relies on a cynical appeal to an undercurrent of paternalism. If she were a man, she could not hide behind a veil of crocodile tears. The extraordinary performance of the Queensland Premier last week accusing the Prime Minister of bullying when he was making a perfectly reasonable request shows that in Queensland the Hansen playbook is very adaptable – in this case by the Premier herself.

Then there is her chief health officer, Dr Jeanette Young who, according to the Premier, apparently is running the State – at least in health and in border exemption. She does not have any public health qualifications despite having been in the job for 15 years.

This is the same Jeanette Young who, during the swine flu scare of 2009, advocated for Queenslanders to stock up on food – in essence stirring up panic buying. Well, Queenslanders, there has been another outbreak of swine flu in China, which has been kept quiet. China has just banned pork imports from Germany because also has been the emergence of swine flu there.

Dr Young is unyielding – to a point.

The Premier and her minions may want to blame Peter Dutton for everything, and the Hanks imbroglio allows the State government to spread some of the topsoil, but Dutton cannot be blamed for allowing the polo-playing McLachlan with his flock from descending on Queensland (and a variety of other well-shod Victorians) to serve out their quarantine in the comfort of a resort. If the Premier is to be believed, this is the handiwork of Jeanette Young, who makes the decisions to allow special access. However, in so allowing it, this seems to contravene everything the resolute Jeanette Young says she stands for.

Yet Jeanette Young is not averse to the quavering voice when under media scrutiny. After all the health plausibility of many of her decisions is inversely related to the political expediency. At least with Daniel Andrews, he has now learned that public health considerations must have a scientific basis; and is following a course. He is in for the long term. Sounds familiar. Perhaps he has observed the Chinese devotion to the long term solution at close quarters.

Dr Young has recently acquired a deputy, Dr Sonya Bennett, who has worked in the Royal Australian Navy before joining the Queensland Department of Health to oversee public health three years ago. Given the propensity of professionals in the armed forces to collect post-graduate certificates and diplomas, Dr Bennett has acquired appropriate public health qualifications. She has the credibility of sitting on a government committee to oversee communicable diseases, and presumably is assisting in the flow of exemptions.

However, in the end Queensland with in all its authoritarian rigidity has to find a way out of its completely illogical stance of border closure that demands a rate of community transmission that is absurdly low before the drawbridge is lowered. In a population of 8.129 million, NSW is reporting around five cases a day – that’s 1 per 1,625,800. Maybe the election will do the trick – one way or the other, if Australia can wait that long.

But, Jeanette, batten down the hatches, swine flu may be coming again and Australia needs a unified strategy to deal with a new swine flu outbreak – apart from advocacy of panic buying. Time to start behaving like a country.

But, you know, it is Queensland and do they know how to bend a banana!

The little sparrow 

Having discussed Cathy Freeman, this vignette of another inspiring woman may help ease reaction to the writings immediately above. Sarah L. was a young English doctor when she met me in the corridor of the hospital. She looked so small; even childlike and yet when I met her at Doomadgee, I soon found out her resilience belied her appearance.

Doomadgee is mainly an Aboriginal settlement in the Queensland Gulf country and has had its moments with a police station under siege and Aboriginal riots. The problem with this settlement is that it is the meeting place of various mobs, and in such clusters, there are always underlying tensions, even when there is no violence between rival mobs.

When she greeted me, she apologised for saying she was a little tired. The previous evening, she had been called out to triage a serious vehicle roll-over, and given that nobody wears seat belts, there was a variety of serious injuries. She had to work out the priority in treatment and who needed to be evacuated to Mount Isa or to the coast. They had all survived.

She also wanted to set up an evidence-based treatment for scabies, which was endemic in the community. Scabies is caused by mites (Sarcoptes scabiei), which burrow into folds of skin, are found in children’s hair – and often, in the severest form, the scabies lesions are inter alia infected by streptococcus pyogenes. Scabies spread by contact and older people tend to be “super-spreaders”. There are a number of treatments that work, but they require compliance. She wanted to test ivermectin, which can be administered orally and used topically.

Scabies

Ivermectin’s parent drug was discovered in Japan in the 1970s and was first used in1981. It is the essential agent for two global disease elimination campaigns that will hopefully rid the world of both onchocerciasis and filariasis. These diseases affect the lives of many millions of poor and disadvantaged throughout the tropics. Ivermectin is also effective against mite (scabies) and lice (crabs or pubic lice) infestation. It has a very wide use against parasitic infestation, but for the use proposed by this young doctor there were still unknown elements.

The attack on scabies means ridding the home of the mites and, for instance, the habit of sleeping with dogs, which occurs in Aboriginal communities, can facilitate the spread. The young doctor, who had paediatric training, wanted to clear the children in the community of scabies.

I was impressed by her enthusiasm, and her approach reflected my ideal public health physician – able to have clinical expertise and yet wanting to set up a trial to see what would best suit her community.

This week, I tracked her down to see what happened. Yes, she successfully eradicated scabies, but that was so long ago.

She was pregnant at the time I met her in Doomadgee, and subsequently she had a second child. They all moved to the Coast. Her professional career was interrupted by a couple of major car accidents – one on Magnetic Island and one in Townsville – after she left Doomadgee. She took a long time to recover, and has been left with residual loss of vision in her left eye. She is now practising at Townsville Aboriginal Health Service.

To me, she was an exemplar of a doctor working in a remote community who was able to cope with emergencies but yet with the curiosity and determination of the public health physician. She epitomised the very best of medical practice, but her experience also demonstrated the lack of sustainability of a health system built on the individual worth without there being succession planning. That is a major problem that has bedevilled medical practice, particularly in rural and remote areas.

Before I made contact with her this week, while reflecting on Doomadgee, it reminded me of looking out of the train window and seeing two women tending a colourful beautiful garden alongside the train platform. Then the train moved on, and I did not have a return ticket.

However, on this occasion, I knew the name of the woman and when she rang me back, the voice was still so familiar. It was still the bright, breezy Sarah.

Letter from Victoria

I was talking to a friend of mine in Victoria. He is a consultant geriatrician, one of the best. He is also a member of a nursing home board.

In this State of unmitigated residential care disaster, in this nursing home there have been no cases of the coronavirus, in either residents or staff. He prefaces his comments by saying that luck is always a factor. Nevertheless, what they did from the outset was to ban visitors, allow only essential trades people into the facility and ensured that on arrival the staff had a temperature check and were quizzed on whether there was any sign of COVID-19 disease. Then, all staff appropriately attired themselves, and strict protocols were observed.

I asked how the residents coped with this degree of lock up – and he said they hated it, one saying she preferred to be dead rather than endure such conditions. So it is not just a case of expressions of pious statements about “loved ones” whenever a person in their nineties dies, but perhaps in the eyes of the departed, death was a joyous event. The problem is that it is one technology we have not mastered, that of polling the dead.

Apropos, I asked about Zoom and other means of distanced face-to-face communication. His view was that for the elderly it was no substitute for physical contact.

He made a further comment that it seems that in these institutionalised care environments, aerosol rather droplet spread is the major means of transmission. He cited a case where a particular residential facility was coronavirus free in the morning and by the evening two-thirds of the people were coronavirus positive.

After talking to him, I re-read the Newmarch Report, which shows that if you bring in a competent team that knows what it is doing then you get to the same situation that my friend describes. But it is far from a perfect situation.

I wonder whether the central agencies or the private operators have worked out how much it would cost to comply with the 20 recommendations of that Report.

The Commonwealth government, with an incompetent Minister, is still relying on the private sector, with its record of putting profit before care increasingly being shown to be scandalous. The fact that some Victorian aged care facilities delayed the release of dozens of deaths which were then added to the daily tallies has not been adequately explained, but hopefully the answer is not deceit .

My friend said that government-run and not-for-profit facilities were better in his view. Yet Newmarch is operated by Anglicare, an offshoot of the Anglican Church, and seems to have belied that generalisation as does the apparent gouging of the contaminated St Basil’s Home in Fawkner, a northern suburb of Melbourne, by the Greek Orthodox Diocese.

However, mimicking the home environment but being able to maintain infection control at a level where the coronavirus will be repelled at the door remains a challenge, organisationally and financially.

I know that if and when the time came for me to go into a nursing home, it will be a one-way street. Thus I want to go into a place where my family at least has the choice of visiting me. I do not want to go into an institution, which is kitted out as an intensive care unit, so that I become a delayed statistic dying in a labyrinth of tubes, with a card on my big toe labelled “a loved one”. “Loved One” is becoming the modern day substitute for the black rimmed Hallmark bereavement card.

Coronavirus is an accelerant, and if you are old and contract the Virus, but survive the buggery of being on a ventilator in an actual intensive care unit, you can then become a photo opportunity for the evening news, before dying unnoticed a few weeks later. Is that what I would want – is it anything anybody wants?

Federally-Operated Quarantine Facilities

The comment has been made to me that government building a series of quarantine facilities would very expensive. The problem is that there is no evidence of long term thinking beyond the immediate combat with the current coronavirus. We have the spectacle of the President of the United States denying climate change, a feeling echoed by members of the Australian Government. There is a suggestion that swine flu outbreaks are now reappearing in China and Germany complicating the world disease profile.

Coronavirus infections are out of control in many places throughout the world, where incidence and number of deaths are the indices to measure spread and severity. Yet, unexpressed is the level of morbidity, which at present can be classified at short to medium term. I have yet to see whether the impact of morbidity on the world economy and burden of disease has been assessed. Probably, it could be argued that we are only seeing six-month data.

Our ancestors recognised the need for quarantine facilities but often located them in harsh settings. However, being in a necessarily isolated environment need not be harsh.

It seems that both the Northern Territory and Kristina Keneally among an increasing number of others, myself included, are advocating for discrete quarantine facilities. However the Australian government, with its attachment to private enterprise, appears to prefer to maintain the fiction that hotel quarantine can work in the long term. Frankly as the economy improves and the hotels are required, planning for these facilities should occur now rather than in the usual ad hoc manner. More importantly, we need to get quarantine out of the major population centres, and we need to find an affordable quarantine solution if Australia is to re-enter the international community and not completely destroy tourism for the foreseeable future, particularly if a successful vaccine is not found in the next 12 months.

Howard Springs quarantine facility

In relation to a particular operational Northern Territory facility, the comment is that to get to it “…drive south-east from Darwin Airport for 30 minutes and you will arrive at an old mining camp – the Manigurr-ma Village for fly-in, fly-out natural gas workers. Until recently, this complex was abandoned. Today, it is perhaps the most popular travel destination for Melbourne escapees.”

In other words, facilities do already exist, and it seems a tolerable spot to spend 14 days, especially if the facility is airconditioned. In my last blog, I suggested the Northern Territory as the site for quarantine and singled out Katherine. Creating a so-called bubble around Katherine would allow the possibility of visits to Katherine Gorge, increasing the tolerance levels for incarceration. However, creativity is never a recognised expertise of public service.

Now the Northern Territory First Minister has been re-elected, he can act with more freedom, notwithstanding section 49 of the Northern Territory Self Government Act. This mirrors terms of Section 92 of the Constitution in protecting movement across border. As one constitutional expert has said: “It means the NT is in the same position as a state.” However, the Northern Territory exists under law enacted by the Australian parliament, and is not recognised in the Constitution as a State.

The experience with the repatriation of Australians from Wuhan should have given the few long term planners in government a clue of how to handle quarantine. The Northern Territory is an ideal place. Over time, flight schedules can accommodate the need for incoming quarantine.

The other destination for the Wuhan evacuees, Christmas Island, is to Australia what French Guiana is to France – a place to send people to be forgotten at a great cost, but inconvenient for large scale quarantine.

Kristina Keneally took a direct stance recently when she suggested that the Federal government could provide a set of quarantine resources if they are establish any form of international tourism. Repatriating the clamouring Australians provides a pool of people to test how best to allow people coming from COVID-19 endemic areas to return – or come to Australia.

The model exists in the successful evacuation from Wuhan.

Build or adapt facilities in Northern Australia to enable people to be quarantined for 14 days.

Gradually close down hotel quarantine, as international restrictions are eased but, in the light of the Government’s announcement this week that incoming passenger numbers will be increased, those states and territories that have taken a back seat in hosting quarantine can take some of the load – the ACT is a case in point, with its newly-constructed international airport; there are suitable sites in the ACT – much land around the Fairbairn RAAF base.

However, long term it is undesirable to use hotel facilities, which are not dedicated health facilities, for such a purpose. Thus there is a reason to establish a health-tourism forum so that people in each sector are brought together to develop a common language.

As with any facility designed to attract tourists to this country, each person presenting at a border should have the equivalent of the yellow card – when we needed to show evidence of smallpox vaccination, inoculation against typhoid, cholera – and still yellow fever.

Remember that yellow, even in this world of digital communication, remains the colour of the letter Q – hence quarantine. Data should provide evidence of the time of testing, a temperature check at departure and arrival and a checklist of symptomatology. As a parenthetic comment, the ability to test olfaction may become an important additional marker.

The longer there are no organised quarantine facilities the more policy will be at the mercy of ad hoc arrangements. Quarantine facilities that are recognised and organised with appropriate staff will provide a Security Blanket for the politicians, who are increasingly terrified of opening their borders – and in general Australia.

When we wanted to deal with those poor benighted asylum seekers, we were not at a loss for ingenious methods of inflicting as much misery on them without descending into actual torture. Also, can anybody realise how much hilarity and champagne cork popping there was in the Cambodian government when we wanted to “rehome” some of these asylum seekers.

However, the asylum seekers were at the end of a line of misery, and despite the compassionate cohort of advocates their plight means little to the vast majority of Australians.

By contrast, quarantine, well organised with a border force replete with replacement masks of compassion and a health work force working in conjunction with the tourist industry in all its manifestations would seem to be a simple concept to put an end to the ad hoc actions and the unmitigated xenophobia that some of our governments have developed.

Well, let’s see!

O Panda Alaranjado

I don’t see how we get through to the January 20, 2021 inauguration day without bloodshed.  Ever since James Adams succeeded George Washington in 1797, there has been a peaceful transition of power in this country from one president to the next. I fear that after 223 years we are about to tarnish that record.

So has been written to me by an American lawmaker.

Everybody has been setting out a scenario that this increasingly unhinged person with his band of acolytes could inflict on the USA if he loses.

The following is one is taken from the playbook of the Bavarian house painter, he could contrive to see the White House burnt down, and then invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807. “In all cases of insurrection, or obstruction to the laws, either of the United States, or of any individual state or territory, where it is lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia for the purpose of suppressing such insurrection, or of causing the laws to be duly executed, it shall be lawful for him to employ, for the same purposes, such part of the land or naval force of the United States, as shall be judged necessary, having first observed all the pre-requisites of the law in all respect.”

Burning the White House, 1814

Not that it was an insurrection but British troops did burn down the White House in 1814. So there is a precedent, if not a president.

Mouse whisper

One Australian politician who answers to Julian the Lesser has made a statement that more Australian have seen Berlin than Bundaberg. Bundaberg has 93,000 people.

Is Julian the Lesser suggesting that:

  • people who live in Bundaberg are blind
  • there are more people than that to take our breath away.

All in all, a rum statement.

Out of breath

 

Modest expectations – Route Marcus John

I was born on the west coast of Ireland many year ago & up to now I thought I had a hard life as a young boy picking potatoes for farmers, plucking turkeys for meat exporters, caddying for rich golfers wishing for a bag of clubs on each shoulder. But after seeing (how the Blasket people lived) I now I know I lived the life of a prince. The Blasket people were made of granite. I now live the life of a softie in England compared to what they endured …

Blasket Island

This stray Twitter comment from some guy who had watched a video on the Blasket islands off the coast of Kerry typifies many of us with West coast Irish heritage. There is something about really returning to one’s Celtic roots if you travel to one of the islands.

The Blasket islands have not been inhabited since 1953 when the then Taioseach Eamon De Valera moved the last 22 inhabitants off the island and onto the mainland. Nevertheless, this group of islands has much Gaelic literature written about them.

Sometimes, especially as you grow older, you like to relax in your heritage. Mine is partially rooted in Co Clare and off the coast are the Aran Islands; an intrinsic part of the Gaeltacht.

I remember the day I went to Inishmore, the largest of the three islands. I took the ferry from Doolin. The ferry was delayed until the tide came in, and if you get impatient, remember the Irish nostrum: “A watched kettle never boils”. So we all waited and waited. However, the day was one of those days when you thought you were going to a Greek Island rather than to an island in the Atlantic Ocean.

Rowing your curragh

The 1934 documentary called Man of Aran that I watched recently, made and remade the point that the seas around the island were very rough and perilous, and not a good place to be out rowing your curragh. It is a dark film.

The island seems to be enveloped in gloom – dragging the curragh from the surf, gathering seaweed to provide nutrition for the soil, breaking stones to uncover that precious soil in which to plant potatoes, cliff fishing – a hazardous exercise of throwing a long line down the cliff wall into the sea. Conversing in Gaelic – hard to hear with words drifting the waves and wind.

Overall, men, woman, boy – these are the toilers of the seas, to borrow from Victor Hugo. Light is provided when the figures are set against the backdrop of grey skies hacking at rocks or looking out to sea. Or else light is the white spume of the dark tempestuous sea crashing against the rocks and cliff face.

The film uses black and white imagery, which has been so over-used, to define an Ireland deprived of its emerald hue – sunless and poor.

Contrast it against the unexpected experience of being on the Aran Islands when the sun shone and you could be in the Mediterranean. Here was an optimistic panorama and not a cloud in the sky; the ocean a millpond. An island where you could take off your heavy fisherman’s jacket and sweater and go bare-sleeved.

I trekked across the limestone and grass and over stone walls to the ancient Neolithic fort which sits on the edge of cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It has the appearance of half being there, and the other half having broken away and fallen in the water. The Legend of Atlantis often gets a run when you see the ruin, especially from above. But it is an illusion; it was just built that way, as if to defy the elements.

In the progress of the trudge across the island, I was sunburnt – for God’s sake in Ireland. Twice that has happened. And that was before I could blame it on climate change.

The Man of Aran, however authentic it may have been when it was a pathfinding documentary of a vanishing Ireland, now can be portrayed as a caricature of an impoverished land.

But that day on the island aroused in the emotion of an ancestral intrusion. The landscape is a limestone continuation of the Burren, an extraordinary pavement that appears to have the hand of my ancestors in its creation. Yet it is where Nature has brought together Arctic and Mediterranean flora in the nooks and crannies of this pavement. It is a place where I have had the sensation, walking across it, of having been there before – was that chance or was it predetermined that I had placed feet on where one of my ancestors had trodden.

I have always been fascinated by the concept of the Celtic twilight.

Therefore, one of the privileges of an Irish heritage is that it has provided me with a sense of that past, which has shaped who I am – both my insignificance and my significance. That day on Inishmore I was tempted to buy a stone cottage and live surrounded by dry stonewalls and green fields. The life of an ascetic lingered for a moment.

That urge passed because in the end you are one person no matter where your heritage may lie, and I am Australian not Irish, not someone who repeatedly says that my mob have been here for 40,000 years but nevertheless proud of my mob who have been in Australia for 170 years.

I hope I have added value to the nation of many nations brought together under the Southern Cross even as the twilight gathers. In the end, it is what you do with the privilege of being here, be it one year or 40,000.

I disagree with the Twitter who escaped from the West Coast to become a softie in England.   Migration does mean being, as he terms, “a softie”. It was not a soft option for my ancestors to leave, after all it is a long way from Tipperary, let alone County Clare.

The Cylcon

I first saw them in a roadhouse at Little Topar, lying alongside the emu eggs in a dusty display case. I asked whether I could buy one of them. The guy behind the counter said no. He was only minding them for the owner. Same reply each time, I asked. The owner was elusive. Stone walls are stone walling and I did not stop at Little Topar often enough to nag.

So there it rested, until I saw one advertised on e-Bay. I am not one of those people who regularly trawls e-Bay, but I was attracted to a couple of Aboriginal artefacts, which looked ridiculously cheap. However, they became part of a bidding war – and I have never bought anything at auction. In any case, I am a tyro when bidding against skilled operators, who have so much better timing of their bids (to say nothing of the automated bidding programs).

Anyway, once on the e-Bay site, I had a further look for anything else that that might be interesting. Then there it was – one of those items that had been displayed at the Little Topar roadhouse.

It was a cylcon and it was for sale.

To put Little Topar into context, it is a roadhouse about 100 kilometres from Broken Hill. Nothing else. Cylcons, as the name implies, are conicocylindrical stones. They are said to be found across Australia, but were often picked up by those working on properties in Western NSW and South-West Queensland. Markings are not uniform and it is said that the local Aboriginal Barkinji knew nothing of them.

However, then you read elsewhere about a mob around Lake Eyre who were still using stones that resemble cylcons at least 50 years ago.

Tchuringas are often mentioned alongside cylcons as having magical powers. I know what authentic tchuringas look like as I was shown several when I was travelling around the Kimberley in the late 1970s. An elder of the local mob, who thought I was important enough to unwrap this valuable legacy showed them to me as we sat alone. As I worked out later, this was one of the most sacred possessions. That’s all I will say recognising that anything I could say about it would be strictly men’s business and remains so.

So now I have a hard sandstone cylcon. I can talk about it, still not knowing what its significance is – it remains unfinished business.

The messages are getting mixed again

A couple of recalcitrant families have tested positive for the Virus in Victoria and the postal address of these families suggests they are not “white anglo-saxon protestants”. Anyway there is no mention of heritage, and there was only passing reference to the fact that last month it was Cedar Meat abattoir at Brooklyn in one of the targeted local government areas (LGA), which was associated with an outbreak resulting in 111 workers testing positive. Do we really want to punish the whole of Victoria because of one group? Let us not be coy about where the problem lies.

The fact is Victoria has used the first lockdown in March to refine contact tracing to a very comprehensive level. However, there is need to develop a strategy to selectively isolate those groups who persist in flouting the rules, without disrupting everybody’s lives.

An Essendon football player has tested positive for COVID-19 virus. He has been found guilty of flouting the very tough guidelines, which have tried to isolate these gladiators in some sort of safe house environment. Then they show the image of this player on the field with his teammates. First, he spits on the ground and then he blows his nose so the droplets spray everywhere.

So the AFL says that they take every precaution to ensure that the behaviour of players is hygienic; so is this player as pictured the only one spitting and blowing his nose without a tissue? No evidence of hand sanitiser here. No evidence that he was disciplined for those disgusting pieces of behaviour. The game must go on, the tills must keep jingling – metaphorically.

There is confusion about whether he has tested positively or not; and anyway Essendon say he only had contact with a marginal player who would not have been selected.

That seems to be the first mixed message; just like the scurry before the Grand Prix in March. Essendon player contact vs a large Keilor Downs family contact – different approach?

Then there is the matter of quarantine facilities.

One topic that has not received much attention is the need for permanent quarantine facilities.

Sydney quarantine station

Australia has been quick to lock up asylum seekers. They are clearly different from those who flout – accidently or intentionally – the rules laid down in one major respect, the latter group vote. The way the Biloela Four have been treated is nothing short of disgraceful.

This situation is more than regrettable if an ignorant populist tries to bend public health discipline for short-term electoral gain. One of the problems with the Victorian outbreak is that it is within Labour-voting electorates. However, the Premier seems imperturbable.

That is no reason for the current Government adopting a different reaction to one where the outbreak is in Liberal- voting electorates

In the past, where there was a need to quarantine people, quarantine facilities were located close to the shipping. However, while cruise ships have been shown to be a very real source of infection, it is air travel where the major problem of ongoing infection will arise. Therefore, as quarantine is now becoming an ongoing issue, it is now important to rapidly develop facilities close to airports, where those to be quarantined can go.

Using hotels in the centre of the city with obviously unskilled staff is not an ideal long-term solution. Hotels are not constructed to quarantine people – quarantine facilities must be secure.

As has been shown in Sweden, believing people will take seriously a foe that they cannot see, hear or touch has not worked. This Virus may show its presence through smell and debatably taste, but they are not the primary senses to stimulate a “viral defence policy”.

The second mixed message is thus that politicians think quarantining the asylum seekers is OK; but not those fleeing the Virus.

The Prime Minister is keen to have a building /renovation program. Constructing appropriate quarantine facilities would be an important way to consolidate in more ways than one on the governments’ achievements; rather than fritter the sense of unity away on acrimony over the borders or fritter away money on some renovation scheme accessible to a few well-heeled homeowners. Some would say a return to the primitivism of politics rather than a rational way of devising a sustainable quarantine program.

In doing so, the government must realise that this situation is not a three month wonder since it seems that some countries, notably the USA have given up, irrespective of what they say, and just wish for a vaccine or that the Virus will go away.

Therefore, such construction recognises that this situation is not going away any time soon. One of the dozens of facilities currently seeking a vaccine might be lucky, but inescapably the most recent vaccines for HPV and chicken pox took 15 and 20 years respectively to develop.

When government wants to, it can use its own land to construct anything.

Those that are sick go to hospital. There used to be infectious disease hospitals – the last one being Fairfield Hospital in Melbourne, which was closed in 1996. I once had a week in Fairfield as a teenager when I had a severe respiratory infection for which there was no obvious reason. In another time, I could have been the first in a line of pandemic victims with an unusual set of symptoms.

COVID-19 has shown that it is preferable to have the capacity to treat an infectious disease for which there is no cure and but importantly to have the skills to treat patients without the disease being let loose in the general hospital environment.   After all, warnings of recent epidemics have been largely ignored; but now the pandemic has come upon a World which has been shown as hopelessly unprepared.

The third mixed message follows on and involves border closures. With the Victorian outbreak, the hysteria is rising again. “Victoria is the Lazaret State”. Australia has suppressed the Virus to such an extent that it can be isolated to specific areas. So you can lock down particular areas; not the whole State. You prohibit movement outside that area until the virus is suppressed; those who don’t obey go to the quarantine facilities and join the overseas arrivals.

The bluntness of this message may act as a deterrent. We have not worried about the niceties of language for the asylum seekers; so why not those that flout the COVID-19 regulations. No exceptions, not even for the rich and infamous. However, there must be designated quarantine facilities that are run as such. Once you have defined quarantine facilities and the staff requirements you bring certainty into the process.

My son came back from the United States in early March and was case 13 in Victoria. It was uncertain times as knowledge of the behaviour of the Virus was not as well known as it is now. His spread was contained. That meant inter alia that the whole family stayed at home without any direct contact with anybody until all were virus-negative. However he and his wife have defined antibody titres, as presumably have all those who have recovered in Australia.

Before we have more mixed messages – of having some recognition of their status, what does it mean? Can such people travel freely around the country or internationally? Around the world there are a growing number of such people. Do they get the equivalent of a diplomatic passport to travel? What is the ideal threshold titre for immunity required? And the questions mount up because there is still so much unknown. To avoid a fourth mixed message, does Australia just subscribe to the WHO conservative dictum on this subject – especially the immunity passport as suggested by Chilean sources have superficial appeal to some?

George V Salle à Manger

After all, there will be a graduated requirement for return to travel. Some places will be safer than others. This one area where a fifth mixed message is liable to arise as the “politician itch” to go overseas becomes unbearable. This pandemic has questioned the need to have all the junket paraphernalia – sister-cities, inter-parliamentary delegations, most conferences and even business travel – let alone ministers and their staff spending vast sums of money for nothing much more than say, having lobster bisque at the George V in Paris.

Been there; done that. Time to suppress the virus of Self Indulgence, which also selectively affects tastebuds. However, for others it has been a fascination – the overseas all-expenses paid junket. What is the government’s advice in relation to this? What twisting and turning will Australia see to make sure the lobster bisque does not go to waste?

And of course there is the sixth mixed message to end all mixed messages, Ann Sherry. She has, as recently as February this year, been applauded for all the good works she did for the Carnival organisation. She has now bobbed up co-chairing some Australia-New Zealand outfit to promote, among other things, tourism. Given her propensity to flog ships can we expect Carnival, her old ahoy, to be plying between their ships between Australia and New Zealand?

I understand there is no foundation to the rumour that Carnival is renaming its ships: the Rabies Princess, the Diarrhoea Princess, the Plague Princess and the Leprosy Princess. 

Five Characters in Search of a Disease

We were having lunch in the neighbourhood restaurant that serves freshly shucked rock oysters mostly from the south Coast.

Nearby, in retrospect far too close to us, a table was set for five.

They straggled in and sat down at the table with their bottles of wine. They were five men, well into their sixties and beyond, and typical of men when they gather together, loud talking, joking, passing the booze – as they have probably done whenever they’ve gathered.

The problem is that these are not normal times. Were they social distancing themselves? Well, no. Their bodies were touching. Was there any evidence of hand sanitiser? Well, no

In fact in retrospect, given that the courtyard was virtually empty, they could have located there.

However, suddenly one of them sneezed and coughed extravagantly. No tissue – he at least belatedly put his hand in front of his mouth. I told him off – told him to cough into his sleeve. I said a few more words. The table shut up for a short time.

Who was this other old codger telling off one of their number? They were stunned, as though being pulled up for a transgression outside the confessional box was itself a venal sin. Then they said no more and went back to their crowded space – except nobody coughed.

It emphasises how tenuous this whole community regulation as been on any long-term change of behaviour, even attitudes. Here was a group of men in the target age for serious trouble if they were unfortunate enough to catch the Virus.

However that is not the imagery that is projected on the screens; rather it is of old people being the victims. In some cases this is true, but there is a problem. It is being able to tell old people what to do – especially when they are not culturally attuned to change, except by extreme coercion.

In this case, I remember these guys as young men – not this particular quintet. They nevertheless represent that chap who limped into the surgery 50 years before with a severely infected leg following a seemingly minor injury a week before. If they have come earlier they would not have had such drastic treatment. Now these men have aged but their attitudes have not changed. In their minds they are disease-proof – that is until the Virus comes calling. They are the most vulnerable age group.

When we left, one of them muttered something that was obviously in the same literate genius sense of “What are ya?”, given the others guffawed. Sometimes the larrikin in the Australian persona is seductive; at other times, not so much.

My dining companion who is a well-known public health physician said to me afterwards that we should have told the proprietor to ask them to comply. We did not. That is our fault. It poses the dilemma of calling people out, especially the elderly who always know best (you know the guy who smokes heavily and boasts that he has never had a day off work in is life), when you only have the authority of your voice to make them comply.

Premier, you who presided over a government that gave us the Ruby Princess, should recognise that the situation occurring in Melbourne is only a cigarette paper thin barrier away from occurring in Sydney suburbs in NSW that have similar ethnic demographics where large family gatherings are the regular occurrences – let alone among the men who lunched next to us last Friday.

So may I respectfully suggest that you get your competent Health people to look at the potentially vulnerable local government areas and the level of compliance within each with the COVID-19 guidelines?

Mouse Whisper

Sometimes I come out of my mousehole, and there is this sleek lizard skink sunning himself in the morning rays. He cavorts around my mausmeister’s kitchen, and has done so for a long time.

My mausmeister decided then that he would call my industrious friend Dyson, because of his ability to vacuum – clean the floor of pesky insects.

However with the revelations in this week’s papers, it asked me why would any self-respecting lizard (and it emphasised the self-respecting) call himself Dyson?

He is petitioning to change his name to Hoover.

Dyson

Modest Expectations – Pike’s Peak or Bust

The Cook / Covid-19 comparison highlights a problem with a cohort of young doctors who go into public health medicine. Generally they are very intelligent, but some, unlike Sue Morey or Nick Coatsworth for example, have lived a professional life in cotton wool. Among them, you get a few smartarses, where the ready availability of Twitter and one more glass of red than should be imbibed leads to a misstep. The higher up the career ladder, the more the misstep becomes obvious. If the misstepper ends up on the ground, the question arises whether the person is mortally injured or will just bear a stigma on his or her professional life.

There are no real excuses for such a puerile tweet, where superficially it may be seen as a clever expression of a belief. However, despite the predictable blustering from the Liberal political cognoscenti pazzi, they should rest assured that the good doctor would have been given a verbal flogging by the Premier.

Yet he would recognise that she is a hard worker in a stressful position, and one who would definitely be against premature opening up Victoria and having to combat the “joy boys”, jocks and the Murdoch publications braying for sport to be reintroduced for solely financial benefits with a slight simpering regard for the community health.

Andrews learnt a lesson at the last minute, pulling back from the Grand Prix. With the potential of a cohort of infected Europeans mingling with the crowd, Australia may well have been plunged into a crisis. It has been bad enough with the antics of the NSW government in regard to the Ruby Princess. I do not underestimate the involvement of this good doctor given the reckless behaviour in the neighbouring State with Victoria not locking its borders against NSW.

Just a word of advice to you Dr Van Diemen, if you want to say what you like publicly, wait until you get to my age, and then it does not matter. You will recover from this glitch and hopefully have a successful career. But ditch Twitter and leave your wisecracks to spaces where the walls are not listening. Everybody in stressful positions needs to sound off occasionally, but go find a few like-minded galahs to share your frustrations. I mean the fluffy grey and pink ones.

A little known encounter of Jimmy Cook

Since everybody is getting into Cook, I thought reviving a relevant part of my novel “Sheep of Erromanga” would enliven the discussion about of the impact of this Yorkshireman on one small island in the South Seas. The story centres around a young Australian called Philip Morey who spent two years on the then New Hebrides island of Erromanga in the1930s, and this describes the end of a trek across the island.

At last, Philip had emerged from the dark jungle through the line of giant tamanu trees. Through the foliage he was met with a vista of huts along the water’s edge. To his left, the dancing silvery shards of the river Ounpontdi made him stop. 

So this was Potnarvin, lying under the lee of a mountain called Traitor’s Head. He shaded his eyes as he looked upwards. The mountain appeared to rise to what he estimated to be about 3000 feet. Its height was hard to gauge as clouds obscured the peak. As Philip was to find out over the three days of his stay, Traitor’s Head was almost perpetually covered in cloud. The clouds concealed the fact that Traitor’s Head was a volcano. It had not erupted for nearly two hundred years, but had done so twenty-five years after Captain Cook had been there on an exploratory voyage. 

The mountain had received its name from Cook who, on landing on the beach, wondered why such apparently friendly people were armed to the teeth. One of Cook’s muskets had misfired and the friendliness had vanished in an instant. A battle had followed and, before Cook was able to get back to the ship, one of his sailors had been mortally wounded and at least two of the Erromangans lay dead. Philip thought the “Traitor” was an odd choice by Cook, given that he had a meticulous way of naming his discoveries. The Captain was probably just annoyed. “Traitor” did not seem to be the right word, although the incident was certainly prescient of Cook’s future.

The villagers, unlike their ancestors, had welcomed Philip. They seemed to appreciate the quiet tall young white man, who came out onto the beach stopping to look around and unbuckle his rucksack.

Cook’s response was predictable – confrontation with bloodshed. At the time of Cook’s visit, the Erromangans were cannibals, with a strict etiquette concerning where the white man could move around on the beaches where they landed. These rules were transgressed as they were later with the arrival of Presbyterian missionaries. When they crossed this line they were killed. In addition the natives developed quite a taste for Scottish missionaries – haggis?

Purchase a copy of The Sheep of Erromanga! Email enquiry to: SheepofErromanga@gmail.com

The recidivist Carnival

On February 27 this year, a cheery ABC reporter noted:

… the effects of swine flu in the grip of the 2009 pandemic was confronting. This disease affected people who don’t often get the flu, afflicting young adults whose previously healthy lungs became white and cloudy with pneumonia. While most recovered, many did not. By the end of 2009, more than 37,000 Australians had been diagnosed with swine flu. 

More than 190 people were dead. 

Worldwide, the US Centres for Disease Control estimate swine flu killed as many as 575,000 people. Eighty per cent of them were under 65. 

Let’s contrast the swine flu epidemic with the spread of the novel coronavirus — or COVID-19 as it is now known.

The new virus is sweeping through parts of China and infecting small numbers all over the world…

I will not detail some of the learned academic predictions that were criticising our draconian measures e.g. close our borders to China. Their expert advice was just wrong.

Now just what was being reported in the media in the autumn of 2009?

As suspected swine flu cases in the Hunter New England health area jumped to 72 yesterday, a Hunter family quarantined at home after a cruise on virus ship Pacific Dawn slammed the handling of the outbreak. 

The Exxxxxxo family of Thornton was ordered into quarantine on Tuesday, a day after they arrived home from a 10-day cruise on the Pacific Dawn, and only after Mrs Chris Exxxxxxo contacted health authorities.

“There were 2000 or so passengers wandering around who had no idea that they should be avoiding contact with other people.” Mrs Exxxxxxo contacted NSW Health who confirmed the family should be quarantined and was later contacted by P&O Cruises.

As the flu emergency escalates, the Federal Government has ordered enough doses of swine flu vaccine for 10 million Australians. The Exxxxxxo family has spent the past week in lockdown in their home and will not be allowed out until they receive the all-clear on Sunday… 

…When the Pacific Dawn cruise ship docks in Brisbane today, after cutting short its cruise because of the flu threat, the Queensland Government will invoke tough quarantine powers to stop interstate passengers disembarking. Three crew members have tested positive to the virus, but have recovered with treatment. Five passengers await test results. Health officials will screen the ship’s 2000 passengers and 700 crew. Only Queensland residents will be allowed to disembark and will be asked to quarantine themselves for seven days.    

“We are being extremely cautious in our testing arrangements for anybody who presents themselves with flu-like symptoms” Carnival Australia chief executive Ann Sherry said.

Of course, that is what you would say, Ms Sherry, with your winning smile. It is however understood that people with swine flu contracted on Carnival ships may not have agreed.

And then about the same time there was another media release…

Minister for Health, John Della Bosca, today announced NSW would upgrade its Swine Flu protocols for cruise liners who arrived in NSW waters. 

The NSW approach to arriving cruise ships has been developed in consultation with the Commonwealth. 

“When the Pacific Dawn arrived this week, its passengers had not been to any jurisdiction where Swine Flu was present and it was considered unlikely the virus was on the ship,” Mr Della Bosca said. 

“The two children from the Pacific Dawn who have since tested positive for Swine Flu had not travelled overseas before boarding the ship, had no contact with affected countries, and were not considered to be at risk. 

“An additional 16 people from the ship have since been confirmed to have Swine Flu. Six of these people are currently in Queensland. 

“These people have been assessed by public health staff and placed into isolation. 

“Further public health assessment of contacts of these passengers is now underway.”

Similar pattern. Let them all off the boat – she’ll be “jake”. The NSW Chief Health Officer then – the incomparable Kerry Chant.

Unlike COVID-19, a vaccine was rapidly developed for swine flu, (the existing influenza vaccine was partially effective) which then helped contain the viral spread. Nevertheless, on a population basis Australia had the third highest number of cases worldwide. The virus affected the elderly, young children and pregnant women particularly, and spread so rapidly that contact tracing was well nigh impossible. Fortunately, it was not as deadly as initially believed, unlike COVID-19.

In the case of Victoria, it was bought there by a well-to-do Australian family returning from the USA by air. Their children spread it in the two well-known private schools they attended and the spread was accelerated by a “social” dance. Later, its spread was tracked along certain tramlines passing through Bolli-wood a.k.a. Toorak.

It is interesting that although it was first berthed in Victoria, the cruise ship made sure it spread the virus to NSW where the normal laissez-faire attitude (see Chant) predominated. However, in Queensland the Pacific Dawn was refused permission to berth, and the following may be apocryphal but nevertheless it is a good story. A highly-placed Queensland official threatened to order gunboats, a.k.a. whatever Dutton inherited, into the Brisbane River to make sure it did not happen – bit of a wimp the current Premier – only closing the borders.

The Office – viruses thrive on randomness

Some time ago, as I reported previously, well before the COVID-19 outbreak, I was sitting in the foyer of the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne where there was a hand sanitiser predominantly displayed. Virtually everybody entering and leaving the hospital ignored the instructions to clean their hands.

Last week I was waiting in the foyer of Cabrini Hospital in Malvern and next to where I was sitting, near the hospital exit, there was a hand sanitiser. Despite the hospital foyer having all the trappings of virus prevention, this sanitiser was mostly ignored. Yet on the other side of the foyer not five metres away all the preventative measures were in place – maintaining a safe distance in defined queues, temperature and verbal screening, hand sanitiser use being required.

The difference – one side of the foyer was supervised; on the other, no supervision.

The problem with any loosening of the COVID-19 chains is that the new concepts of hygiene are yet to be embedded in the nation. As I have said, the standard of public toilets gives a clue as to how seriously hygiene has been embraced by this country. Driving between the two capital cities this past week for medical appointments, I observed that the toilets along the Hume Highway are just as bad or as average as they have always been. There has been no change except toilet paper has disappeared for various reasons from some of the dispensers.

Having issued this caveat, there is no doubt the underlying strength of the Australian health system has been shown even given some of the dills, often influential, who have tried to disrupt the public health protocols, because that is what they are – dills with a deep-seated sense of entitlement and self-importance – the essence of “Do you know who I am?”

As I wrote last week, there is a good case for the re-opening of schools, and paradoxically Premier Andrews being so hardline means that the other politicians have to be more measured.

Viruses love disorder

The more that you contain the natural community Brownian movement into more laminar flow then the more order you bring to contain the enemy. However, at the same time it must be recognised that open plan and activity-based work spaces designed 20 years ago to maximise the number of occupants were also designed to maximise “random” contact between staff members who were moving around in the workspace. The post-COVID-19 office has to contend with minimising disorder while dealing with now-outdated office planning that maximised apparent randomness.

While the concept of working from home has seemed to solve the problem of halting the viral spread, the evidence of long term efficacy of working from home is mixed. Some may praise its “flexibility” and claim that efficiency has improved, while others use the word “chaos”.

In my mind’s eye I have a hospital operating theatre. Here people are gathered together for hours on end to perform operations and in so doing assuring the patient does not acquire an infection attributable to the operation. The air conditioning must be maintained at such a standard that the air circulating is pure enough for the most complex operation – such as a joint replacement – to be undertaken with the least risk.

In the end, the assumption must be that the post-virus office must be big enough to provide sufficient space for people to congregate while maintaining a certain distance from one another without shouting. Street clothing does not seem to be a major factor in viral spread, but the operating theatre staff do not go into an operating theatre in their street clothes as the nineteenth century surgeons did. They change into their green or blue scrubs, their head covered and mask at hand. And at the operation a further gowning with all the appropriate obedience to the rules takes place, and this ritual is repeated for each patient.

Professor Lindsay Grayson

Professor Lindsay Grayson, the Australian doyen of hand hygiene succinctly summarised the national hand hygiene study after eight years observation in 2017 – The National Hand Hygiene Initiative (NHH) has been associated with significant sustained improvement in hand hygiene compliance and a decline in the incidence of staphylococcus aureus bacteremia (HA-SAB). Key features include sustained central coordination of a standardised approach and incorporation into hospital accreditation standards. The NHHI could be emulated in other national culture-change programmes.”

The challenge to community cleanliness is to accept the challenge for its offices as set down by Professor Grayson.

The new office order

The elements of the new order now are being tested everywhere, have they penetrated into every individual’s brain … at least not yet.

The elements include:

  • Social distancing and limiting the time spent in face-to-fact contact or in a closed space with others
  • Lift etiquette and disinfecting
  • Masks (understanding how and when they should be worn and by whom)
  • Air conditioning
  • Hand hygiene and not touching the face
  • Temperature checks
  • Responsibility for the regular cleaning of one’s designated work area, including equipment such as computer keyboards and phones
  • Regular cleaning of the office, reception, kitchen areas and the toilets
  • Quarantining anybody who shows the slightest sign of a respiratory infection
  • Viral testing
  • Being able to plug into a internal form of contact tracing to identify if employees are not generally within their designated areas (that is, for the purposes of maximum numbers to ensure social distancing)
  • Food outlets
  • Making provision for workers who are at a higher risk

This is part of the equation – the other major element is how to get employees to and from work safely when public transport is designed around maximising the number of passengers and when work hours are not staggered, but that is a future blog.

One of the theoretical advantages has been the advance in communication over the past decade. This has meant that isolated people can see one another – good reliable images of the people. How far that improvement in this distant communication can supplant actual face-to-face contact will give researchers a great deal of time to seek answers. Online meeting platforms will be an essential part of the response to this pandemic.

It is up to those who head the large firms to enforce social distancing – not sitting huge distances away, although appropriate spacing of work areas will be important, but being careful of exchanges – the hand shake, the hug, the kiss on the cheek, borrowing somebody’s pen. It is these social gestures, essentially random, upon which the virus thrives.

There must be an etiquette in the use of lifts, as is occurring in hospitals already, with the maximum number of people prominently displayed. Again this demands discipline.

The meeting room should contain a round table of appropriate size, and the air conditioning should be such that a joint replacement could be performed on the table with little chance of airborne infection. Time spent in closed meeting rooms should be minimised.

This leads to the discussion about planning an office to be open plan or not. As the NYT reported this week: “Some companies have begun mentioning a return to one of history’s more derided office-design concepts: the cubicle. There is talk also of the cubicle’s see-through cousin, known as the sneeze guard.

“Cough and Sneeze Protection Screens,” is how they are being marketed…

Earlier in the article “Soon, there may be a new must-have perk: the sneeze guard. This plexiglass barrier that can be mounted on a desk is one of many ideas being mulled by employers as they contemplate a return to the workplace after coronavirus lockdowns. Their post-pandemic makeovers may include hand sanitizers built into desks that are positioned at 90-degree angles or that are enclosed by translucent plastic partitions; air filters that push air down and not up; outdoor gathering space to allow collaboration without viral transmission; and windows that actually open, for freer air flow. 

All very good, and some of these changes are evident in our hospitals and retail outlets, but it is imperative that offices have a structure to ensure that all the changes are effected. In other words there is a team of enforcers, from the time the person enters the office area initially to use the hand sanitiser to the odd time he or she may use the toilet. You see that sign in the aeroplane toilets to respect the next user by cleaning up after yourself. One can believe that some who use the toilet are blind. After a few hours in the air the said toilet can become unclean because of lax enforcement. The new office will ensure that cleanliness is maintained

Then there is consideration of the material that you use to outfit the office anew. In a NEJM article and combined with another source, it was shown that the virus persisted up to four hours on copper, eight hours on aluminum, 24 hours on cardboard and two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. Elsewhere it has been shown that on glass or wood surfaces, the virus will remain present for up to 4 days.

Reassuringly it has been shown that Covid-19 can be eradicated within one minute by disinfecting surfaces with alcohol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide, or bleach containing 0.1% sodium hypochlorite.

Watching the thermographic camera in operation while I waited at Cabrini Hospital was an impressive demonstration of its capability, and the question is the number needed and their positioning. Having temperature taken manually is probably more consuming of staff time. Nevertheless the receptionist or however he or she is described must be someone who understands the basic requirements of public health, and it should not be too difficult to arrange an instruction in this. After all, the responsibility extends to ensuring clean toilets, that there is form of “contact tracing” of anybody in the building, with the current chunky badges of identification need to be reviewed.

One of the other matters which follows is how food and drink is dispensed. Bringing your own coffee cup and lunch is an obvious solution. Trialing take-away has been happening in the community, and therefore how the workers obtain their coffee and lunch needs to be mapped. When food and drink is raised, then the spectre of alcohol is also raised. I have some doubt that those affected by drink respect social distance. Then what does the office do with those who smoke, coffee in hand outside the building. As I walked around the outskirts of the Royal Melbourne Hospital last week, even there were numerous staff members in their scrubs outside smoking in corners away from the elements.

Thus in the end someone in the office must be the arbiter deciding who needs to be tested or sent home. There is a certain unrealistic optimism about a vaccine, and clearly the anti-viral drugs do not work on coronavirus. If they did, the cure for the common cold would have been had long ago. As for hydroxychloroquine … be careful Palmer, what is your pitch when the first person dies using that drug rather than killing the virus – go green rather yellow?

Those in business must take a pessimistic view and not believe the vaccine is just around the corner. However, in equal measure they must take an optimist view that careful planning and implementation of a rearranged COVID-19 office space will support both the reopening of business in 2020, but also recognise this will be the “new norm” for the foreseeable future.

As for masks, they may be obligatory in the operating theatres where the operating team are kitted up with sterile gowns and gloves, however in the community I have this image of the Italian smoking, his mask limp around his chin. Masks are ideal to irritate, to touch – as are gloves when the gloved hands are moving from one potentially infected surface to another. Masks thus can be a definition of false security as are latex gloves – only as clean as the last touch.

In the end, the broader community has to come to an understanding of what is needed to provide a safe working environment because the changes that are needed cannot be achieved without everyone giving up some personal “freedoms”. At the same time reliance on pre-COVID-19 legislation to direct the ways things were done won’t cut it any more. Governments have to review all their relevant legislation to make sure they don’t allow sloppy hygiene to continue.

This is whither I have arrived – a personal exercise calling on what seems to be a reasonable allotment of information in turn to provide a reasonable allotment of advice.

Mouse Whisper

I was self-isolating outside my mousehole when I looked up at my mausmeister’s television and saw a man called Nev who turned up on the screen. He seems to reflect this economic imperative, which is taking over from the lingering pandemic, as his mates are getting restless. Doctors should stick to the hospitals was the secondary unvoiced agenda.

Pardon my meek mousiness by addressing you as Nev. I thought I heard it correctly that you said there will not be another pandemic – you will make sure it does not happen again? (see above). Hope the viruses are listening.

You know Nev, you, the bloke who maybe can’t see the trees for the Forrest.

Danse Macabre

Modest expectations – Tom Waits

From the Carnival playbook as reported by The Washington Post:

More than 20 passengers were still too ill to leave the ship (Coral Princess), along with 38 crew.

Of the 1,020 passengers on board, about 993 were expected to be declared fit to fly, he said. They will be taken by bus straight to Miami International Airport, where most will avoid terminals and take charter flights. A minority of the passengers, he said, would take commercial flights; those passengers would be brought to a terminal that is not being used until they board.

As with the above Washington Post report, it is now 4 April and the number of COVID-19 cases has just reached 5,548 in Australia. If it had not been for the cruise ships, it would be considerably less than 5,000, and fortunately not the 10,000 Dr Greg Kelly and his fellow petitioners prophesised for 4 April.

Fortunately, at the centre of this activity federally we have a cohort of knowledgeable, calm public health specialists that you need in a crisis and obviously they are not going to release the models if the assumptions are wrong. The world is not a TV reality show. It is a planet at war. Therefore getting the strategy right is everything.

The Carnival is over?

As the Ruby Princess saga grows, my recommendation to sack Dr Chant appears mild now that all of the NSW Government seems to be in a state of self-preservation or that of hazard reduction. It was so obvious from the start that people being hurried off the boat meant something was afoot. Only too true – 10 per cent of the positive cases in Australia and 11 deaths as of 6 April.

However, the media were dozing – but not now. The Australian Financial Review at last discovered the media demure Ann Sherry. The Australian is calling for governmental scalps.

Now three weeks later, it is the NSW Government trying to weasel out of its responsibility. Carnival is the culprit shipping line that has the dubious honour of having two firms in Miami that specialise in launching legal actions against it – that includes all the shipping lines owned by the Miami-based Arison family. Mr Sture Myrnell is their local head and has sparingly fronted the media. Mr Myrnell, born in Bergen, was once the sommelier on the QE2 and although he has been promoted to dizzying heights, he has probably not lost his taste for a good sherry.

Which reminds me.

Now Ann Sherry was replaced by Mr Myrnell as CEO in 2018, but is still the Executive Chair and it was pointed out that she was responsible for external relations – aka lobbying.

Once Ms Sherry was not afraid to front the media. In an interview, she made the point that thinking big was crucial. She was quoted as saying in this 2018 interview:

I think it’s important not to lose touch with what’s happening in your organisation. One of the great challenges of leadership is that you’re busy and there’s a million things people demand from your time. So, it’s easy not to know what’s happening on the frontline of your business, and just let people tell you. My view, though, is that it’s better to find things out yourself rather than rely on layers of organisational filtering to tell you what’s going on. I think this is especially important in a customer-centric business. It’s crucial to be visible and to communicate to people on the frontline that you understand how important their jobs are.”

After all the above interview started with the following “Coming off a high-profile, extremely successful tenure as CEO of Westpac New Zealand…”

The report in the NZ Herald 5 December 2008 begged to differ somewhat:

Sherry was chief executive for four-and-a-half years and resigned from Westpac after she was moved sideways to head up the group’s Pacific banking division on the back of poor performance from the New Zealand division.

She earned more than $3 million per year in the position.

Maybe the word was not “profile” but “profitable” – and an interesting definition of “extremely successful”.

The situation is serious – very serious – not just because of the number of additional COVID-19 cases and deaths directly attributable to the Ruby Princess, but because the NSW Government somehow lost control of its public health measures during a worldwide pandemic when cruise ships had been identified as one of the most effective vectors for the virus. That is unforgivable.  

Therefore every link in the communication chain needs to be examined. I believe that Ms Sherry’s role as Executive Chair, irrespective of her belated attempt to escape the title, in influencing the decision-making process now and over the time of her stewardship should be critically examined as part of this review.

Now that there is a full police enquiry underway, in the end there may be the prospect of criminal charges. This review must be comprehensive and nobody should be shielded; equally, innuendo should be confirmed as fact or any particular person exonerated.

And finally Prime Minister this cruise ship behaviour has not been an isolated example to flick away. It has been happening for years.

Hibernation

I have been chipped for not looking forward to predict what we might look like after the virus has passed.

My predictions on the future are based on the proposition that there will no vaccine against this virus in the near future. The second is that immunity to COVID-19 is not life long. In other words, one infection will not guarantee that the individual will not be susceptible to other attacks. The same applies to a vaccine; some common colds are due to coronavirus and come back in a different form year after year. There is no vaccine that works.

The problem with the hibernation analogy is that the animal sleeps through its time of food deprivation. Its life is about foraging for food to be converted, and here the brown fat accumulation is an important factor up over many generations – not an immediate fix, but one essential to sustain the slumbering animal.

However, when the bear emerges from hibernation, the external factors have been at work providing the bear with sustenance from the very time it comes out of its den. The hibernation cycle does not factor in a continuing winter because spring always comes.

When the government uses hibernation as a metaphor it should realise hibernation it is not a one-off aberration of nature. It is not for everyone. However for some creatures, it occurs year in year out – the word itself is derived from the Latin word for wintry – hiemalis. Thus Prime Minister, you are not the head bear, although many of your sloth of bears may be somewhat grizzly.

Australia must emerge into a new world, which prizes personal and public hygiene. It is a world where everyone including the police force carries hand sanitisers. It is a world where coughing without shielding your mouth becomes as unacceptable as spitting. Every restaurant has pepper, salt and sanitiser on the table, and before food is served the patrons are politely asked whether they have used sanitiser.

At home as I was in the days before antibiotics lulled the community into a false sense of security, children always washed their hands before a meal – but then we said grace. As we grew up, with the advent of the fast food industry with the disposable society, washing hands before meals then lapsed.

Meanwhile, hygiene in hospital has improved immensely, and that is largely because it has been recognised that washing one’s hands between examining each patient is essential. It was a simple manoeuvre as was the abandoning of wearing ties and the improvement of the attire of staff – particularly those archaic nursing outfits. It is now as different a world as the time when surgeons operated in their frock coats in the nineteenth century and more recently when I was a junior doctor, when the anaesthetist’s monocle fell into the sterile neurosurgical site. Why, because this particular gentleman was peering over the neurosurgeon’s shoulder. Bad form old boy.

It is time to transfer these hospital lessons to the community. One measure of this is the standard of public toilets. As I have written before about how these are diminished in number in the major city centres. However, the technology is evident to establish a clean safe environment in those facilities.

Thus, when the virus passes for the moment Australia needs investment in hygiene – in public health – so that it is the aim to generally reach hospital grade level. In so doing this should evoke a cultural change in this country where nobody is exempt – and that means settlements like Utopia or Soapy Bore, Toorak or Byron Bay – yes you! Not singling you out, just reminding everybody that we are a nation with mutual obligation – it applies equally to you as it does to the smallest outstation.

One Labor Minister in Whitlam’s government once made the astounding observation “Australia is an island surrounded by water.”

The Terra Australis face that was turned towards the original adventurers and buccaneers was very unappealing and they left and those who were shipwrecked died in the harsh climate or were absorbed into the local aboriginal people.

Then our border control need be mindful of the unseen, not spend time hounding the vulnerable and looking in the mirror of this nation and seeing Pauline Hanson.

However the underlying premise is that the Federal government should take the original power allotted in the original Australian constitution – that of quarantine and thus assume national control of public health.

Australia has emphasised biosecurity in relation to fauna and flora, which has been moderately successful, but in terms of spread of human disease less well.

After this last episode it is not the poor unfortunates awash in the Timor Sea, but cruise ships with their crowded cabins and archaic air conditioning. Huge floating cesspools no longer should be allowed to berth in Australian ports. It is an industry that needs urgent review. As one correspondent has written:

Long ignored by cruise lines seeking to sell older tonnage are air conditioning and plumbing issues.

Ships built after 2000 are suspected of having air conditioning and plumbing and sewerage problems, some of which problems are major. 

The older ships will not survive nor are resaleable as they’ll be seen as potential health problems. Why? Breathing the same recycled air in every cabin or room will no longer be acceptable to paying passengers.  

The cruise industry must be re-evaluated, and Carnival and all its affiliates banned indefinitely – or should it be said that any ship owned by the Arison family. In other words, nobody begrudges a well-run shipping line, one that does not evade taxes, does not fly flags of convenience, does not use underpaid staff – and if the arcane Maritime Law needs to be repurposed for Australian conditions let the government assure that is so.

The other major area of potential infection and violation of the borders are the airlines. However, biosecurity in relation to plane passengers has always been lax – handing out pieces of paper is no substitute for targeted testing.

The question must arise as to the level of hygiene on planes where people are packed together and the air conditioning is dodgy at best. Should the passengers be handed sanitiser along with bottles of water; should passengers be handed out masks at the same time as headsets.

Once the country had quarantine stations; once Australians going overseas carried yellow books to assure that we had been inoculated (or vaccinated in the case of small pox) against typhoid and cholera and, if we were going to endemic areas, yellow fever. Until this pandemic, only the latter has survived as mandatory. However, given there is no vaccine for COVID-19 then having a yellow booklet does not apply except for yellow fever.

However, there are past measures that worked, but reminding the passengers of basic hygiene becomes as important in the training of cabin staff as being able to serve meals. Toilets on planes are a potential source of infection given how poorly the hygiene is policed and on long flights used to change into sleep wear.

However, it is also air conditioning that needs to be assured at “hospital grade”, not continually recycling stale air but providing clean air at all times. As one source with more knowledge in the air ambulance sector where there is liable to be more exposure to infection has written … It has not yet been disproven that exhaled droplets are not aerosolised by the cabin conditioned air flow, and some planes may not recycle enough air to effectively dilute aerosol pathogens, or they don’t pass recycled air through HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters.

Therefore, the future Australia as it emerges must have a different approach to hygiene. Once this is assured then it must have a continuing impact on the economy, and not be forgotten by government with a strangled budget.

The Long White Shroud

In this time of COVID-19 crisis, a farce is being played out within the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Once a prestigious body responsible for overseeing the qualifications and hence the quality of consultant physicians and paediatricians it is rapidly becoming the Ruby Princess of the medical profession.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) was founded in 1936 as the Australian College aping its British counterpart, because our medical traditions have always been linked to the Old Country, fob watch and chain. Two years later, the New Zealanders accepted the invitation to join. Between that time and 2010 there had been only three Presidents from New Zealand.

Then Dr John Kolbe emerged. A respiratory specialist at Auckland Hospital, his wife a prominent surgeon who had been President of the counterpart surgical Australasian College and one who has publicly listed herself as a consultant for Siggins and Miller, a consultant firm based in Brisbane which is entangled in the current college mess. This is a slightly complicated situation since one of the principals of which, Ian Siggins died two years ago, but Mel Miller is still lurking around. Her role and ongoing involvement, if any, is for others to investigate further.

And indirectly, another Queensland connection lingers around as the Commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission (ACNC) which is the middle of this imbroglio has as its Commissioner, Garry Johns, a former Labor member for the Brisbane seat of Petrie but now a darling of the right. He has been, as reported, experiencing his own internal problems within the Commission. His original appointment in 2017 was described as bizarre by certain of those familiar with the charities field, especially in regard to statements ascribed to him about indigenous people.

Following Kolbe there has been another New Zealander, currently the incumbent, Mark Lane. Two of three aspirants in the current election for President-elect are New Zealanders. There is thus this select pack of All Blacks. There were three New Zealand Presidents over 72 years; now the prospect of three within 15 years. It suggests that there is now enough confidence among the New Zealand physicians to form their own College; never tell a New Zealander that they should be a State of Australia. Let us guarantee a fond farewell.

The next problem is that with time, the active elements of the consultant physician workforce have formed their own specific societies based on subspecialist skills and technology.

Some of them drifted completely away and formed their own collegiate enclaves, such as the psychiatrists and dermatologists. At the same time, the paediatricians, whose governing body had been separate although existing under the same certification, rejoined the College.  Faculties were created in public health, occupational and rehabilitation medicine, and the consultant physician element in the college was further diluted by the creation of College Chapters.

While this dilution effect was progressing, the College undertook a review of the “collegiate relationship” with the then “specialty societies of the RACP”; the upshot has been that the relationship was effectively severed. The societies were relegated to distant cousin status, while at the same time the College took all their existing curricula as part of upgrading its own responses to AMC requirements. The specialty societies were left delivering training within an increasingly bureaucratic and unresponsive college structure that, in the view of the societies, was unwilling to provide resources to those societies for their contribution.

If it were not for the fact that the letters FRACP certify their members a meal ticket, many sub-specialties would have broken away, but government unwittingly, through regulation and connivance, have allowed this monopoly to continue. Therefore the College, irrespective of its current intrinsic hollowness, has been allowed to continue in its current unchallenged form.

Over the past 20 years since the time that the ill-starred late Craig Paterson was appointed the CEO the internal troubles have grown. However concurrently the level of farce has grown, fuelled by the presence of another New Zealander and would be physician rangatira, Dr John O’Donnell.

I was once on the Council of the College in a saner time when its impact on the community, apart from being a certification mill, was evident. However, what has stirred me to write this was a ridiculous set of propositions put to an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) held fittingly in New Zealand in 2019. The intent of the propositions was to create a select group to be known as “respected Fellows” whose role was to create a quasi-theocratic model superseding the current College democratic elections.  One young female college Fellow asked whether passage of these motions meant that all other Fellows would not be respected. Enough said. This takeover attempt by a small cabal was soundly defeated.

But now they are at it again. Presumably the same crowd with the same would-be rangatira is leading this pack of All Blacks. They want to convene an EGM at a time when this country and New Zealand are locked down in crisis. There is no valid reason given for this action, but apparently they have the numbers to pursue this self-serving, totally unnecessary course of action.

Perhaps it is linked to a document produced by a Brisbane-based firm Effective Governance. Their review purported to describe what is wrong with the College, but the endless list of recommendations revive some of the very problems identified in 2019 – e.g. a nominations committee to select Board candidates to ensure they have the “right set of skills” for the Board and essentially to remove the concept of popular election by Fellows of candidates who don’t necessarily have such skills. At the same time the proposed number of Board members is 6-8; that, combined with the “required skill sets” will make it increasingly difficult for a College Fellow to be elected to this Board. Is this what the College Fellows really want? On reading the document I raise the question of whether the report should have been consigned to the garbage can long ago, and incidentally what did this Review cost?

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would be asking how much of this advice on governance over the years has emanated from a limited number of sources in Queensland. What of the direct Kolbe connection to Siggins Miller?

And why are certain people so seemingly keen to cover up about those who have requisitioned the EGM? And as for this EGM, especially at such a perilous time with COVID-19 and both countries effectively isolated, why are the usual suspects pushing such a destructive line?

However, I am not such a theorist, but I do like Kolbe to Bolitho to Talley to Yelland to Lane – what a sparkling daisy chain of “respected fellows. Once they were Presidents, and now…?

Last year I wrote to the RACP President, the New Zealander Dr Lane, asking for the release of the list of signatories to the 2019 EGM request. His dismissive reply relies more on legal smartness rather than common sense. Why was the list of signatories withheld? What did Dr Lane, as the President of the College, want to hide – a preponderance of NZ signatories?

The problem presented by this year’s EGM is that it ultimately will become an exercise in unexpected consequences, which may lead to a totally new organisation to guide the training and ongoing guidance of consultant physicians and paediatricians.

Maybe it is about time for consultant physicians to dispense with the current structure altogether with its over-regulation and expensive payments to a band of rent-seekers.

Maybe it is the right time to let the New Zealanders go and we revert to a purely Australian college. Our health systems are so different, our training is different; we may speak the same language but our cultures separate. Yes it is a good time to flag – once we are on the other side of the current health crisis – that we need a debate about this College of ours being purely Australian; after all, such a proposition is based on a purely utilitarian approach. It is totally ridiculous that this College could be run by a NZ rump.

And further, what about a breakaway College prepared to look after the interests of Australian consultant physicians and paediatricians, and not be burdened by the vestments of yesterday?

And as a footnote, almost as an afterthought, does having New Zealand Fellows compromise the charity status of the College in Australia. I cannot see the College’s New Zealand element being ascribed charity status in its own country. Just asking for clarification. Nothing more.

But first, in the interests of decency, those behind the resolution should withdraw their request for an EGM immediately. Otherwise every politician in Australia will know about this unnecessary distraction in this time of coronavirus. 

Mouse Whisper 

From a riverine relative, I am indebted for the following

Hydroxychloroquine costs around USD90 per 50x200mg tablets in the US for those who have insurance, or USD650 for those who don’t.

By contrast 100x200mg tablets cost AUD16.50 on a private script in Australia – a 40-fold difference before taking account of currency differences.

Make America Rich Again!!!

Modest expectations – J.J. Lyons

The problem is that, over the years, the community has become inured to the laughing mother in the advertisement with a gaggle of inanely smiling children showing how some disinfectant or other has rid the kitchen countertop of 99 per cent of germs.

If we lived in a sterile world devoid of all viruses and bacteria then like them we would all be dead.

Therefore we have to be reasonable, but when we have a media fuelling the hysteria that is not easy. There is a talk about the “surge” in infection and highlighting the number of deaths from the “killer virus”, rather than highlighting those who have recovered. The basic fact is that in a population of 25 million there have been less than 200 reported cases – i.e. as of today, an infinitesimal percentage of the population. The number is small, and it is important to maintain perspective. This is a prime function of government in the face of the irrational community response. Such a reaction dwarfs the other responsible response, which is building an evidence base as to what this coronavirus actually does.

Thus currently the rate of increase has hardly been a “surge” despite its attraction as a media headline – or even the milder use of “tide”. And if you use “surge” as a faux-dramatic metaphor then eventually the metaphor will “abate” as a tide will ebb.

Take Dr Higgins: how is the contact tracing going? It would useful if we were told how many of the people, including patients, with whom he came in contact have returned a positive test. However what we have is some State Health Minister attacking him and the AMA responding, rather than getting together and using this case to obtain useful information about the spread or otherwise of COVID-19.

Dr Higgins was on a United Airlines flight from San Francisco. I know somebody who was on the same flight who has the “sniffles”, all very mild. However, when my acquaintance’s partner became ill with a fever, an attempt to see the local general practitioner, resulted in an immediately referral to the relevant Hot Line which, having established my acquaintance as a resident of that State, then referred my acquaintance back to the general practitioner.

So much for consulting your local general practitioner as the front line defence, as the AMA have been telling the community. My acquaintance went off to a newly-designated centre for coronavirus testing. It was so new that the staff provided a good imitation of not knowing what to do. Waiting, my acquaintance and partner were alone, but it took an hour and a half for my acquaintance to be seen.

Despite my acquaintance’s history, the hospital-based centre was reluctant to undertake a test. Initially, the triage nurse wanted to send them away. Eventually my acquaintance was tested, but not the partner because at that time there was no proven contact with a confirmed virus carrier.

Ultimately they both tested positive and my acquaintance’s partner’s substantial workplace has been locked down for a week. They have children at school and university. The children tested negative.

It should be appreciated that the coronavirus tests for virus RNA being excreted at the time of the tests. There is no serology test to tell whether the person has had the coronavirus. Young people clear their system very quickly because in the main their immune response is very strong, a fact having being confirmed elsewhere. So it is quite possible that the children had been infected but have been asymptomatic and were no longer excreting the virus.

My acquaintance and partner no longer have to fight for attention. They have their own personal doctor contact available and visiting nurses. That is fine when there are so few cases, but this is a government that tends towards engendering fear rather than soothing concerns, when the number of cases are primed to increase.

Already the reluctant-to-test-centre of a week or so ago has a queue of the mostly worried well.

When winter comes is everybody going to receive such personal service? The answer is in the ability of general practice to develop a more hygienic environment this winter – not having waiting rooms filled with coughing adults and children would be a good start.

And what about the United Airlines flight? My acquaintance wasn’t sitting anywhere near Dr Higgins. So what is the evidence basis for the “same row plus two rows in front and two rows behind” exclusion zone? Almost everybody goes into the bathroom on a long flight, and from observation the level of hygiene in the bathroom is generally appalling. Tissues everywhere, an unclean basin and taps, water left in the bowl, used hand towels poking out of the waste bin, handrail and door locks not cleaned between usage.

In the meantime the United Airlines flight had been merrily going everywhere presumably continuing on with the scant hygiene measures which have been characteristic of  airlines.

It may well be that America may prove to be the biggest problem and the irrational behaviour of the President, most recently in a blanket ban on flights coming from “Europe” (senza the UK) and at the same time a reluctance to be tested himself, does not help.  Will America be added to the Australian exclusion list? After all, viruses do not respond to ideology.

I suspect that this scenario which is going on all over America with an unprepared and totally under-resourced public health system. As I’ve just said, Trump’s measures are irrational, and hard to follow, but that is nothing new.

Yet here, summer has been and gone; summer is not conducive for coronavirus spread and a containment strategy based on excluding nationals from an ever expanding list of other countries is in place. So currently it is a good time to be in Australia, and if the medium term strategy is based on a belief that with summer in the Northern Hemisphere the coronavirus epidemic will abate, then the current strategy has a modicum of sense.

The underlying problem is whether the political declamations are actually being carried out. Some of the state governments websites giving advice are very good, but why not consolidate this information into one web site – this is where the federal Government should be the single voice.

One of the problems highlighted by the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic was the destructive effect of the lack of public health co-ordination between States. Ostensibly, the Commonwealth is in control, but with each State seemingly disseminating its own information, it calls into question what is the actual level of coordination.

However, the tipping point is to know how far the government’s policies can go to effectively close the country down before wrecking the whole societal fabric and not just the economy. Having everyone in two-week isolation is ultimately unsustainable.

So a greater number of people who have to work will ignore the ban or not be tested; or the government will relax the ban. The evidence is that the older population are disproportionately affected, not school children or young adults. So why close the schools? We don’t do that if children catch the common cold, a coronavirus relative.

Look at the mixed messages. No wonder the community is perplexed.

Mixed message one: There are the media appearances of politicians elbow bumping and contorting themselves. However, what does the Prime Minister do in a forum where the spread of coronavirus is being discussed? He shakes hands with the guy who introduced him, does not use any hand sanitiser and goes to a lectern where there is no indication that it is to be cleaned between speakers. As far as we could see it certainly was not cleaned in this case.

Mixed Message two: There is a full house at the women’s cricket final – so much for the empty stadium scare that some of the muppets in the football codes seem to be mouthing.

Mixed Message three: There is the spectacle of the women cricketers jumping all other one another, high-fiving, potentially contaminating one another.

Mixed Message four: The Victorian Premier is threatening to close down the education system while at the same time giving an exemption to Ferrari for the Formula One exercise in air and noise pollution. No crowds, Mr Premier, after all it is school but of a different sort.

It was wonderful to see the publicity-shy Dr Mukesh Haikerwal in his medical practice car park collecting specimens for testing in a strapped pathology system. Presumably he continued to do this once the cameras stopped and continued to flood the local pathology laboratories with specimens. But what was his protocol for offering testing? Close contact with a person with who was confirmed positive? Or the worried well? Not clear. But the next day, having put on the show for the TV, his clinic was overwhelmed.

Now pop-up clinics; I suggest the government consider using the expertise of Dr Haikerwal with his car park technique to ensure that the Health Minister’s promise of the having all these clinics popped up by the end of May can be met. After all, he looks good in a suit.

Then as Australia enters the winter unless there is reliable health surveillance, it may be expected the pop up clinics are going to be inundated by people with that other coronavirus, the common cold, or those who are suffering influenza.

It is always disappointing that the first thought of governments is the authoritarian solution. Australia has always been quick to press that button. Such a solution resulted in the misguided lock hospitals of the past on Dorre and Bernier Islands in Sharkes Bay. Aboriginal men and women suffering from venereal disease were sent there. Australia has a dark history of isolation of people with disease and community panic attacks.

It seems at this time the greatest risk group is the elderly. However, they are not all congregated in nursing homes. On the other hand, they are not, by and large, in the workforce. Many roam in the freedom of being child-free and comparatively well off. One has to know where the mobile “grey nomads” will congregate in the coming months, and where they will roam in remote Australia. Perhaps that is why there is a run on toilet paper and disinfectant.

For the sedentary aged care population and their housing, just assure hygiene and that someone is checking on them to ensure they have supplies. Places for the aged should conform to the level of hospital hygiene. After all, we are the vulnerable group, and let me say that this raises very strong questions about the workforce’s ability to communicate with an increasingly deaf population and with its significant demented cohort.

In the end, China may be able to impose Draconian provisions in the short term but will it effect the cultural changes vital to prevent this sort of disease outbreak happening again? And the experts still don’t know whether this infection confers life long immunity. The common cold recurs and it is contained in a set of coronaviruses.

As somebody very wise said to me, the aim of all the actions taken in the public and private sector should be directed to creating a new appreciation and behaviour in relationship to personal and community hygiene. Conceivably then we may be able to blunt the inevitable winter season coming up where we are beset with the common cold and influenza, as well as this COVID-19.

We are already seeing this with the proliferation of hand sanitiser stations in public places, offices, banks and shops. I hope it continues to grow so, for instance, washing your hands before eating which I was taught to do as a child, becomes the accepted norm again.

Rollin’, rollin’ rollin’ – Raw Hide

The problem with toilet paper is that, while it is considered an essential, it is a topic we normally do not discuss.

The picture of three ladies wrestling over toilet paper in the Chullora Woolworths may be appalling for the pious commentators, but there would be a sizeable populace who found the spectacle as mildly diverting as watching mud wrestling.

This toilet paper imbroglio reminded me that a number of celebrities including Magda Szubanski, Merv Hughes and Ita Buttrose, all making fun of themselves, have appeared in toilet paper commercials. However, the prize paper seller was Lleyton Hewitt in his memorable commercials.

Perhaps Government could use these toilet paper spruikers to use their talents in calming the hysteria induced by a country afraid of being quarantined with dirty bottoms.

By the way, when we were young, there were always squares of newspaper hanging on the hook beside the dunny door. Even then we favoured the Daily Telegraph as the paper most worthy of use because we knew that it had been pre-tested.

Nevertheless, we did a trial this week – 15 minutes in tap water at ambient temperature (a) toilet paper, (b) ordinary tissue, (c) paper towel and (d) newspaper of same size – at this time that water agitated to simulate flush. The result, toilet paper and tissue disintegrated, the paper towel dehisced and the newspaper was unchanged and still readable; so much for newspaper and paper towels.

Mount Quilton, a new Tasmanian landmark

Leprosy

Leprosy is endemic in the Kimberley. When I first went to the Kimberley in the 1970s there were obvious signs of past leprosy in elderly aboriginal people, particularly men. This was characterised by loss and deformity of both fingers and toes, and the leprous discolouration of the skin.

Randy Spargo, whom I have mentioned in a previous blog, has also commented on the destruction of cheek bones and the nasal septum as a characteristic Randy remembered – the so-called “lion face”.

The Aboriginals in the early days of the 20th century who were found to have leprosy were rounded up in an appalling manner, put in chains, taken away and confined. Originally there was a leprosarium at Cossack, now a ghost town near Roebourne which, when the patients were moved to the new Derby facility in 1935, was burnt to the ground as a public health measure – such was the fear of the disease.

Bungurun

The was managed by an Irish order, St John of God nuns from the mid 1930s, and the conditions improved so much so that the leprosarium had outlived its usefulness by the time I visited Derby. In the 1940s a treatment had been found, and the public health measures of contact tracing for those with the disease was well in place. I remember one of the nurses saying that they had only one whitefella on their list; all the others were Aboriginals allowed to move around – but their movements were traceable, which was no mean feat.

I met some of the last nuns. They were caring, admirable women who had worked much of their life bringing a more humane way of caring for lepers. Soon the leprosarium would be closed. Contact tracing was maintaining oversight and facilitating care for a diminishing population of lepers.

The Kimberley is strongly Roman Catholic and there were tales of the then Bishop of Broome, John Jobst, who was reputed to have been a panzer commander in World War 2, terrifying everybody with his fierce approach to flying – tales of Aboriginals scattering as he unexpectedly would come into land.

However, the 1970s in the Kimberley was a time of great change there. Its Wild West characteristics as described above began to fade.

For those suffering from leprosy thankfully change had started earlier.

However, there are lessons to be learned. The mere mention of the word “leprosy” incites fear in the average person. Leprosy is a mycobacteria like tuberculosis. Both are contagious diseases.

Tuberculosis was particularly common before antibiotics became available, but in the Western world it was realised that there was a “herd immunity” – in other words we, as a white race, had a better immune response than other people, such as Aboriginals.

The first response of the community is to isolate the infectious ones, these days in more humane ways than in the past. However, a person is isolated, how long is the sentence – and when these poor people try to break out from their isolation our first reaction is to punish them.

Punitive powers exist under current State legislation, but true to form when you have a government such as ours that tends to prey on community fear it’s not unexpected to turn public health into incarceration. After all, the other name for this is “border control”.

We don’t want to end up with armed police patrolling the street to stop people coming out of their houses – and why not a curfew for good measure?

Before the Attorney General, who seems to be a reasonable character, goes further into this murky Duttonian world, he should see what his West Australian forbears did to the Aboriginal population in the name of public health.

After all, recommending 14 days in isolation from an indeterminate starting point when the coronavirus infection possibly occurred is just an informed guess. Why not 40 days as the Bible exhorts, Mr Morrison.

And why this stupid term “self-isolate”? In those days before the Age of Fear” I just stayed away from work when I had the flu and thought it inconsiderate to go out while coughing and presumably infective. Why not retitle the play “Self-isolating for Godot”?

Mouse Whisper

When Marie Curie visited the United States in 1921, interest in radium surged as reported some years ago in one of those journals hoarded by mausmeister. “Americans were flocking in their thousands to buy bottles of radioactive water, believing it would cure their aches and pains.”

Never fear, there is a spa in an old uranium mining area on the border of Germany and the Czech Republic, which advertises the anti-inflammatory effects of radon-infused water. How many, Topollino wonders, are fruitlessly flocking to this spa to escape the virus?

Radium Palace

Modest expectations – On Golden Pond

This is my 50th blog without missing a week – 2,500 words a week plus my Topolino’s contribution. This week I have written about a dilemma, presumably it is a dilemma being faced by a great number of us Australians.

Plague

I am writing this, not as a last will and testament, but as somebody who has booked to go overseas in less than a month, visiting Morocco, West Africa, taking a 250 person Ponant cruise berthing at a number of Atlantic island ports from Dakar to Lisbon and ending up in Portugal for a week.

I am one of the Government’s older Australians. This blog represents my ruminations on the current situation – in no way a manifesto for anybody to necessarily follow. Therefore it is just my reaction to yet another viral disease emanating from China.

First of all, it is risible to hear journalists talking as though they know anything about public health. I am watching Monday on the ABC Drum, which without Norman Swan or anybody who knows anything, has descended into the farcical. The problem is that these “opinionista” are there to fill in time not to help with the dilemma by providing evidence based in science, and consequently not any worthwhile advice.

News bulletins talking about “deadly” outbreak and “killer virus” and front-page photos of someone stockpiling food, does not help alleviate community anxiety. Most of the journalists producing these stories are economically literate, but when they talk about public health they are on unfamiliar ground.

Every year we face an influenza epidemic, for which we can get injected with a vaccine; in the case of recent outbreak, not particularly effective. That is because there are multiple strains and they mutate. And people die, but we do not go into a funk and close Australia down.

However with his “doomsday comments”, the Western Australian AMA President has been the winner in the escalation stakes. He said Australia had not seen anything like this since Spanish influenza in 1918-20, when 30 million died worldwide and 15,000 in Australia. I beg to differ.

Take this quote from the Centres of Disease Control (CDC):

Currently circulating influenza A(H1N1) viruses are related to the pandemic 2009 H1N1 virus that emerged in the spring of 2009 and caused a flu pandemic. This virus, scientifically called the “A(H1N1)pdm09 virus,” and more generally called “2009 H1N1,” has continued to circulate seasonally since then. These H1N1 viruses have undergone relatively small genetic changes and changes to their antigenic properties (the properties of the virus that affect immunity) over time.

The common cold is due to coronaviruses. Like influenza it tends to be a winter disease. That is why we all line up in May for an injection. Is there any reason to suggest that this coronavirus is not aided in its spread by a cold climate – just look at where it is rife.

Will this “pandemic” just fade when the weather gets warmer in the northern hemisphere? I believe there have been some muted voices suggesting that will be the case. SARS virus, another disease with its origin in China from bats, caused problems between November 2002 and July 2003, and no cases appear to have been reported since 2004. In other words it disappeared in the Chinese summer. The bats are still in their caves in Yunnan and there is no vaccine after 15 years. Amazing what happens when the spotlight leaves a disease.

And by the way as we all know there is no vaccine against the common cold which is caused by other coronaviruses.

However after the SARS epidemic, the Chinese authorities did not do anything about curbing the sale of wild meat in markets. The underlying problem is “traditional Chinese medicine” that uses the products of wild animals; and inroads into wild life availability would strike at the core of Chinese cultural beliefs.

Xi Jinping has issued a declaration to ban the trade and consumption of wild animals, but how long will that last – how many exotic viral disease outbreaks will it take for the Chinese to see sense and feeding misinformation? Eating wild meat has a long history in China and it is a source of income in many areas; any ban will only be as good as its enforcement so do we just wait for the next animal to human virus to occur? Tiptoeing around reality is a nonsense because we worry what China can do to our economy. For God’s sake, China is already stuffing up the world economy with initiating the coronavirus outbreak.

When the data suggest a mortality rate of about 2 per cent, which is tolerable given the level of underlying respiratory disease in the community, then when Iran reports a much higher death rate, it may be because this community may be basically more unhealthy – more likely it is a question of underreporting. Therefore, it was convenient initially to slap a ban on travel from Iran because of an alleged higher mortality rate.

Also in order to show everybody that people “are taking the outbreak seriously”, the government is advocating a number of measures.

Washing your hands regularly is a simple but effective way to reduce the odds of getting sick, the CDC recommends scrubbing your wet hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, then rinsing them with running water. If water is not available, the CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer made with at least 60% alcohol, but warns these solutions do not kill all germs.

I remember being the foyer of a large teaching hospital in Melbourne waiting for somebody and to while away the time, I watched how many people used the hand sanitiser dispenser prominently displayed with an invitation to use it. Maybe one in 20 then stopped to use it.

One of the most remarkable advances among hospital staff is the use of hand sanitiser between touching patients; very simple. After all, in the operating theatre sterility has been one basic reason that operative infection is relatively low. In the recent evacuation of Australian citizens from overseas, it is understood that Qantas used the same level of background hygiene as you would expect in a clean hospital including hospital grade air filters. In fact all airlines, all cruise ships should assure that same level of cleanliness.

To counter this disease if everybody, including children, washes their hands regularly then the public health of the community will benefit.

CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.  

The doyen of hand hygiene, Professor Grayson has said, particularly as there is minor evidence of secondary infection (in other words transferred within Australia), that “it’s not a practical option for the average person to walk around the street in an N95 mask…or worse a product whose effectiveness has not been scientifically tested.”

Hospital staff can verify their protective clothing, but there is already some suggestion of both price gouging and fraudulent products being produced, at least in the United States, where the Surgeon General incidentally has also come out against wearing masks.

However, one reason for wearing a mask has not been discussed and that is the cultural habit of spitting as a body purification ritual. A mask makes it difficult to spit, and spitting is not a habit that has been highlighted in the list of preventative measures. It should be.

Surface disinfection with 0.1% sodium hypochlorite or 62–71% ethanol significantly reduces coronavirus infectivity on surfaces within one minute exposure time.”

Conversely, solutions of a biocide called benzalkonium chloride produced conflicting results; and finally chlorhexidine digluconate, which people use as a topical antiseptic, was ineffective.

The sight of people in white clothes spraying disinfectant indiscriminately in public places does not particularly reassure (although the television cameraman in the middle of the group of sprayers was filming happily without either a mask or goggles or white suit in a recent television item). I well remember when we landed in Australia, the quarantine staff would come onto the plane and spray the cabin before the passengers could disembark. It does not seem to happen now.

If you are going to regularly disinfect areas apart from food handling areas, then make sure the door handles and any button which needs to be touched, are wiped. After all how many grubby hands open doors leading into the workplace without a disinfectant in sight. One is unable to pat the door handle or lift button on the back, Mr Minister.

Also presumably all parliamentary offices should have hand sanitisers wherever there is a door handle or lift button. The penalty: 14 days in quarantine with other offending politicians or staff members for failing to do so. Maledetto inferno, Parliament in lockdown. Something might get done.

Also, as an anti-hugger and who as a young boy watched Lindwall take a wicket, and then walk back to his bowling mark without being deluged by his jubilant teammates, I shudder. Our society thus is now a very “touchie-feelie” one among which the viruses can perform their own danse macabre. Cultural traditions are very difficult to change.

The new coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan in December. By January, officials had quarantined the city — halting planes, trains, subways, and most private vehicles. As the virus spread beyond Wuhan, so did quarantines that shut down businesses, stopped travel, and curbed emissions. A map of the country before the quarantines (from January 1st to 20th) is covered with orange and red splotches, while those splotches are noticeably absent in another map depicting China after quarantines were put in place (from February 10th to 25th).

The cleaner air will hopefully provide some relief as China copes with a novel coronavirus that affects the lungs. On its own, nitrogen dioxide can inflame airways and make it harder for people to breathe. It also reacts with other chemicals to create soot, smog and acid rain.

However, just a few comments that may be relevant when we have a tribe of climate change denialists: Wuhan seemed to have been a very polluted environment, and the one positive thing is that the level of air pollution there has been shown to have fallen dramatically as elsewhere. The photos of Wuhan in lockdown did not seem to recognise how very polluted the atmosphere has been. Lombardy in Italy is the industrial heartland – and South Korea and Japan are highly polluted high population density areas. Our upcoming travel itinerary fortuitously avoids these areas.

The other factor, which needs to be recognised, is the countries where the virus is prominent and where the level of cigarette smoking is high and hence there is an underlying respiratory vulnerability greater than countries which have kicked the habit.

Vaccines have historically taken two to five years to develop. But with a global effort, and learning from past efforts to develop coronavirus vaccines, researchers could potentially develop a vaccine in a much shorter time.

That sums it up. There is a great amount of activity, and there is the usual public relations-inspired media blurbing. We however shall not hold our collective breath. Here Trump is really a menace saying that a vaccine is almost here.

Now to weigh up all of the above – and make a decision. Watch this space.

Bean there, dung that

First of all, I must acknowledge the New Scientist for this rather clever heading, when it ran an article on civet coffee back in 2004. It was a time when the coffee cherries run through the bowel of the mongoose relative, the civet cat, produced an astronomically expensive distinct coffee. At that time the price of a kilogram of the coffee beans was US$1,000.

A civet with his coffee cherries

Known as kopi luwak across the Indonesian archipelago, it is available in East Timor now, given the wealth of coffee and the presence of wild civets. There are stories about how civets are caged and force-fed coffee cherries. Who knows in East Timor? The price has dropped to US$100 a kilogram. Given that was an exotic product, which I had heard about, I bought 250 grams when I was there. Topolino heard about it and he produced a joke in an earlier blog about catpoo-cino.

Now eating civet was implicated in the SARS virus that also emerged in China. Civet is traditionally roasted in hoisin sauce, garlic and many spices or as an ingredient in one of those Chinese cauldrons blended with cobra and chicken – Tiger, Serpent and Phoenix soup. This is still able to be served “under license in China”, since like many of these concoctions it is all about stimulating the Chinese libido, as though China needed more of that.

The civet coffee I bought back to Australia, (where you can bring in a kilogram without having to declare it) proved to be disappointing. I thought it very nondescript and bland with a “very muted” coffee taste. As quoted in the article however, “educated drinkers can detect an syrupy, chocolate, earthy, musty with jungle undertones (whatever that might be)”. One supposes that comment is like the wine sommelier who can detect the complexity of honeysuckle, vanilla and violets with just a tincture of feral cat in the grape.

Ah, what a multicultural world we live in! But the lesson from all this is that “bush tucker” has now been banned in China. However, as the South China Morning Post has pointed out, the sheer size of the wild animal foraging and breeding means effective policing on any useful scale will require far greater resources than made available up to now.

Pig slaughter as a result of the swine flu outbreak means a serious loss of income as does a putatively effective wild meat ban – obviously now a necessary follow up to this novel coronavirus, especially in the light of a previous outbreak emanating from other viruses able to traced to animals.

And before you have any sympathy for the Chinese diner…

Before the first squeak …

Consider for instance the three squeaks dish – the first squeak, when the embryonic rat is picked up alive with your chopsticks; the second, when it is dropped into a hot sauce and the third squeak when you crunch it between your teeth.

Now that is civilisation!

And I’ll pass on the civet coffee in the future.

And as a final tidbit

The inspiration for this tidbit comes from the same 2004 New Scientist. It is just an interesting scrap floating along one of the information byways. The civet is not unique in providing human food where the flavour derives from an encounter with its digestive tract. Honey bees pass their nectar through an enzymic process before they vomit up; and then there is another Chinese delicacy, bird nest’s soup made from the dried saliva of birds called swiftlets.

Finally, there is the Moroccan goat, which climbs the argan tree and eats the fruit. Until recently, the fruit seed had been extracted from the goat excrement and traditionally turned into cooking oil. However, the argan trees are under threat. The goats kill the juvenile trees, so the Berbers have substituted their own seed grinding for the goats’ bowel.

Moreover its properties as a cosmetic have meant that the beauty industry has “monstered” the market for the oil. There is a conservation program in place to preserve argan trees. How effective will this be in the face of demand, the land being swallowed up in housing development and climate change? Familiar story?

As with the argan tree, the honey bee and the swiftlets’ nest are all in danger of dropping into the endangered zone and then into the sunset of extinction.

How much of this was on the community’s radar 16 years ago, when these three were mentioned in the New Scientist?

They then were singled out because of the digestive feats; not because of their future viability.

Is it only viruses that will wake our community from its hedonistic torpor and pay attention?

Mouse whisper

This caption was placed on a certain cartoon. The subject surprisingly is not Morrison.

“I believe I heard from the back of the room, someone failing to ask me the question I will now answer.”

The figure in the cartoon? General de Gaulle.

You can still learn from the great and famous, Morrison.

Modest Expectations – Kontiki

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

When the Virginia legislature in January were moving to enact a number of mild gun control laws, enter Trump in a post on Twitter:

“Our 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia”.

Of course, in true Trump style, the reforms were nothing of the sort.

However, his audience was his gun-toting lumpenproletariat. They had turned up in a mass display of bullying in Richmond, the Virginian capital, armed with a threatening array of guns.

These may be the group that Hilary Clinton lumped under the term “deplorables”, but she unfortunately had not done enough groundwork to separate herself as a leading member of the perceived “elite” so that the right-wing conspiracy trolls could accuse her of being head of an elite that was depriving working Americans of their birthright. “Deplorable” is not a defined movement, but an unfortunate word of disdain. Thus anybody disliking Clinton with her trappings of wealth and her continued association with a philanderer would have found it reason enough to vote against her.

What she was attempting to say has been put in a more analytical context by the American historian, Bruce Franklin. In quoting Franklin, I had always interpreted “lumpenproletariat” from a Marxist point of view, Groucho that is. However, what is written below changes that perspective. It is a chilling description of the Trump constituency.

“In Germany, the lumpenproletariat was the main source of shock troops for Naziism. Anyone who worships the spontaneity of unemployed youth should be reminded of the Brownshirts. In the United States, unemployed white youth are a fertile breeding place for the worst forms of racism, national chauvinism, and the cult of the super-male. This is particularly true in the South, in the urban areas into which the dispossessed rural whites have been driven, and in European ethnic neighborhoods. And among these people there is no clear dividing line between lumpenproletariat and white working class.” 

The American lumpenproletariat has been allowed to become heavily armed. The diffusion of military equipment into the hands of the local police forces means that a militia loyal to Trump which seeks legitimacy under the Second Amendment becomes so very feasible.

This is the ultimate Trump threat and in the event of the possibility of Trump losing the election, this force could be called to arms in every State, particularly where there is Republican control. Trump or his lieutenants more likely will be there preparing the ground for the militia to be raised as if the nation is under threat (that is, Trump’s re-election is threatened) and individual freedoms to do whatever you like (meaning owning as many firearms as you like with the minimum regulation) are OK as long as one supports Trump.

Social media has been a godsend to Trump, enabling him to perfect the tactics he employed in “The Apprentice”. It is a medium that is understood and accessible to his constituency.

However, Trump is an old man, and his dissolute lifestyle has challenged the resilience of the gene pool. While he has hinted at a dynastic succession, this is one of the few themes that he seems to have dropped. Yet if he is elected he would be 78 at the end of a second term. The question is, can The Planet afford it, whether he is elected or especially if the electoral college does not return him? One scenario has the Old Man brandishing the Second Amendment calling up a militia drawn from his alienated constituency energised by ethnocentric hatred.

The bulwark against him is not the current crop of Democrat Presidential aspirants, fighting over the carcass of the Party bequeathed by the Clinton dynasty. Let’s face it, Bill Clinton’s overexposure has legitimised Trump. Clinton is Trump’s atavis.

The Democratic Party’s survival and that of the USA depends on it securing a majority in the Senate, and maintaining control of the House; otherwise the one party state of Trump will become very much the reality. Very simple solution for the Democrats – win both Houses in November.

The Presidency is but a sideshow with the current crop of Democrat candidates. Can any of them face down a toxic Trump with his putative militia if any of them do win? What would they do? It is a question nobody will want to ask, least of all this mob of candidates.

It was a Dark and Stormy Night

The fires in East Gippsland call to mind something that happened to me as a small child. I have recounted it many times but never in a blog.

I could start this story off by saying: “it was a dark and stormy night”, but it actually was. It was May, probably around 1948, when father decided to take my mother and me across the Alps before hydroelectric Snowy Mountains Scheme commenced so we could all see an undisturbed alpine landscape. My father knew that when the Scheme was begun, so would the pristine wilderness go.

It was also the year my mother agitated against the removal of the elms from St Kilda Road to be replaced by desert ash. Somehow the decision to retain the elms was made, and I don’t really know how much my mother’s agitation influenced anybody. But I remember a Councillor Brens was the target for much of her vitriol. Now the elms in their exotic surroundings of Melbourne are some of the finest in the world.

Anyway back to the dark and stormy night in May. There were a few flakes of snow as my father took one of his famous shortcuts in his Vauxhall Wyvern 10. As we chugged along the forested slopes, my father said that this would be quickest way, judging faith in his map to get to where we were supposed to stay for the night – Bombala.

However, it became obvious to my mother that my father was lost, and as the storm intensified and snow began to fall, it became even more evident that this small car was not equipped with the best of internal lights to read the map, and of course there was not a torch in the car. The headlights on the car were the best illumination to look at a map, and winding up the road searching for a sheltered place to stop to look at the map suddenly became unnecessary.

We had just rounded a corner and there in front of us was a hotel, a bush pub nestling in the forest with lights blazing in each of its windows. Even now I can remember the relief my parents showed in the half-light the interior of this tiny car. To find such a sanctuary like that to them was incredible, if not miraculous. We had reached a dot on the map called Bendoc. After my father had determined that there were rooms available – even from a young age I always had my own room – we all went inside.

The chilliness was soon dissipated by the fire, which had that intense burn when you put hardwood logs onto a fire. The radiated heat sears one’s face.

Now warm, and having been confined for several hours in a small back seat, I was running amok in the hotel lounge bar. I suddenly noticed an old bearded man looking intently at me. He was sitting at the fireside drinking a large glass of stout. For a while he sucked on his pipe, and the smoke floated upwards. At last, as if he had enough of this boisterous child flinging himself around the bar, he took his pipe out of his mouth and beckoned me over.

“Son, do you know who Ned Kelly was?” Being a somewhat precocious child, I said; “Yes he was a bushranger.”

He paused and said: “I knew Ned Kelly.”

That was all. It was as though I had tapped a secret. I did not have enough knowledge to ask anything more. I looked around to see if anybody else in the bar had heard. I said nothing to my parents.

The old man smiled and leant back in his seat and relit his pipe.

That was it.

Except now you know, as you read this, a boy-cum-man who knew a man who knew Ned Kelly.

Do as I say?

It proved too much for Mike Keating and Andrew Podger. This apologia that the Head of Prime Minister & Cabinet, Mr Gaetjens, a person who has never lived outside the public service but obviously has been very adroit in crawling up the bureaucratic slope, has just violated the major tenet of survival. Not that it will matter because he will end up in one of those right wing think tanks nursing his not inconsiderable pension and giving a spray to any successor who he perceives to be to the left of Nicolo Macchiavelli.

Michael Keating and Andrew Podger have stood atop or near the top of the bureaucratic slope, although both of them did not have to crawl, such is and was their ability and moreover their integrity. After all Keating used to play a high standard of tennis with Roz Kelly’s husband, but there was never any suggestion that Keating ever compromised his position. Although different in age, both Keating and Podger grew up at a time when sure, you have your political biases, but advice was given in that time-honoured phrase “fearlessly”. Maybe in the crawl up the slope, Mr Gaetjens had not noticed.

Both Keating and Podger have made significant contributions to public administration, but I know they would have refused if their political superiors had asked them to do what Gaetjens has done. They would have realised that if they had done that, ever afterwards their advice would have been compromised.

I have not always agreed with Keating, even in face-to-face conversation; and in regard to Podger, disagreement with him has never really been tested. After all, how two people handle inter-personal conflict is a measure of the strength of the relationship.

I do not know Gaetjens, but incurring the ire of such distinguished peers shows that he has violated that axiom for all those who wish to maintain their relevance, namely: autonomy of action is inversely proportional to the controversy generated. In other words you can get away with it so long as you do not create a public storm, stirred up generally but not always by the media.

Gaetjens, you did your political master’s bidding. Your retired peers, the ones who do not need to fear retribution from fearless advice, have spoken out. Well, what would you expect! You write a report, which is kept secret but which is seemingly at odds with that of the Auditor-General. Bridget Mackenzie, for weeks beatified by the Government as the Goddess of Generosity and overflowing Cornucopia, stands condemned by this unseen report and off she goes, not because of the Auditor-General’s public damnation, but something you may have handed to the Prime Minister.

Job finished.

Can I go now Prime Minister? You will find my recommendation at the foot of the page – well not actually the foot, maybe just after “My dear Prime Minister”.

Koroit – my Back Road

Every time I used to go to Port Fairy in the 1970s, I would take the Hamilton Highway to Mortlake and duck down the back road past the racecourse through Woolsthorpe before reaching Koroit, where for the first time you could see the Southern Ocean and you knew then Port Fairy was not too far. Then there was the gloomy grey closed convent and intriguingly a scattering of original milestones along this road to the Princes Highway. Eventually they disappeared, presumably incorporated into someone’s garden rockery.

In 1975, we had bought Bowyers Cottage, built in 1848, with its immensely thick rubble stone walls and high ceilings in the front two rooms and in the back rooms where mice ran around the rafters and the ceiling was much lower. It was the time of short summers and being unprotected by the Tasmanian land mass in winter one would feel the full force of the southwesterly gales. It was before Port Fairy became fashionable – before its McMansion suburban development.

Port Fairy, with its misnamed main thoroughfare of Sackville Street, was a coastal village, in the days when you could get a lobster direct from the fishermen, and when the place was alive with abalone fisherman and the favourite drink of their wives was Bailey’s Irish Cream. The whole area reminded me of the west coast of Ireland. I felt at home. After all, my ancestors were from Co Clare from the tiny village of Crossard north of the town of Corofin.

Port Fairy

But Koroit always fascinated me from the first time I went there. It was then the Borough of Koroit and despite the Borough being some 65 per cent professed Roman Catholics, I remember the Borough Secretary was a good Salvationist, amid a field of Paddy potato growers. The land was fertile; the rich volcanic soil spilled down from the extinct volcano, which had itself collapsed into a caldera. Named Tower Hill, it has become a unique nature reserve in the middle of this landscape. In the episode of Koroit Back Roads on the ABC this landmark received scant mention, perhaps because the original settlers denuded the original nature reserve to grow potatoes as though there was not enough soil elsewhere. Fortunately it was restored at some time, probably when spud growing became unprofitable, rather than by a conscious act.

In fact the potato growing industry here received a jolt when consumers in the 80s and 90s found potatoes grown in sand did not require the same amount of cleaning as those grown in the heavy volcanic soil of Koroit.

They also used to grow onions there, but as was told to me the fog rot sealed the fate of that industry. There has been sporadic agitation to grow opium poppies, because the Glaxo factory at Port Fairy manufactures opiates currently made from opium poppies grown legally in Northern Tasmania. Let me say when I travelled around the area in the 70s, there was a bit of local Celtic mythology, which suggested that were fields of poppies in the area grown from seed which had blown across from Tasmania, in defiance of the wind direction, a miracle of blarney.

The Koroit episode of Back Roads did give mention of potatoes, which otherwise suggested that it is one continuous St Patrick’s Day festivity, where if you were not digging spuds you were dancing or drinking and the leprechauns were rampaging the streets at night.

There is no doubt that Koroit has a strong Irish ancestral condition. I remember walking into Mickey Bourke’s Hotel once before I was known there, and everyone stopped talking. You know you are in Ireland when that happens – there is no stronger tradition, except perhaps horses. Not having a race track with all the associated men in cloth caps with brogue on the tongues and brogues on the feet provided was a substantial gap in this ABC exercise in the paddywhackery.

A bit of paddywhackery

Koroit moreover has not reached that level which defines pure paddywhackery as “the fakey, out-of-a-box Irishness that insists on the same damned songs and the same damned menu and the same damned Guinness advertisements on the wall of every Irish bar outside of Ireland”.

However the Back Roads episode, which sought to portray Koroit as a home of the bog Irish, dismissed or ignored an inconvenient fact; namely that it is where an Australian Nobel Laureate went to school.

I remember making a speech to the Koroit school children about Sir John Eccles on the occasion of the Centenary of his birth in 2002. So much for my legacy, but it is a pity that among all the information about Koroit, no recognition was made of this important son of Koroit. The problem is that to mention Eccles would have interfered with the ABC producer’s mind’s eye’s caricature of Irish Australia. Pity, because we don’t have that many Australian Nobel laureates to celebrate along our highways, let alone our back roads. 

Sir John Eccles, Nobel Laureate

Mouse Whisper 

As a young boy John Monash met Ned Kelly at Jerilderie. Monash never said what passed between them. So this mouse is proposing a new expression. ME’s mouse believes it much more Australian to say, “as Monash said to Ned Kelly” rather than some anonymous actress’s exchange with a bishop – and anyway “actress” is no longer a PC word.

For example, as Monash said to Ned Kelly, “hold your horses.” And perhaps his advice to go to a nearby town while the weather was good. You know, “Make Hay while the sun shines”. As young Monash said to Ned Kelly…

Modest expectations – The Roaring

As I’ve mentioned before (ME18 Pale Waves), we have friends in Lubec on the Maine-New Brunswick border, overlooking the Bay of Fundy. You can drive from the United States border to Campobello Island in Canada – an instructive exercise in itself. However, driving across to have a lunch of lobster is a good enough reason to go to the Island once one has tramped around the Roosevelt exclave. The house has beautiful views over the Bay of Fundy. Driving across the Canadian border is no problem, but coming back the other way across the United States border, even with your American friends you are liable to be greeted by an officious, albeit offensive, border official, who more often or not will want to look very closely at the boot of your car, if not to frisk you.

An old fish shed on the Bay of Fundy at Lubec

This is an aside to an observation that was made to me that a United President would not dare vacation outside the United States these days. Campobello island was where Franklin Roosevelt had the family holiday house; it was where he came to unwind as a young man; it is where he was stricken with poliomyelitis.

Later in his Presidency he used to relax at Warm Springs in Georgia and rarely went to Campobello after he became President.

The United States Presidents know that there are beautiful places to vacation in the United States and even Campobello island is only spitting distance away, but note: after he became President Roosevelt he went to Campobello only once a year until 1939 and then that was it! 

Now just why did Fran Bailey sack you?

Where do you start with Scott Morrison?

I always remember when Prime Ministers took their Christmas break they holidayed in Australia, even when the rich lent them a place in which to relax.

Look Prime Minister, I’ll come clean. I took a trip to the United States with Leader of the Opposition at the same time of the year you went to Hawai’i. Let me say, we did not tell the press gallery, but there was an important task to be sorted out. It was late 1974, just after Bill Snedden had survived the first challenge to his Leadership by Malcolm Fraser, and that and accompanying machinations had been kept away from the Press. Even Laurie Oakes did not get wind of it – nor Alan Reid. So not telling the press is legitimate, on the grounds of when it does not ask, why tell. The smart journalist will generally work it out.

Our visit to the United States was brief and Snedden was back and able to go to Darwin to view the devastation caused by Cyclone Tracey on Christmas day. The reason he went to the United States merited some degree of discretion, but for God’s sake a holiday with the wife and kids. Why the secrecy?

The only residual question is who paid for the holiday? The reason he did not disclose where he and the family went? Was it because it was somebody’s private luxurious pad? Now the reason for the secrecy has been cast against a backdrop of security.

The Prime Minister was reported to have returned via Hawaiian Airlines. I have flown Hawaiian Airlines as probably a number of you have too. Friendly environment, but hardly the most secure. When one of the pilots wants to go to the toilet, the cabin staff block the aisle with food trolleys. Also, unless the holiday was on Oahu, there would have been intermediate air travel, which would have accounted for the time lapse. The whole process shouts “Swiss-cheese” security.

I would have thought that the damage of being absent in an undisclosed location had been done. Finish the holiday and come home with the family. However, the whole episode has an element of panic, and given that the Prime Minister seemed to have difficulty with communicating anyway, he may have been on one of those beautiful resorts, perhaps on an outer island.

Now, Prime Minister, you are back in the country at a time when increasingly the whole nation knows you have ignored warnings, scoffed at global warming, sat on you hands in relation to water, and have no environmental plan to combat climate change. It seems that you remain defiant. The nation may view you as just stubborn to cover impotency, because you have done nothing but treadle the looms of the marketing flack that you once were.

One of the reasons you took the holidays is that you intend going to India and Japan in January to meet two of Australia’s pinups – Modi and Abe. The whole exercise shouts “Coal”.

I doubt if nature will call a truce for you while you go calling on them. But at least we shall know where you are when the fires are burning. I suppose if you will be doing your best to ask them to reduce their country’s contribution to World pollution and from Modi in particular tips on how to enact religious freedom, then it could be viewed as genuine contrition and be excused. But not if you are doing a coal deal and the flames are licking the edges of the Shire.

Let me say I am more concerned with how the volcano burns victims are getting along, especially when there is the potential for the health system to deal with more serious burns victims from these fires.

And one more thing, if you really looking for a really exotic location for “you, Jenny and the kids” go and keep the Biloela family company on Christmas Island; still part of Australia.

Everybody, Prime Minister, should have a road to Damascus moment.

Personally, I did not feel any anxiety about you being away. From reading the notes scattered on that road and the anger generated, you will be lucky to have Murdoch still supporting you – after all, he gave McMahon away as a bad job. The only thing you have on your side is time until the next election and the fickle nature of the attention span of the Australian to wash this incident away. 

The Boy from Wagga Wagga

I have met some impressive National Party leaders, but the current one I have not met. However, from a distance Michael McCormack is not impressive.

A self-combusting pile of manure?

In his fumbling response on climate change he mentioned three factors that he thought were important. McCormack is reported to have said that: “dry lightning strikes, arson and self-combusting piles of manure” were among the causes.

At least he peppered his invective with an attempt to diagnose the problem – somewhat thin, but a statement which raises the question of whether they are relevant elements to be pursued by government. Now that is the genesis of a policy.

In the background however, among his followers infected by the Hanson bacillus , bushfires are all about the Greens – it’s their fault not allowing for hazard reduction and allowing all those wicked national parks to stay in existence. Unfortunately, I was talking to a friend and he repeated the nonsense.

The mayors of five local councils in NSW, one of which is Randwick, are members of the Green Party, and there are 58 Green Party members scattered across 31 councils; hardly a coalition of obstruction. One can criticise the Greens for being conservative heritage protectors, but they are not the only people trying to retain “old growth”.

Yet the right wing columnists spread conspiracy theories about the Greens manipulation as reasons for the fires. For God’s sake we have conservative government both federally and in NSW and the lack of policy and planning in the face of climate change is not due to obstruction by the Greens.

It is our governing politicians doing nothing.

The problem with many politicians is that they do not have the capacity to read – they are functionally illiterate. They have to be told because they cannot read. If they could read then they would look over the science and see that although there are a few areas of scientific fact in contention, there are agreed facts.

Read what the science says: once fires get to a certain temperature then it doesn’t matter how much hazard reduction one does, the country still burns. The burnt vineyards in South Australia were manicured and easy to access, and yet the fire still ripped through the vines.

How you build a national bush fire policy is to mitigate risk. The first statement from McCormack in this interview was “put the fires out”. The unquestioning outcome, but a Hillsong prayer is not the only option.

Science says it is unwise to build on steep slopes, ridge hilltops and riverine bush, where access roads are minimal and where access are cute cul-de-sacs. The fires came eventually to a friend’s house sweeping off the ridge and engulfing this holiday home. Hazard reduction won’t change the vulnerability of gutters with overhanging eucalypts if the fire front is charging down the slopes and the tree crowns are exploding. Before the fire, the ocean views were extraordinary; there were koalas in the trees and the house nestled snugly on the slope had only one access road. New building regulations have seen the house yet to be rebuilt after four years.

After the fires

Turning to the matters McCormack raised. Evidence suggests that about five per cent of fires are started by lightning strikes. Here the Hillsong prayer may be the only option.

Arson is difficult to prevent. True pyromania is thought to be rare, and laying to one side insurance and criminal arson, the other arson profile that the fire brigades looks out for are the “hero” arsonist; a profile that in the United States is predominantly white males between 16-30 years of age. There is another potentially very dangerous group – the revenge arsonists where there is a fine line between revenge and terrorist.

I was in Valparaiso, Chile, in August. Driving by the quaint houses clinging to the steep slopes above the city proper where access roads are narrow and poor, I didn’t think about bushfires. However now these suburbs are burning, as this coastal city goes up in flames – as does the surrounding country side with its forests and picturesque vineyards. There are reports that these fires have been deliberately lit.

On the third matter, waste management is an increasing matter for national policy and not just how to dispose of paper and bottles. The mixture of bacteria and the oxidation process of substrate such as cellulose are an ever-present problem. Trying to develop a national policy on waste management, where incineration is one solution, means that fire control should be a priority. That does not factor in the development of illegal waste dumping of flammable toxic materials in remote unsupervised bush lands. Mr McCormack, waste management policy is not just about picking up cow pats on your property before they explode into fireballs.

A report from California that is instructive is saying that most human-caused fires are accidental and avoidable, such as a burning cigarette carelessly tossed out a car window. But Californian fires can also start from “fireworks (the odds of a California wildfire double on July 4), improperly extinguished campfires, out-of-control burn piles, hot vehicle parts making contact with dry grass, power lines rubbing and arcing in windy conditions, and a variety of other causes. A surprising number of fires start when trailer chains or wheel rims strike pavement and send sparks flying.” This last situation is the likely cause of one of the most deadly Californian wildfires. The Californian attitude is far more cavalier than that of the Australians, and universal bans on lighting of fires are harder to enforce. However, there is an increasing recognition that there will be longer and hotter periods as summer merges with spring and autumn. The end result means a drier and drier landscape.

Hazard reduction by all means – but have we a systematic nationwide policy on hazard reduction and one that will become increasingly narrowly focused when climate change has rapidly reduced the available days for hazard reduction, and the community will increasingly become layered in smoke from fires spreading over those remaining days. The nation will become very impatient with a government that blames the Greens.

The bushfire is a complex challenge; it demands coherent policy; it also demands the funds to efficiently and effectively manage the challenges and, given the way the water policy has been corrupted, to also deal with the other factors that affect how we as a nation can respond to widespread bushfires. What happens when there is no water to fight fires?

Perhaps the best form of hazard reduction would be to remove the rent seekers and the other parasites that bug our political system. The problem at present is they wield the levers of power not the hoses. Barnaby Joyce’s bizarrely berates the government and demands it get out of his life – well, yes, but first the government should give us back our water, then it should have to courage to develop some decent policy recognising that we are in a different climate ballgame now (yes, the Prime Minister can take his baseball cap off to that) and then everyone might get out of Barnaby’s life.

However, all revolutionaries by their nature are optimists. I am and always have been an optimist – even now one foot away from a minha cadiera de rodas

Christmas on the move

Christmas was never a good experience when I was young. We generally went to my grandmother’s place, and the day generally ended in unpleasantness, as one or other family argued among themselves – and when I was young I generally engaged in fighting one of more cousins at some stage during the afternoon. The item of consumption that sits uppermost in my memory was my grandmother’s obsession with making Yorkshire pudding to top off the roast bird. It was one of Cook’s lesser legacies to Australian cuisine.

Santa Fe farolitos

While I had my 1956 Christmas in the Sea of Japan on the S.S Taiping, my nomadic Christmases started in the 1980s – different year; different place. However, the only time that I remember snow in any quantity was Christmas in Santa Fe. Snow was a foreign experience to me, and so trudging through snow covered streets lighted by farolitos – candles stuck in sand in paper bags. In the freezing cold we were part of the congregation at an outdoor Navajo Mass. The mass was memorable with its Navajo interpretation that included the final benediction of a sort – the man close to us raising his rifle and firing a shot into the darkness.

All part of celebrating the miracle of Christmas wherever you may be.

And given it is Friday 27 December, may I wish you all the Best for the Feast of St Stephen – at least east of Rome.

Mouse Whisper

The ultimate put down.

Asked if he liked Melbourne, Augustus Woodley Bernal replied:

“Immensely. But don’t you think it’s a little too far from town.”

Bernal spent some time on the Bendigo Goldfields as a Commissioner in the early 1850s.

Chortle, but remember it was people like Bernal who came, saw and went back to Britain – just leaving the questionable imprint of the British gentry.

The Gentry