Modest Expectations – The Pick of a Forty-Niner


I have written about Iceland, but I’ve not been back since 2013. Therefore, I have little to say usefully from any Latter-day first hand experience. N Hallgrímskirkja is the Lutheran (Church of Iceland) parish church in Reykjavík. With a spire at 74.5 metres tall, it is the largest church in Iceland. It stands on the top of a rise, which accentuates its immense size. With a royal blue hue, it is seen here in this depiction of hell, as Iceland opens a subterranean fissure to the Underworld for the first time in 800 years. Here we have this depiction of Dante’s Inferno and him whispering in my ear (sic).

Nessun maggior dolore
che ricordarsi del tempo felice
nella miseria.

Fin troppo vero!

This volcanic outburst is on the Reykjanes peninsula in southwestern Iceland, around 50 kms southwest of the capital, Reykjavik, and 22 kms from the Keflavik international airport. One of the confronting views for the traveller who arrives in Iceland for the first visit is the lava field almost bare of vegetation. Now that the fissure has opened it is spewing forth the incandescent magma. As the photograph above shows, what a sight, but that is Iceland. Even when quiescent, Iceland is a place that if you never go, you will never know what you have missed.

Well, what do I know!

Only seven countries and three territories last year met World Health Organisation pollution guidelines for fine particulate matter, the most risky form of pollution to human health.

A recent report by the Swiss company IQAir looked at fine particular matter pollution (also known as PM 2.5) data collected by more than 30,000 ground-level air quality monitoring stations across 134 countries last year. 

Of these countries, seven had annual averages within the WHO’s guidelines of 5 micrograms per cubic metre in 2023: Australia, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Iceland, Mauritius and New Zealand. 

French Polynesia, Bermuda and Puerto Rico also met the guidelines.

Bangladesh, Pakistan and India had the highest annual averages for fine particulate matter pollution, with Bangladesh’s PM 2.5 levels averaging more than 15 times higher in 2023 than the WHO’s recommended threshold. Tajikistan, Burkina Faso, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo were also among the top 10 most polluted countries last year.

Added to this is that many countries in Africa and South America had no data.

According to its blurb, IQAir is a Swiss air quality technology company, specialising in protection against airborne pollutants, developing air quality monitoring and air cleaning products. IQAir also operates AirVisual, a real-time air quality information platform. This above excerpt has been reprinted from the Washington Post.

I am not an expert on global warming. I just know it is happening, and given the signs of the planet, I’m on firm ground I would have thought, and I reprinted it because it signifies Australia’s apparent success in one parameter of global pollution.

One source of expertise made the comment that particulate matter emitted through human activities not only pollutes the air, but also cools the Earth by scattering shortwave solar radiation. Yet, coarser dust particles have been found to exert a warming effect that could, to some extent compensate for the cooling effect of fine dust. On the surface that seems contradictory, but consider the giant volcanic eruption of the Indonesian Mount Tambora in 1815. It killed 60,000 people. Moreover, as one source relates;

Mt Tambora

Because Tambora ejected sulfurous gas that generated sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere, which block sunlight, the eruption created a year without a summer, leading to food shortages — people were eating cats and rats — and very general hardship throughout Europe and eastern North America.”

By way of explanation, particulate matter  consists of compounds of sulphur formed by the interaction of sulphur dioxide and sulphur trioxide with other compounds in the atmosphere.

The result of manmade activity is to enhance global warming. There are times that nature intervenes and cools the planet but with disastrous effects. However, even though they are extreme they are in essence temporary and it would appear that the earth reverts to being warm to disastrous levels, as shown by the inexorable rise in the global average temperature.

The lack of concern about particulate matter in the atmosphere just illustrates the cavalier attitude of most of the countries in the world, given that the growth of tyranny seems to be proportional to this climate change since dictatorship breeds social pathology, a sense of invincibility and ultimately which leads to a planet enshrouded in clouds of carbon dioxide. Was the planet Venus once a green and pleasant land until life was extinguished on a planet too hot to sustain any life and enveloped in a dense cloud of CO2? 

My 30/7/21 Blog

I wrote the following (shown in italics) nearly three years ago in my blog. It is an extract, but the full text is available in that of 30th July 2021. In the light of what is happening in Queensland, it may still be of some relevance.

The problem is the business model. A group of people, a dynasty of odds-and-sods, privileged individuals with a well-developed sense of Olympus, run the selection process. They seemed to have taken it literally so that they live on their eponymous mount moved from Greece to the banks of Lake Geneva in Lausanne picking as they do, a city to hold the Games. The prestige of the games has waxed and waned, but from its inception it has been in a Leap year except in 2021 and 1900. (a little known fact is the end of year century has to be divisible by 400 – i.e. next Leap year is 2400).

The International Olympic Committee should pay? What a novel idea. Then they would reap the profits and sell the property on the open market – the Olympic Block. There would be a massive interest in stadia that could stand as a monument to excess – you can just see the cities clambering to buy a used stadium – maybe for boat people – no need to send them offshore to line corrupt pockets, of course allegedly.

Current IOC’s revenue is largely generated from royalties on licensing television broadcasting rights for the Olympic Games, as well as revenues from the commercial exploitation of the Olympic symbol and Olympic emblems.  It depends on the interest generated, and there are athletics and swimming, both of which exist basically for Olympic glory. In between the Games, these activities pale in popularity against football of all codes, basketball, cricket or baseball in generating most community interest.

Abandoned Olympic stadium, Athens – 20 years on

The problem is that there are always new sports clamouring for recognition, and while for instance wrestling in the two forms are retained in the Games, they evoke minimal spectator interest. Yet, it has powerful reasons for its retention. It is one of the original sports which were part of the Ancient Games. It is popular in several countries, where it is a national pastime – Türkiye, Iran, Bulgaria. On several occasions, efforts have been made to delete the sport, but to no avail. In Paris this year, wrestling will share a venue with judo in a stadium on the Champs de Mar. The legacy of the venue? This temporary facility will be dismantled in late 2024, and as such no trace of the Olympic or Paralympic Games will remain. It will be able to be reused with multiple configurations at another location that is still to be determined.

It is just one example in the escalating costs of staging The Games, and its ephemeral legacy, often obscured later by the weeds growing in the ruins of this  two-week vanity exercise foisted on their community by politicians intoxicated by the prospect of so much self-importance.Yet most of those who bid for the Games will have long gone by the time the Games come around. But not the gods of the Lausanne Olympus, John Coates among them, fittingly, his canoeing prowess embodied as a latter-day epitome of Charon.

They will all be there in a swill of Dom Perignon, even if the hapless Annastacia Palaszczuk is not.

As I blogged:

The local press is celebrating Brisbane for being chosen in 2032 with Coates, the driving force. In the cold light of tomorrow, Australia may realise how it has been hoodwinked by Coates, there was no other city interested apart from his adopted hometown. Nobody else wants it. It is too expensive for dubious gains.

Coates yet has rescued the IOC, saving them from going cap in hand to some other city to strike a deal. Instead, Australia, which will be coping under the economic and social cost of the COVID-19 pandemic for decades to come, has been conned into more debt. Sure, the athletes will come, and the quote from the NYT at the head of this article will ring all so true as our Clutch of politicians will bask in the sunlight of praise until, after two weeks in 2032, the light is turned off leaving the Clutch in darkness, and in debt.

The value to Sydney after the Games has been minuscular – loaded with unusable infrastructure – stadia that are dismantled or provide a haven for weeds.  Cycle paths through a wasteland are not a big deal. Such disasters writ large in both Athens and Brazil. All the while the IOC provides the world with specimens such as John Coates, immersed in formalin jars of the past.

By 2032, an Australia Olympics may find itself drowned by a Viral debt, rising seas and irrelevance, through a lack of sponsors and tourist attractions dying from global warming. I believe this is not too much a dystopian view given what’s happening, looking around the world and seeing the ecological disaster being played out well beyond the horizons of this current euphoria.

The War of 1812

I have always been captivated by the story of the Star-Spangled banner, and the innate heroism underpinning the initial verse. The inspiration of Francis Key seeing the American flag still flying on the ramparts of Fort Henry after the British bombardment is an extraordinary image. That fifteen starred flag still flies at Fort Henry and also at Fort Clatsop, at the end of the Oregon Trail, where Lewis and Clark wintered in 1805/6.

The expedition carried just one large flag, the fifteen starred flag, which probably flew above their major camps, but before they left Fort Clatsop in March 1806 they cut it up to make five capes, to trade with Indians for food and horses. That was perfectly legal then. The first law prohibiting desecration or improper use of the flag was passed by Congress in 1917.

Jim Reeves raising the flag at Fort Clatsop

When we visited Fort Clatsop, the flag was being folded up at the end of the day. I asked whether we could buy it. Yes, we could, they are for sale – for $50. So, we have the flag, descendent of the one that inspired the American national anthem. Our flag is indeed large, having been flown from the flagpole the day we came. It is beautifully made. It is one of our prized possessions.

But the story composition  tells a different reality, as this reprinted account below tells the reader.

“It was September of 1814. The British had sacked Washington and torched the White House. The conflict became known as the War of 1812, even though it was in its third year.

Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old lawyer overheard plans for a surprise attack on Baltimore. He was held on a British ship where he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry. He couldn’t tell from his vantage point who had won or lost. But at dawn, he saw the American flag, 15 stars and 15 stripes at the time, still waving over the Fort and was inspired to write a poem. Soon, it was set to the tune of an existing song.

That’s the short version of how “The Star-Spangled Banner” came to be.

The longer version was controversial.

First, a few things to know about the War of 1812:

  • the British practice of impressment — the forced conscription of American sailors to fight for the Royal Navy.
  • the British promised refuge to any enslaved black man, who escaped his enslavers, raising fears among White Americans of a large-scale revolt.
  • the men who escaped their bonds of slavery were welcome to join the British Corps of Colonial Marines in exchange for land after their service. As many as 4,000 people, mostly from Virginia and Maryland, thus “escaped”.

It’s important to know these things because “The Star Spangled Banner” has more than one verse. The second half of the third verse ends like this:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

They are clearly meant to threaten the African Americans who took the British up on their offer. Key surely knew about the Colonial Marines, and it’s even possible he saw them on the British ships that sailed into Baltimore Harbor.

Whether manipulation or not, the British kept their word to Colonial Marines after the war, refusing the United States’ demand that they be returned and providing them land in Trinidad and Tobago to resettle with their families.

Key clearly was racist. He descended from a wealthy plantation family with slaves. He spoke of black people as “a distinct and inferior race” and supported emancipating the enslaved only if they were immediately shipped to Africa.

During the Andrew Jackson administration, Key served as the district attorney for Washington, D.C., where he spent much of his time shoring up enslavers’ power. He strictly enforced slave laws and prosecuted abolitionists who passed out pamphlets mocking his jurisdiction as the “land of the free, home of the oppressed.”

He also influenced Jackson in appointing his brother-in-law Chief Justice of the United States. This Roger B. Taney is infamous for writing the Dred Scott decision that decreed Black people “had no rights which the White man was bound to respect.”

Although “The Star-Spangled Banner” and its verses were immediately famous, Key’s overt racism prevented it from becoming the national anthem while he was alive.

Key’s anthem gained popularity over time, particularly among post-Reconstruction White Southerners and the military. In the early 20th Century, all but the first verse were cut — not for their racism, but for their anti-British bent. The United Kingdom was by then an ally.

After the World War I misery, the lyrics were again controversial for their violence. But groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy fought back, pushing for the song to be made the official national anthem. In 1931, President Herbert Hoover made it so.

As one commentator wryly noted “The elevation of the banner from popular song to official national anthem was a neo-Confederate political victory, and it was celebrated as such. When supporters threw a victory parade in Baltimore in June 1931, the march was led by a colour guard hoisting the Confederate flag.”

Thus my long-kept view of the flag as a paean to freedom and against oppression is confounded by the above narrative!

Read the Australian Constitution

Section 51 (xxiii)The provision of maternity allowances, widows’ pensions, child endowment, unemployment, pharmaceutical, sickness and hospital benefits, medical and dental services (but not so as to authorize any form of civil conscription), benefits to students and family allowances.

The AMA has written to the Health Minister, Mark Butler, to express significant disappointment with the federal government’s decision to introduce legislation to remove the requirement for collaborative arrangements for nurse practitioners and midwives.

The AMA states it is very concerned this decision would lead to a fragmented, siloed approach to health care.

The AMA went on to say that when midwives and nurse practitioners were given access to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), there was a rock-solid government commitment to ensure strong collaboration between nurse practitioners and  midwives with medical practitioners. It stressed that this commitment was translated into legislative provisions requiring a collaboration arrangement, aimed at preventing the fragmentation of care and ensuring strong clinical government was in place.

“The planned removal of collaborative arrangement provisions that are intended to guarantee this, combined with the absence of any robust framework to operate in their place, will promote a siloed approach to care and is contrary to the original stated intent of the reforms. It is also contrary to the expert clinical advice of the MBS Review Taskforce.”

Reading the crystals for a Medicare benefit?

So much for the AMA defending its monopoly on its familiar ground. However, as I have noted many times previously, I fail to see the provision of patient benefits for nursing as described in the relevant section of the Constitution. Unless somebody is prepared to challenge this decision, to my mind, the payment of benefits for nursing in the absence of medical input is clearly unconstitutional. The precedent has now been established so wait for the queue of all manner of  health care providers for the same recognition. Iridology benefits anyone?

Mouse Whisper

In the last blog, completion of the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) was suggested to be the first question to the two old men wishing to become US President, each of whom has been queried as to the level of their cerebral functioning.

Well, the Boss took the test this week. He made no mistakes.

He is older than both Biden and Trump.

With apologies to Statler and Waldorf

Modest Expectations – Forgery

Iowa most likely ends the GOP race before it has had a chance to begin. The party will be weaker for it. Instead of subjecting the front-runner to a meaningful test, this odd exercise amounted to a layup. Trump overperforms in rural areas and among White voters. That’s Iowa to a T.

In the state’s empty reaches, he rolled up majorities worthy of a tin-pot dictator. Take a precinct of Kossuth County, north of Algona, near the Minnesota border. All of 38 voters gathered to caucus, and 33 of them went for Trump. Or the precinct of Appanoose County, down in the southeast corner of the state, that mustered all of 69 voters, with 55 of them choosing Trump. 

Huge margins among sparse populations gave Trump an appearance of invulnerability. But the closer the race drew to a population center — someplace big enough to have a Costco or a Chick-fil-A — the weaker he appeared. Haley, the preferred candidate of never-Trump Republicans and independent voters, actually beat the former president in multiple precincts of Des Moines, Iowa City, Ames, Cedar Rapids, Davenport. 

Above is the Hawkeye snowy Capitol in Des Moines. The whole of the USA has been gripped in blizzard conditions with a wind chill plunging the temperature to minus 40º Fahrenheit. It probably affected the turnout for the Republican caucus, which was very low comparatively.

Then there is an excerpt from a perspicacious opinion piece in the wake of the Republican caucus, won by Trump. While many outlets described a landslide victory, The Washington Post was more circumspect, considering the low turnout of voters. Iowa is 90 per cent white and therefore hardly representative of cross-sectional America.

Yet it is the first on the electoral slate. Now that the circus has rolled through, it can be forgotten for the next four years. It only has six electoral college votes. It is not a very populous State, with the capital at Des Moines, which reflects its fur trader history as both the Missouri and Mississippi flow through the State.

In colonial times, the river was the conduit between French Canada and Louisiana. As one writer has succinctly put it: Beginning in 1682, France laid claim to the area of central North America which included the vast Mississippi River drainage basin. French colonists moved to the region near the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers in the latter half of the seventeenth century. French fur traders, trappers, farmers, and Jesuit missionaries came from France, French Canada, and New Orleans to Upper Louisiana (la Haute-Louisiane).

The French had entered the land of the Iowa Tribe in the late seventeenth century; and were followed by a polyglot mixture of French and Spanish.  Iowa was part of Upper Louisiana. It was included in the Louisiana purchase when Jefferson purchased the French Territory for 60m francs in 1803 – the Louisiana Purchase. Des Moines itself means “of the monks” and it is suggested this refers to a colony of Trappist monks that settled in the area in the early eighteenth century.

Iowa is one of the major centres, together with Illinois and Minnesota, where soya beans are grown. As one anonymous commentator has said about these farmers, they are all individualist freedom advocates until it comes to ethanol subsidies for their soya beans and then they all become communists.

I went to Iowa in 2009 hoping to catch up with a guy whom I had met at university in the early sixties when he was on an exchange scholarship – it may have been a Fulbright. He was Malcolm “Mac” Rohrborough, and for a brief time we were friendly, even though he was nine years older than myself. He was an expert in early American history, and subsequently published prolifically about the American West, particularly the Gold Rush. I don’t know how we met, perhaps it was during my period as President of the Student Representative Council, and I do remember him in being at my 21st birthday party.

After he returned to the USA, he took up a post at the Iowa State University in Iowa City, a university town in the eastern part of the State. I said to my wife that we should go to Iowa and try to make contact with Mac after almost fifty years. A vain wish.  He had retired the previous year as “professor emeritus” and replied he had gone east to retire. No invitation to visit, so we took the hint.

Nevertheless, we stayed at the university hotel, more like a university college, a light airy place, comfortable and cheap – some compensation for missing Mac. Iowa City is not a Trump stronghold. It voted 71 per cent for Biden in 2020 election. By contrast, Iowa voted 53 per cent for Trump and 43 per cent for Biden. Iowa’s current congressional delegation consists of its two senators and four representatives, all Republicans.

In a strange footnote to his Iowan activities, former President Donald Trump thanked ex-hitman Salvatore Gravano for speaking highly of him, which has raised eyebrows on social media. Gravano, also known as “Sammy the Bull,” was an underboss for the Gambino crime family in New York City and worked with the United States government as an informant to take down mob boss John Gotti in the early 1990s. Gravano, who confessed to his involvement in 19 murders, was released from prison in 2017 after being sentenced to 20 years for running an ecstasy ring in Arizona.

I’m not sure how that will play out on the Hawkeyes, especially those who do not quite agree with the Proposition that Donald Is God. But he would not care. He can forget about them now.

Australia is a Foreign Land

Tasmania is the largest Australian island that I have visited. It made me think, as I was reading “The Tiwi of North Australia,” a book by Charles Hart and Raymond Pilling published in 1960 but containing observations about Tiwi Islander culture, that Hart experienced living with the Tiwi between 1928 and 1930 and Pilling in 1953 and 1954.

Macassan trepanger

Although I have visited the Abrolhos, Rottnest, Kangaroo, French, Philip, King, Bruny, Cockatoo, Bribie, Brampton, Magnetic, Dunk, Green, Lizard, Thursday and Mornington Islands, I have never visited Melville or Bathurst Islands, which the Tiwi people have inhabited for aeons. To put it in perspective, these islands are eighty kilometres north of Darwin in the Arafura Sea. Melville is the second largest and Bathurst fifth largest after the largest Australian island, Tasmania. They were the first port of call for potential invaders, and well before Cook they had contact with Europeans, as well as the Macassan trepangers.

This experience has given the Tiwi people their distinctive culture with plenty of space in which to roam and develop their cultural identity, which in past twenty years they have successfully commercialised. Yet there is no suggestion that they cultivated “gardens” in the manner of their northern neighbours.

The Tiwi saw the mainland as a foreign land. They were very ferocious in repelling those who dared to land uninvited. They had spears, but not returning boomerangs. The woomera – the spear carrier – did not exist. Nevertheless, they were expert in the use of their spears.

Their culture, as reflected in their artifacts, was highly distinct from other Aboriginal tribes. The Tiwi people are known for their burial poles and their woven baskets.  We have collected a wide range of Tiwi art which is characteristically decorated in cross-hatched, geometrical designs encasing dots – white, black and various shades of deep yellow into brown.  Ochre and charcoal are the basic materials for the colours, and while I have an ironwood bird, most of the modern sculptured birds characteristic of Tiwi art are now made of lightweight wood. The difference between ironwood and any other wood is very clear when trying to lift any sculpture made of ironwood.

Depiction of Ampitji by Jane Margaret Tipuamantumirri

What has bought the Tiwi people into focus was the dismissal in the Federal Court of the claim by three Tiwi who claimed that the proposed Santos gas line would disturb Ampitji, the guardian sea rainbow serpent; and given this serpent would appear not to take kindly to a competing serpent – the Santos gas python – she would inflict cyclones and disease in revenge, a serpentine apocalypse.


The idea that a mythical creature could have halted a major project by a major political donor would seem to go counter to all the neoliberal belief systems that have gripped the country with its own mythology – well who would have thought it!  Watch this space to see if there is an appeal to reconcile these myths of sea serpent and neoliberalism.

But then the Tiwi have always learnt a way of accommodating the intruders. As one research paper put it well: The Dutch had come in search of a land which might have possibilities for trade. They found a land which they thought was barren waste, inhabited by people who had no possessions of value for exchange. On Bathurst and Melville islands the Dutch found a people who had a rich and highly developed civilisation, but a civilisation which was so unlike that of the Europeans that the two people were too dissimilar to have anything to offer one another.

The Tiwi also had contact with the Portuguese settlers on Timor, and unlike the Dutch, the Portuguese found the Tiwi made useful slaves, especially when the Tiwi went searching for iron.

Then, before WWII, there was intimate contact with Japanese pearl divers.  The Australian Government attempted to prevent this co-habiting between Tiwi women and the Japanese.  This had occurred because the quantity of pearl shell inter alia in the Arafura Sea attracted a virtual fleet of Japanese luggers which berthed on the islands.  The Japanese provided food in greater and better quality than the Catholic mission – in exchange for young Tiwi women’s sexual favours. This affected the domestic arrangement which the Catholic missionaries, who had come to the Tiwi country prior to WWI, tried to foster among the people.

This situation ended with the outbreak of war with the Japanese in 1941. The islands were bombed, without apparent casualties but in anticipation of invasion by the Japanese military, the Catholic mission encouraged the Tiwi to go bush, very difficult since the Tiwi were now accustomed to being provided with food and tobacco.  The invasion never occurred.

The Tiwi people have thrived; and have produced a fine array of champion Australian Rules footballers, but even with their exposure to multiple incursions by Europeans, Japanese and Macassan, they have maintained a distinct cultural identity, which their island isolation had helped maintain while adapting to the whitefellas, who are constantly bothering them – nowadays for a price of being tourists.

Nevertheless, as I continue to think about the Tiwi islands, because of their sentinel position north of Darwin, what of the comparison of the Torres Strait inhabitants? The Torres Strait islands constitute an area of 48,000 km2 but their total land area is 566 km2. By contrast, Bathurst and Melville Islands (with a number of small uninhabited islands) cover 8,320 km2. The population is around 3,000.

The Torres Strait Islander population is more difficult to determine as there are data which seem to be different measures, but there seem to be about 5,000 living on the Islands. However, the 2022 Census seems to suggest that the total number of Torres Strait Islanders is around 60,000 – 70,000 in Australia, which means that there is a large population living away from the Strait.

The Torres Strait population is a mixture of Polynesian, Melanesian and Aboriginal.  Tiwi is over 90 per cent Aboriginal. How influential the Japanese have been in part of the heredity of both is a matter of conjecture; but I remember Japtown on Thursday Island and being driven around by a taxi driver, who admitted to mixed Japanese heritage. The effect of Japanese pearl divers has been significant, but how significant.

The point is we recognise the separate existence of the Torres Strait islanders. As for the Tiwi, the mainland was a foreign land. The Tiwi guarded their independence.  How many Tiwi live on the mainland? Enough for their independent recognition?


My companion and I decided to travel to Terezin in Czechia, along with Prague. It was to be the culmination of a trip to Eastern Europe. First we had a boat trip down the Danube from Romania, down to the Black Sea and back to Budapest, while stopping at ports in Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary. Unfortunately, my companion became ill and although she survived the boat trip, we decided to cancel the Czechia leg and returned home from Budapest, which was just as well. But that is another story.

Theresienstadt (now Terezin)

I wanted to go to Terezin because it was the site of Theresienstadt, a concentration camp built by the Nazis to resemble a normal town. I wondered how they maintained the illusion – the deception. I wanted to see it at first hand.

This concentration camp was cast in the image of a town, with a “beautification program”, including planting 1,200 rose bushes, cleaning the streets and buildings, constructing a “child care pavilion” complete with sandbox, merry-go-round and wading pool. Food rations were doubled. There were concerts, cabaret and theatrical performances and a soccer match – all carefully staged and rehearsed.  This was all done to hoodwink the Red Cross visitors, who were either Swiss or Danish.

Unlike other concentration camps, Theresienstadt had been a garrison town under the Habsburg Empire with plenty of barracks where you could conveniently house the prisoners – an interim place to send those destined for the gas chambers at Auschwitz, Dachau or Buchenwald. Despite all the show, these barracks were squalid and there was never enough food.

Theresienstadt Barracks

Hans Adler, a Jewish Bohemian author, was sent to Theresienstadt, where he was incarcerated for two years and saw how the camp was structured. It was presented as a self-governing Jewish settlement, with an internal Jewish administration subservient to the SS. The prisoners were guarded by 150 Czech “gendarmes”; there were about 20 SS officers on site and mostly out of sight, yet they controlled Theresienstadt through the Jewish Council of Elders.

These Jewish inmates were granted privileges which the ordinary Jewish prisoners did not have. They lived as family, and they were given orders verbally by the SS. Nothing was written down between the two.

The Council of Elders determined who was to be transported to the gas chambers. Benjamin Murmelstein, a Ukrainian-born rabbi, worked closely with Adolf Eichmann in Vienna as the only surviving rabbi and then as the last chief elder of the Council who collaborated with Eichmann’s Central Office for Jewish Emigration. He has been singled out for universal revulsion by the Holocaust survivors yet after the War lived in Rome never charged with any war crimes.  He lived long enough to see his boss, Adolph Eichmann, executed by the Israeli government. The chain of command descending from Eichmann ended with The Council choosing those to be transported to the gas chambers, according to the categories demanded by their Nazi superiors.

Rabbi Murmelstein was not the only one. There were indeed many members of the Council, a post which provided protection for their families. So, there were many others. In a review of Adler’s book about Theresienstadt between those years 1941 and 1945, the NYRB reviewer, Thomas Nagel, recounts referring to Adler:

The decision to hide the truth strikes me as comprehensible but appalling – though none of us can know what we would have done in the circumstances. Adler, who must have learned about it after the war, seems unable to come to a judgement about the Elders’ decision; he reserves his condemnation for individuals who, knowing the truth, not only tried to spare their friends but used the transports to get rid of people who were giving them trouble. For example, after Vladimir Weiss, a member of the “Detective Department”, sent the Jewish Elder Paul Eppstein a detailed complaint of flagrant corruption in the allocation of food, he and his family disappeared on the next transport. 

Yes, we hear much about the descendants of Holocaust victims but what of those who count this Council’s members as their relatives?

Hans Adler may have survived the War, despite being part of the protected group in Theresienstadt. However, he was eventually sent to Auschwitz near the end of the War. As was his wife, Gertrud, a doctor, deported there.  She refused to leave her mother and went to the gas chamber in late 1944.  Adler did not join her.

In all, Adler lost sixteen members of his family – a survivor to live out his life in a “community of guilt” With how many others?

I am not one to visit former concentration camps, but the whole account intrigued me.  That intrigue about Theresienstadt has not dimmed.

Dutton in January

In the end, the “cost of living” isn’t about the prices on grocery shelves, it’s about the distribution of income. In Australia, income has shifted from wages to profits and from low- and middle-income earners to those in the top 10% of the income scale and, even more, to the handful of “rich listers” whose growing wealth has outstripped that of ordinary Australians many times over. – John Quiggin Guardian Spotlight 19 January 2024.

One of the political axioms, at least when I had a handle on the production of political party policy, was to float ideas in January when political activities were light. I remember for instance that we floated the idea of a deferred interest mortgage to test how acceptable it was to be incorporated into the Liberal Party housing policy.

Other policies were tested at other times; under the influence of John Knight, later a Senator for the ACT, Bill Snedden reversed the China policy of the Liberal Coalition which existed under Prime Minister McMahon. That resulted in Snedden being invited to visit China, which we did in July 1973; so much was positively achieved that whilst we were there a late invitation came for Snedden to meet Chou-en-lai, then having his own difficulties with the Gang of Four who were very much in the saddle then with the blessing of Mao Zedong. Whitlam came to China later that year. So instead of an ongoing pointless ideological conflict, there was agreement on both sides of Australian politics.

Contrast this with the footprints of Dutton. He wheels out the commercial decision not to embroider Australia Day with Jingo Kitsch as a reason to imply that it is a sacred festival. January 26 was a convenient holiday because it signalled the end of summer holidays, when industry had shut down. All January for staff holidays. That it was no more; no less.

Vandalised statue of Captain Cook in St Kilda, January 2024

After all, it is only a celebration of Arthur Philip founding a convict colony which he called New South Wales on that day in 1788. If that is worth celebrating once stripped of its being a convenient marker, then we invite all the mindless controversy that people like Dutton wish to provoke. There are influential people who hanker for an imaginary white picket fence Australia. It never existed, but these people bristle when the monarchy is threatened, alteration of the flag promoted and the sanctity of Australia Day and Anzac Day disputed.

I remember these were issues of the Liberal Party Coalition when they were trudging through the policy desert. Once, when reporters listened to me and asked me what was to be discussed at the upcoming Liberal Party meeting, it was a time when the Parliamentary Party had spent the previous meeting discussing the Flag. I replied it was discussing the party policy on heraldic symbols. This did not make me many friends, but metaphorically that is the territory where Dutton is grubbing around.

John Quiggin has raised a reasonable point, which impinges on policy considerations at a time when the Labor Party until this week continued to commit to make the rich even richer with taxation concessions and when there seems to be idolatry of the petroleum and mining industry while Planet Earth is going down the toilet. It is a time when Dutton has selectively singled out trivia to widen community divisions rather than address community concerns when political collaboration is needed urgently.

Forget his divisive utterances, which only emphasise unnecessary cracks in the polity and which we could do without; and go about devising a policy which adopts the Quiggin analysis as a starting point.

At least, the Labor government have caucused this week, to ratify the Albanese Cabinet decision to make the taxation changes more equitable, rather than giving the wealthy an additional polo pony.  Predictably, the bleat of broken election promises goes up from Dutton and his cronies, fresh from return from being “duchessed” by Gina Rinehart.

Dutton, you should grow up, and address measured analyses such as that projected by John Quiggin as the Government seems to have done; instead of roaming around devising the heraldic symbols on the Dutton shield. A pineapple rampant?

Mouse Whisper

 I owe this one to the Boss. There is this Virgin Airline advertisement with this vivacious flight attendant being wheeled across of the tarmac aboard a gangway with a horde of people in pursuit. Not a plane in sight. What a metaphor!  A virgin airline is one never to be violated by an airplane?

Modest Expectations – My God, not Des Clarke’s Son

There is one thing about the configuration of hotel/motel rooms. Much is made of the fact that “accessible” rooms are routinely part of a hotel’s room complement – but what does this really mean? When people think of disabled, they recognise that the signage for disability is the wheelchair. However, there is another level of disability which, on occasions, may require a wheelchair – it now tends to be described as “ambulant”, although that seems to only apply to bathroom doors.  When I need a wheelchair, I use one that can be borrowed. This is sufficient. I can manage on two sticks, even with my balance problems.

But back to those accessible rooms. Bathroom/toilet facilities need to be user friendly. Wheelchair friendly facilities must have sufficient space and most disabled facilities recognise the need to eliminate steps.  Nevertheless, many of these are not appropriately designed for the disabled who use sticks or crutches unless there are sufficient railings to assist navigating a wet floor, where sticks are liable to slip as one tries to walk on the cracks between the tiles to avoid sliding The criteria for accessible rooms definitely need to include non-slip-when-wet tiles.

What is also not factored in are the beds, which need to provide a safe place to site and reasonable ability to get out the bed. I use carer help, or else a chair located next to the bed to wrestle myself up. The mechanics are deceptively simple to assist sitting up and swinging legs over. The height of the bed should be related to the height of the person so ideally the height should be adjustable, particularly as modern beds seem designed for an accompanying ladder. The modern hospital may be the template. Hospital beds have a feature that makes them more appropriate, high-low functionality. The user can raise and lower the bed vertically, making a hospital bed ideal for people like myself, who need more assistance when getting in or out of bed.

The other issue is the inappropriateness of the chairs provided in most hotel/motel rooms – often rickety hard backed chairs or ludicrously low armchairs. Even rooms that purport to have a work desk rarely have a suitable chair on wheels. From my point of view, a decent office chair makes life much easier and I suspect for others, avoiding having to push a normal chair back and forth from a desk would be welcome.

It may be said that I am speaking from the viewpoint of a rara avis, but does anyone know? An ideal disabled room should incorporate some of the suggestions discussed above, and it would be useful to convene a working party to set the standard.

Considerations of Some Matters

Some years ago, we visited the first ghetto in the world which is located in Venice. When it was constructed to house the city’s Jews, the gates were locked at night, emphasising its quasi-prison conditions. The ghetto is far from the centre of Venice. Apart from a gaggle of Chinese tourists, the ghetto square was empty save for a Jewish family enjoying the balmy sunny day, sitting under a tree. The only jarring note was the bulletproof door to The Holocaust Museum. We did not go in. I had seen the gruesome museum in the old Gestapo headquarters in Berlin. One Holocaust Museum is enough. Pity, the Israeli government seems not to have seen it lately.

In any event we had eaten a delightful kosher lunch marred by the officious surliness of the staff. Quite obviously, non-Jews were not particularly welcome, even if we did have an inkling of the food taboos.

Reflecting on that I wonder when the world will be able to bask on the shores of the Gaza Riviera. Maybe without gates to lock the Israelis out.

The above were just a few introductory thoughts if you wish to read on.

Avraham Stern – who split from the Irgun to form the Lehi (also known as Stern Gang) in 1940 – had suggested securing support from the Third Reich.

Haaretz adds that Lehi representatives met with an official from the German Foreign Ministry in Beirut at the end of 1940.

“The establishment of the historical Jewish state on a totalitarian national basis, in an alliance relationship with the German Reich, is compatible with the preservation of German power,” the newspaper cites the Israeli document as saying. The Cradle, June 2023 (a journalist-driven American publication founded in 2021 covering “West Asia voices not heard in the world’s English-language media. That’s not the only differentiator. Not owned by any donors, and so they have no say over what is written or not.”)

Q: True or False? 

On April 19, 1943, the Warsaw ghetto uprising began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. About 700 young Jewish fighters fought the heavily armed and well-trained Germans. The ghetto fighters were able to hold out for nearly a month, but on May 16, 1943, the revolt ended. The Germans had slowly crushed the resistance. 

The SS and police captured approximately 42,000 Warsaw ghetto survivors during the uprising. They sent these people to forced labor camps and the Majdanek concentration camps. The SS and police sent another 7,000 people to the Treblinka killing center. At least 7,000 Jews died while fighting or in hiding in the ghetto. Only a few of the resistance fighters succeeded in escaping from the ghetto. – Holocaust Encyclopaedia.

Q: Tell me why the current Gaza situation is different from Warsaw?

The attendees hadn’t expected a policy shift from the meeting, according to the accounts, but felt confident that their concerns would be conveyed to Biden, to be taken into consideration in his public remarks about Palestinians. Two days later, the President made the comments questioning the accuracy of Palestinian casualties at a time when Arabic-language TV channels were showing nonstop footage of lifeless, dust-covered children being pulled from the rubble after Israeli strikes. –Washington Post

Could someone tell me why Israelis are viewed as more truthful than the Palestinians?

The Venetian Ghetto was the first ghetto instituted in 1516 by decree of the then Doge Leonardo Loredan and the Venetian Senate. It would be ironic if, by his actions in Gaza, Netanyahu emulates the Doge, albeit for a different reason, reviving the ghetto so that every Jew, whether Zionist or not, is worldwide forced to live in armed enclaves for their own protection.

When the Gunman Comes to Town

The following is from the Boston Globe response to an edited account of the mass shooting in Maine. I have spent some glorious times in Maine, although I have never been to Lewiston as far as I can remember.

Mass shootings are a rarity in Australia although I well remember the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 when 35 people were killed. I was one of the few who saw the police film of the horrific aftermath, a coloured grainy film. It was a time when I had just stepped down as President of the Australasian Faculty of Public Medicine, and my successor strongly supported our Prime Minister’s response, which inter alia resulted in banning semi-automatic and pump action shotguns, without good reason. While there were concessions to the rural lobby, there were restrictions which, despite some high-profile shootings since, have seen deaths due to firearms decrease.

Nevertheless, what is interesting about this Boston Globe article is the description of the emergency medical response, given most of the shooting victims were dead. Those injured are not as newsworthy, given the concentration on the event and the number dead. How much of the response of Maine health professionals is applicable to the Australian situation?

Dr. Sheldon Stevenson was at home hosting 10 fellow emergency physicians when the call came in Wednesday night around 7:30. Colleagues at his hospital, Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, were resuscitating a gunshot victim. More were on the way.

Stevenson, the hospital’s chief of emergency medicine, had been expecting this call to come one day; mass shootings had grown far too common.

With scarcely a word, the doctors stood up and decided who would stay behind and take over for the others the next morning. The rest sped the roughly 35 miles from his Portland home to the hospital.

Meanwhile, chief executive Steven G. Littleson and chief nursing officer Kris Chaisson had already fielded similar calls. There was an active shooter, and the local emergency dispatch center had activated “code triage,” alerting everyone at the medical center that a disaster was unfolding.

As the hospital braced for what would prove to be its worst disaster ever, the staff knew what they had to do, but knew little of what they might face. Ambulance crews were reporting possibly 15 to 20 victims from two shooting sites. But the gunman was at large, and there was talk of as many as five or six additional sites, possibly waves of patients streaming in all night.

Alerted by the code triage, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, support personnel, about 20 to 30 people in all, assembled in the ER within minutes. As word spread throughout the medical community, the emergency room filled with 100 people ready to help. Blood supplies arrived from other hospitals. Five helicopters were parked outside, ready to transport victims across the region.

The first gunshot patient arrived at 7:24 p.m. Thirteen more would stream in over the next 45 minutes — many more severely injured patients than the hospital had ever seen at once.

By the time Chaisson, the nursing chief, got to the emergency department, four shooting victims were being assessed in the trauma bays and the ER was filled with “a sea of people.”

“It was an organized chaos,” she said. “There were so many people but they knew exactly what they needed to get done … It was like a work of magic.”

Littleson, the CEO role would coordinate everything that happened next. The hospital was full Wednesday night, its 170 beds occupied, and the emergency room was already busy with the usual crush of 25 to 30 sick patients, including some who were waiting for beds. The staff would have to somehow make room for an untold number of casualties. Patients were moved into holding areas and other available spaces.

“We knew that the patients coming out of the operating room would need critical care. We had to mobilize some of our less critical care patients to other floors, to free up the ICU to take care of these patients,” Chaisson said.

Nine gunshot victims went swiftly to operating rooms — their awful wounds an urgent and obvious diagnosis. Privacy rules prevent a discussion of individual injuries, but Dr. John Alexander, the chief medical officer, named the types of surgeons who worked on them to give an idea: four trauma surgeons, four orthopedic surgeons, a vascular surgeon, a cardiothoracic surgeon, and a urologist.

Stevenson, the emergency chief, said the hospital treats gunshot wounds at least every month. But typically they are from handguns and hunting rifles, involving a single bullet wound.

The wounds he saw this time were an order of magnitude more severe, because the automatic weapon the shooter used sprays people with multiple bullets and shrapnel that rips the flesh. “They’re devastating wounds. Lots of soft tissue injuries, vascular injuries,” he said.

Because patients had been rushed to the hospital, and then into surgery, some were still unidentified two hours later. “That was a very difficult time for the families and for us as well,” he said, but eventually family members were brought inside and the patients identified.

In all, 15 gunshot casualties were taken to hospitals: 14 to Central Maine, and one to St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, also in Lewiston.

Central Maine discharged two less severely injured patients after treatment on Wednesday night. Another patient was transferred to Maine Medical Center in Portland because the Lewiston hospital didn’t have enough operating rooms. Two died in the emergency department, and one died after surgery at Central Maine.

On Thursday, one surgical patient was discharged to home and another was transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital because of the nature of his injuries. The patients cared for at St. Mary’s and Maine Medical Center were also discharged. Late Friday two more patients were discharged from Central Maine.

That means that, of the 12 injured survivors, five remained hospitalized on Saturday — four at Central Maine (three of them in critical condition) and one in stable condition at Mass General. Staff members had prepared for such an emergency many times, in drills and exercises. Just a month earlier, they’d done a tabletop simulation involving mass casualties.

“People have assigned roles,” said Alexander, who is an emergency physician. “They understood what their roles were. They stepped into those roles and they acted accordingly. They are just incredibly heroic.”

Once it became clear there were no more gunshot patients, the challenge was convincing day-shift nurses to go home, because they would be needed the next day. They took comfort huddling with their teams, and feared leaving the hospital.

“We had to almost push them: ‘You’re still safe. … Let’s get a security escort to your car and let’s try and get you home. You’re safe at home.’”

The next day the hospital was eerily quiet. With the shelter-in-place order in effect, the hospital cancelled surgeries and the emergency room saw just 35 patients all day, compared with 120 on a typical day. By Friday, as the hospital resumed normal operation, clinicians and workers who had been stunned and shocked started processing what had happened. Counsellors were made available throughout the hospital.

“Their training and their skills take over during the event. Emotions and feelings take over afterward,” Littleson said. “The grieving process will now unfold over the next couple of weeks. In some respects, the hard part has just begun.”

Littleson, who used to work at a hospital in New Jersey not far from Manhattan, recalls preparing to receive an influx of patients on 9/11. None arrived because there were so few survivors.

He thought of that when he realized that in Wednesday’s mass shooting, the 18 dead outnumbered the 12 injured survivors.

“The tragedy of this event,” Littleson said, “is that there weren’t more patients to care for.”

I think I know what he meant, but it could have been better said.

It’s Just Dust

When you actually successfully regulate something, so that nobody sees it anymore, your very success is the thing that causes it to emerge again. Because it’s just lost in people’s minds.” Dr Frances Kinnear 

Bernie Banton

Who remembers Bernie Banton? Do you remember David Martin? What did they have in common. They both died of asbestos-induced disease. One, Bernie Banton worked for the industry villain in asbestos – James Hardie – in the 1960s and 1970s.

David Martin

The other was a naval officer who was Governor of NSW until a couple of days before his death from mesothelioma in 1990. He had been exposed to asbestos in the ships on which he served in his long career. The navy was his life, commencing as a midshipman and rising to the rank of rear admiral.

Asbestosis was a vertically integrated disease. By this I mean from the workers in the Colonial Sugar Refinery (CSR) blue asbestos Wittenoom mine, which operated between 1943 and 1965. Here in the Hamersley Ranges, Lang Hancock started his career, in an environment where asbestos fibres are carried by wind and water everywhere, and disturbed by human activities such as walking or driving around the area. 7,000 workers and their wives and children succumbed.

This was the same story with asbestos with its cottonlike appearance, easily pulled apart or packed as insulation throughout buildings until 1984, when the dangers of the material became apparent, and the community gradually come to realise a deadly material lay in the walls of so many buildings built post-war. James Hardie was the major distributor where Banton and his two brothers worked for 20 years.

Then there were the people who worked in an asbestos-riddled environment, as the rear admiral did.

The problem is many employers, in response to public health problems, have sought to obfuscate, refuse to accept responsibility, lobby parliamentarians about loss of jobs and social catastrophe if the use of material is curtailed. Just muddy the waters, bugger the toxicity, until the community pressure through legal redress catches up with the employer’s venality. As was written a decade ago: “The banning of asbestos in 2003 was the culmination of a three-decades long process that got underway in the 1970s through the efforts of workers and their families, health professionals, and researchers” – note the absence of the employers, the big mining companies seemingly doing nothing to improve the situation.

The current furore about the silica-based material, which has become fashionable for kitchen countertops, but in the process of cutting the material to size, creates a silica-laden atmosphere. When I was entering my career as a doctor, silicosis was a major occupational health disease, contracted then by miners and quarry workers. It received so much attention and publicity as a cause of respiratory disease there was no controversy within the health profession as to this association. A major associated problem was that most of workers then were also cigarette smokers; the danger of cigarette smoking was comprehensively exposed by the work of Doll in the 1970s.

In this current scenario, where the culprit is a fashionable kitchen countertop product that is silica held together by resin, one would think that it was a no brainer to ban the product.

As the SMH editorialised this week, The (Safe Work Australia) report (recommending a ban on this stone) was handed to the governments on August 16 but not released until last Friday. Despite the delay, the Minister for Workplace Relations Tony Burke then skirted the issue of a national blanket ban saying it was not reasonable to make a final decision without the public knowing the Safe Work Australian’s recommendations. Burke said a meeting of federal and state work, health and safety ministers would be convened by year’s end to consider the next step.

Mr Burke, who have you been talking to, when the dangers of silica are so well known even before you were a boy? Your response in the media is laughable. Why the delay? Who has been in your ear?

A Fashion Plate at the White House 

At a dinner at the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Biden and first lady Jill Biden presented the Prime Minister with an antique writing desk, designed by an American company in Michigan, the White House said. The first lady gave (Jodie) Haydon a hand-crafted green enamel and diamond necklace.

The NYT covered the Albanese visit by sending its fashion editor.

In amongst all the plaudits, the visit fulfilled all the expectations outlined in my last blog. The Americans laid on the treacly flattery, and characteristically Albanese responded to his swain in the audience while talking at the dinner, by saying it will be all downhill from now on. He may be right, but not for the reason stated.

Biden treated Albanese as anybody would treat a fawning vassal. Let me indicate, as I have before, I am not a great fan of Biden, but watching him in government he gets it right most of the time. Hooded eyes, which mean it is difficult to assess his mood, a flawed man who has spent most of his life in Washington, a man who has grieved far more than most of us, Biden has a residual advantage – that “Pepsodent” smile. I would imagine that if I were in the Albanese shoes, how seductive that would be, especially if I needed a father figure.

The treatment: “Don’t be a naughty boy and play with that kid across the road without telling us. Otherwise, I’ll send you to bed without your banquet.”

Thus, Albanese is lucky – slap on the back, not on the wrist – yet. Depends now on how he navigates China. The removal of tariffs is probably more important than some hypothecated underwater war toy (if ever launched at a time when “AUKUS” has replaced “obsolete” in the Australian vocabulary.)

Albanese is lucky. I surmise this US administration cannot countenance Dutton, especially following the Morrison debacle. However, Trump would be another matter. Yes, it is Halloween this week.

Mouse Whisper

Ever heard about my Andean cousin, the leaf eared mouse. They have been called “extremophiles” Why? Well let the current issue of Science set the scene:

Few places are as inhospitable as the top of Llullaillaco, a 6700-meter volcano on the border between Chile and Argentina.Winds howl nonstop and no plants live there; daytime temperatures never get above freezing and plummet even more come nightfall. Oxygen levels are just 40% of those at sea level, too low for mammals to live there —or so biologists thought until 3 years ago when a research team captured a live leaf-eared mouse at its summit.  

That has proved not to be a fluke as climbers in the high Andes have seen the mouse scurrying across the snow searching for lichens to feed upon.

There you are!  Mice on top of the world.

Modest Expectations – Geelong

Noel Pearson said if the referendum failed to pass he would fall silent. Full stop!

Somebody should remind him. It would be a blessed relief.

Clueless in Gaza 

“I would like Gaza to sink into the sea, but that won’t happen, and a solution must be found.” Yitzhak Rabin (1992)

Hamas has poked a sleeping tiger. Now, the Hamas terrorists are likely to learn what other authoritarian aggressors have learned before them: that liberal democracies can be extremely ferocious and supremely effective at war-fighting when roused from their peacetime slumber. As Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote at the beginning of World War II: “Hitler should beware of the fury of an aroused democracy.” Washington Post

Speaking to the Israeli Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Iran and Hezbollah, “Don’t test us in the north. Don’t make the mistake of the past. Today, the price you will pay will be far heavier,” referring to Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah, which operates out of Lebanon.

Soon after he spoke, the Knesset floor was evacuated as rockets headed toward Jerusalem. Sirens in Tel Aviv prompted U.S. and Israeli officials to take shelter in a bunker, officials said. Boston Globe

Yitzhak Rabin

In 1995, I went to Jerusalem when Yitzhak Rabin was Prime Minister. Rabin had been a prominent brigade commander in the Palmach, which was one of the militias that formed the backbone after independence in 1948 of the Israeli Army. The Palmach had been blooded fighting the Vichy French in 1941 in Syria and Lebanon inter alia with Australian troops.

It was a fortunate time to visit Israel when I did in 1995, in particular because Rabin had mastered a living space for the Nation, when there was as much latent hostility surrounding him in the Arab nations supporting the Palestinians. The Jews had suffered discrimination, pogroms, holocausts – all designed to encourage the segregation of the ghetto or the creation of an independent nation.

What I remember with greatest awe about is the Dome on the Rock. This extraordinary building on the Mount, where tradition says Solomon built his Temple, demolished 2,500 years ago by the Babylonians. A long time ago but still an os contentionis. That is the problem, the more you stay in Jerusalem the more you seem to be tripping over religion; but when there is a secular peace, this religious overlay becomes tolerable. I found both the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem underwhelming.

However, the highlight was going to Bethlehem, then a ten-minute uneventful taxi ride from Jerusalem. No walls. As we found out, Bethlehem at that time had a significant Christian Palestinian population. One of the young guides was one such Christian, whom the late Chris Brook befriended. They stayed in contact for some years until one day there was no response. Through his contacts Chris tried to find out what had happened. A murky trail of sketchy information ended with bad news – the young fellow had been killed. No further information or at least Chris never told me.

The embedded silver star

There was a silver star embedded in the floor of the Grotto of the Nativity. Pilgrims bent low to kiss the silver star, with its central hollow where Christ was reputed to have been born.

I cannot remember what I did. Probably saw the people in front of me as an excuse not to bend down; and those with me followed my lead. There were better ways to show my devotion. Then logic kicked in – how the hell would anybody know the exact place of His birth?

The Church’s governance is divided between Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian churches, with the various Oriental Churches given a few nooks and crannies.  I passed one such space, and saw two eyes peering out, the rest of the person enshrouded in darkness. I was told later he was a deacon of the Ethiopian Church. The relations between the three landlords are often acrimonious, leading to physical altercation and being dismissive of the others. Not a good look!

Yet since I have been there, during the Second Intifada in 2002, the church was the site of a month-long siege. Christians in the Church gave sanctuary to 50 armed Palestinians wanted by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) giving them food, water, and protection from the IDF soldiers stationed outside.

My memento of Israel was a necklace which I purchased for my wife in Bethlehem. The Stones of Eilat are a gemstone found only in Israel Eilat is the actual site, and it is no longer mined. The stone is a green-blue mixture of several secondary copper minerals including azurite, chrysocolla, malachite, and turquoise. It is a beautiful necklace, and recently I read that much sold as genuine is in fact not so. My wife says it’s genuine.

I had gone to a Conference in Jerusalem and even then you were subject to detailed questioning by young officious Israelis. I had flown in on a British Airways 737, because given the length of time of interrogation, any bigger plane would have compounded an already intolerable situation. It was not much different from the departure grilling. Sarcasm was not a quality much appreciated, so you just resigned yourself to the rudeness.

What I found the most confronting were the ultra-orthodox Jews who seemed to inhabit a cavern alongside to the Wailing Wall when they were not praying at the Wall. One bearded man in the black gear so typical of his form of Judaism engaged me in conversation. The filth that he spewed out about the Palestinians took me aback. Here was a protected species, who avoided military service while urging the elimination of all non-Jews. I cut short the conversation, at which point he lifted his beard to show me his tracheostomy. Good one … whatever your name was.

I’m not surprised that  an ultra-orthodox Jew who, not long after, assassinated Rabin. Yet these people are now running the government, providing the current Prime Minister Netanyahu with a shield.

As the Guardian has said “Netanyahu, who is facing a corruption trial and weekly mass protests against his coalition’s attacks on the judiciary, hopes that a military victory might save his job.”

Nobody can countenance the Hamas raid with their associated brutality. However, the response of unleashing all your advanced weaponry has been shown to be self-defeating unless you win over the population – see Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. Thus an Israeli response of the magnitude threatened will only deepen the hatred which will mean nothing in the longer term for the stability of an Israel converted into a ghetto.

Garrisoning a hostile population is very expensive unless as some of the right wing fanatics seem to suggest – kill the whole population and there will be nothing left to garrison.

The population is mostly children. Are the Israelis really intent on killing every child in Gaza, just short of a million? The images of such carnage would be of the same order as the concentration camps, with bodies piled high.  The Baptist hospital bombing in Gaza City, whoever did it, reinforces that point.

Invasion would produce a low success rate, if they wish to rescue any live hostages. This is not Entebbe, where the Israeli hostages were rescued by Israel commandos and where Netanyahu’s brother, one of the commandos was himself killed. In this case, the number of Jewish hostages killed would pale in comparison with Palestinian casualties.

Eliminate Gaza; eliminate Israel as a democracy. So heed the words of Dwight Eisenhower, who knew the meaning of “restraint”, but emphasises that he was speaking for democracy not for an embattled faux-theocracy, however described.

In conclusion, having been in Israel in a time of comparative peace, let me say something briefly about the difference between Rabin and Netanyahu. Rabin was an honourable warrior.

Chiefly, the right light? 

Ben Chifley

We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for.  Ben Chifley (1949)

I’ve liked writing, but like many who write, I probably over-estimate my ability. When I look back, I have been fortunate in many ways, but choosing to do medicine was the wrong pathway. By that I mean that as I had been seen as a “swot” at school, amassing a library of prizes through my school years, I would naturally gravitate to an area where I excelled. I wrote as well as anybody at school of my vintage, except one guy who had an immense talent but squandered it.

But I didn’t follow a similar course. As I grew older, I realised how much I loved words, but at the time I was faced with a combined course with law as my tertiary destination. It has been convenient for me to blame my father for pushing me into medicine but being academically bright had not served me well at school. Languages were taught appallingly, and besides Latin, only French and German were available. Journalism, in which I would have found the same collegality as I did in medicine, was never an option. There was no obvious role model for this, although I knew Chester Wilmot, the acclaimed war correspondent was at school with my father.

The other area was the armed forces. I remember a couple of boys who went off to the Naval College as early recruits. One of my best friends went through the training, and when we talked, I was lucky that I did not choose that route; but anyway, I would have failed the medical, as I did for National Service. Flat feet, calcanea vera causing spastic peroneal muscles – a recipe for being unable to walk the next day after marching was the reason. Marching for a prolonged period thus was just not an option, especially when compounded with my eyesight being afflicted with myopia, astigmatism and strabismus.

What undertaking Medicine gave me was an enjoyable sense of collegiality. From being an oddball on the fringes at school, I became an oddball in the centre of the action at the University for a few years. I found out my place when I achieved a leadership position, I had an intuitive grasp of how meetings worked. The ability to work with the knowledge that today’s allies may be tomorrow’s adversaries was an essential ingredient for collegiality that I found out. Then, if resolution could only be achieved by conflict resolution, the art of successful collegial alliances was crucial.

Throughout my professional life I have been driven by what in society I perceived as in need of change. A recurrent theme of such a desire to see change is that I always outlived my welcome, because in pursuing change I upset so many of those whose comfort zone is the status quo, as the collegiality with this group begins to fray. Hence, the wider my ability to shift my collegial scenarios – reinvent oneself every five years – helps if it can be managed. When I hear somebody is a “change agent”, that person is the direct opposite. They mistake the light on the hill for their guttering candle.

One can always live too long, and there is ever-diminishing collegiality, the essential driver for what I used to achieve. People stop listening to you. People pass away. Then I have reverted to that lonely teenager on the fringe, because equally I am alone in my old age.

In the end collegiality is ephemeral, whereas dynasty is not – and that enables any legacy of my lifetime to be forgotten or dismantled. But such is life and mate, the light on the hill, as I’m about to depart, has been obscured by the fog that will never lift. 

An Uncommon Birri (Queensland Channel Country) and Guugu Yimidhirr (Cooktown) Woman

Thank God, the referendum is over. I was heartily sick of the mantra that Aboriginal people are the oldest civilisation in the world, and the parade of Aboriginal professors mouthing elitist “we know best for you whitefellas, while at the same time not being prepared to cope with the criticism of the structure of the so-called campaign.” I am sick of being asked to come on a journey, to walk in their shoes.

The referendum was soundly defeated. Everyone seems to be forgetting that when the referendum was being mooted, the “YES” was over 65 per cent at the outset, and still 60 per cent at the time when the Cabinet actually decided on the referendum, and the question Australians over the age of 18 years would vote upon in placing the “Voice” in the Australian Constitution.

It is hard to take the aim of closing the gap or other catchphrases that are easy to mouth, but have been of no moment in improving the marginalised Aboriginal people, without having a definite set of aims. Let us take the medical profession. Over the past 40 years, since the first Aboriginal doctor graduated, there have been over 520 medical graduates who are Aboriginal. This is thus evidence of developing a professional stream; but how many Aboriginal medical graduates are the “gap-closers”. How many of these should be active clinicians rather than advocates in administrative roles?

Therein lies the problem. The “yes” campaign group was led by a group of self-styled academic Aboriginal intellectuals using the Uluru Statement as their talisman. The problem with the document is that it didn’t speak in the language of the people it was supposed to represent, and its uncritical acceptance by the Australian community. The Government’s poor decision to base the referendum solely on this document has been borne out. For instance, the use of “Thither”. Who uses that archaic word?

The aim now should be to replace the Aboriginal academic hierarchy who were the “leaders” of the “yes” camp by a younger group more able to connect with their white contemporaries.

How should this be done?

The next Governor General should be an Aboriginal person – relatively young, not one of those who were part of the Uluru Statement. Not one of those Aborigines who have been awarded  academic titles, as though colonial vestments substitute for wisdom. It needs to be someone who can champion the connection to the oral traditions and traverse the wide variety of these traditions.

For unlike the indigenous people of other countries, how many of these aspirants have met the number of Aboriginal mobs crammed into one country, where the traditions have developed in a way that the term First Nation papers over the atomisation of the Aboriginal people which has occurred over the eons in which they roamed the countryside.

Because so much of the oral tradition remaining is linked into the art, much of the remaining traditions have been disrupted, although whitefella involvement in recording some of language and subsequent phonetic interpretation should be acknowledged, as should those elders who have maintained the traditions of culture without political contamination.

This above provides the background.

Tanya Denning Orman

My vote would be for Tanya Denning Orman, described as a Birri (Queensland Channel Country) and Guugu Yimidhirr (Cooktown) woman from Central and North Queensland.

She has both grace and gravitas.  She is strong enough not to be engulfed by the communal structure of Aboriginal society, where the pressure for sharing everything leads often to the lowest common denominator rather than the highest common factor.

Moreover, she is not a token but someone who could preside over this elusive treaty, because in support of the referendum she has travelled widely, and finally she exudes optimism. In other words, she has already trod the traditional pathway of a Governor-General. She has the qualities to emulate the first woman in the post, Quentin Bryce. Moreover, she would have five years to effect what the referendum failed to do – to bring about unification of intention, and yet still be young enough not to be discarded with that title consigned to the has-beens – “emerita” at the end of her term.

The Torres Strait. Where are You?

The Torres Strait Islanders have been linked to the recently defeated Referendum with the Aboriginal People.

As far as I can determine, one advocate was Isabella Higgins, a young ABC journalist who is a Torres Strait Islander. Ms Higgins was awarded the 2019 Walkley Award for Young Australian Journalist of the Year.

I have written about her. I cannot find any contribution from her reviewing the place her Islander people actually played. In fact, I cannot find any intervention; any statements issued by the Torres Strait Islander leadership. Who are the leaders?

Vonda Malone has been the CEO of Torres Strait Regional Authority since last year. The following excerpt from her bio says it all. “With more than 20 years of experience working across 3 levels of government, specialising in Indigenous Affairs, she brings a unique international perspective to the role through her positions with both the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the United Nations Office of the Human Rights Commission, Geneva.”

She had been the Mayor of the Torres Strait. She is thus the complete bureaucrat, whose professional life has been lived away from the Torres Strait until she returned in 2016.

The Chair of the Authority is a retired RAN maritime engineer, Napau Pedro Stephen. Again I can’t remember him being mentioned during the referendum. Who I do remember is Gaetono Lui, who chaired the Authority in the 1990s – a natty dresser with dark glasses, whose role model seemed to be some of the Caribbean leaders. Not the picture of disadvantage.

Eddie Mabo and Jack Wailu on Mer (Murray Island)

Above all, the Torres Strait Islander, who has been far and away the most influential, was Eddie Mabo, who came from the remote Murray Island in the Strait. The High Court sided with his contention that the indigenous retained rights which were not extinguished by white occupation of the lands.

The decision led to the Native Title Act (1993) which created a framework that recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to certain land because of their traditional laws and customs. It allows access to land for living, traditional purposes, hunting or fishing and to teach laws and customs on the land. Mabo died before the High Court decision was handed down.

Some may dispute that there have been Aboriginal people who have made as big a contribution – a person such as David Unaipon, the man on the $50 note, a recognition of the Aboriginal genius adapted to whitefella society or the 200 Wave Hill stockmen who walked off the Vestey’s property in 1966, and whose land claims were ultimately recognised by the Whitlam government symbolised by the soil poured by Gough over the Wave Hill leader, Walter Lingiari’s hands in 1975. Neither were much quoted as exemplars of Aboriginal success, because it may have compromised the narrative of oppression, incarceration and chronic disease.

A young Aboriginal Governor General has a chance to change that narrative using the positive lesson at set out above, with more involvement of the Torres Strait people.

Crossing the Rabid Jordan

On July 12, 2022, Jordan tweeted to the Washington Examiner that a report of a 10-year-old Ohio girl traveling to Indiana to obtain a legal abortion after being raped was a lie. He deleted the tweet on July 13 after the rapist was arrested by police and confessed to raping the girl twice, and police confirmed that the report of her abortion in Indiana was accurate.

Until he withdrew on the last day, the race for the Speaker of the House of Representatives has been centred on Jim Jordan, the extremist representative from small town Ohio being elevated to Speaker. Before he was elected to Congress, he had form as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University, which has been swept under the mat, never resolved.

The Speaker’s empty Chair

As if in anticipation of the elevation of Jordan, now very less assured, the Lincoln Project has observed: The Speaker of the House, the person who holds the gavel and dictates the legislative agenda of the most powerful country on the planet, will not be one single person. 

It’s going to continue to be a collection of radicals and sycophants who are guided by the deranged delusions of the MAGA movement. Most of all, they’re guided by whatever words the Dear Leader whispers into their ear. 

That’s all you need to know about this Speaker race.

Amen, while the world goes to Hell in a Handcart, an artist has been commissioned to paint a bunch of narcissi over the door leading to the Chamber, but Jordan will be no longer portrayed.

Mouse Whisper

I asked myself in this year of the Referendum why Mickey was black. It is easy to say that he was drawn in a black and white world, but Walt Disney, in the definition below of Mickey, does not mention the colour of The Mouse.

Disney wrote: 

His body was like a pear, and he had a long tail. His legs were pipestems and we stuck them in big shoes (also circular in appearance) to give him the look of a kid wearing his father’s shoes. We didn’t want him to have mouse hands, because he was supposed to be more human. So we gave him gloves. Five fingers looked like too much on such a little figure, so we took one away. That was just one less finger to animate.

Modest Expectations – Karnataka

Nesting osprey

I was going through my memorabilia, and I came across my sand dollar, which I remember was given to me by friends who lived on the outer islands of South Carolina, to be precise where they had a house on Fripp Island. We stayed there a few times, and one of the memories which has stayed with me was seeing the osprey in the morning, the birds appearing to wake up with dawn.

I must say I do have fond memories of South Carolina because it was the place where I came to love scallops. The Gay Fish Company had their base on a nearby island in what is termed the low country, in other words a high class swamp. Their daily harvest of scallops was caught early, and these were notably large and sweet; one had to get down there early because when the catch was sold there were no more for the day. As I said, before staying there, I was not keen on scallops, but these Gay-harvested scallops changed my mind. I doubt if since I have ever had such large scallops with such flavour.

The sand dollar is also known as the Holy Ghost Shell, essentially the skeleton of a sea urchin. In South Carolina there are stiff penalties if one removes them live, but when they die, they are left as bleached calciferous discs. They are not uncommon, but as they tend to be fragile, by the time they get to the beach most are cracked or chipped. I have two – one the natural remnant and the other made from base metal which I was given as a present. The shells are full of Christian symbolism relating to Jesus Christ.

The following is a common description of this symbolism. It is said that Christ left the sand dollar as a symbol to help the evangelists teach the faith. The five holes commemorate the five wounds of Christ, while at the centre on one side blooms the Easter Lily, and at the lily’s heart is the Star of Bethlehem. The Christmas poinsettia is etched on the other side, a reminder of Christ’s birth. According to this legend, if you break the centre, five white doves will be released to spread goodwill and peace.

Biologically, sand dollars are small invertebrates with distinctive exoskeletons sporting a star shape at the centre of their disc-like bodies. The tube feet and keratinous spines covering their bodies make living sand dollars look and feel like velvet. Common colourations of sand dollars are grey, dark purple, pink, red and charcoal.  When you pick them up, they’ll exude a yellow staining substance not unlike their relation, the sea urchin. Even though I associate the sand dollar with South Carolina, they are distributed worldwide and can live for up to ten years. The sand dollar is edible, but it seems only the Japanese regularly include it in their cuisine.

Living in this low country is somewhat of a lottery because of regular hurricanes, and our friends lost a new Volvo parked under their house – the pedantic might call it an undercroft filled with water. However, that is the problem. The times we were there the sun sparkled, the unreal emerald colour shone from the fairways and the nearby picturesque Beaufort, pronounced “Bue-fort” not “Beau–fort”, had that Southern charm.  The islands – a string of privileged influence, which I doubt even the mystical sand dollar can save.

Fripp Island

Massacres of Aboriginals – The role of the Aboriginal Trooper

I always wonder how the descendants of the Indigenous troopers rationalise their ancestors’ role in the massacre of their Aboriginal brothers and sisters. Have they issued apologies – do they walk as penitents to atone for their ancestors’ action?

I have been to two of the sites where major massacres of Aboriginals occurred, and where there are monuments to those killed.

The first of these is approached on a hill above Bingara in northern New South Wales. It is a plain granite rock, and the path winds because it is supposed to represent the rainbow servant. In relation to the victims, it was a particularly savage attack by whitefellas. The victims were mainly women and children, decapitated, dismembered and burnt. Seven of the perpetrators were subsequently tried and hanged, which was itself controversial at the time. The problem was that the execution hardened colonial attitudes against the Aboriginal people, rather than creating any sympathy for them.

Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld

Previously, Major James Nunn, the Commandant of the New South Wales Mounted Police, had been sent from Sydney to lead a punitive expedition against the Aboriginal people who had killed stockmen in separate incidents. His response, however, was extreme. On 26 January 1838 Nunn and his men massacred Aboriginal people camped at Waterloo Creek. Contemporary reports were vague about the number massacred. Some suggested eight deaths, others put the figure at 40-50, while Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld, the Congregational minister and chronicler suggested it may have been more like 500.

Nunn also encouraged nearby stockmen and settlers to murder any Aboriginal person they came across. It was the opening salvo in the Myall Creek murders. I cannot find any evidence, at least not in the Threlkeld papers, that there were any Aboriginal troopers involved although Aboriginal men were recruited to the NSW Mounted Police. Rolf Boldrewood, in his reflections on his time spent as an early squatter in the Western District of Victoria, mentions the recruitment of Aboriginal troopers from the tribes around Tumut, hundreds of kilometres away. Native Police were recruited from 1837, only two years after the foundation of Melbourne and the opening up of the Port Phillip District.

Queensland, by contrast, had a strong history of Aboriginal troopers. I remember coming back from Normanton in the Gulf Country via the back road to Cloncurry. Near the hamlet of Kajabbi, there is a cairn which was dedicated by Charlie Perkins and a Kalkadoon elder, George Thorpe, in 1984. The memorial commemorates one hundred years since the battle between Aboriginal tribes, in particular the Kalkadoon, and the native Mounted Police under Sub-Inspector Fred Urquhart.  For eight years he commanded a huge swathe of Far Northern Queensland including not only the Gulf but also the whole of Cape York and Thursday Island.

The Kalkadoon had been rustling the white settlers’ cattle, because the cattle had reduced the native wildlife. The Kalkadoon were used to hunting the native fauna and in its absence, the settlers’ cattle would do. The settlers called in the police and pitched battles were fought. On multiple occasions Urquhart was wounded, but this “heroism” was rewarded eventually by his becoming the head of this squad. The native police were recruited, far from where they were posted, and were known to be particularly brutal in these so-called “dispersals”.

In 1884, at least fifty Kalkadoon were killed in these so-called skirmishes.

I have been to these two places where Aboriginal people were murdered and memorials created. One was where the presence of native troopers was unproven; and probably not involved. The other there was definite involvement.

The fact is that Aboriginals in the employ of the whitefellas massacred their fellow Aboriginal people. Not the normal tribal warfare, which has pockmarked the concept of Australia of being some form of blackfella Shangri-la, if it were not for the Invaders.

The Aboriginal people love their myths. Uluru is a myth. Too much of what has happened has been airbrushed away, as the amount of meeting after meeting after meeting, with the same images – with people like Patrick Dodson trying to stir whitefella guilt by implying that Australia will lose moral authority if Australia does not vote “Yes”.

Where is the moral authority when your ancestors were murdering your fellow Aboriginal people. What do you say now about moral authority? Apologies for police actions have been undertaken by whitefellas; where is the blackfella apology?

Frederick Douglass Back on Stage

The following is a part of a text which was read out in Somerville on July 4. It comes from a speech made in 1852 by the slave emancipator, Frederick Douglass, born a slave in Maryland in 1817, but who escaped as a child.

It was on 5 July 1852 that Douglass delivered an address in the newly built Corinthian Hall in Rochester New York. This speech eventually became known as “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” One biographer called it “perhaps the greatest antislavery oration ever given”.

Like many abolitionists, Douglass believed that education would be crucial for African Americans to improve their lives; he was an early advocate for school desegregation. In the 1850s, Douglass observed that New York’s facilities and instruction for African American children were vastly inferior to those for European Americans. Douglass called for court action to open all schools to all children. He said that full inclusion within the educational system was a more pressing need for African Americans than political issues such as suffrage.

It is ironic that the Supreme Court has just struck down the affirmative action by tertiary education institutions.  In the view of the Chief Justice John Roberts, the relevant part of the 14th Amendment, its equal protection clause, was meant to help bring about a colourblind society, not to support racial preferences. What is the difference when a Society is so heavily skewed to white privilege?

Frederick Douglass

The Douglass speech is much longer than the speech made by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, over a decade later, but it has the same gravitas, the same call to reform while invoking the ideal of the fledging Republic. The fact that slavery persisted so long in the USA has always cast a shadow over all the “high-falutin” oratory that was spun around in those years before, during and after the Civil War, when so many Americans killed one another just epitomises the conundrum of the “killing fields” in the land of the free. Over what?  An enmity which persists to the present day linked to skin colour.

In the meantime, with the delivery of this speech originally made close to the 4th of July, for those in the audience in Somerville near Boston this week, this speech has been a reminder of the unhealed self-inflicted wounds that the Americans make on themselves.

Americans! Your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties) is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and bodyguards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina.

You invite to your shores, fugitives of oppression from abroad, honour them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation—a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against her oppressors; but, in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse!

You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labour; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a threepenny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not coloured like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.

The Virgin Armenian

Gary Sturgess

Gary Sturgess has left his mark on NSW.

ICAC was his idea.

Gladys Berejiklian has left her mark on NSW with her version of Bridget Jones’s Diary, as revealed in the ICAC folio.

What else?

Well, I have kept my own diary-blog during the Plague years, in which Premier Berejiklian figures prominently – one misstep after another, her feet firmly placed in her goody-two shoes.

The culmination of the idolatry came with the AFR article in April 2021 with Phillip Coorey cooing about the Woman who Saved Australia. There she was photographed in all her understated sultriness, swathed in virginal white, incongruously perched on the green benches of the Legislative Assembly.

I never could get that “saviour” line, given that the Ruby Princess fiasco occurred under her watch. And then it went on and on – and everybody praised her handling of the epidemic.

She was the third NSW Premier to be touched by the ICAC, and none have been bought to court. In fact, Greiner and Farrell have survived handsomely. After all, New South Wales has a tradition from the earliest days of letting those convicted of misdemeanours, if not felonies, to strut free. There is a list of parliamentary dross who have been convicted, including two of murder. Notwithstanding, there had not been any convictions for forty years, until “Buckets” Rex Jackson was convicted in 1987. Since the arrival of ICAC there have been more convictions than in all the years from 1987 back to 1891 when the first misdemeanour by a parliamentarian was reported.

As reported, in July 1999 Carmen Lawrence stood in the dock in Perth District Court silently mouthing the words “thank you, thank you, thank you” across the floor to the jury. Six men and six women had spent just 45 minutes deliberating before acquitting her of perjury after a trial lasting three weeks.

Carmen Lawrence would have been the third former Western Australian Premier in less than three years to be gaoled if she had been found guilty of having given false or misleading information to the 1995 Marks Royal Commission; the charges laid under section 24 of the Royal Commission Act 1968 carried a penalty of five years imprisonment.

Former Premiers Brian Burke and Ray O’Connor and former Deputy Premier David Parker all served time behind bars in the aftermath of the WA Inc Royal Commission. Brian Burke, in addition, was sentenced to three years jail after being convicted of stealing $122,585 from the Australian Labor Party between 1984 and 1985 to fund purchases for his own private stamp collection. The former Labor leader was also gaoled in late 1994 for fraud offences, but he was released after serving only seven months of a two-year term. In keeping with the traditions of NSW, Burke survived and went onto a successful career as a pro-business lobbyist, working in partnership with former ministerial colleague Julian Grill, also investigated by the CCC of WA, charged, but subsequently found not guilty of all charges.

In February 1995 the then 69-year-old former Premier Ray O’Connor also received a prison term after being found guilty in the Perth District Court of stealing a $25,000 cheque from Bond Corporation, which had been intended for Liberal Party campaign funds. O’Connor was originally given an 18-month jail term, but he was released after serving only six months. In September 1994 David Parker was sentenced to 18 months jail after being convicted of stealing $38,000 from his campaign accounts between 1986 and 1989.

So Western Australian Premiers have been especially naughty; but in Victoria there is a certain purity, the only convictions of parliamentarians have been for drink driving. In Queensland, after the Fitzgerald Inquiry, in 1991 the former Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen was lucky that he was not convicted of perjury, largely because of the actions of the trial foreman, Luke Shaw. This person was an avowed “friend” of Bjelke-Petersen and National Party activist. Bjelke-Petersen was not re-tried because of his age and subsequent development of a form of dementia.

Berejiklian seems to have a high degree of hubris and little shame about the findings of ICAC, but here was a situation where the Commissioner could not win. Ruth McColl is a stickler for process, but she is not a practitioner of the dark arts of NSW politics. Therefore, if she takes too long, essentially a value judgement of the current NSW Premier, then there must be legislative redress to assure “the quick and dirty”. This Premier really is a piece of work. If McColl had spent less time, that group surrounding Berejiklian would have launched an assault on the Commissioner that she had given insufficient time to consider the matters under referral.  Nevertheless, I doubt whether Berejiklian saying that she wanted to spend more time with her family would bring any more incredulity than the idolatrous clamour from her claque is bringing upon her already.

What will be interesting is how Optus handles the situation. Does she damage the brand so that Optus, itself with a speckled reputation, is forced to release her back to the arms of her family.

McGuire and Berijiklian

There is an obvious question of probity, not just of some sort of stained Pollyanna. There is more to come. Influential members of the media are opposed to the secretive Armenian princess, and in the forthcoming travails of Daryl McGuire, it is inconceivable that she would not be mentioned in dispatches; plus, if she challenges the ICAC finding and expects her objections to be received in secret, she is living in fairyland.

In the meantime, those who have extolled Berejiklian should look to Plan B, because she has been spared by the drawn-out process, which in fact has provided a shield. That shield has gone; the decision is in.

Teddy Bairstow’s picnic

Lordy, Lordy! I believe gin is the preferred spirit of the game, but Pimm’s No. 1 Cup is gaining rapidly.

Not the tie but the jacket and cap … checking phone for current MCC Laws of Cricket on stumping

By the way, did you note the colour of the Lord’s tie. In our youth, we used to drink advocaat and cherry brandy – known colloquially among us medical students as blood and pus. Not that I would be that revolting.

Mouse Whisper

This mouse-myth is narrated by Herodotus, an unreliable Greek historian who lived in 5th century BC, and is said to have happened in Egypt. Whatever the truth, for we mice, it is entertaining.  Sethôs was an Ethiopian priest who became the ruler of Egypt at a time when the state was under Ethiopian domination, somewhere in the early 7th century B.C. Apparently when Sethôs clambered up to the throne, he made a point of showing he couldn’t care less about the “warrior-class” of Egyptians. He thus found himself without an army when the Assyrian King Sennacherib invaded his country. Sethos fell asleep in the temple, and the god Hephæstus, appearing to him in a vision, told him that divine succour would come to the Egyptians. In the night before the battle, field-mice gnawed the quivers, the spears and the leather shield-handles of the Assyrians, who fled on finding themselves thus disarmed. “And now,” says Herodotus, “there stands a stone image of this king in the temple of Hephæstus, and in his hand a mouse, and there is this inscription, “Let who so look on me and be pious.”

Modest Expectations – Chile 8.8

Kinsley White, 6; Ralph Yarl, 16; Payton Washington, 18; Kaylin Gillis, 20; Heather Roth, 21.

Over the last week, these children were shot over bouncing a ball, ringing a doorbell, pulling into a driveway, and mistakenly opening the wrong car door. One of them, Kaylin, was killed.

Is this pro-life, America? Protecting fetuses but not the humans they become?

What was that word?  Yes “deplorable”. A quote from the Boston Globe this week nails the sickness.

No Flack at Yack

I am writing this blog in the Yackandandah motel. Yackandandah is one of those places where the name seems so ridiculous to be so very identifiably Australian – you know like Tangambalanga or Bullamakanka or Woomargama.

It is a beautiful time to be in Northern Victoria with the trees showing off their autumnal finery. Yackandandah is a small village along the way Hume and Hovell passed as the first whitefellas to penetrate the country south to Corio Bay, starting from Hume’s property at Appin in NSW south of Sydney. The year was 1824, when Hamilton Hume who had been born in the Colony was 27 years old.  He was joined by William Hovell, ten years his senior, for this great adventure. Along the route, their achievements are recognised by a series of obelisk monuments, one of which lies in a grove of oak trees on the Wodonga – Yackandandah Road. As I have driven this road many times, my wife suggested we stop and see why at this place called Staghorn Flat there is this magnificent grove of English and pin oak trees bordered by golden poplars – an exotic setting along a bush road where otherwise eucalypts and wattle dominate.

The stone cottage

Just along the road is the stone cottage where Aunt Minnie and Uncle Alf once lived; she points it out. Once derelict, the house was where these Lutheran pioneers once earned a living from dairy farming. There is thus a family connection to Staghorn Flat. After all, people had first come to Yackandandah and Staghorn Flat and Freedom Creek in search of gold in 1852. The original landowner had dismissed the idea that there was any gold. To him, gold was only found in Russia. No, mate that is not mica, that is the genuine stuff. Originally alluvial, deep mines were sunk and gold mining became a serious activity for the next 50 years.

The grove was the brainchild of those locals who wished to have a memorial for those who had served in the War and also to venerate the headmaster of the Staghorn Flat school. He had returned from the First World War, and it was decided that such a memorial should be planted along the road near the school to remember those who had not returned. Planting trees was a favourite method of honouring the dead, but these have, particularly on the eastern side of the road remained sturdy; and what a way to be remembered, when you lie somewhere in the fields of France. The Staghorn school closed and was demolished in 1990.

This road through the grove unfortunately is a raceway, and the cars and trucks zoom past, never stopping for the drivers and passengers to wander among the yellowing foliage and the crackling carpet, a legacy of brown leaves and acorns. I’m glad we stopped.

Kilted Up

In a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission, the Presbyterian Church of Australia said it was essential that its schools “have the freedom to employ staff who are not merely in agreement with our ethos but who also live in a manner consistent with that ethos”.

The church said its schools “do not refuse or terminate enrolments for students on the basis of sexual orientation” and were not seeking to do so. But it argued that schools should have the right to stop sexually active heterosexual or LGBTQ+ students becoming school captains.

“If this [LGBTQ+] student was in an active same-sex relationship, they would not be able to give appropriate Christian leadership in a Christian school which requires modelling Christian living,” it said. – edited report from The Age

The diminishing band of Scottish Calvinists, Presbyterians who remained separate when the Uniting Church was formed, secured some of the juiciest real estate, part of the booty being Scotch College in Melbourne. The Church issued an edict to the effect that it wants its staff and students in the single sex school to be red-blazered heterosexuals. In response, the Captain of Melbourne Grammar School, incidentally another single sex school, wrote an opinion piece for The Age, stating he was gay and making an impassioned plea for tolerance and implying that his school now encouraged such attitudes. Well he was, after all, the Captain of School.

Head of the River – 1957

I am an old Melburnian myself, and in those days there was always that cry, mostly from Scotch boys at the Head of River in particular, of “if you can’t get a girl, get a Grammar boy”. Tolerance in those days took a different form.

I had a friend at school who had been a scholarship boy from one of the unfashionable suburbs, very like the suburb in which I grew up in the south-east of Melbourne. He was a gentle fellow, kind and considerate; he used to date the daughter of the school chaplain and was responsible for introducing me to one of my girlfriends.  After we left school, he and I with a large cohort of fellows from our Year 12, started medicine at the University of Melbourne. However, in second year, he could not cope with the dissecting room. He dropped out of medicine at the end of that year and left for the United Kingdom, eventually drifted into a religious calling. He became an Anglican monk, and later I heard he had died of AIDS. I saw him very rarely after he left medicine once he relocated to the United Kingdom; he did not come back to Australia very often. When I did see him, he had “come out” without explicitly stating that he had. That was the word “explicit”, and since Melbourne Grammar School was a boarding school, I am sure there would have been covert homosexuality, but it was not a topic in the quadrangle.

Daniel Cash, the Melbourne Grammar School Captain, has had his “line in the sand” moment. It is a pity that he had to say what he did because for that he will be long remembered; and there are those in this malevolent world he will enter who will not remember kindly.

To the credit of the Scotch College Council, it has pushed back against the Church edict.

But it started me thinking. Would Cash have been afforded the same status and hence platform if he were a student at an Anglican School in the Sydney Diocese?

Douglas Brass, the father of Alister John Douglas Brass 

Alister Brass, in a written inscription on his book Bleeding Earth: a doctor looks at Vietnam written when he was a war correspondent in Vietnam, which he gave to me, dedicated it to “Me mate” – an ironic appellation but then we were the epitome of “The Odd Couple”.

I have penned a substantial amount about my friend, Alister, who died of AIDS in 1986, and even now nearly 40 years on I miss him dearly.

The poem below is very much my lament. I am publishing a few of my poems and the poem about Alister, written soon after his death, is among them.  In explanation, at the time of his death I was in Louisbourg, a town located on the austere Cape Breton Island that juts out from the Canadian Atlantic Coast.

I must say it has been a long Thursday!

His father, Douglas Brass, wrote the following letter to me after his death.

Thank you for your note about Alister and the somewhat mystical dream essay. We take it you had found someone in Alister, who trod the same sort of path through this dark world of ours

Anyway do send me a copy of your journal. We don’t see the MJA {Medical Journal of Australasia of which Alister had been Editor 1983-85} now but we trust you are still entertaining its readership with your column and other pieces.

You were a comfort to Alister in the jungle. I imagine you had lots of things in common apart from good food and talk.

Again, thank you for getting in touch.

It was a warm letter, but I never met him. He did not invite me to come and meet him. But then why should he? The letter was enough.

Alister did not talk about his father much, although I knew the family was close to the Murdochs. I remember meeting Larry Lamb at Alister’s house in Paddington, at the time Lamb was briefly editor of The Australian and Alister was sounding me out to be a columnist on The Australian. Lamb was an extrovert Yorkshireman who had been editor of Murdoch’s Sun in the UK when it introduced “the page 3 girls”. He did not last long in Australia, where he was given the sobriquet “Sir Loin” by the local staff.

Rupert Murdoch takes over the Daily Mirror in 1960

A New Zealander originally, Douglas Brass was a far different personality from Murdoch’s later directors. Douglas first formed a friendship with Keith Murdoch after going to work for him in 1936 at the Herald & Weekly Times.  Then later on, after a stint as war correspondent, he was a major mentor for his son Rupert in his early newspaper days, after Keith Murdoch had died in 1952. Douglas was known for his liberal and temperate approach, helping steer The Australian through its early days in the 1960s, when he was Editorial Director of News Limited until 1970, at a time when he opposed Rupert’s acquisition of the British tabloids.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography says it better about Douglas Brass than me paraphrasing the following:

He made a series of important appointments to the Australian, including Adrian Deamer as editor and Mungo McCallum as a political journalist, as well as selecting its London and Washington correspondents. Opposing the escalating Vietnam War on moral grounds, he contributed powerful feature articles to the Australian in 1969 attacking both the war and conscription. A critic of Menzies, he believed Harold Holt to be merely a ‘yes man’ on foreign affairs, but he held out hope for a future Whitlam-led Labor administration.

It should be remembered in this context that Murdoch supported Whitlam in the 1972 election. Douglas Brass retired to Mt Eliza, maintained close contact with Elisabeth Murdoch, whose Cruden Farm was not that far away, and wrote occasional pieces until his death in 1994.

The Daguerreotype of Deception

The novelist John Banville, writing in the New York Review of Books, makes an astute comment: As we know, the camera does lie, frequently and flagrantly – consider the fashion industry – but sometimes, with some people, the lens insinuates itself behind the mask to starkly revelatory effect.

I thought his comments very apt when I saw an advertisement for Louis Vuitton which appeared on the back cover of a recent issue of The Economist, although it was pointed out to me that it was not the camera that lied, but rather the manipulation of the picture subsequently.

The subject of the photograph is vaguely familiar, a metrosexual representation of the relaxed successful young executive surrounded by an array of Louis Vuitton Luggage. What attracted me was the pair of expensive black elastic-sided boots, of which he had been shod but never worn. They seemed to be R.M Williams footwear, and I remembered that LV had owned R.M. Williams for a time.

But back to elegant lounger. Suddenly, it struck us. It was Lionel Messi, but this was not the scruffy homunculus darting around the football field, ablaze with tattoos. The face looking out of the photograph was imperious with a touch of the Hugh Jackman with the clipped beard. The hair cut was modish, and the legs seem to be much longer than those which we are accustomed to see striking the ball, certainly longer than a mere camera angle could have achieved. The tattoos are covered by an elegant long-sleeved knitwear.

A John Banville moment.

The Samaritan Today

Yeshiva University is a private Orthodox Jewish university with four campuses in New York City. Steven Fine, professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University and director of the university’s Israelite Samaritans Project wrote recently in the Washington Post (sic):

When my oldest son was in fourth grade, he was studying in a Talmud class preparing for the Jewish New Year. The teacher arrived at a passage that describes the nefarious Kutim, an ancient expletive for Samaritans. The rabbi explained how these awful Kutim disrupted communication of the date of the new year from Jerusalem to surrounding communities some 2,000 years ago. No “good Samaritans” here.

He told the boys that the Kutim were descendants of false converts who persist in attacking “us.” Looking up, the teacher saw that my boy was upset. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Rabbi,” my son replied, “my dad has a friend who is a Samaritan. Calling Samaritans ‘Kutim’ is like using the n-word.” The kindly teacher had no answer. Soon after, he sought me out for more information. 

So this Passover, meet the modern-day Samaritans. Though we speak of good Samaritan laws that protect do-gooders and good Samaritan hospitals that heal us, in fact, this small religious group has barely survived centuries of hate and mistrust in a region riven by conflict.

The fact that they were widely despised in antiquity is a key element of the New Testament parable for which their name is known. In the gospel story, a Jewish traveller had been robbed, beaten and left for dead. A passing Jewish priest walked past the suffering man without stopping, as did a Levite. A man of the hated Samaritan people finally rendered aid. The story is not just about helping a stranger but also helping and being helped by someone who looks like an enemy.


Samaritans, like Jews, are descendants of ancient Israelites. They trace their lineage to one of the “lost” 10 tribes of the northern Kingdom of Israel. They call themselves the Shemarim, the “guardians” of the Torah, and revere the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. 

Samaritans are not Jews or Arabs. They are both, and neither — all at the same time. Half live in the Israeli city of Holon and are Israelis, the other half live atop their holy mountain, Mount Gerizim, above the city of Nablus in the West Bank. The Mount Gerizim Samaritans are the only people to possess both Palestinian and Israeli identity cards. Samaritans believe that Noah’s ark landed on the mountain, that Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac there, and that Joshua set up the biblical tabernacle there, now hidden in a cave in a cleft of the mountain. 

Around 110 B.C., the Maccabean king, John Hyrcanus, destroyed their place of sacrifice on their holy mountain. In later centuries, they were hounded by Byzantine Christians and then Muslims. In 1842, their community came close to annihilation at the hands of Islamic zealots. It was saved only when the chief rabbi of Jerusalem testified to the Turkish authorities that Samaritans are “Israelites who believe in the Torah of Moses.”

Decades later, when their population had dwindled to fewer than 150 people, the Samaritans found their greatest modern leader: Jacob, son of Aaron. Cultivating friendships with British and American Christians and Zionist Jews, Jacob became a sort of media star, the face of his people to the world. He developed a line of souvenirs and published a series of Samaritan books to customers the world over. Under his leadership, and the protection lent by his Western friends — especially the state of Israel — the Samaritan population rebounded to 850 today, priests, business people, bankers, teachers and scholars. 

Jacob helped make the Samaritan Passover celebration a favourite destination for Middle East dignitaries and world travellers. As their ancestors have done for centuries, every Samaritan family goes to the peak of Mount Gerizim to sacrifice a sheep in what is now a huge public ceremony. They date the tradition to the days of Moses, who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Drawing both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the ceremony is an unusual moment of concord in the contentious Middle East. 

Both biblical and modern at the same time, the Samaritan story is far larger than the tribe’s numbers might suggest. Theirs is a lesson of shared humanity in spite of hatred, which is good news at any time of year. 

The Samaritans are thus a tiny, persecuted offshoot of Judaism as explained above in the Washington Post article. Their fame rests on the parable of the “Good Samaritan”, which is a common phrase when used to express one’s kindness to a fellow human. Yet the point of the parable was that in Biblical times the Samaritans were reviled as people not to be trusted. It is ironic that this thread of humanity still exists in a part of the World where extremism rules. No, rabid and rabbinical do not have the same root, as I contemplate the broken crosses in the Jerusalem cemetery and the attacks on the Armenian Church – different patriarch, but still fellow Christians. Also, the lesson of a good Samaritan’s intervention would not go astray among our destructive Judaic brothers in Jerusalem.

Mouse Whisper

Writing about Australian place names, the one name which distinguishes the genuine Australian from hoi polloi is the pronunciation of Canowindra. This town, in the mid-west of New South Wales, is famous for its annual hot balloon festival but, like Yackandandah, it owes its place in the Bush because of gold. Gold attracts bushrangers, and Canowindra was no different, a band of them taking over the town for more than a week awaiting a Cobb & Co coach laden with gold which did not arrive.

Gaitskill Street, the main street is worthy of note, with its verandahed buildings, deep gutters, and its doglegged configuration reminding those who travel along it that it was a bullock track, without the benefit of modern highway planners who just excavate straight lines through suburbs in homage to that god of pollution, Autobilius Inefficiencius.

A golden morning for ballooning

Modest Expectation – Malopolskie

Arresting Mr Teixeira

A young American national guardsman was apprehended as the person alleged to have leaked “State Secrets”, not apparently for any reward apart from seemingly to “big note’ himself. He apparently is big on Guns and God; not an anarchic nihilist, but one who is a dab hand at getting into the holy of holiness – “the State Secrets”, and what’s more, converting it into a video game. The force sent to arrest him magnified the view of the Government being a Puffer Toad, so many Federal agents were deployed to arrest this one guy. The melodrama was almost comical and shows how difficult some elements of the US government have in maintaining perspective.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, two female Federal police officers arrested some guy who had allegedly been flogging Australia’s State Secrets, presumably to some Chinese agents. The vision of this duo bundling the guy into the back seat of an unmarked police vehicle contrasted so markedly from that beamed from the United States showing the arrest; thus showing very clearly the matter-of-fact way these two women had gone about their task. Oh my God, two women in mufti, without flak jacket, and not armed to the teeth in arresting a “Suspect of One”. This scenario would not do for the American media, with their “Law and Order” knee jerk response.

The question arising from the American experience is that if a lowly national guard could gain access to such sensitive material, it would be inconceivable that all the expert hackers all over the globe would not also have been able to access all this “secret information”. Then there is presumably a battle to determine whether the information is false, which in turn sets the scenario for a gigantic maze of false clues and games not too different from that devised allegedly by the hapless young man with a love of Guns and God.

Five Bells

Olsen’s Five Bells at Sydney Opera House

John Olsen died last week. His bird’s eye view of the Australian landscape has been praised by figures more authoritative than me. He painted at least two spectacular tributes to the greatest elegy ever written by an Australian. I have borrowed this succinct description of Olsen’s contribution:  John Olsen’s 1963 painting, Five Bells, on permanent display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and his 1973 mural, Salute to Five Bells, installed in the northern foyer of the main concert hall at the Sydney Opera House. In the Royal Botanic Gardens near the Opera House gate, Guy Lynch’s Satyr, modelled on Joe, looks out to sea to where his brother drowned and where the Manly Ferry passes on its daily route.

Just let me say, I love these representations of the variety and vastness of Australia. Fred Williams was one such painter of this genre. We have a painting which very closely mimics a Fred Williams. I like it, although the purists would say it lacks the magic of Williams’ aerial views.

However, we do have a Hissing Swan’s view of the Western District of Victoria. Hissing Swan is the whitefella name for the Aboriginal artist, Karun Warun, whose vision of his land is very striking, with the overlay of an Aboriginal warrior imprinted on a fiery background of his tribal land spear in hand looking down on the fallen one.

Kuran Warun grew up in Framlingham, an Anglican mission originally on the Hopkins River north of Warrnambool. In 1971 the Aboriginal people were finally granted ownership of 237 hectares there and the land is now managed by the local Aboriginal Trust.  Karun Warun is a Gunditjmara man. Originally his mob were from north of Portland, around Lake Condah, but they were also forcibly moved to Framlingham, and this was inter alia the depiction of his lands.

But the the actual painting subject is the snake tribe and goanna tribe in conflict.

But what of Five Bells?

Some years ago, I acquired the original 1939 edition of Five Bells by Kenneth Slessor. This elegy to Joe Lynch, his artist friend who drowned in the Sydney Harbour in 1927, took him several years to complete. It is a remarkable poem because his wording for me has a certain narrative to which I can relate. There is an intimate revelation, interrupted by the “Five bells” amen.

The Sydney ferry Kiandra, from which Joe Lynch dived into Sydney Harbour, and drowned

Five Bells occurs at 10.30 pm (and at 10.30 am) on a ship’s watch, and it suggests that was the time at night when Joe Lynch dived from the Harbour ferry, drunkenly saying he could swim faster than the ferry. (The other explanation was that he just fell overboard with his overcoat full of bottles of beer weighing him down.) This poem was written between 1935 and 1937 and it is obvious reading it that the death of Joe Lynch had a traumatic effect on Slessor.

It finishes thus:

And tried to hear your voice, but all I heard

Was a boat’s whistle, and the scraping squeal

Of seabirds’ voices far away, and bells,

Five bells. Five bells coldly ringing out.

Five Bells

There are other poems in this slim volume with the accompanying “six decorations” by Norman Lindsay and dedicated not to Lynch, but to the memory of another Australian poet, who died at the age of 28 in 1932, John Alexander Ross McKellar. Five Bells dominates as it does Australian Poetry.

Where Am I?

Not quite 13 year olds

I was first concussed badly during an intra-school football match of Australian football. I was knocked out and remember nothing about it. I woke up in the school sick bay with no memory of the event. I must have been 13 at the time. I had a headache and my father picked me up, took me home and after a weekend in and out of bed, I went back to school on the Monday. After some time, I learnt that one of the opposition players had just run through me when I was gathering the ball. Although we went through another four years of school, it was never discussed, and he certainly never apologised. It was considered not that serious, just one of the risks of playing a contact sport.

Life was much more physically confronting when I was first at school. Everybody was expected, unless excused, to participate in the annual boxing tournament. The finals were held on a wintry oval, and I still remember losing the fight with a broken nose.

These exercises in inciting concussion paled into insignificance when I had a major car accident now nearly 42 years ago. Among my multiple injuries, I had significant head injuries which, in reprocessing the incident, I must have been initially knocked out before I remembered releasing my seat belt and opening the car door. I do not actually remember getting out of the car but remember maniacally laughing as I watched the car burn – with the ambulance bells ringing in my ears approaching in the distance. The next memory was waking up on the operating table at the Goulburn Valley Base Hospital.

My injuries were moderately severe, but in relation to my head, my sub-galeal space, that potential space between my skull and the fibromuscular tissue which covers the cranium, was full of blood. It was in such a quantity that if you poked one side of my head the vibration was transmitted through the pool of blood to the other side of my head. I had a cut over my right eye, and a cruciate wound where my jaw struck the steering wheel ( and which required several plastic surgery interventions).

Yet I had no bleed in the brain, but I did notice over the years that I had a change in personality – something only a person with the introspection of an only child could detect.

The other observation of relevance is that once when I was having some orthodontic work, the dentist kept breaking his drill bit on my bone which he likened to marble. It has also been noted that repeated concussions are associated with thickening of the skull, but what of the benefits if you are born with dense bone? I make no further comment, but we Australians do wear helmets, presumably to minimise brain injury – although that benefit is to some experts problematical.

I do add that I am suffering from long term problems elsewhere throughout my body from that accident so long ago.

Still, should I say I am perhaps a case of dementia-in-waiting?

Julian the Lesser?

Leeser, whose stance will help him keep his once-safe northern Sydney seat of Berowra from the teals, is likely to join other high-profile backbench colleagues such as Andrew Bragg and Bridget Archer when the official “Liberals for Yes” campaign begins.

This summary of the survival instincts of Julian Leeser received attention by Philip Coorey’s article in the AFR about the defection of Leeser from the Party line over the Referendum. A lawyer, Leeser’s route to accession to a safe seat in the leafy Liberal Party stronghold illustrates wending his way through the NSW Liberal Party organisation into the moderate faction where, under John Howard’s influence, members have suffered ritual humiliation in the broad church of “Oxymoronic Liberal Intolerance”. This was the price one paid for being a voice of moderation in such a Church – just ask Petro Georgiou.

Leeser worked for McMahon when he was Prime Minister. On his defeat in 1972, the Liberal party was not that far away from that apocryphal perception of the Country Party’s Aboriginal party policy as “poison the waterholes”. Snedden was very conscious that his office make contact with the young mainstream Aboriginal activists, even though Neville Bonner had been elected a Coalition Senator for Queensland in 1971. Bonner was awarded all the recognition one would expect for the first Aboriginal person to be elected to the Federal Parliament. Nevertheless, he made a revealing comment once: I was treated like an equal on the floor of the chamber, neither giving nor asking quarter, but there were hours sitting in my office and I went home alone to my unit at night. There was never one night when anyone said “Hey, let’s go out tonight”.

Paradoxically in 1967 it had been Harold Holt and his Government which initiated giving recognition to the Aboriginal People by repealing section 127 of the Constitution and deleting the reference to ‘the Aboriginal race’ as it was deemed discriminatory and denied the Commonwealth Parliament the opportunity to make special laws for Aboriginal people even if they were of an affirmative nature.

The amendment proposed repealing section 127 of the Constitution, “In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a state or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.”

It had been claimed that section 127 had been included in the Constitution because Aboriginal people, at the time the Constitution had been written in the last decade of the nineteenth century, were looked down upon with the epithet bestowed of them as “Stone Age people”, being used as a term of denigration.  Prime Minister Menzies is quoted in 1965 as saying Aboriginal people “being a mainly tribal and nomadic lifestyle creating ‘practical difficulties … in satisfactorily enumerating the Aboriginal population’.”

In introducing the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) Bill 1967, Menzies’ successor as Prime Minister, Harold Holt, said, “The simple truth is that section 127 is completely out of harmony with our national attitudes and modern thinking. It has no place in our Constitution in this age.”

When put to the Australian electorate the usual practice of presenting a “Yes” case and a “No” case for these two amendments was not followed as no Member of Parliament could be found to authorise a case against the proposed amendments. This was reflected in the overwhelming support for the Referendum, remembering it was still a time when you had to be 21 years of age to vote.

These proposed amendments received 5,183,113 votes or 91 per cent in favour, the biggest majority ever given to a referendum question in Australia, and it passed in all six States. It should be noted that it was not until 1977 when the referendum approved an amendment to the Australian constitution to allow electors in the Australian territories to vote at referendums, Territorians could not vote in referendums. Their votes are only included in the national total, but in the 1967 referendum, the area of Australia with the most visible Aboriginal people, the whitefellas could not vote in that referendum (nor for that matter those living in the ACT, Cocos Islands, or Christmas Island).

The advent of the Aboriginal Tent Assembly populated by young Aboriginal activists sprang up in 1972, as an accompaniment to Black activism in the United States. Vietnam protests were another source of youth discontent. After all, one could be conscripted at 18 years but not entitled to vote. The sight of a tent assembly with campfires being lit in front of the then Parliament House assaulted the sensibilities of a conservative parliament.

I went out and talked to Charlie Perkins, and after an initial wariness, we hit it off well in that year, so much so that once I was sitting around the campfire yarning with Charlie Perkins and others such that it prompted one National member of Parliament to ask “who was that Communist working for Snedden?”

Dutton, from my observation, has not a clue how to approach Aboriginal people. He seems to rely on the one voice of Jacinta Price, and otherwise naturally gravitates to whitefellas, who share his basic lack of sympathy. He is not only an authoritarian personality reinforced by his time as a Queensland policeman but also by not being particularly bright.

He has taken time to achieve leadership of the Liberal Party, and the Labor Party are “playing” him well. After all, the Labor Party had a foretaste of the authoritarian personality when Mark Latham was its leader. The other seeming benefit that Dutton enjoyed was the support of Murdoch. The timidity of the Australian politicians – the fear of Murdoch’s relentless assaults. The Murdoch Empire now is showing early signs of disintegration – as Murdoch himself concealing his obvious frailty, not unexpected once one reaches ninety, coupled with a shaky succession riven with conflict.

Dutton is thus a product of a time which clouded Australian politics, but the number of reverses he has experienced demonstrates that the same way he addresses every matter – the blunderbuss of negativity – is not working. He may have a point in referencing the Aboriginal Voice as the province of Canberra based Aboriginal bureaucrats, a shorthand for a Canberra group with a grip on the Larynx, but who is listening?

The really disturbing point coming from the Dutton’s recent visit to Alice Springs is the report that some Arrernte people, whose land includes Alice Springs, were taking umbrage about Senator Price’s voice because she is seen as a Walpiri woman, and therefore not entitled to speak for Alice Springs residents. If that division is so, then that is not a good sign for a unified Voice.

Sketch of Vincent Lingiari, by Frank Hardy

Nevertheless, the late Vincent Lingiari said it all. “Let us live happily together as mates, let us not make it hard for each other… We want to live in a better way together, Aboriginals and white men, let us not fight over anything, let us be mates…” 

Amen – sotto voce.

Once a Romantic Friendship

Rose Cleveland

Trump is wanting to emulate Grover Cleveland by having two non-consecutive terms as President of the United States. Despite his corpulence, Cleveland was a louche, but even though he had a previous relationship which yielded a child, he entered the White House as a bachelor at the age of 50 years. His sister filled in as the First Lady for a time; and according to an article in the Washington Post, one of which appears below, she was the First Gay Lady. 

In the summer of 1910, Evangeline Simpson Whipple told the caretaker of her home not to move anything in her absence. The wealthy widow was going on a trip, but would be back soon, she said.

She never returned. When she died in 1930, she was buried at her request in Italy next to the love of her life — a woman with whom she had a relationship that spanned nearly 30 years. That woman, Rose Cleveland, had served as first lady.

The letters, preserved by the caretaker at Evangeline’s Minnesota home, are collected in, “Precious and Adored: The Love Letters of Rose Cleveland and Evangeline Simpson Whipple, 1890-1918,” and make clear that they were more than just friends, according to its editors.

When Grover Cleveland took office in 1885, he was a nearly 50-year-old bachelor, a fact that almost derailed his campaign when rumours spread that he had fathered a child out of wedlock. (He had.) Protocol for unmarried or widowed presidents called for a female relative to fill the role of first lady. In stepped his sister, Rose.

She was seen as an important counterbalance to her brother’s scandalous baggage: She was respectable, well-educated, a former teacher at a women’s seminary and the author of serious books.

Her term as first lady, however, was a mixed bag, according to the National First Ladies’ Library. Her book of essays, “George Eliot’s Poetry,” became a bestseller based on her fame, but she was frustrated with public scrutiny of her necklines and a ban on her going to private dinners or public markets.

Fourteen months in, Rose was relieved of her duties when the president married his 21-year-old ward, Frances Folsom. Rose returned to her family estate, nicknamed “The Weeds,” in Upstate New York.

Evangeline Simpson

Rose met Evangeline Simpson in the winter of 1889-1890, less than a year after her brother left office for the first time. (Cleveland is the only two-term president not to have served his terms consecutively.) They probably met in Florida, where both spent the season making the rounds among the nation’s wealthier families. Rose was 43 and never married. Evangeline was probably 33 and had inherited a fortune from a late husband nearly five decades her senior. The love letters begin in April 1890, once the two returned to their respective homes. (Evangeline lived in Massachusetts.) 

There was no word for what were termed “romantic friendships” for relationships between two women, especially when the relationship was sexual as revealed in the letters.

Between 1896 and 1901, the time when Evangeline was married to Bishop Henry Whipple, the first Anglican Bishop of Minnesota, the friendship was disrupted. He died in 1901, and his is another story of an extraordinary man. The relationship between the two women endured until Rose died in the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918. The evidence of this relationship is contained in a trove of letters and memorabilia contributed by the Whipple Family in 1969 to the Minnesota Historical Society, even then with some inkling that it contained Rose’s love letters which Evangeline had kept.

Mouse Whisper


The TV drama “Succession” has left its audience in a lather because Il Padrino, Logan Roy, is put to death by the producers at the start of the new series. As has been stated, Logan was a bully who maintained his power by belittling, demoting, and arbitrarily firing his employees and relatives. I understand despite public denial, Rupert Murdoch is an avid watcher. Always looking to the future is our Rupert, at least that was what his pet rat, Tucker, always says.

Modest Expectation – Luis Quisquinay

I once knew a bloke who played “chicken” with his fuel supply. He would not fill up until the tank was nearly empty. It was his defining quirk. It was how he played destiny. On one occasion when he was completely out of fuel, he had to roll down a hill where fortunately at the foot was a service station. However, he was always proud when he had less than five kilometres worth in the tank, before he filled it.

I only remember apparently running out of fuel in a vehicle which we were lent over the weekend. We were somewhere between Cloncurry and Normanton, and the engine just died. We flagged down a couple of blokes.  They had a quick look, reached under the dashboard and turned the switch so that the second tank came on line. They looked at us and laughed good naturally. We felt like chumps, but nobody had told us about the second tank. “Come on, we thought you knew about such things; you’ve worked in the country.” Rejoinder was pointless.

York, WA

The places mentioned in this following anecdote are all in Western Australia, for those trying to put the names into a British Isles context. This other time involved being in a hired car somewhere in the bush about 100 kilometres from Perth. It was a Sunday evening and we were hoping to make York. Suddenly the fuel gauge plummeted to zero, and the nearest township – a speck on the map was Beverley. It was about 20 kilometres away by our calculation. Never has 20 kilometres caused so much angst. Then, when we reached Beverley, the place was closed. The service station was closed; and we knocked on a nearby door to find out where the owner was and whether we could get him out to open up the station. The people were bemused by these two strangers looking for petrol on a Sunday evening, Nevertheless, they were able to direct us to a place round the corner where the owner of the service station was tinkering with a car. And that was that. He was obliging; went and unlocked his garage /service station. Nevertheless, it was one of those regions of Australia, where the expectation of having a service station available at all hours just did not exist. After we reached York and booked into the motel, we had first trusted the fuel gauge and believed there was a convenient place to fill up. Negative, on both accounts.

Welcome to the new world of the EV and the charging point. At least once the petrol started flowing, it did not take much time to fill up. Thus the fact that the weather was freezing, only made the thought of waiting an hour to charge, another hurdle to overcome in the introduction of convenient EV charging – and being caught in a similar situation as then.

The enigmatic Ardern

Over this period, politicians have lost the confidence of the public. Camelot never existed, and the raft of exposés have portrayed Kennedy as less than the Camelot myth.  But the important point is missed – in those years from his inauguration in 1961 to his death in 1963 – to me and many others he could be summed up in one word – a paragon.

Jacinda Ardern

Now I am an old man, and seeing this woman, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, she is the first politician since Kennedy to cause me to believe, perhaps that to me she is an exemplar against the fear and loathing that has characterised so much of what passes for political debate. I, like many, am just frustrated by the low level of debate. There is no longer any consideration in this Me All The Time rent-seeking political crop for policy discussion.

Yet Jacinda Ardern gives me hope. Her words – her demeanour of grace, compassion, resolve, her ability to call out the bully – the courage of making herself a target for all the “unspeakables”. She is indeed a paragon.

Kathleen Ferrier

As I write, bursting forth from somewhere at the back of the house is the glorious contralto voice of Kathleen Ferrier singing Edward Elgar’s “Sea Pictures”, the evocative study of the beauty that is the blue waters of the planet set to music. Her voice soaring perfection – contralto being a difficult female singing voice to weave such an intricate vocal artistry, for I am tone deaf and yet this voice I can convert to visual interpretations of what she is communicating. Her voice is the water – so deep that the colour is caught between indigo and blue.

Jacqueline du Pré

Hearing Elgar prompted me to turn to Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and the marvellous interpretation by Jacqueline du Pré. Her command of the cello; her embrace of it; her facial expressions; the interaction with the woodwinds; her bow work; her finger work; even being able to brush an errant hair away from her face. This woman had that ethereal air, so in keeping with the mood of the Concerto – the powerful entry of the cello urging the orchestra to engage, being an index of Elgar’s genius and du Pré’s interpretation

Then I played the most popular of the Elgar Enigma variations – Nimrod. It is often associated with majesty and death, but as one correspondent wrote, this piece is music coded to life. The slow majesty of birth, rising to a crescendo in life’s prime and gradually, but descending to a farewell of a life well lived. But there are many ways of saying farewell.

To me the wide smiling face encased by long dark hair – a face that has for five years been that of New Zealand still exists– not a Māori warrior nor an All Black forward replete with scars and cauliflower ears, but a compassionate women who can inspire a generation and yet, being the object of their infection, she has flushed out the purulent elements, the shameful abscessed underbelly of New Zealand in need of complete excision. Jacinda has exposed it, but she has called time out and it is up to others to complete the surgery. Otherwise, a diseased body exists no matter how much neoliberal balm you apply, there will be no cure. Except for the ongoing Enigma which is Jacinda Ardern to return.

In my first blog in March 2019, I wrote about Prime Minister Ardern. I was surprised by the toxic response from some quarters as if I was beatifying her. At a time when role models are scarce, especially in politics, I took the positive route which by and large has been verified given the difficult period through which she governed. After all, when I made the initial assessment, it was when the COVID-19 epidemic was just an oddity growing up in a Chinese city wet market.

Where have all the Horse Troughs Gone?

One of the questions that has arisen is when to replace our car with an Electric Vehicle (EV). Up until a few years ago, we ran two cars, both diesel. Then we sold one. We like Citroens, and have owned various combinations of C3, C4 and C5. The size of the car we have bought depends on not only the cost of the vehicle and the cost to run but also the dimensions of our garage given that in both Melbourne and Sydney we are lucky to have single car garages; but let us say that the Sydney one is compact. There is no way we could get one of those off-road tanks into it – or, for that matter any of the big cars. Only having a dextrous driver were we able to park the C5 in the Sydney garage. We currently own a C4.

From reports, the Sydney to Melbourne drive is still a nightmare for EV drivers, takes longer and the anxiety levels of those driving fearing that they will run out of charge, is frankly not worth it. For those who want to puddle around the suburbs, then probably the EV is the horseless carriage of choice.

Re-fuel here

When the horseless carriage arrived in the late nineteenth century, there was no organised distribution of petrol and there was a need to crank the engine to generate the ignition spark. The Stanley Steamers as the rival, were expensive. They took a good amount of time to come up to temperature, needed condensers – devices that took the steam after it did its work, cooled and condensed it back into water, and recycled it for further use in the steam engine. Without a condenser, a Stanley Steamer consumed about a gallon of water per mile, so the car could travel no more than 30 to 50 miles before the car’s operator had to stop and refill the water tank from the local horse trough. Once the ignition problem was sorted so starting the internal combustion engine became reliable and swift, then the demise of the Steamer was sealed.

What car owners are used to is the convenience of being able to refuel. This ease of refuelling developed side by side with growth of the number of cars. Initially, petrol was available from the general store, filling from a barrel, and then the pump was introduced with an attendant to pump the fuel into a reservoir and then release it into the car’s petrol tank. I remember these solitary pumps outside the country town general store. It was not until 1913 in the USA, that the first dedicated “gas station” was opened; by the mid 1920’s there were 90,000 of them, and ten years later 200,000.

In Australia, development was slower. The same level of data as held In USA seems not to exist. In Victoria, for instance, by 1923 pumps were permitted at those city motor businesses concentrated in Elizabeth Street, though barred from many other central streets. Traditional selling of petrol in four-gallon tins at hardware outlets, cycle shops, grocers and blacksmiths was effectively ended in 1925. Growing municipal concern over the safety of kerbside pumps was a factor in the development of drive-in service stations, the first of which were constructed in suburban Malvern and Prahran in 1926. There was thus a lag, as is occurring in providing the appropriate environment for EVs to have the same certainty for access to an ultra-fast charging outlet as we currently have to a petrol and diesel outlet.

An interesting piece appeared a few weeks ago in the Boston Globe and I have taken the liberty of editing it, but hopefully retain the useful observations, which may be germane to future Australian experience describing the trip through New England. The various destinations seem to be doughnut outlets somewhat irrelevant in Australia to the efficacy of EV travel itself – because leaf-peeper season was over, we made round confections the driving force behind our drive.

As the writer wrote: To test the current state of EV infrastructure, we took off on a 400-mile road trip across New England in two typical — but quite different — electric cars. One of us (Aaron) drove a Kia Niro EV purchased a year ago while the other (Sabrina) rented the flashy Tesla Model 3 Performance.

The Niro costs about $40,000, has an EPA-rated range of 240 miles, and looks and drives like an ordinary car. The Tesla Model 3 Performance costs nearly $60,000, has an EPA range of more than 300 miles, goes zero to 60 miles per hour, which is comparable to the conventional sports car.

At a time when EV purchases are on the rise, our question was simple: Are there enough chargers around to make this a realistic choice for long-distance rides?

All this for a pile of potato donuts

This journey started in Portland Maine. We started the day bright and early in Portland in Maine, at Holy Donut on Commercial Street, home of the gourmet potato doughnut. The dark chocolate sea salt did not disappoint: moist, rich, and just the right touch of salt.

There’s one big adjustment to owning an electric car: EV drivers cannot rely on the century-old ecosystem of a gas station around every corner. Instead, they need to plan their trips based on the availability of a growing but still spotty network of charging stations. Tesla has built its own network of widespread and speedy chargers but, at least for now, they’re only accessible to Tesla EVs.

A reliable and accessible charging infrastructure is critical if the region wants to successfully entice millions of car owners to make the switch to electric and slash climate-warming emissions. After all, drivers aren’t likely to ditch their gas vehicle if they’re going to have to worry constantly about running out of charge.

Given Tesla’s charging network advantage, we expected the Kia would have more issues on the road — and we were right. But neither one of us ever came close to running out of power as we enjoyed a perfect day and some nearly perfect doughnuts.

Unlike road-tripping in a regular car, we knew we needed to do some advance planning to make sure we were near chargers when our EVs’ batteries ran down. We used an EV-specific app called A Better Route Planner, or ABRP, to map our journey. After a few seconds, the app spat out recommended routes, complete with charging stops along the way.

For the Tesla, using the app wasn’t strictly necessary, as the car’s built-in navigation app can plan routes with stops at the company’s Supercharger stations.

On the other hand, even using ABRP doesn’t solve all challenges for non-Tesla drivers, because some areas lack adequate charging. On Cape Cod, for example, there is only a single fast-charging station with two connections, located in Hyannis. Tesla has four stations spread over the Cape, with a total of 42 connections. In Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, Tesla accounts for two-thirds of all fast chargers, while half in Vermont, according to federal data.

Thankfully, there were ample options to make an unplanned stop at one of Tesla’s Superchargers along that stretch of highway in New Hampshire. One 10-minute top-off later, the car was back on the road.

A key variable for EV road trips is a vehicle’s maximum rate of charging, which can mean the difference between waiting 15 minutes or closer to an hour.

But reaching the maximum requires an equally speedy charging station. For Teslas, that’s no problem, as the Supercharger network is composed entirely of very fast chargers. The Model 3 can add 175 miles of range in 15 minutes. For the rest of the world, it’s hit or miss. Adding 175 miles to the Kia’s range takes three or four times as long. Cold weather, underperforming equipment, and other variables can also affect charging speeds.

Things did not go smoothly outside Walmart for the Kia. There were four chargers, but one was offline and another was in use. At the first charger, the rate was abysmally slow — less than one-third the Niro’s max, meaning it would take an hour and a half to charge. And because of New Hampshire utility regulations, the cost is based on the time it’s used, not by the amount of electricity consumed, so slow also meant more expensive.

There was another charger available. It was better but still slower than expected, taking just over an hour to get the battery from 18 percent to 80 percent. The bill came to about $11.

Meanwhile, at the Price Chopper, with a gleaming row of 17 chargers, the Tesla charged in under 30 minutes. The cost? $15.64.

After charging, we headed south, skirting the Green Mountains along Interstate 91 through Vermont.

The Kia driver also got a nice surprise when he pulled into a nearby mall parking lot in Chicopee that houses the very first Electrify America location. On previous visits this year, some chargers were not working and there was sometimes a 30-minute (or longer) wait for an open space.

But after a September overhaul, all four chargers were working and unoccupied. Forty minutes and $7.41 later, the Kia was ready to go.

Electrifying America …

As Chicopee’s charger improvements hint, both reliability and availability problems are being addressed. Electrify America, which has more than 800 charging stations and 3,500 chargers in North America, is in the process of replacing 300 of its oldest chargers this year.

For the Tesla, using the app wasn’t strictly necessary, as the car’s built-in navigation app can plan routes with stops at the company’s Supercharger stations. The Tesla taught us some EV lessons right away: Parking outside in the cold overnight before our road trip had drained some of its battery. And cruising along at 80 miles per hour drains the battery much faster than if you stick to the speed limit.

The Biden administration, which is touting EVs as a big part of curbing greenhouse gas emissions, set aside $5 billion over five years in the infrastructure bill for more charging improvements. And in Massachusetts, the Department of Public Utilities recently approved utility plans to spend nearly $400 million on EV charging and market development over the next four years, including investments in public fast chargers.

All in all, the charging experiences were better than we expected. It was definitely easier to fill the Tesla. But the disparity wasn’t quite as pronounced as one of us (Aaron) experienced over the past year, or as is often reported by other drivers. And the Kia never came close to running out of charge.

But not everyone wants to plan every trip on a specialized app. And to some degree, the Kia was lucky that fast chargers were available along the day’s route. For people who can’t afford a Tesla or drive through areas with fewer good charging options, the infrastructure bill’s improvements can’t come fast enough.

For Australia, the answer to one of the questions that has arisen is “when to replace our car with an Electric Vehicle (EV) question”? This I posed in the first line. The answer? Not until there is a national standard for the charging stations I suspect is the safe but not particularly useful answer.

A New Meaning to Walter Mitty Disclosed in Long Island & Nassau County

Below combines comments not only from the media, but also from the Lincoln Project, suggestive that there are Republicans who still have a moral compass.  Santos, the Republican representative from the 3rd district of New York State is such a warped figure, that one can even wonder whether his real name is George Santos, but it is clear the First Amendment is worded such that anybody can say anything, despite there being a bar on sedition.

This outrage of the press and the Democrats over Mr Santos is so poignant. Since he ran again, and won, they have not just torn away his veil of autobiographical humbug but turned his deceit into a national scandal. Yet given Mr Trump’s enduring success at warping reality, this blow for justice seems even less satisfying than catching Al Capone for tax evasion. It is more like hounding one of Capone’s accountants for jaywalking.

George Anthony Devolder Santos

None of this excuses Mr Santos. His lies do matter, but not really for what they reveal about him. That such a person should represent Americans in Congress is a national disgrace. But it is also fitting, because he represents something true and awful, particularly about the Republican Party, yet also about America, a nation lousy with misinformation, also known as deceit.

Ultra-MAGA Republicans don’t believe in democracy. They don’t believe in the truth. They don’t believe in integrity. And as long as they are in power, they will continue to allow candidates like Santos to flood through their recruitment pipeline and muddy our democratic institutions. 

It won’t stop at the House. What type of people do you think Steve Bannon has lined up in his “shock troops” to take over our executive agencies, should the GOP take the Presidency in 2024? 

George Santos is not an outlier. 

In the politics of ultra-MAGA, he is the new norm. And until we defeat the entire movement, morally-bankrupt Russian-tied frauds just like him will continue to walk the halls of the House.

And by the way if you were wondering about the exact words of the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Mouse Whisper

Out for my morning scamper, I saw this cable stretched across the footpath. Its purpose was to charge the family EV. There are way more cars than garages in the inner Sydney suburbs in particular and, as can always be predicted, regulation lags behind innovation, even if this innovation derives its inspiration from Heath Robinson. As one source has said, “I think when you’ve got cables going across metal fences, through trees and out to a vehicle, coming off household power, it’s not ideal, it’s not good practice.” Some people are just too polite.

Modest Expectations – Ghost Moth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlotte Rampling, The Night Porter

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


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

Strahan, Tasmania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far Removed

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

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

Barnsley Grammar School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retreat to Cleverness?

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

Here is what he said, in part:

Hakeem Jeffries

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

We will never compromise our principles.

House Democrats will always put 

American values over autocracy. 

Benevolence over bigotry. 

Constitution over the cult.

Democracy over demagogues. 

Economic opportunity over extremism. 

Freedom over fascism. 

Governing over gaslighting. 

Hopefulness over hatred.

Inclusion over isolation. 

Justice over judicial overreach. 

Knowledge over kangaroo courts.

Liberty over limitation. 

Maturity over Mar-a-Lago. 

Normalcy over negativity. 

Opportunity over obstruction. 

People over politics. 

Quality-of-life issues over QAnon.

Reason over racism. 

Substance over slander. 

Triumph over tyranny. 

Understanding over ugliness.

Voting rights over voter suppression.

Working families over the well connected.

Xenial [hospitality] over xenophobia. 

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

Zealous representation over zero-sum confrontation.

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

Mouse whisper

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

Modest Expectations – Spices in the Sanskrit

Periodically, you read about someone or someones who has been to every country in the world, which means they have been to about 195 countries. Then what?

Phileas Fogg

In another context, I had that feeling when I visited Alaska. This was the fiftieth and last State of the US that I visited. I had also visited Puerto Rico. The rules about visit legitimacy was that you stay overnight or have a sit down meal in the State. COVID-19 has made it difficult. I remember Stephen Fry travelled through all the US States in 2007 and 2008. Although it seemed an exercise in continuous Phileas Foggery, his trip was broken into two segments because he had fractured his arm badly, which required stabilisation by inserting ten screws, and the reason there “being a break” between the two segments.

The history of my involvement was that when I found one day by counting off the States I had visited, it came to 35. This had been helped by the Australian Medical Association, my employer at the time, sending me on a field trip to the USA in November 1982, and I criss-crossed the country. The point was that I stayed in various places assigned by my US hosts for a number of days rather than it being just a whistlestop tour.

Roanoke Rapids, NC

One place I stayed for several days was Roanoke Rapids in one of the poorest areas of North Carolina near the Virginian border. This was tobacco growing country. When I visited there in 1982, Michael Gilstrap had recently been appointed chief executive to clean up the hospital, since it was evident from only a superficial look at the records, that the hospital’s clinical standards were appalling. We got on very well. As I was departing, having to drive back to Raleigh to catch a plane, he said he hoped I could come back for a pig-pickin’. I think we communicated once or twice. He retired in 2005 from the hospital there. I never went back for that pig pickin’.

But back to the main thread. After I reached 35 states, I made the decision to go for the “big five-o”. Fortunately, at the time, we had friends living in Denver, which was a useful launching pad for the prairie and mountain States, which have all contributed to my wellspring of anecdotes. Many of my visits were made before Trump. It is so sad to see how destructive his influence has been, since a sober USA is a crucial bulwark for this planet’s survival.

By the way, I have been to 93 countries – less than halfway. Give it a C+?

A Missive from Massachusetts

I found this following article from the Boston Globe such that if you have not seen it, it emphasises how abundant is the smog of misinformation, which continues to pile up. After all, despite the trolls of Big Business, there have been inroads into cigarette smoking. So, if the community has the will to diminish the amount of carbon in its lungs through the reduction of cigarette smoking, why can’t it achieve the same with atmosphere?

Boston was in the national spotlight last week as Prince William and Princess Kate travelled to the city. They were in town for Friday’s glitzy Earthshot Prize ceremony, where William’s foundation awarded cash prizes to five companies deemed to have hatched innovative climate solutions.

It was perhaps the most star-studded climate event in Boston’s history. A-listers like David Beckham and Shailene Woodley attended, and pop star Billie Eilish performed remotely. Can all that celebrity really drum up support for the climate fight? That’s the question Globe reporter Sabrina Shankman explored in a piece last week.

Prince William said he chose to host the glamorous Earthshot event in Boston partly because it’s a climate leader. “Your universities, research centres, and vibrant startup scene make you a global leader in science, innovation, and boundless ambition,” he said.

Of course, there’s still much work ahead on the climate front in Boston and Massachusetts. How it gets done will depend in large part on what technologies officials choose to adopt.

A blockbuster story examined a peer-reviewed paper from University of Massachusetts Lowell researchers that touted the benefits of one emergent technology, green hydrogen.

The authors said the state should consider adopting the fuel, using it to heat homes and fuel appliances. But the research was partially funded by gas interests — something the authors failed to disclose.

Making matters even more complicated, recommendations similar to the authors’ wound up in a bill before the Legislature, suggesting that the study could influence state policy despite many experts’ concerns about green hydrogen.

The story shows that the path to meeting renewable electricity targets will likely entail many fights over what should count as “clean” energy.

Another highly controversial energy source: biomass, or fuels derived from wood products and other plant material.

Biomass was eligible for state clean energy subsidies in Massachusetts for years. But the tides have changed for the energy source, in large part because of pushback from advocates, as well as research that shows it can be even more polluting than coal.

In August, officials agreed to strip renewable subsidies from biomass. And last week, the state dealt a blow to a bitterly contested proposal to build a biomass power plant in Springfield, upholding a decision to revoke a key permit from the facility. Technically, the plant could still get built, but that seems unlikely.

As they celebrate that decision, environmental justice groups are criticizing another one: A state body granted the utility Eversource permission to circumvent permits needed to build a highly contentious electrical substation in East Boston. Substations, which convert high-voltage electricity to a lower voltage so it can be distributed to homes, are an essential part of the grid. But opponents say this one is unnecessary and have criticized  Eversource’s plan to build it in a flood-prone area across from a playground.

As the state pursues its goal of rapidly slashing carbon emissions from energy, we’re sure to see more fights over where to place new infrastructure.

Makes one depressed! But that is democracy at work.

Malta – The one that did not get away

The year was 2007. One of the places where we were accidental tourists was Malta. Flying from Tripoli in Libya by Air Malta meant that one way or another we could not avoid Malta. Not that it was a real consideration, as we had booked well in advance to visit the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum in Valetta.


We had received the intelligence that if we wanted to visit the Hypogeum (“underground” in Greek), we had to book well in advance as only 80 could visit each day. One of the reasons for its survival is that for thousands of years, it was sealed off from the outside world, and the internal humid atmosphere was conducive for its survival, at least until it was rediscovered in the late nineteenth century, when there was a move to construct new buildings above it on the same site. Fortunately the Hypogeum was saved, but the early preservation of artefacts in particular was not very good. One of its functions was to be a cemetery, and the upper level which is just below the ground surface seems to be dedicated to housing the dead.

Other experts suggest that there may have been an oracle with a dedicated chamber – the acoustics of the chamber were not demonstrated but apparently the sounds are extraordinary, specially if you were the oracle and had learnt how to maximise the sounds.  An oracle positioned so that her voice became a sonic boom would define “sacred”.

The Hypogeum is the most complete known neolithic temple with its roof intact. Being underground one enters the temple via a door in a normal suburban Valetta Street. It is not that the temple appears that huge and you can view the middle chamber from a platform. However, this level seems compact as most of the important structures are visible – including the holies of holies, which resembles a sanctuary and although unseen, steps go down to the lower level. The modest entrance and the fact that the visitor can only have a  view limited and  be able not wander freely through the three levels belie how extensive it is.

Since our visit, there have been improvements made, courtesy of a grant from Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein to improve climate control. After the experience of Lascaux and other caves where there is evidence of neolithic life, especially where there is vulnerable artwork and where people were once allowed unfettered access, a change in societal attitudes has occurred. Preservation has become the number one priority.

Misrah Ghar il-Kbir

Malta has a number of mysterious prehistoric artefacts. One we walked around in a field outside Valetta is known informally as Clapham Junction (Misrah Ghar il-Kbir) because the intersecting nature of the “cart ruts”, called that because of their resemblance to tracks left by cart.  It’s not known for certain how or why they were made. These clearly man-made ruts are dual channels, parallel grooves etched into the limestone bedrock of the islands. The channels, generally shallow, measure between eight to 15 cms deep, but some can be as deep as 60 cms. The width between the tracks extends up to 140 cms, but they are not uniform in all instances. It is very symbolic of Malta being  crossroads in the ebb and flow of the Greco-Roman world.

The island has thus been a microcosm of civilisation movements because of its position in the Mediterranean Sea. The island was a staging post for the various groups of Christian adventurers whose aim was to free the Holy Land from Islam. Many of these groups moved with the support of the Church of Rome, the Knights Templar were pervasive across Europe. One of these orders which claims continuity with the Knights Hospitaller, a chivalric order that was founded about 1099 by the Blessed Gerard in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, is the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

The Order has not only persisted but also has observer status at the United Nations. It has no lands and has a polyglot mixture of people with titles dripping with noble escutcheons. In 1998, a treaty was signed between Malta and the Order granting the upper part of Fort St Angelo, including the Grand Master’s House and the Chapel of St Anne, to the Order with limited extraterritoriality. The Order also has access to two residences in the Vatican.

This treaty was ratified on 1 November 2001. The agreement has a duration of 99 years. The Maltese Government can terminate it at any time after 50 years. In terms of the agreement, the flag of Malta is to be flown together with the flag of the Order in a prominent position over St Angelo. No asylum may be granted by the Order and generally the Maltese courts have full jurisdiction and Maltese law applies.

This is the quirky nature of Malta, with its distinctive Cross that relates to another Order, that of the Hospitallers, who ruled Malta between 1530 and 1798. Malta was always susceptible to invasion, but its resilience during WW11 against the Germans had it awarded the George Cross, which is a simple silver cross, unlike the Maltese Cross. It is the George Cross which is on the country’s flag, not the Maltese Cross. Malta was a British Crown Colony from 1813 and 1964 when the country achieved independence.

I asked my wife what she remembered about Malta. She laughed and said being in hotel lounge overlooking the Mediterranean, and me waxing lyrical over a cucumber infused martini.

In fact, we did a great deal of walking around the capital of Valetta and its harbour. There were the esplanades, reminder of the South of France and the narrow, shaded streets reminiscent of North Africa and the open squares which were reminders of Italy. It is picturesque – ecco, the views of the harbour which once housed the British navy and this mediaeval city despite its savage Axis bombing  during WW11, reducing parts to rubble is a place to be viewed.

St John’s Cathedral, Valetta

St John’s Cathedral sticks in my mind. The ornate walls, the stunning frescoes – all contribute. But what makes it more than another ornate ecclesiastical masterpiece is the floor of the cathedral. The marble slabs are highly decorated, depicting the coats of arms of each of the knights buried beneath. I know of no other cathedral floor which has such rich inscriptions laid in among the designs. The floor is a polychromatic tableau and yet I remember walking on them with a sense of discomfort. The other sight which stopped me was when I came across the Caravaggio painting which depicted the Beheading of St John the Baptist. Once I became accustomed to the sombre colours of the painting, apart from the blood, it was as gruesome a painting as I have experienced. But this was apparently Caravaggio’s style – to shock. The painting achieves that, and with the ornate beauty of the cathedral, it gave me the creeps – a true example of the Fleurs de Mal, the Baudelaire thesis that at the heart of beauty is evil.

In support somewhat of this Baudelaire observation, in 1607 Caravaggio had sought refuge in Valletta, after beating a man to death in Rome; the Knights of Malta welcomed and knighted him, in return for some paintings—the Beheading of St John the Baptist being one of two which hang in the cathedral.

In the end, for whatever the experience, Malta is unforgettable.

The Martyrdom of Violet Coco

Deanna “Violet” Coco, an Australian climate activist who blocked traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge for 25 minutes in April, was sentenced to 15 months in prison on December 2. She won’t be eligible for parole for at least 8 months.

This is how it has been succinctly reported in the overseas media.

This conviction has polarised Australia. The NSW Premier dropped his mask of charm. “If protesters want to put our way of life at risk they should have the book thrown at them and that’s pleasing to see,” he told reporters.  The NSW Government recently passed legislation to make unauthorised protesting liable to up to $22,000 in fines and two years in gaol.

In fact Coco did also receive a $2,500 fine for setting off a flare from the roof of her vehicle, which was blocking the traffic.

I have two responses.

From afar, I side strongly with those who believe that her sentence was draconian, and the legislation unnecessary. Close to the action, if I was caught in the resultant traffic logjam, I would have “unspooled” and no punishment could have been enough for the Coco.

Fortunately, the rational overrides the irrational.  But does it?

My perspective of protests is nevertheless prejudiced by the nature of the cause driving the protestors. For instance, I have no time for the anti-vaxxers and their conspiracy nonsense. Therefore, my first reaction is for these protesting to be locked up.

The right to protest should be maintained, even though, as in case of Coco, she caused inconvenience. Even if the anti-Coco mob resort to accusations of putting the community at risk by halting traffic, the penalty should be commensurate.  In the case of Violet Coco, when compared with the wrist slapping received by the anti-vaxxer conspirators, it is completely over the top.

One of the characteristics of democracy is the right to non-violent protest. Inconvenience is no reason for such a response as meted out to Ms Coco. She may have been an activist in the Fireproof group, but the members are not the violent cowardly thugs that wish to replace democracy by a murderous replica of Nazi Germany whose only aim is to eliminate anybody who wishes to disagree with them, plus a wide array of people of different colour or belief.

The problem is our law enforcement agencies have enough individuals sympathetic with these people to target the Cocos but not the insurrectionist thugs. The current authoritarian bullies who rammed an elderly Danny Lim into a tiled floor, protected by their uniforms, have had their names suppressed. Not arraigned immediately, charged and placed in custody. There is no question of what they did. It was recorded on camera and yet the dissembling by a police force with a substantial basket of dirty linen and over the past fifteen years recruitment to the force of persons with convictions goes on. The police force that nearly killed Danny Lim are the police force that arrested Ms Coco.

The right wing terrorists still stalk the streets, bailed, but can you tell me any of their names? Well, two of them are Desmond Liddington and Maxwell Ferrer. They invaded the home of a left wing activist  in November 2021. Mr Liddington also has come to attention since, having rammed a police car in November this year, and is being held without bail. Will his sentence for invasion of this home merit a sentence commensurate with him ramming a police car?  They are just two examples, but all their accomplices should be named in Parliament, and their faces grace every police station in the State, even those in uniform to remind us of those who have been employed to protect the Australian democracy have violated that trust.  In this way, it reminds all, that climate activists are on the sunny side of the Australian culture.

Release Ms Coco immediately. In fact, between writing and publication of the blog, that has occurred conditionally. She has been bailed.

As the United Nations secretary-general António Guterres said on April 5 this year: “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.” 

A set of useful tips?

This is an excerpt edited from The Washington Post:

Jessica Halem adores hotels. And loves to sleep. Unfortunately, the two are often at odds. 

As someone with a careful sleep-hygiene routine who must slumber “in complete darkness,” Halem finds herself on the offence during hotel stays. There are tiny lights in the TV and smoke detector to deal with. Gaps in the curtains. Alarm clocks, microwaves, refrigerators, air conditioners. Many devices in hotel rooms emit blue light, which has a more potent impact on sleep than red or amber lights.

“Everything that could possibly be needed … has a light on it, and it’s shining in your eye,” said Halem, 50, an LGBTQ+ health-care expert from Philadelphia. “I can see the lights through my closed eyelids; I know I’m not alone.”

She is not. 

Halem has a host of solutions in her tool kit. She brings circular felt stickers — the kind that go on the bottom of furniture — to place over lights, which sometimes involves standing on a bed or chair. 

If she can’t turn off an alarm clock, she’ll rip it out of the wall and put it in the closet. She unplugs microwaves and uses the hanger {to hold the curtains shut} trick on the curtains. Sometimes she even tapes curtains to the wall. Multiple eye masks come with her on trips.

She also wouldn’t mind having conversations with “whoever is in charge of the television set that has a red light that doesn’t turn off,” the smoke detector engineers who decided that a green light should indicate the devices are in working order and maybe federal health officials.

“Perhaps the National Institute of Health should get involved,” she said. “There should be some sort of announcement … light leakage is a problem, we shouldn’t have it while we’re sleeping. 

Mouse Whisper

“All my life I’ve tried to use music to bring people together. Yet it saddens me to see how misinformation is now being used to divide our world. I’ve decided to no longer use Twitter, given their recent change in policy which will allow misinformation to flourish unchecked.”

Sir Elton John, if you missed it, announced the above last week on Twitter. He is not known to make such a political statement, and while the Musk tried to crawl to him to come back, others have not been that kind to Sir Elton. The nastiness has not altered his resolve.