Modest Expectation – There is Much Binary in the Math But Not With This Base.

There are a select few who try to work out the association of the Modest Expectations number with the accompanying narrative. The title of 158 is a take from an old BBC comedy show. “There is Much Binding in the Marsh”. The association is so old that only those who lived in the early post-wars would remember, but the series was very well-liked in Australia.

The series was originally set on a mythical RAF base modelled on the real-life Moreton-in-the Marsh RAF base. It featured a number of English comedians, such as Richard Murdoch and Kenneth Horne. Their audience thought them funny as their binding – that is grumbling – was undertaken with a comic air. As was said about Horne, “a master of the scandalous double-meaning delivered with shining innocence” – the basis of much English humour.

However, this is one of three puzzles based successively on the numbers 158 (as in this case), through to 159, to ultimately 160, all produced by guest numbers man, Rick McLean.

One clue: the answer to 158 has nothing to do with the BBC series, just a convenient pun – really a double pun if that exists.

The Political Leak

I have never been a member of Parliament, but as the Principal Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition as I once was, I was one who was privy to confidential information.

It was also 1973, when much was happening in Canberra. Let’s say it was not a boring year in politics. Given that I lived in this different era in Canberra, on several occasions Gough Whitlam’s speech writer, Graham Freudenberg, invited me around for a drink in the Prime Minister’s office after stumps were drawn, and on at least one occasion we were joined by the journalist, Laurie Oakes.

Graham Freudenberg could approximate Gough’s cadences; and I could do an adequate Freudenberg imitation. It was not that we were bosom pals, but in the Parliament House environment, we got on well. Freudenberg enjoyed berating me for my political affiliation in his best Gough voice and I returned serve in my best imitation of him mimicking Gough.

However, among the jollities there were rules; one was to keep the discussions general and I would never go near Gough’s desk. On one of these occasions, Freudenberg left me alone. Nevertheless, the Leader of the Opposition’s Principal Private Secretary apparently alone in Gough’s office late at night was not a good look if Security came by.  In those days, it was more relaxed admittedly. Nevertheless, there were some sensitivities because in the previous year a journalist, Barry Everingham, had been found lurking in Whitlam’s office.

In my situation, Freudenberg was in the toilet; something had disagreed with him and he needed to hurriedly decamp there.

When I reflect on this exchange, I must have engendered enough trust that I could be invited for a drink in foreign territory. Even to this day, I have no idea whether Opposition apparatchiks were regularly invited to have a drink with Freudenberg under such circumstances, and although I did not talk about it with my colleagues, I doubt it was a regular occurrence.

In a Parliamentary system which is constructed as adversarial, there are many friendships which cross political borders. These friendships are ephemeral, but if you want to maintain even such ephemera, you needed to be trusted.  Leaking the other’s confidential material is a sport. There appear to be two major ways to leak – one is to leak to inherently lazy journalists, a process which Bjelke Petersen called “feeding the chooks”; the other is to leak against members of your own side, mostly to try and destroy them.

I had one experience of being accused of leaking to Laurie Oakes the contents of a sensitive meeting between Bill Snedden, Jim Carlton, then the general secretary of the NSW branch of the Liberal Party, and then Premier of the NSW, Bob Askin. I was taken to lunch – I remember by Tim Pascoe, then a Liberal Party operative – and he passed on Jim Carlton’s concern that I had leaked the details to Laurie Oakes. Why? Because I was seen as close to Oakes at that time. I did not know what he was talking about, as Snedden had not mentioned the matter to me. When I confronted Oakes, he admitted it was Askin. Carlton would not have believed that such a luminary as Askin would leak – after all, he was the Premier. It was just one accusation used in undermining my position. I informed Snedden of my conversation but otherwise kept quiet. Now, so many years on, who cares about revealing the leaker – but remember the lesson, never pick the obvious.

Many of those who leak are very skilled, but not all! Morrison has more than a touch of McMahon, but more a watering can than a simple leaker.

Remembering Albright

Madeleine Albright died last week. She was the first woman US Secretary of State. I reckon she was worthy of noting. I don’t know whether her contribution to diplomacy will necessarily be more than a historical footnote, but she epitomised one thing to me – when you viewed her performance, you never thought about gender. She was a top diplomat, full stop.

She was born a Czech and as a Slav was looked down on as an inferior race by the Germans, who partitioned her country in 1938. Her early years were thus against the background of a War not far away. Her family escaped from Czechoslovakia after the War. I was once married to someone, younger than Albright but who endured similar traumatic childhood years in Europe. She grew up with a strong sense of morality – what was right or wrong, rather than just whether something was acceptable and something not.  I suspect that Madeleine Albright was not that much different.

Below are random quotes mostly garnered from the Boston Globe.

When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked her in January 2007 whether she approved of Bush’s proposed “surge” in U.S. troops in bloodied Iraq, she responded: “I think we need a surge in diplomacy. We are viewed in the Middle East as a colonial power and our motives are suspect.”

Albright was an internationalist whose point of view was shaped in part by her background. Her family fled Czechoslovakia in 1939 as the Nazis took over their country, and she spent the war years in London.

As Secretary of State, she played a key role in persuading Clinton to go to war against the Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic over his treatment of Kosovar Albanians in 1999. “My mindset is Munich,” she said frequently, referring to the German city where the Western allies abandoned her homeland to the Nazis.

She helped win Senate ratification of NATO’s expansion and a treaty imposing international restrictions on chemical weapons. She led a successful fight to keep Egyptian diplomat Boutros Boutros-Ghali from a second term as secretary-general of the United Nations. He accused her of deception and posing as a friend.

In her U.N. post, she advocated a tough U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the case of Milosevic’s treatment of Bosnia. And she once exclaimed to Colin Powell, then the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” Powell, who died last year, recalled in a memoir that Albright’s comments almost made him have an “aneurysm”.

An aneurysm? Really, I have never thought of somebody inducing an aneurysm. An aneurysm of Generals? I would have thought more appropriate “an aneurysm of politicians”, you know, prone to leaking.

The Floods – The Clarence River

I am fascinated by the lack of national funding for flood mitigation works, but then the levers of power are firmly in the hands of the climate change deniers. Whether that changes if the current Government is defeated is not known, because of the intrinsic influence of the fossil fuel industry and the nostalgic attachment to coal that the Labor Party has, is strong. The Russo-Ukrainian War has provided the climate change deniers, albeit sceptics, with a reason to stick to the old fossil formulae.

Just for the record, there are three major river catchments broadly labelled the Northern Rivers, which lie between the Great Dividing Range and the Coral Sea. The Tweed near the Queensland border, the Richmond River tributary where Lismore is situated and the Clarence River Catchment, south of the Queensland border, the biggest catchment area apart from the Murray River. Apart from the Clarence River itself, it has 24 tributaries and creeks – including the substantial Nymboida and Mann Rivers.

Lismore floods

The ongoing Northern Rivers flooding has left us with images of devastation with particularly Lismore almost completely submerged by the Wilson River, a tributary of the Richmond River.

Yet Grafton on the Clarence River was barely affected. It was not that there was not the same huge volume of water, but Grafton has a 17 km long levee running through the city; the levee is 8.13 metres in height. The flood reached 7.66 metres, and therefore if there were any breaches, they could have been sandbagged relatively easily. Where there was flooding in Grafton it was just the direct amount of rainwater falling within the levee, and the pumps unable to remove it quickly enough. It was suggested to me that those living here are acutely aware of the town being prone to flooding, and the cost of pumps to prevent such limited flooding are prohibitively expensive. That is the key word to describe the level of risks that a community should bear for a particularly flood prone area.  In blunt terms, with the climate in flux should we encourage re-construction on water?

I was informed by a hydrologist that there is a finite capacity of clouds to hold rain, and if this was calculated out in terms of how high the levee level in Grafton should be, it would be 9.17 metres. Thus, Grafton is still not completely flood proof. Therefore, the question arises as to whether raising the height of the levee another metre is worth the expense.

By contrast, South Grafton mostly escaped flooding because it was built on a hill.

Lismore, Grafton and Maclean were originally built as ports when there was no other feasible way of getting produce in and out of the region. Ships could be loaded and unloaded and it was in the interest of the populace to keep the rivers dredged – but that did not stop floods occurring. The population was smaller and the memories of past floods were sufficiently fresh for the building floors to be kept as clear as possible.

In a previous blog I talked about the expertise the Dutch have developed in dealing with floods since the disastrous North Sea flood of 1953. I wondered whether we had ever tapped into such expertise. In response to this question, I was directed to the 2017 Report entitled: Flood Safety in the Clarence Valley Feasibility study into flood mitigation measures to make ‘Room for the River’”, prepared for the Clarence Valley Council.

In this study, six post-graduate students from Delft University of Technology (Delft TU), one of the top universities in the world across a wide range of technologies, were part of the collaboration. Part of the Dutch solution is to maximise the ability of the floodplain to absorb the excess water – hence the name “Room for the River”. It is not a universal panacea but minimising the number of trees, not to mention housing, on the flood plain does help in a flood where the detritus such as tree logs can cause immense destruction, especially if there are barrages across the river that may be vulnerable to fast flowing detritus ramming into them. Also, if there is a lot of such detritus, houses on stilts – the typical Queenslander – are not immune but also may be knocked over by the combined force of the water and uprooted vegetation.

The Report concluded by saying that the impact of flooding in urban areas of the Clarence Valley can be reduced by making use of the storage capacity of floodplains. Currently, no urban flooding occurs for the 5 year average recurrence interval (ARI) flood events. The urban flooding during a 20 year ARI flood event, can be mitigated by using only the storage capacity of the Southampton Floodplain.

To prevent urban areas from flooding during the 50 year ARI flood event (and higher order flood events), more extensive measures need to be taken. The combination of heightening the levees around Grafton and making use of the Southampton Floodplain, Baker’s Swamp and the Clarenza Floodplain should be investigated. Around Maclean, no scenarios were modelled but some upstream measures showed a reduction in the impact of flooding of Maclean as well.  

For the Swan Creek Floodgate, more research into the cause for the occurring stability problems is required. In order to maintain the floodgate’s function in the future, one could apply one of the proposed solutions. For the Maclean Levee Walls, piping problems are identified, which could lead to stability problems. This report shows the possibility of using floodplains as flood mitigation strategy in the Clarence Valley. Agricultural areas can be inundated in case of high discharges.

The most common strategy nowadays is increasing levee heights, which only solves the problem locally. By using the storage capacity of floodplains, one could solve flooding regionally as the storage of water influences downstream areas too. An example is the upstream measures taken near Grafton, which also reduce flooding in Maclean. However, to implement the strategy of creating more ‘Room for the River’, a shift in mitigation strategies is needed. This shift in mitigation strategy could be a long-term solution to reduce flood impact in urban areas in the Clarence Valley, and possibly other flooding-vulnerable areas in Australia.

Having said that the Report was open about its limitations in saying “The financial aspects have not been taken into account for any proposed simulation or solution in this chapter. For example, information on execution costs, material costs and project costs is unknown. If a budget-objective would have been taken into account for the multi-criteria analysis, possibly other scenarios would have been assessed in more detail. Due to the limit time of this study and lack of knowledge no financial assessment has been made.

The reason I concentrated on this Report was because of the Dutch contribution and how Grafton has been relatively unscathed, unlike Lismore. On reading another 2017 report on Lismore about the prospect of flooding, there seemed to be an attitude more of defiance rather than admitting a need to do anything radical, apart from saying that the town centre was historically placed right on the river, no longer important. There were many photographs of houses on stilts in this Report, which said that 13 metres was the height limit, as if to say, such housing provided immunity. Lismore, with its topography of hills and valleys, presents its own problems, but perhaps the solution is to move the whole city centre, especially as it becomes uninsurable.

For Governments with grand designs and recognising the Northern area catchments are combined into a crucially productive areas of the State, perhaps it is worthy of expenditure rather than the umpteenth sporting stadium or having an inland railway stretching from Boondoggle 1 to Boondoggle 2.

There have been many Reports. Given that climate change is altering the narrative to a need for urgent action, why is the whole area of flood mitigation not a prime expenditure item foreshadowed in the Federal Budget just handed down?

The Island Part II

The view of the Gut from Five Rivers Lookout

This follows on the first part of Bill’s Kimberley adventure from Kununurra and Wyndham to pick up a hire care including his introduction to the Wandjina and describes waiting for the car to be fixed; fittingly the intermission in the most northernmost town in Western Australia, the prime port for the export of livestock.

It was near dusk. They had reached the town. They had found the car and Bill confirmed quickly that it had two flat tyres.

At last, Bill had reached the opening paragraph of his travelogue. There was the vehicle…

They dropped him off at the garage. They’d said: “Why not wait until morning?” But Bill wanted the car fixed.  The guys in the workshops were still working on other vehicles but the boss looked Bill up and down and said “OK, we’ll fix the car. “

They’d seen the car — it had been there for days. And they had the requisite tyres in stock. Bill was somewhat surprised — they had the tyres, and they were prepared and come and change them. Bill was only to learn later that the Avis people had telephoned, and the garage was expecting him. They were only slightly grumpy with him turning up as late as he did, but they were not prepared to do anything until he arrived.

The other doctors had hovered and continued to press him to stay in the Port. Bill again refused. He wanted to get back — no reason except he had no gear with him; and he was a creature of habit. He wanted to wake up in in his motel bed with his own familiar comforts, including his particular non-allergic shaving cream.

The senior specialist’s manner had a slight edge as if he wanted to get to his motel. He had done enough for Bill.

A minor concession: “We’ll drop you off up at the hospital where you can get something to eat, someone will surely be able to drop you off back at the car.” — The garage owner said he would bring the car up to the hospital, because they’d also need to do a quick wheel alignment — and that would give him time to eat.

The hospital was on the edge of town. Once they had dropped him off, he went up the steps and found what passed for a doctor’s lounge.

He sat down and it was not long before a guy whom he recognised from his student days walked in. This doctor had been a few years behind him at medical school. Bill remembered this guy’s name was Graham. It’s funny that people who have a regard for one another, but haven’t seen one another for years can quickly pick up the threads of their intervening careers. Graham had come to the Port soon after his first year residency and liked the area. He offered a Bill a drink. Dinner had been early. There were biscuits and some cheese in the fridge — perhaps a very few pieces of fruit. Bill said no worries — he would eat when he got back to Town.

Graham himself opened a can of beer and sat at the edge of the lounge. He lived at the hospital. A few others moved into the room and went for the fridge. It was very low-key. They talked briefly to Graham about a patient; Graham said he would go and see him later.

Graham was a contemplative man. He seemed relaxed in his body, yet his face bore a serious gaze.

Graham sat quietly looking at Bill in the deepening shadows of the room, still sipping his beer. He worried that Bill would not eat, but Bill said he was more alert on an empty stomach — and he had only a little of his beer.

Graham said, “Watch the night. The cattle come out on the road when you least expect it.” Bill asked about kangaroos. Graham responded by saying, “Watch the cattle; they are complete bastards. Anyway, there are few kangaroos in this area. But the cattle just come out of nowhere. The first couple of kilometres are not too bad. But after the Intersection, the country is alive with the stupid bastards.”

At that point, the garage owner appeared. Everything was ok. As for the tyres that he’d replaced, he said: “Bald as buggery. Rat shit, both of them, but I put them in the boot for you.” Bill said thanks, and took the keys. He thanked Graham for the warning, put down his half empty can, said goodbye and walked down the steps to the car.

The hill behind the hospital had almost disappeared into the night. The town itself was now consumed in its shadows. The garage owner had left with the parting shot: “Hire cars dragged up from the Big Smoke — good for city driving, but shit here! Anyway, if you drive carefully, you should miss everything, as long as it doesn’t move. Thank God, there are no emus in this part of the world.” He departed with a faint laugh.

Bill on the move now. The moon cast a faint light — headlights full on, passing the derestriction sign, he was headed back to base. Still, he felt uncomfortable against the hard vinyl seat back. The white lines of the road streamed under the yellow stare of the car lights. No other light anywhere. The scenery had become amorphous; no longer the sweeping watercolour vistas which had absorbed him during the afternoon. Now he was concentrated on the road and the accompanying distance signs. (To be completed)

Rupert could not have said it better

Ketanji Brown Jackson

One of life’s inexplicable wonders is how Harvard can produce someone as grounded and poised and principled as Ketanji Brown Jackson and also someone as unmoored and annoying and unscrupulous as Ted Cruz.

Jackson’s confirmation hearing start to finish is proved a marathon of high drama and low farce.

Just a comment in the Washington Post, saying it all about the puerile performances led by the Number One Disliked Senator, “the Saurian Cruz Slip”, at the confirmation of Justice Jackson to the Supreme Court.

Mouse Whisper

Invasion of Poland (1939)
Casualties and losses
Germany: 16,343 killed, 3,500 missing, 30,300 wounded Slovakia: 37 killed, 11 missing, 114 wounded USSR: 1,475 killed or missing, 2,383 wounded Poland: 66,000 dead, 133,700 wounded, 694,000 captured

As this blog mentioned some time ago, this campaign lasted 38 days. The Russo-Ukranian War reaches this day on April 3. A month has passed, as the media has noted, but a month is a short time when February is factored into any comparison. Above are figures from Google but even if there may be certain caveats, it is a not bad estimate. At that time, Poland had a population of 35 million; then over 5 million were killed in World War II, including 90 per cent of the Jewish population.

Looking at the above figures, with it coming in late to share the spoils, Russia should not have the emblem of Bear, but more Hyaena.

Final Question

Is Mariupol the Russian’s equivalent of the German’s Stalingrad?

Before the Russo-Ukrainian war, Mariupol’s population was 446,103

Before World War II, Stalingrad’s population was 445,476.

Modest Expectations – John 1

Public health experts and academics — who have the luxury of not having to ever be elected, and who don’t need to care about the consequences of a prolonged economic crisis — have been demanding Italy-style quarantining from the get-go. The pressure to shut schools from media commentators and worried parents has been enormous.

A quote from Crikey, and yet … I have just added a footnote, which seems to fly in the face of the above. However, it is about time the highly paid individuals in the public health community takes responsibility and stand up to the politicians.

It’s late Saturday afternoon on 21st March and I am angry – very angry. Why was that cruise ship, Ruby Princess, owned by one of Trump’s mates, allowed to dock in Sydney and the passengers hurried off without being quarantined?

Ruby Princess

I would have asked that question at the Hazzard press conference if I had been there on Saturday, except for him coughing all over the place. Nobody asked that question. The media present did not. So Saturday’s spectacle was of NSW having at least 48 people off the boat infected with coronavirus roaming the community as the signature for the NSW health system. “Self-isolation” – what a joke if there is nobody to enforce it. Who at the media conference was the journalist who asked about that action of the Health Minister coughing and infecting NSW wantonly?

Kerry Chant, I remember you as a promising young public health physician. What were you thinking letting this occur? It flies in the face of all public health logic.

I know your Minister is well named, but Dr Sheppeard, who was at the press conference deputising for you, should have told the Minister to step away the requisite number of metres and “do unto himself as he would do unto others” what he had been spruiking. Did anyone do that? Did the Minister use hand sanitiser after he coughed into his hand? What measures were taken to shield those there from this hazardous coughing fit? Dr Sheppeard, Director of Communicable Diseases, was there to ensure that the Minister did conform…not!

Border measures in place whether by ship or plane were non-existent as the Minister blustered.

Watch the curve rise, Dr Chant, and weep for the contribution of the spread that the lack of border surveillance under your watch. You have been in the job for 12 years – too long – time for you to go, Dr Chant. After all, you have had a long time to develop a plan that would have avoided the current border chaos.

But before you go, Dr Chant, the reason for these ships dumping the passengers and repatriating most of the crew? It has been speculated President Trump wants to reveal that he has commissioned a number of these cruise ships to be used as hospital ships to lie off the US Coast – and guess what he will be using? But then, Dr Chant, you may have passed it off as only a rumour. If you read the American media, it is no longer a rumour.

And of course, there are the other four cruise ships allowed to berth. They should have been stopped from berthing. If a modicum of time had been spent in doing so, I presume that was your role.

The NSW Premier announced on Tuesday morning that 149 new cases turned up in NSW overnight, but failed to credit the decision on how many resulted from the failure of border control – and of course there are the other States to be unimpressed.

Overall as reported there are at least 133 cases from the Ruby Princess with three known deaths – the number of cases is still rising. Did I hear the Minister for Health asking whether someone would pass him the Sherry? Or was I just hearing things?

And, by the way, the collection of people on Bondi beach, which occurred at the same time as the cruise ships were berthing, and received condemnation. Is it about time that if COVID-19 was being spread through that congregation it should be manifesting itself? We know those testing positive in the cruise ship but what are the positive results from those who were on Bondi Beach that day?

As an important afterthought, could all States inform us daily not only of the number of positive cases and the number of deaths, but also the number who are in hospital and of those, the number who are in intensive care, together with the number of people who have already recovered. We need to stop the dazzling modelling and deal with reality on a daily basis.

I vicoli vuoti

The quote:

The neutron bomb is a nuclear weapon that maximizes damage to people but minimizes damage to buildings and equipment. It is also called an enhanced radiation warhead. The neutron bomb is a specialized thermonuclear weapon that produces a minimal blast but releases large amounts of lethal radiation, which can penetrate armour or several feet of earth.

Nothing like what the coronavirus has done to the streets of Italy. Barely a piece of paper floats along the lanes of the closely packed cities and towns, most unchanged since the Renaissance or before.

The neutron bomb, the development of which commenced in 1958 as a by-product of the atomic bomb, was eventually abandoned as too dangerous. Even though it protected the architecture, the radiation effects were lethal on the population. There were debates around cities being devoid of population – literally dead cities. It was a consequence that the then leaders could not tolerate. The image of beautiful sights where no-one walked was just too terrible to contemplate. The Duomi, their massive doors open, but nobody came.

But the Virus did.

Memories of Poliomyelitis

There was a polio epidemic each side of WW2 in Australia. I remember one; and my cousin who is 94 remembers the other, when she was in her first year of high school. My mother-in-law, who is the same age would today have been at high school but in those days my country cousin was the exception. Girls left at the end of primary school to work on the farm. It was the Depression, and to her family my mother-in-law was unpaid labour.

However, it was the 1937-1938 polio epidemic and in a way closure of schools in the country was somewhat academic. They both remembered the permit system. Everybody travelling from Victoria to NSW needed a permit because there were more cases of polio in Victoria than NSW. In fact, Victoria was seen to be the “villain” of the epidemic. Tasmania had restrictions on travel but that did not prevent the epidemic invading the island.

As one extensive thesis by Anne Killalea on this Tasmanian epidemic written some years ago concluded;

The greatest poliomyelitis epidemic of all time has left its mark on survivors, however well they have accepted their disabilities and built successful lives. Its mark also shows on those who themselves escaped the scourge, but lost beloved family members, or patients, or school pupils. Volunteers unceremoniously dismissed when no longer required also feel the hurt to this day. Many, if not most – patients, professionals and volunteers alike – expressed surprise to think that anyone after so long would be interested in their story.

As their story is so much part of what Tasmania is today, no one should forget.

They were prophetic words, and they did not only apply to Tasmania. A generation passes, and another polio epidemic was upon Australia.

My and my friend’s memory of the 1949-50 epidemic was of school closures. Our preparatory school was not closed; but there was a death of a young boy in our companion preparatory school. However, I did remember we didn’t play inter-school sport. Swimming pools were closed. My friend’s preparatory school was closed down for a period because one teacher’s son developed poliomyelitis, one of 760 reported in Victoria that first year. We were sent home straight after school, no chartered school buses in those days. The poliovirus is a gastrointestinal virus and for me, a boy living in an unsewered area where the nightman cometh, and where travel from school was on public transport entailing two trains and a tram, it was not exactly social quarantining.

However, I remember no panic; I remember children of my age with those unwieldy leg irons; thirdly I remember that we were told not to eat ice cream – and being an obedient child, I did not eat more than one ice cream a day – there were the penny and three penny cones. I always dismissed the penny cones.

Obviously, I was too young to follow the vaccine debates, but when the liberating vaccines came – first the injectable Salk and then Sabin in a spoon. In a few years polio became rarer and rarer. Even then there were the anti-vaxxers who refused their children the vaccine, often with calamitous consequences.

The epidemic provided the physiotherapy profession with a great boost, and I well remember the physiotherapy team at Fairfield Hospital in Melbourne concentrating on the rehabilitation of the chronic cases.   By the mid-1970s the number of chronic cases had declined to such extent that the physiotherapists were re-deployed into the early childhood development community health program.

However, remember, polio was a disease that disproportionately struck the young, and while there were closures, there was a different mindset in Australia then. When faced in Australia with an incurable disease caused by this virus, one epidemic in Australia during the Great Depression; the second just out from a horrendous wartime.

I am not sure now whether the stoical survival of that virus said something about resilience or resignation that it was just God’s Will.

However, schools were not closed, unlike during the 1918-1919 flu epidemic when the death rate among school age children was low compared to the older age groups – as far as I can estimate 3 per million – but then school attendance was far different from today.

I listened to one of the younger medical brigade expressed in public that “those of us had not experienced anything like that”. Not quite right, Dr Kidd.

Letter from Sweden

A Swedish medical friend sent me this data from Stockholm as of 24 March. Currently Swedish deaths from COVID-19 are 2 per million. It is calculated that Sweden is 15 days behind Italy, where there are 91 deaths per million. Nevertheless, it is a very big gap, and appeared similar to the situation in Australia. However, a subsequent communication indicates that the deaths there may have moved up to 4 per million – a little more than one per day.

The restrictions in place in Sweden include gatherings of 500 or more being forbidden, voluntary quarantine and an intense propaganda campaign to wash hands; and not to go to work if any – and they mean any – symptoms are present. Sounds familiar, and apparently as my friend described it, “a cosy après-ski party” had a significant role in spreading the virus.

Nevertheless, the Swedish government is pushing ahead with increasing the number of intensive beds, and using military hospital beds. The problem is that we are monitoring Italy with a ferocious thanatopsis; but from a more relevant public health point of view, maybe monitoring Sweden would make far better sense for Australia.

As directly reported in (and translated from) the local Swedish media:

A total of 2,016 people have been reported infected with covid-19 in Sweden (20 cases per 100,000 inhabitants), 54% of the reported cases being men. The cases are available at all ages (median 52). Half the cases notified so far has been infected abroad, but of the cases reported last week, the majority have been infected in Sweden

Some of the victims in Sweden have been infected by people, who have fallen ill after traveling abroad. Nationally, 25 of the cases have died.

In total, 80 intensive care patients with laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 have been listed in the Swedish Intensive Care Register’s special reporting module SIRI. The median age is 64 years (26-84 years).

Back to the Past

It is interesting to see how society copes with a catastrophe. My maternal great grandfather, a prudent and wealthy wood merchant, had his money in the Bank of NSW during the Depression of the 1890s, which was entwined with a major drought. He was cashed up, and survived.

On the other hand my paternal grandparents lost a substantial property when they were foreclosed in the 1920s. It was a financial disaster for the family as the property, “Oswego”, later became the Waverley Golf course, nearly 100 acres on the country fringe and long since subsumed by housing and light industry. These case histories were repeatedly drummed into me as a boy, so that I am a person who always wants to be debt free and I cannot stand having no cash.

We all have our foibles and for me, no less than any other. However, the world in which I grew up after WW2 was far different from today. Australia had managed to avoid being massively indebted because of the use of the taxation power, which the Federal Government assumed from the States and never gave back. Government bonds were sold locally and industrialisation, commenced seriously in the late 1930s including defence industries, occurred behind high tariff walls. The backbone for our prosperity was our primary industries – living off the sheep’s back, but not completely.

Barker Station Melbourne

However, there was a great deal of stress, there was rationing and with rationing comes profiteering. There are always good stories. During the war my Aunt Chattie, who lived in the country would send eggs, cream and butter to her daughters in Melbourne. She used to put the parcel on the train at Beaufort; the parcel was addressed to the stationmaster at Barker station, with instructions that my cousins would pick it up.

However those were frugal times – cash or cheque, which had to be signed in ink, only. The nearest one got to a credit card was to put it “on the tick”; but I was always bought up to pay.

Now we have a community loaded with debt, and the economy is shot to pieces. There have been multiple responses from government to COVID-19, each time increasing the pain – but it is confined to the ordinary people; there is no application to the elite.

All the over-paid need to do is to take a pay and perks cut –from the Prime Minister downwards, all those with inflated salaries and perks, including the inflated retirement packages – they should be reduced. All have been built up by sophistry to justify patronage, greed and corruption.

Superfluous political staff need to be pared back; lobbyists put on the same list as the beauticians. Given that the Parliament has voted the current Government a great deal of money, with its culture of handing it out to its mates, then it is all the more reason for Parliament and Government offices to cleanse themselves of rent-seeking vermin and put an end to rampant mercantilism which has been underpinned by our woeful taxation system.

It is thus a good time for levelling out the income scales – those who have been on the government mammae need to be forced to stop milking the system. Once the community went into debt to ape the lavish lifestyle of the seductive lifestyle magazines. Now this social tear in the societal framework with its long lines of inequality may change the attitude to one of disgust at the pampered life of an elite reinforced by these same lifestyle magazines. In the end the fuel is being accumulated for community uprising, especially when there are a large cohort in the community who face death, suicide being an obvious option, rather than from a virus, which seems to act like the common cold. That situation may change if the population is unable to maintain itself with a consequent weakening of the immune system.

However, this virus is wily and in each country is revealing the vulnerabilities of the health systems. America is reaching its moment of truth as already Italy and Spain have.

It is all very well for insulated politicians to tell us all to stay inside our houses, but as The Economist said this week “Suppression strategies may work for a while, but there needs to be an exit strategy…if the governments impose huge social and economic costs and the virus cuts a swathe through the population a little later…there will be hell to pay.”

Especially as there is a clown who perpetuates the distrust in politicians by lying about the reason the MyGov website fell over – a blatant lie. Does the Federal Government do anything about him? No, nothing. And his apology? An adolescent “My bad”.

Dangerous, even revolutionary times. Australia now has the population to sustain a popular uprising.

At present the Government’s solution appears to be to set up a “distinguished group” to advise, with the Messrs Gaetjens and Pezzullo as the bureaucratic conduits. Inspire anybody?

Hairdressers  

Janine Sargeant Highlights

Amid the rubble of businesses closed this week, hairdressing is still surviving as an essential service, but with strict adherence to “social distancing” and hygiene together with a curious debate about whether a haircut can be achieved in less than 30 minutes.

Some hairdressers, like mine in the Sydney suburb of Rozelle, had already instigated special hygiene measures, like handwashing on entry (here’s the basin, we’ll sing along for the 20 seconds), regular cleaning of all chairs and surfaces and the card reader, maintaining “social distance” and close attention to staff health with regular checks – they all have families. But what about this 30 minutes rule?

In 30 minutes I can still get a hair cut, but the foils are foiled for the foreseeable future and you can easily skip the blow dry and the colour for the present time. But tell me, Dr Murphy, what is the evidence for 30 minutes, or was it initially done with a roulette wheel.   And then, just a day or so later, all time restrictions off – not that you could have policed it anyway.

I did have my hair cut this week and I dreamed of that past time when one could find out easily how many people had tested positive and had subsequently recovered (that’s the problem of public health training, always thinking of the denominator). Increasingly it seems the community is now not allowed to have a complete overview. Just try to find out how many people have been hospitalised. There are some data – very little – on the number of patients in ICU, but difficult to find out. Dr Murphy, so why are you hiding this data? We are really not wanting to see any more of the horror photos from Italy. Are they really relevant to Australia?

But back to that 30 minutes, that became 90 minutes or whatever … and I’m still wondering what is going on in hairdressing.   Listening to the very loud calls for all hairdressing to be closed down immediately it becomes clear where the friction is – if Government closes down hairdressing then the salons don’t have to pay out the staff they stand down – Mr Just Cuts didn’t say this, but that was the underlying argument; it was made very clear on Sydney radio on Wednesday. Economics underpins everything, but it still doesn’t explain why hairdressing received special attention in the first place.

And one more brief lowlight before the mouse takes the stage … it was reported this week that a man in Italy contracted COVID-19; his wife and daughter caught the virus from him. But in two degrees of separation, 70 – yes that’s 70 – relatives caught the virus from those three at a family funeral. The normal disease pyramid pales into insignificance in the face of this sort of transmission.

Mouse whisper

From The Washington Post (murine edition)

It could only happen in America under that old Fox, Trump?

As of six days ago, my wife called up her former co-worker, one who dwells in Fox news so much that she has to rush home for certain Fox shows.  She was still intending to drive from San Jose to Seattle in order to visit her son and daughter-in-law.  They planned to stop and stay at gambling casinos along the way.  I betcha they had to change the plan.

The point here is that in the Fox news bubble, an awareness of the situation had not sunk in.

California Hotel Casino

Modest expectations – “JH” Taylor 326

Did you pause on the 11th hour of the 11th day of November to remember?

If you did not, perhaps a line or two from Wilfrid Owen:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, —

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

 

What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. 

We have not learnt have we; just forgotten?

Another Homage

The following is an unabridged reprint in part of a NYT article. I don’t normally do this but the story is so telling:

T.J. Abraham is a block of a man with a tree-trunk neck and a lantern jaw. He played football at a top Catholic high school outside Pittsburgh and then travelled downtown to Duquesne University, where he played another three years.

He was an offensive lineman back then, and he gloried in the fraternity of hit and get hit, joyfully clanking helmets. Sometimes he saw stars, sometimes he puked and so what? Get back up and get back in. “I probably got my bell rung 70 times,” he said Sunday with a crooked smile.

He always knew he would get on with life. He was a top student, and in time he became an obstetrics & gynaecology doctor, delivering so many babies, maybe 3,000, a gregarious guy who remembered birthdays and who could make a nervous expectant mother grin. He had a beautiful home and a wife and a young daughter and a teenage son. He was a son of western Pennsylvania and life was grand.

He shakes his head: Until it wasn’t.

It was about seven years ago that the now 42-year-old Abraham said he began to notice his temper flaring without reason. His memory and judgement became flickering lamps. In a panic, he began a medical trek that ended with an inconceivable diagnosis: neurodegenerative dementia.

 When I was about the same age, I had a serious car accident, which involved a wet night, my car aquaplaning on a country road, sliding up a muddy path and hitting a pole and bouncing into a dairy, as I was afterwards told. The car subsequently burst into flames, but somehow I was able to release the seat belt and scramble out of the car. I do remember standing, laughing uproariously while the sound of the oncoming ambulance was ringing in my ears. Then everything went blank until I woke up in the operating theatre.

In relation to my head, I had a severe enough head injury without internal bleeding. However, the space between the skull bone and covering galeal aponeurosis was spongy with fluid, presumably blood although to my knowledge it was never tapped. In other words, decelerating from 100 kms per hour to zero in less than a second caused a significant head injury. In my youth I had sustained head knocks playing sport, you could not avoid it if you boxed, as I did throughout school.

However, as Dr Abraham had said, having repeated head on collisions at about 50 kilometre per hour cannot be good for the brain irrespective of whether you have a helmet or not (galea as the Romans would call it). Being medical practitioners, he and I are acutely aware of changes in our mental ability; that is until we have lost the ability to be aware.

After the accident when my various injuries had healed, I made the decision without any consultation with anybody to return to work. Needless to say it was premature; I was tolerated but many later said that I was weirder then usual and obviously I had not recovered. However, unlike Dr Abraham I was on an upward spiral and at least among my peers returned to an acceptable “normal”.

I respect him greatly for admitting to his downward spiral. I hope it is arrested. I keep looking for evidence of the mental consequences of my accident; I have the evidence of the physical legacy from the accident, but my blog is my sentinel of mental decay.

However, with these equally old men vying for public office in the United States, do they get their mental abilities tested regularly? To what extent do these old men have the honesty portrayed by Dr Abraham? If Trump’s twitters are his substitute for a blog, then the content would worry me if I was an American voter – especially if one has been unfortunate enough to be able to trace the course of fronto-temporal dementia in others as I have.

If in fact we are to countenance age in itself as not being a bar to election, it does not help on the other hand when others blinded by the allure of power are not prepared to face the fact that mental deterioration may be occurring in one of its own grandees.

Thank you, Dr Abraham for being my inspiration. I wish you all the best, and that you somehow will be able to slow the process.

Justin Trudeau lives

Justin Trudeau in a season of seeming conservative supremacy retained power in Canada in the October election, albeit with a minority government. This time, he was delayed in announcing his cabinet until 20 November. He has taken a collective deep breath. After all, he lost every riding in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Meanwhile back at the hand-wringing barn, as reported:

It’s true that the caucus was unified behind the idea that the party’s membership, not its elected members, should hold the leader to account. But that was where consensus ended. The meeting didn’t last seven hours because MPs were lauding the leader and his team.

Always the sign that the Conservative party leader, in this case Andrew Scheer, the member for Regina Qu’Appelle in Saskatchewan, is under extreme threat. The report goes on: 

There are very real concerns among MPs from Ontario in particular, that the party will be reduced to a rump in Canada’s largest province, if major changes are not introduced…

The loss of Milton, an Ontario riding formerly held by Lisa Raitt (Deputy Opposition Leader), is seen as a harbinger by (Conservative) MPs with commuter belt constituencies who have seen their vote share dip in successive elections since 2011.

It seems that the situation is the reverse of Australia. Here the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has released a review which, despite the verbiage, seems to be an exercise of exorcising itself of Bill Shorten. The Conservatives have not yet done that in Canada.

Queensland is to Labor as Alberta and Saskatchewan are to Trudeau. At least the ALP has seats in Queensland; Trudeau does not have a riding in either of those two provinces – no seats out of 48.

Trudeau also lost out to the Bloc Québécois in Quebec. Added to his woes, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Minister who resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet in protest against what she believed to be a cover-up engineered by Trudeau, retained her seat in Vancouver. She is a formidable native Canadian woman lawyer, with a very strong public profile.

Trudeau thus did not get it all his own way, and he literally also got a few black marks during his campaign. However despite all, his party ended up with the most seats, and he knows that the New Democratic Party (24 seats) and the Greens (possibly 4) will support him on most issues – enough for a comfortable working majority. Both these Parties have strong climate change agendas.

On the other hand the far-right party, the agenda of which would certainly have been attractive to some in the current Australian Liberal party, fared appallingly, even though the leader had held a seat in the previous Parliament, which he lost in 2019.

What is interesting is the comment about the loss of the suburban commuter vote, which is the product of a more educated electorate and which presumably will not lessen. Given there is evidence of that same shift in voting patterns occurring in the Trumpian America, this is an interesting development that the ALP should examine. For instance, the only two seats that showed a swing towards the ALP in Queensland, which virtually guaranteed Morrison’s victory, were in Brisbane and Ryan, affluent Liberal Party urban strongholds, presumably the equivalent of the “commuter vote.”

The Canadian electoral system is far different from Australia; it is non-compulsory and first past the post, traditionally thought to favour the conservative vote – but I wonder whether that would still hold true. The Canadian Senate is a far different construct from the one here in Australia. In addition, the provinces do not have the powers of the Australian States. And of course, Canada is bilingual with a strong French influence, not only in Quebec but also in parts of Ontario and the Maritime provinces.

If I were Albanese I would at least being saying “hello” to Trudeau. How Trudeau is selecting his Cabinet, due to be released on 20 November, as I noted above, would be a good topic to break the ice – which will soon be forming on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. Come skating with me, dear Albo. 

The Expert Prophesises

I found a scrap of paper, which had drifted across my desk. Dated 26 October 2016 it was written for The Australian by Robert Gottliebsen.

It starts with a definite conclusion: “Barring some totally unforeseen event, Hilary Clinton will be the 45th President of the United States.”

Then it analyses some of her policies, which if successful “may lead her to be re-elected for a second time”. How far has the world drifted from this Gottliebsen opinion piece, some may then say.

Therefore why bother reading on. As for the journalist he has to write another piece. He may hope that 13-day lag period between the 26 October piece being published and Trump’s election will be enough time for his readership to forget. He has no time to contemplate whether there was a sliver of usefulness when his first sentence is such an almighty gaffe. He probably hopes his readership would forget it.

Yet three years on it is worth reading. Gottliebsen suggests that Clinton would have concentrated on making small business work, because that is where she saw job creation – not in big business, which should be taxed more. Her policies were directed to more prompt payment by government to assure cash flow and to make to easier to operate, unlike Australia’s “bizarre anti-small business public servants (who) go out of their way to prevent small enterprises starting by blocking them getting an ABN”.

In enhancing her agenda, Gottliebsen suggested that small business would have gained a share of what he describes as “an infrastructure bonanza”. This involvement of small business provided Gottliebsen with the opportunity to state that the “Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to recognise modern-day ‘cartels’ excluding efficient small enterprises are run by unions in collaboration with their big company mates who, in turn, pay unions big sums for favourable treatment.”

The stimulus to small business by Clinton was designed to lift the minimum wage and pay other ancillary benefits, particularly health benefits – and also increase the workforce by immigration given the pool of refugees in which to dip.

What rings so true are these comments made at a time when Turnbull was resisting the Banking Royal Commission and before bodgie building construction, with widespread flammable cladding, was revealed.

It is not that those – let us not say top of town – just say those who congregate in the spring racing carnival marquees are solely to blame, but Gottliebsen was harsh about Australian business conditions, describing the alliance of big business and the unions as “blatant job-destroying corruption”.

If this is so, then what are politicians doing mingling with this mob, and moreover taking plush jobs on retirement from the same mob when the hurdy-gurdy stops playing? You rarely see these ex-politicians wandering along the streets of their erstwhile electorates asking what they can do for these people who may run small businesses, now these ‘exes’ have time on their hands and a large pension in their bank accounts. After all, small business was always good for a photo-opportunity in the electoral cycle when the politician wanted their vote.

Now what do you call a collection of lobbyists? Perhaps a trough.

Just because the prophecy was wrong does not mean the points being made by Robert Gottliebsen an age ago are not worth a little contemplation.

In fact, Thomas Phillipon, in a recently published book confirms a great deal of what Gottliebsen foresaw – at least in America. Domination by Amazon, Apple and Microsoft; fewer airlines; consolidation of hospital and pharmacy chains – all big business conglomerates at the expense of small business. And without appropriate legislation, the conglomerates swiftly become cartels -and Australia has many examples of this.

The Citation

Nicholas Talley is a man of many parts. He was the first person I came across designated “laureate professor”. I had known about the “poet laureate” and the “Nobel laureate” designations, all derived from the ancient tradition of placing a laurel/bay leaf garland on the deserving skull. But a laureate professor, what a vision!

Universities are good at diving into the Latin dictionary and coming up with flash words like “emeritus” for those who have retired and are off the payrolls. However, the emergence of retiring women academics has meant an increasing number of “emerita”, and those of us sub salis are known as “alumnus” or “alumna” – a mixed collection of whom traditionally would take the male plural “alumni”. A neuter variety would be known as an “alumnum” but the neuter plural “alumna” could be confused with the female singular.

Now universities are bestowing “laureate’’ on their deserving staff.

In any event should, in terms of consistency, these people of high office be called “laureatus” and “laureata”?

Added to the complexity is that “trees” in Latin are generally of the second declension, where most of the words are masculine, but trees although with male suffixes have the feminine gender.

And of course we come to the word bacca – which is attached to laureate also. Everybody knows presumably that they are graduating as a “laurel berry”.

The problem is that “laureate” is getting a bit common – how about Trabea professors – no worry about gender here.

Thus, hail Laureate Professor Nicholas Talley for introducing me to this topic – especially given his expertise in citations, he would know what a Trabea is. 

Mouse Whisper 

Wikipedia summarised it as well as anybody – up to a point:

The 1894 Open Championship was the 34th Open Championship, held 11–12 June at Royal St George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, England. J.H. Taylor won the Championship by five strokes from runner-up Douglas Rolland. This was the first Open Championship held outside Scotland.

 This was the first of five championships spread over three decades that Turner won, and in line with this blog number this first was the 34th Open. His 72-round total of 326 was the highest ever recorded to win the Open – and by five strokes!

By contrast on the same course in 1993, Greg Norman won with the lowest-ever score at that time of 267, since bettered by Hendrik Stenson with a 264 at Royal Troon in 2016.

There weren’t many horseless carriages around in 1894 either, but plenty of mashies, brassies and cleeks.

Modest Expectations – Thaddeus Stevens

Shirley Shackleton is one of those inconvenient people whom governments just wish would go away – in her case she is a reminder of a government without compassion complicit to murder if not genocide. At the Balibo Fort Hotel, there were two books for sale – hers written a decade ago – and a volume of Xanana Gusmao’s speeches.

There were three copies of the Shackleton book – “The Circle of Silence”. One at the top had been multiply caressed. So we bought the one on the bottom, which seemed the least ravaged – the cost was immaterial. It was Balibo.

Shirley Shackleton will be 90 next year and unless there is somebody to take up her crusade, when inevitably she shuffles off the mortal coil, her inconvenient noise will cease. There is a son, a lawyer, a magistrate living in Perth. Maybe he will take up the crusade.

However as the personalities fade, it does not dim the enormity of what we have done as a nation to the Timorese – turned our collective head away. Yes, there have been other journalists, notably Peter Greste, imprisoned by authoritarian regimes, but he survives and to the best of my knowledge the Australian government was not complicit in his imprisonment.

The building in Balibo where the Balibo 5 were executed (Photo Sue Morey)

There is still the case of the bugging of the Timor-Leste government and this ongoing Orwellian campaign to eliminate whistle-blowers with the Press caught like the Balibo 5 in the cross-hairs of governmental suppression.

When I was President of the Students Representative Council at the University of Melbourne, ASIO came calling – that friendly invitation to come and join the party. I never crossed that threshold. It is another story. But I am sure I was not on my Pat then … and recruitment patterns now?

The only thing I can say is that presumably the same personality types are still being recruited as in my day, but now with many more toys; truly terrifying. As for me, I never looked good in a gabardine raincoat.

Balibo sunset (Photo Sue Morey)

Anti-Vaxer – Prosecute for Genocide

When I was born, it was dangerous to be a child. There were few defences against the ravages of infectious diseases. There was no penicillin. The only immunisation apart from small pox available as a young child was against diphtheria. Nobody in the wilds of anti-vaxer propaganda would ever had heard of or seen diphtheria – a paediatrician friend of mine has seen it once – it was a huge killer of children before the introduction of a vaccine. In the decade up to 1935, over 4,000 children died of the disease; mass immunisation had commenced in 1932. Between 1996 and 2005 there were no deaths, but three have been recorded since that time.

The vaccine was later combined into triple antigen, targeting whooping cough and tetanus as well.

I am an age as are my sons that we all had measles, chickenpox and mumps as children – and we were all very sick. However it was the late Gay Davidson, whose younger daughter developed a rare late complication of measles infection who brought into public view the importance of the vaccination against measles in particular. The brain goes to mush, and the beautiful vivacious child becomes a vegetable over time before dying – a horrible death. Gay Davidson was an important face in advocating immunisation against measles and in the late 1990s the immunisation rates rose in Australia, the Australian government then being a very strong proponent.

Finally, there was poliomyelitis. There was no vaccine when I was a child. I went through an epidemic when contact between schools was banned. Ice cream was banned. Children died and those who survived the disease were added to the wards of crippled children in every city of Australia; children in iron lungs; children with heavy calipers; children with all stages of disability. I was immunised first with Salk and then given Sabin. Poliomyelitis had nearly been eliminated before the antivax barbarians in their various guises have come calling.

The problem is that the community’s level of immunisation is a measure of civilisation. As the antivaxers – the health barbarians with their poisonous message – raise the level of uncertainty in the community, so will go civilisation as we know it. It is paradoxical that in a world where the diversity of safe vaccines is expanding, in so many places the level of immunisation is falling because of the uncertainty promoted by antivaxers.

I have detailed five diseases where the burden of disease has fallen dramatically because of immunisation. There were many other diseases that have yielded to vaccines. Some I faced growing up. As medical students we vaccinated one another against smallpox. This disease has been eliminated from the face of the earth. When I first went overseas, together with my passport I also had a yellow booklet showing that I had been vaccinated against smallpox and immunised against typhoid, cholera and later yellow fever.

This country has had a brilliant immunisation program since the 1990s and much of the early success of this program can be attributed to Michael Wooldridge, the then Minister for Health, as well as the indomitable Gay Davidson. Nobody has written her story. However, the program and the strategy is clearly and crisply stated up to 2024.

Yet I cannot remember it mentioned once in the recent election campaign as a signature of success.

However, in Australia the government is fixated on keeping our borders intact by keeping a few poor refugees out rather than drawing attention to the ongoing successful national immunisation plan.

The charlatan, former doctor Andrew Wakefield and his girlfriend, Elle MacPherson from their lodging in Austin Texas are demonstrating how destructive systematic antivax propaganda can be. If a government becomes timid in the face of community agitation as it has done on fluoridation, then this country should watch out, especially if these antivaxers start infiltrating the political grass roots.

I have lived in this other universe when there are few antivaxers –yes it was a universe where there was an antivax element who believed if you were vaccinated with cow pox you would grow horns, but why were there so few antivaxers? Vaccines apart from smallpox were new. Since there were no evidence-based preventative measures, the populace just accepted that it was God’s will that children should die a myriad of deaths from these diseases.

Today, in that universe antivaxers would be in their element, no vaccines – just watching children die. But of course according to the antivaxers, saving the children from autism. Today it would be what I would say is not God’s will but Genocide.

To Cook a Roo – Part 111

Charlie diversifies

Pintubi are practical. They cooked all creatures in their skin. The fat content of Australian native animals is too low for cooking on a spit. That would create a hard dry gristle and there were neither cooking containers to stew meat, nor any salt available. Furthermore getting about near naked makes retaining animal hides unnecessary.

As no salt or other flavouring was used in traditional Pintubi cooking, this was literally life lived in the raw in what they laughingly if not longingly called “before trouser time”.

Cooking in the skin must happen right away and before the blood congeals so no road kill gone stiff! Not once in six years eating the cooked-in-skin earth oven food did I crunch on any stones!  

The niftiest cooking trick I saw was that used for the delicious rumiya (sand goanna) a white meat that tastes much like chicken. Averaging about 40cm long they are abundant and easiest to catch in spring when they start new burrows in the sandy earth. They live mainly on ants and insects having neither the ghastly infectious bite of the large carrion eating goannas nor a gamey smell. By pushing the hind legs hard into the abdomen the contents of the sand goanna’s gut are forcefully excreted so they don’t need to be cut open. To cook, the skin is scorched to remove the outer layer, which would otherwise ruin the flavour, before it is placed under the ashes for about 10 minutes. The meat is mostly in the tail and there’s some fat attached to the skin and at the loins. The 10ml steel bore pump rod I always had was sought after by the goanna hunters who used it to probe sand goanna tunnels so that you follow the hole by probing from the surface instead of laboriously digging deep along a tunnel that can be seven metres long. 

Plant “tucker” was far less plentiful but some was so excellent that it could not be improved by any flavourings. In the spring, the pungana bean, which was shown to me, was my favourite. Growing like giant acacia pods on a three meter high shrub and similar in appearance to snake beans, the long pods are cooked in a minute on a burning clump of grass, the green soya sized beans with a flick of bright yellow tastes like corn.

Rumiya and plains bustard (about a turkey sized bird) were tasty cooked in the earth fire pit and much better than food from my tucker box a few weeks after the last trip to town. I only ate feral cat once, cooked by Minyina and the horrific look of that fore half of scorched cat passed to me dripping juices with the charred skin peeled back over canine teeth was unappetising. However, I was hungry enough and it all stayed down which is more than I can say for the last time I had ample helpings of kangaroo in 1984, three years on from the cooking lesson at Tjiterong. (To be continued)

Mouse Whisper

To cap off this blog of culinary delights, I was talking to this Pangolin at the international arrivals at the Wood’s Point airport who told me that one is permitted to bring a kilogram of civet coffee back into Australia without having to declare it. Apparently it makes the best “Catpoo-cino” and yes, that’s what they call it!