Modest Expectations – Melville has some Depth (+1)

Taffy Jones died at the end of last year. Taffy Jones was in my year of medicine. Moreover, he was in Trinity College at the same time as myself.

When we graduated near the bottom of the year, we found ourselves as first year resident doctors at Box Hill & District Hospital, then an outer suburban hospital where it was considered a training ground for general practice. It was in the days before intensive care or coronary care units, before emergency physicians existed, before all the accumulated rules policed by nurses bearing clipboards in the name of “Quality Control”.

We all shared Casualty duty – all six of us. One night when Taffy was on duty a man in his thirties presented with acute chest pain. Fortuitously, Taffy thought he may have a ruptured oesophagus, an uncommon condition where the pain mimics that of cardiac pain. Taffy was right. In those days, the operation to repair the oesophagus was undertaken locally. To-day, he would have been admitted to a major teaching hospital. The chances for survival were not good, but Taffy looked after him literally day and night. One day when Taffy was sleeping in the same room, obviously not the patient, some over-zealous nurse tried to do his four-hour observations. Knowing Taffy’s innate affability, I’m sure he took it with the good grace any exhausted doctor being woken up in the middle of night to have their blood pressure being taken would. The patient recovered.

I was reminded of this when I recently went the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH)with a 36-hour nosebleed, which had been imperfectly staunched. I was deposited in a wheelchair to wait six hours to be attended while subject to the torture of the clipboard mania laughably called “quality control”. I, the patient vanished under a pile of protocols, even being admonished at one interval for having the temerity to question the need for blood tests when I had had them done only two days prior

Eventually, I was seen by the emergency physician and her trainee sidekick. Well, what do you know! They did not have the instruments to stop the bleeding. So, I was transferred to the ear, nose and throat (ENT) clinic late in the afternoon, having been in the emergency department since mid-morning. I was the last patient in the clinic. All the ENT specialists had left. There was no-one else but the ENT registrar. Again, I waited – after about a further 20 minutes, the registrar emerged. She treated me; she was very competent. It took 20 minutes, if that. By the way, there are four ENT registrars all of whom could have seen me during the course of the day. She did a good job, and I have had only one small bleed since; it is part of my disease spectrum.

It happened to me this week again; I, an immunologically compromised person having to wait two hours to be seen, when this time I did have a designated appointment time. This time I was very angry; the oncologist apologised. He said that the hospital administration, whom they never see, just keep loading him up with patients. Predictably from being in this poorly ventilated hospital three days later I developed what I initially thought was an upper respiratory tract infection, but then tested positive for COVID.

I was once a senior medical manager in a health service the size of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, admittedly some years ago. I always made a point of being seen around the hospital, listening, encouraging efficiency and effectiveness and at time criticising when I thought it warranted. The only place I failed but still developed a mutual regard was with the head of the eye clinic, which we maintained until his death some years ago. He was an interesting case study.

The administrator who remains office bound, giving a semblance of business by always being at meetings, at conferences, on days off, is more the profile these days. It is even worse now since the pandemic; apparently, they work from home. It is about time the government woke up and see who is ostensibly running the hospitals, looking after or ensuring that health professionals can work in a way that the patient, such as myself, feels satisfied and safe. The RPA has always been near the bottom of the pack, at least since Dr Don Child retired in 1987.

My Tasmanian Response

Somewhat impetuously, I said that I would write a piece about my Tasmania, in response to the tourist blurb distortion which appeared recently in the NYT, and which I found projected a very limited view of Tasmania.

But when I calmed down, I realised over the nearly five years I have been writing a blog each week without a break – this week at blog 255 it’s just five away from my fifth anniversary. Mostly I write about 3,000 words, including the various quotes and outside opinion which is baked into the blog. Generally, my wife waves much of my writing through, with variable degrees of editing.

Here even with so many words clocked up on my blog, my wife pointed out that my first draft wasn’t up to scratch, particularly as there is such a great amount of material to be written about this island and which I had barely touched upon. She was right.

Now, I first came to Tasmania, to Hobart in 1950, when I stayed with my parents at the Wrest Point Hotel when it was an art deco creation at Sandy Bay, an upmarket part of Hobart. So, I have a long association, but only acquired a property here 20 years ago.

I learnt over the years that it is the land itself which makes the whole of Tasmania attractive not just one small segment on the north-east coast, however beautiful. Despite the action of us white people, there is enough remaining Tasmania upon which to marvel. Tasmania is not only one particular walk through a confected culture.

Opium poppies in flower

Strangely, I like this island because the blend of exotic flora seems to augment the attractiveness of the island in addition to the underlying uniqueness of the local fauna and flora.  There are the tulips in bloom in October; the month that the red Tasmanian waratahs are in bloom. The next month it is the fields of opium poppy with its distinctive, delicate mauve blooms; and then it is time for the clouds of lavender to take the stage. Also at this time in the early new year, the leatherwood are coming into flower, its pollen harvested by the bees ending up as the eponymous dark honey. Down south, there are the cherry orchards stretching across the hills to the west of Hobart; then in January, the berries are harvested. Raspberries, never better.

But let’s get rid of the dark side of the Island originally peopled by convicts and their guards in the south, Port Arthur as a grim symbol. Then as one of the monographs from the Launceston Historical society states in the north “Anglo-Indians (in its nineteenth-century sense of the British in India), leaving India and emigrating to Australia wished, it seems, to escape, not recreate, architecturally at least, the oppression of India. In Van Diemen’s Land they could build an English cottage, not a bungalow, although a verandah may be useful. To these immigrants the concept of ‘home’ was still English – not Indian – although they chose not to return to England.” They quickly outnumbered the Aboriginal population and the story of their elimination is one of the less savoury episodes in Australian history.

Thus, despite all the efforts to promote continuity in Aboriginal heritage, it is unfortunately largely confected, as I’ve written. After all, Milligan writing in 1890 estimated that there had been only 2,000 Indigenous people when colonisation commenced. Truganini, traditionally the last of the Tasmanian Aboriginals, had died in 1876.

As has been well-reported: When Truganini met George Robinson , the chief Protector of Aborigines in 1829, her mother had been killed by sailors, her uncle shot by a soldier, her sister abducted by sealers, and her fiancé brutally murdered by timber-cutters, who had then repeatedly sexually abused her.

Then there was the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger, and the years of guilt-ridden search for them and then the hope one could rescue enough DNA from a formalinised specimen to somehow clone the animal. Arrant nonsense, the whole scenario.

Yet the Tasmanian Government never learns that there is more money in tourism, including ecotourism than the rapacious destruction of the forests and remote areas. Now it proposes allowing logging in the habitat of one of two rarest parrots – the swift parrot.

The other parrot, also migratory, the orange-bellied parrot is critically endangered. There are very few orange-bellied parrots left in the wild. Their last remaining breeding site is in the moorland and button grass around Birch’s inlet on the west coast of Tasmania. We once went searching for the parrot in this location; saw a great number of blue-winged parrots but sadly nothing with an orange belly – at least not a parrot.

Then there are well-recorded attempts of buggering up the Tasmanian environment by government’s insistence on damming every river in sight and cutting down all the old growth forests and a cavalier treatment of the Wilderness, including its refusal to stop the spread of invasive species – gorse being a case in point. Mining on the West Coast around the town of Queenstown still shows the scars in the surrounding hills, and the King River and the Macquarie Harbour contain a toxic cocktail of arsenic, cadmium, mercury and other metals. Sulphur coats the King River banks and then along the Harbour foreshore; one should not disturb the delta of the river which is rich in cadmium. Two hundred years may rid these waterways of the pollution.

Having lost Lake Pedder with its unique pink quartzite beach to inundation for a dam, the battle to conserve Tasmania has been robust, heightened by the spectacular efforts of Bob Brown and his supporters in scuttling the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam project in 1982.

This is well-known but sometimes you need to retrace such a well known series of events, which ended up largely preserving the South-west temperate rain forest for now.

This win and the preservation of these rivers in their pristine state was brought home to me when we were flown by a friend over these rivers flowing through the Southwest National Park, the wilderness area. The Franklin and Gordon without a concrete abomination to dam them. At South-west Cape, we turned east and flew along the coast and then up the Derwent estuary, re-fuelling in Hobart. We then flew following the Derwent River until we turned to the west over the Walls of Jerusalem and across the range, over Queenstown before proceeding to land in Strahan – the airport located on a hill above Macquarie Harbour. That day, it was a perfect, cloudless day – no wind.

It is a flight to see the wilderness where the adventurous slog through or climb up or kayak down, taking days if not weeks to experience whereas we had seen it all from above. I’m afraid I did not feel guilty because there was no pain in our achievement even not being close to elemental nature; it was still a magnificent experience.

After all, living in Strahan there was the walk to Hogarth Falls, a trail carved through the rain forest where myrtle, sassafras, and celery pine grow. There is little or no Huon pine; it has long since been logged from along the rivers, but there remain a huge number of logs retrieved from the rivers and which lie in a woodyard in Strahan.

Reclaimed Huon pine

Our house is a timbered pole house – the poles are blackwood except for one  pole of King Billy pine; the floors and window frames are celery top pine; the kitchen Huon pine and the panelling mountain ash. The bathroom door is cedar, a somewhat anomalous Queensland intruder. The house which we bought is built with both new and recovered wood.

All very personal – so lucky to have this tribute to Tasmania – so lucky – surrounded as I am by Tasmanian artifacts as I write this blog.

Sexual Violence Tra-la-la

Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding

It is a strange sensation when you see revival of the mannered films in which actors such as Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding starred in the 1940s to realise you grew up when that era was ending. Pretending to be bright young man and woman in love was very much of a stretch in their very popular Maytime in Mayfair. Anna Neagle was 45 and Michael Wilding 37 years when the film was made.

They were impeccably dressed according to the times.  She wore a long flowing gown; they both smoked; she wore a corsage; he wore a dinner suit; they drank champagne from those shallow wide bottomed glasses introduced in the Prohibition era in America to disperse the bubbles so champagne was always drunk flat to fool “the fuzz”, they danced the dances of the age.  I remember learning at dancing class to the sound of a reedy voiced crooner. “Quick…quick…slow”.

Twenty-one was still the age of majority, and it was a time for a celebration. It was all Maytime in Melbourne, but on one night in 1961 I revealed the imp in me, an unfortunate trait that comes out when I’m bored and sober. The woman’s magazine reporter came up to us at this 21st shindig at the then exclusive location in Darling Street in South Yarra. My then fiancé was beautiful, which attracted “her gushiness,” and when asked my name, I gave the name of the Warden of the University College in which I was residing at the time. Where did I come from? I said Trawalla, which was a suitably upcountry location on the edge of the Western District.

I thought no more of it, but the photo of us appeared in the magazine complete with the alias. It was not long before the mother of the bloke whose 21st celebration it was wrote me a letter apologising for the error, which she had made clear in no uncertain terms to the magazine editor was unforgivable.

I heard nothing from the Warden; I was not the first to take his name for such an alias.

I have reflected on this piece of what I thought at the time was just me being clever and I used to regale people over the years with this anecdote. But really was I betraying an unfortunate attitude to women? Would I have done the same if the reporter was a male from a daily newspaper?

I had never thought about this until I was seeing this frothy comedy, with musical interludes. At one stage Michael Wilding bursts into the room and forcibly planted a kiss on Anna Neagle’s lips, at a time when the film storyline had them alienated. Then he departs gaily, and Anna Neagle instead of a normal reaction to being thus assaulted just simpered.

While it could be passed over in the entirety of the film, that action would be unacceptable these days in any script to picture a woman unaffected by this encounter. The arraignment of the former head of Spanish football for an uninvited kiss on one of Spanish woman footballers demonstrated at least universal distaste for such sexual violence.

Back when I made that gesture, what was sexual violence? Nothing to do with “me and my mates”?  Oh, really!

Getting it Right

Once when I was the medical administrator at a country hospital it was reported to me that an international medical graduate(IMG) from China, who had been assigned to the hospital as part of his registration process, was accessing pornography on hospital computers. Unlike the normal run of risk averse medical administrators, I neither did nothing nor did I “handball” the case to central office so they could organise the normal investigation.

Instead, I asked one of the staff very conversant with computer usage if he would accompany the doctor, who admitted that he had been accessing computers after hours. What he was doing was trying to find one where he could contact his sister in China. She wished to come to Australia to undertake a nursing course. He showed my colleague the computer which he had found enabled him to contact his sister in China, and the so-called porn glimpsed by the passing nursing staff was in fact pop-ups of Asian women in lingerie, incidental to his access. He had been successful in finding an appropriate computer, but I asked to see him.

I said in future not to do any further activities without asking permission, especially after hours. He was just not wanting to bother us, he explained. Nevertheless, he got the message. 

Some Like it Hot

Shamar Joseph has burst onto the cricketing scene from a shack in the back blocks of Guyana to win a test match for the West Indies, despite nursing a very bruised big toe. The amazing fact about this very fast bowler is that he is small for such a task. Standing alongside Steve Smith who is 176 cm, he seems to be slightly taller; and the source which says his height is 178cm seems to be the most plausible figure.

I thought the following recipe for Pepperpot would give the reader a touch of Guyana.

Now for the recipe, which appeared recently in the NYT, and has been modified. Cassareep, the essential ingredient is available in Australia.

Warm with sweet orange peel and spices like cloves and cinnamon, Pepperpot, a stewed meat dish popular in Guyana and the Caribbean, is traditionally served on Christmas morning. But one can make this version any time you want to celebrate. What gives it its distinct taste is cassareep, a sauce made from the cassava root. If you can’t find it, wiri wiri peppers or Scotch bonnets or a mixture of pomegranate molasses (1/3 cup), I tbsp of soy sauce and I tbsp Worcester sauce will work. Whatever you do, don’t forget to serve it with thick slices of white bread, or rice to sop up that delicious gravy.  Scotch bonnets, supposedly shaped like a tam o’shanter, are very hot chilis, ten times the Scoville unit measurement for jalapeño peppers. Apparently they are the go-to chilli of the Caribbean; but be warned!


4 pounds bone-in stew meat (oxtail, beef chuck, goat
or mutton), cut into 3-inch pieces
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, chopped, plus
more to taste
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup cassareep (or substitute)
¼ (lightly packed) cup brown sugar (dark or light)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon whole cloves
3 medium cinnamon sticks
Peel from 1 medium orange
4 spring onions, cut into 4-inch lengths.

… now the process

Step 1
Prepare the green seasoning (onion, garlic, pepper, chives, coriander, thyme, basil): Add all ingredients to a food processor. Blend, adding water a few tablespoons at a time, until you get a thick purée. (Makes 3 cups; keep any extra in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.)

Step 2
Season the meat with 2 cups green seasoning, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Marinate at room temperature for 1 hour or overnight in the refrigerator.

Step 3
Heat the oven to 190 degrees. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons oil and transfer the meat into the pot, leaving behind any excess marinade. Brown the meat in batches. Transfer to a plate.

Step 4
Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan, if necessary. Add Scotch bonnets and onion; sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, another 30 seconds.

Step 5
Add in the cassareep, brown sugar, ginger, cloves, cinnamon sticks, orange peel, spring onions and bay leaf. Add back the meat and the juices from the plate and add water to cover the meat. Let come to a boil over high heat.

Step 6
Cover the pot, transfer to the oven and cook, covered, for 2 to 2½ hours, until the meat is tender. Skim as much fat as possible from the top.

Mouse Whisper

When I got in my car at the Grand Marais Airport in rural northern Minnesota, where I’d left it, I noticed something peculiar: tiny footprints across my dust-covered dash.  Washington Post

How it all started.

The photos show what happens when a wildlife photographer finds that a white-footed mouse has decided to squat in his car. He named the mouse Morticia and she stayed there. She was more than just a subject; she was his resident model. Then she brought in a mate.

Symbiotic relationship – if that is the word.

There were rules. No food left in the car. No wires chewed in return. Mouse droppings cleaned away. Photos taken. Then the mice were gone sometime before his car had reached its time to be scrapped. Auto death at 250,000 miles.

But he still had his pictures.

Modest Expectations – Quarter

Remembering Guernica. A Palestinian, Mohammed Saabinah updates Guernica; courtesy Washington Post.

The First Time Magazine was Published in 1923 also.

The New England Journal of Medicine has celebrated its Centennial Year in 2023.

As reported in the Boston Globe, among the strangest case studies (this one published in 2020) was the man who died from eating too much liquorice. The 54-year-old had a poor diet, ate mostly lollies, and had recently switched to consuming two to three bags of black liquorice a day. But the case pointed to the hazards of glycyrrhizic acid, a plant extract found in liquorice. If taken in large quantities, the substance can cause potassium levels to plummet, which in this case prompted a cardiac arrest.

Batemans Bay

My father and mother loved Batemans Bay, located as it is on the Clyde River on the South Coast of New South Wales. At that time there was no bridge across the Clyde River, and one was not constructed until 1956. Crossings thus were dependent on the car ferry and gave a sense of detachment from the settlements further north along the coast.

Batemans Bay 1940s

My parents discovered the town after the War, when they used to drive to Sydney at Christmas or during school holidays. They enjoyed being able to go to the Government wall there, with their special short blade knife, a pepper shaker and a lemon or two and feast on the rock oysters clinging to the wall. I watched, wondering why my parents wanted to eat these revolting looking slime in a shell. They looked resignedly at my screwed-up face, and I remember my father saying to my mother, “He’ll learn.” No truer word said as now I’ve been known to wolf down a dozen rock oysters barely taking breath.

My father and mother loved the views over the Pacific Ocean past the Toll Gates, the twin islands which were so much a marker of the Batemans Bay identity. Here among the gum trees, they would go for walks thinking about where they would buy a plot of land. It never eventuated, because first my mother had a duodenal ulcer and then breast cancer. Thus, retirement to the coast faded as an option; and my father would not chance his arm at rural practice, even though his medical practice in the outer suburbs of Melbourne had its moments -never boring.

What intrigued me was the string of black and white framed photographs which lined the corridor of the hotel, which were a testament to Zane Grey’s deep sea fishing exploits. Zane Grey was a very successful American author of Westerns, who also became a renowned deep-sea angler around the world. He had sufficient money to afford a camera boat in addition to the boat, Avalon, from which he did his fishing. The camera crew were also expert deep-sea anglers as well his photographer.

He wrote a book about his exploits in Australia in 1936, titled An American Angler in Australia, first published in 1937.

I know virtually nothing about this sport, but Zane Grey who has a deep love affair with Australia, describes his exploits off Bermagui and Batemans Bay. He is a very passionate adversary, but looked askance at the New Zealand habit of harpooning the deep-sea monsters and the Australian practice of shooting when the fish was hooked. He insisted on each catch being gaffed and the tail secured – no mean feat.

Grey had been fishing off New Zealand in the 1920s, and later “discovered”- Australia of which he wrote in An American Angler in Australia:

I was hardly prepared for this land of staggering contrasts, of unbelievable beasts, of the loveliest and strangest birds, of great modern English cities, of vast ranges that rivalled my beloved Arizona, and of endless forestland, or bus, as they call it, never yet adequately described, no doubt because of beauty and wildness beyond the power of any pen to delineate.

Many of the deep-sea fish, the sharks, that he caught are now protected, and the number of these creatures that he hooked would make any modern conservationist shudder, but he was very much of his time, where hooking a shark was to lessen the threat for surfers.

To quote him directly “Well, Mr Man-eater, you will never kill any boy or girl.”

The most memorable description is of his tussle with a huge tiger shark off Sydney Heads, with steamships emerging from the Heads avoiding him and the shark. Eventually he won the battle with the tiger shark, and with difficulty beached it at Watson’s Bay in front of a large crowd. It took twenty men to drag it on shore, avoiding the flailing tail and the jaws. Several of the men were knocked over by the tail, but the jaws claimed nobody. Eventually, the shark was secured. It was measured at thirteen feet ten inches; weight one thousand and thirty-six pounds.

Zane Grey and catch

Zane Grey died two years after this book was published in Catalina, at the age of 77. To think he was an old man fighting sea monsters long before Hemingway was to write of a gentler Cuban fisherman, his Old Man of the Sea, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize. I wonder how many people remember Zane Grey and his exploits. I would not have, had it not been my parents’ love for Batemans Bay.

Reflections on Violence

Firstly, [attitudes] are influenced partly by the fact that growing ethnocentrism and increasing anomie and alienation are common among elderly and poorly-educated people. The second mechanism consist of finding that people who experience feelings of socio-political senselessness and helplessness have a tendency to look for compensation in authoritarian-paranoid world views. It would seem that authoritarian-paranoid beliefs can be seen as being a mediator between social anomie and political alienation, on the one hand, and ethnocentric attitudes on the other. Radkiewicz, P. (2007) Polish Psychological Bulletin, 38(1), 5–14.

When I was undertaking the course work on my way to a Master of Arts degree, I had one lecturer who was obsessed with the Triptych (anomie, alienation, ethnocentricity).

The text which the class was to study in conjunction with the lecture notes was Reflection on Violence. Georges Sorel was French polemicist, whose view of progress was linked to conflict, almost Trotskyist in the concept of permanent revolution. He recognised the importance of triptych in fulfilling his belief.

In fact, a clue to what Sorel basically argued was that he drew praise from both Lenin and Mussolini.

Georges Sorel

I was prompted to write about this academic term of my life with Georges Sorel when I read an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald that tried to describe why some people who, in their early career, were labelled “Leftie” and then moved across the political spectrum to become warriors of the right.

The person to me who personified this shift was the journalist, the late Paddy McGuinness, who started off well to the Left, his black garb being recognition of an anarchic streak residing in his persona; and then later in life he became a champion of the right, where his constituency was the far right of political thought. I first met him in his leftist phase when he worked for Bill Hayden in the early 70s.

He was the classic authoritarian, humourless personality, and such people find there is little difference if they are speaking from either of the extremities of the political spectrum. They cannot be wrong; and thus truth is what they say it is to them; democracy nestling the so-called political centre was a symbol of spinelessness, with a haughty dismissal of the diversity of opinion as showing a lack of discipline and a refusal to accept without demur the primacy of the authoritarian belief.  Evidence is thus what one believes, and that’s it. You just had to converse with Paddy to recognise the rigidity of his thought process.  He was never wrong.

The article in the SMH by Michelle Goldberg, an American journalist who, six years ago as set out in her Wikipedia bio, was forced into retraction of a comment she made in reviewing a book, study of college rape, by another New York journalist, Vanessa Grigoriadis. Her retraction was described by Vanity Fair as a humiliating retreat.

In this recent article reprinted in SMH, she sets up the question of what’s driving lefties to the right? She mentions the “horseshoe theory” as though conversion is a parabola.  In fact, the authoritarian personality can exist equally on the left and the right. It is about power without dissent. Democracy is too difficult – having to resolve problems, not assuming one is automatically right without any evidence.

The problem which Goldberg barely touched in the triptych is her tangential comment that “the right has the advantage in appealing to dislocated and atomised people.” In the case of Trump, it is probably due to his opportunism that he has positioned his authoritarianism on the right; but in other situations, where the proletariat was seen to hold the power, then Trump could well have positioned himself there.

However, America has no history of a socialist government.  The American characteristic of espousing of the freedom of the individual to do anything he wants in the name of individualism is a cruel trick, where the product of the triptych is unmitigated tyranny in all its forms. Left and right become catchcries, but in the end meaningless. It is the preservation of democracy which is meaningful.

Is Anybody Listening?

I found the following book review of “Review of Family Violence in Australia”; Carol O’Donnell and Jan Craney were joint editors. The author of this book review was Dimity Reed, whom I knew in our teenage years; she later had become a distinguished architect. The year this review was written was 1982, in a then new magazine Australian Society.

The review began (sic):

Fool that I am, I recently flicked on the last two minutes of a TV talent quest. A man waltzed around the studio, clutching to his breast a partner, presumably a fellow seeker after fame.

Suddenly he knocked her to the ground and started kicking her and beating her with his fists. Then he picked her up and tossed her on to the judges’ table, where three respected leaders of showbiz sat laughing.

Not content with the beating given his partner on the dance floor, our ambitious hero threw himself upon her on the table and pummelled her into a heap. Not until he was totally exhausted and sure of some sort of victory did the man desist.

It was at that point that I realized that the man’s partner was a life-size doll.

That programme went to air in Melbourne a week after an intense public awareness campaign about violence between men and women inside families. The compere had done numerous radio interviews to promote the campaign and the TV station has been generous in their support.

What does this indicate? That comperes have short memories? That violence within families had been simply seen as good news items? Or, more ominous, that the right of men to beat women severely and remain unpunished is both the norm and a source of humour?

So long ago; yet so near. I too remember these antics, because much of the humour descended from vaudeville, its humour based on denigration of women.

My wife reminded me of the “wife beater” term. This was the Chesty Bond singlet, which apparently had been worn when a Detroit man in 1947 was arrested for beating his wife to death and was shown wearing a stained singlet.

… and still available today, the “wife beater” by the half dozen

I am no saint, but I’ve never hit my wife. Convenient objects have been thrown at me on a very few occasions, but in this short review by Dimity, blame for the marital disputes is considered a domestic dispute, unless there is murder.  It thus must be that extreme for police involvement. One set of data suggests that, on average, one woman every nine days and one man every month is killed by a current or former partner.

Yet that conceals widespread conflict and violence in the community; and I, like most people, am reluctant to intervene, especially when fists are flying, and knives are flashing. Let’s be frank, nobody is properly trained to intervene. The socially concerned may preach to audiences, often inappropriate because the audience have the skills to deal with conflict or well-honed sophistry of denial of such involvement. In other words, the members of these audiences nod their heads sagely and issue “the tut -tut” of the judgemental. Therefore, mostly conflict is allowed for the parties to resolve themselves. This leaves a considerable body of people who do not have the skills to handle conflict.

And even if the wife beaters were listening, they probably would not know what the jargon meant. The gap is just too great.

Whitewash is a Woman on the Green

In the SMH of Tuesday 20 October 2020, Cathy Wilcox drew a cartoon depicting two women sitting on a park bench. One was saying to the other:

Gladys is not to blame for Daryl Maguire’s dodgy dealings – she just fell for a dud boyfriend … “

The other responded:  “Judging by her record on stadiums, the Powerhouse, Crown Casino, heritage destruction, land clearing, loss of koala habitat and now council grants, she must’ve had a string of dud boyfriends …”

Sometime the cartoonist’s observation is too true to be funny. In this case Cathy Wilcox exhibits in her unerring drawing that mixture of anger and disdain for Gladys with the “Poor Me” look. To Gladys’ bill of stuff-ups can be added her involvement in cooking up the Rozelle Road Pasta.

The Commission (ICAC) reported on the relationship, nearly three years after the Wilcox cartoon of 40 words was published; and two years after the hearings completed, written up in a 700-page report.

However, the following embodies the findings against Gladys Berejiklian, once the Premier of NSW.

The Commission finds that Ms Berejiklian engaged in serious corrupt conduct by breaching public trust in 2016 and 2017 through exercising her official functions in relation to funding promised and/or awarded to ACTA, without disclosing her close personal relationship with Mr Maguire, when she was in a position of a conflict of interest between her public duty and her private interest, which could objectively have the potential to influence the performance of her public duty. The Commission also finds that in the same period, Ms Berejiklian partially exercised her official functions, in connection with funding promised to ACTA, influenced by the existence of her close personal relationship with Mr Maguire.

On the surface, she is in disgrace, but somehow with her “Miss Goodie-Two-Shoes” image and the Australian Financial Review’s eulogy of her dressed in vestal virginal white, admittedly with the “furred up” look of a good-time girl seems to have protected her from what should have been community contumely. Then she has the gall to appeal the ICAC findings, for what? Her right to do so?

The Conversation wondered about the secret life of this 50-year-old woman, who retains the air of the captain that she was at high school in North Ryde. She told no one about this relationship with Maguire, not even her own, very close family.

This is a litany of a clearly dysfunctional person. Instead of her history being treated with understandable caution given that she was hardly in need of money, Berejiklian was hired by Optus and made managing director of Optus’s business division, a position she has held since last year. She was close to the action thus when the disastrous outage occurred which cost an insensitive CEO her job, this ex-school captain survived. Given her form, why would we be surprised! Are there any missteps in store for us involving her involvement in anything.

But Berejiklian is only symptomatic of the malaise which has been inflicted upon Australia. Setting up Inquiries, culminating in the “majesty” of a Royal Commission was a serious endeavour to find the truth of the situation – not to be taken lightly. But now they are increasingly irrelevant for politicians and police, who just ignore the findings while mouthing the mantra “that they will take the matter seriously”. These inquiries have become a smokescreen designed to lengthen the process, so why it is being set up is lost in the voracious news cycle. Australia gives the impression of being governed by the public relations crew, who homogenise policy into trivial blah.

A bleak NSW Parliament House

Gladys Berejiklian had not been on her own, even if ever wronged in her own eyes, she exists in her version of “Bleak House”, even if she believes herself to be Esther Summerson.

The problem in writing about this Australian political cancer is that it is metastasising out of control because the therapeutic agents are not sufficient to contain it. These therapeutic processes are of another age, when the cancer was not as virulent and the processes were sufficient to contain and even heal. But no longer, and with climate changing, how many years will it be before this cachexia of misrule and greed kills the country fabric. Once malignant cachexia kicks in, it’s irreversible, just as it is with climate change.

Not an Afterthought

I have met some remarkable women in my life, but as I am getting towards the tail of my life, I thought I would list the six women I would have wished to have met, but for various reasons (mainly because they existed in another generation) I have not been able to do so.

Grace Cossington Smith’s “The Bridge in curve”
  • Vanessa Redgrave – UK actor
  • Katherine Mansfield – NZ-born author
  • Lena Horne – US singer
  • Rosa Luxemburg – Polish-born activist
  • Leni Riefenstahl – German filmmaker & photographer
  • Grace Cossington Smith – Australian painter

Mouse Whisper

I’m not sure this says much about anything including national characteristics.

A Swede and a Finn went into a bar. The Swede ordered a vodka, said “Skål” and downed the vodka. The Finn said nothing and also downed the vodka. The Swede repeated the toast three time and still the Finn said nothing although the Swede every time said “Skål” and downed the vodka. The Finn downed his vodka and continued to say nothing. On the fourth time, the Swede raised his glass and said “Skål”.

This apparently was too much for the Finn, because he burst out “Se on teidän ruotsalaisten ongelma, te puhutte liikaa.”

or in English parlance: “That’s the trouble with you Swedes, you talk too much.”

Eight or ten words! Take your pick.