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 Expectation – Krakatoa

I have received my postal vote For the Vote. There, below the box, the form instructs:

“Write “Yes” or “No””

That is classic ambiguity. It’s so obvious – unless one takes it literally. Once there was a manual for a luxury car, the instructions for which included the following at one of the service stages:

Drain the sump.

It did not go on and instruct the owner to (sic)

Refill the sump.

Yes, there were damaged cars.

The Modern Version of the Old English Word – Dudda

Dutton could not raffle a duck in a country pub in any other State than Queensland – or a leg of mutton for that matter. He has been socialised as a Queensland copper, with all the baggage that entails. He and his wife have made money in harness with him being the Member for Dickson, including receiving Commonwealth money for his childcare holdings. This payment was contrary to the relevant Act.

A former Western Australian Premier labelled him a dullard. There is truth in this, because of the way he seemed to have been manipulated by his Department Secretary, a person who neglected his public administration responsibility while he slurped up to the Liberal Party grandees.

Dutton and Pezzullo

Nevertheless, he summed up the intellectual quality of Dutton, and played the “prejudice polka” every day to keep Dutton in check. This serenading will be an ongoing discussion point when the review of his erstwhile public servant “honcho”, Michael Pezzullo, is finalised and made public. Irrespective of what he does, Dutton will bear some of the brunt of any negative findings on Pezzullo’s antics while the latter was being paid nearly $1m annually.

The point has been made that John Howard opposed all the referendum proposals in 1988, and despite his successful opposition to the referenda, he was out of parliamentary Liberal Party leadership in six months, which started his walk in the wilderness.

This is not to say that Dutton will walk in the steps of Howard, but it reminded me that the default Howard position was always “NO”. It meant that he had to be persuaded to adopt a positive stance; and this stratagem was canny as it enabled him to test the community attitude on any particular proposal.

The fundamental difference between Howard and Dutton at the same stage of their professional life was basic intelligence; plus, Howard was not a Queenslander.  If you exclude Frank Forde and Arthur Fadden, whose respective tenures as Prime Minister were as “caretaker”, Kevin Rudd has been the only Queensland-elected Prime Minister. Kevin, whatever he may have been, could not have been cast as the traditional banana-bender. This fussy, self-opinionated, dainty man with a penchant for displaying how intelligent he was, seemed more a character of the inner suburbs of the big metropolises down South rather than coming from the land of surf and coral.

I have spent a great deal of my life in Queensland. These days, there is the tourist who would say the same as I have said, but when you probe deeper, you generally find that they have only gone to the Gold Coast or Noosa on the Sunshine Coast.

Queensland has these exclaves of southerners, but if you happen to be a political aspirant, it is a good idea to spend time in other parts of Queensland. You must break down the natural suspicion at best or antipathy at worst towards the “invaders”. Malcolm Turnbull, the scion of Point Piper, found that out. Mate, in Queensland you need to be able to wear an Akubra without looking like a dill. Moreover, you need to feel comfortable in your own skin. In other words, Queenslanders have a very sensitive bull dust meter. The political parliamentary FIFO sends the needle off the scale.

Gaucho in Cassock

One week, if you eat meat on Friday, you’re going to go to hell. The following week, you can have meat on Friday. The church changed. – Thomas Reese (American Catholic Jesuit priest, author, and journalist.)

As a young man, I was inspired by the activities of Vatican II. I even briefly considered conversion to Roman Catholicism.

But that was then.

Pope Francis

Now, Pope Francis is liberalising the Roman Catholic Church, so they say. Oh yeah, pull the other leg. The evidence is that he has appointed 21 cardinals with similar “liberal views”. But there he is photographed recently surrounded by his fellow cardinals in cassocks, the only reminder that this was not a collection of mediaeval relics is the wheelchair the Pope has inaugurated as his particular sedia. In fact, it was not until 1978, that the papacy discovered the wheel with the “popemobile” replacing the sedia gestatoria, an uneasy papal sedan chair borne by twelve strapping men, with a couple of flabellata, large ostrich fans carried by two other muscular deacons on either side of the sedia gestatoria. These fans in their construction could have been a template for the Folies Bergère fans.

If you trace the vestments, as with the papacy, they have their genesis in Ancient Roman robes. Such is the modernity projected by Vatican fashions. Such is the formalin aspic of The Vatican State – the Holy See.

The isolation of the Papacy was reinforced by the loss of most of its temporal land holdings during the Risorgimento, which occurred during one of the longest papal reigns, that of Pius IX. Pius’s troops lost a couple of battles and with that the Papal States. Pius was more than a little miffed and withdrew into The Vatican, describing himself as being the Vatican’s Prisoner. He excommunicated the new Italian King, Emmanuel II along the way, which he subsequently revoked when both were dying.

Nevertheless, Pius IX was a busy Pope. His dogma of Immaculate Conception and also convening Vatican I, the Council where Papal Infallibility embedded in dogma were some of his most notable accomplishments. His efforts in punishing those that procured abortions at any time of gestation prevailed within the Catholic Church; excommunication for abortion became Canon Law in 1917, and later revised in 1983. Boy, has he got a lot to answer for!

For instance, take the matter of celibacy. During the first millennium of the Church, being married was apparently not rare among the priests and bishops, even though St Augustine railed against female blandishments. In the 11th century, Pope Gregory VII issued a decree requiring all priests to be celibate and he expected his bishops to enforce it. Despite the decree, some priests and high-ranking clergy, even popes, flouted the order and engaged in sexual relations with women. Homosexual activity was not regulated; and paedophilia, the bane of the modern church, was ever present. During the Counter-Reformation in the mid-15th century, the Council of Trent tightened the rules demanded that celibacy be subject to excommunication. It did not seem to worry the Borgias and their notorious activities.

The Pope on his own can revoke celibacy of Roman Catholic clergy. What’s stopping him if he is the progressive Pope he pretends he is. Female ordination is a different problem being embedded in Church dogma.  It is ironic that the most liturgically conservative Anglican and Episcopal priests, who left the Church for the Roman Catholic Church as a protest against women being ordained, were married. They could remain married and were exempt from celibacy. They were allowed to keep their wives in direct opposition to St Augustine’s doctrine.

Augustine of Hippo was a fourth century North African Bishop whose attitudes have survived, probably because he mirrored a convenient conservatism, which has served the Roman Catholic Church well.

Augustine trod a familiar hagiographic pathway from the Epicurean to the Ascetic. After a time in Milan, Augustine returned to his native town of Tagaste (now Algeria), a cultured man of property, raising the son, Adeodatus.  No mention of the mother (unsurprisingly her name is unknown) is recorded. Yet Augustine was a prolific writer. Misogyny has a long history.

Augustine joined the Church when he lost his son; and celibacy was his personal reaction to his loss, to which a whole raft of Church sophistry was added to justify it being compulsory among the clergy, monks – and of course nuns. Forget, ordination, girls.  Contemplative hand maidens, brides of Christ are sufficient recognition – but we will add celibacy to give you a feeling of collegiality.

I suppose I reserve my greatest contempt for those who pretend they are reformers, make resounding commentary, but in the end nothing happens. The Vatican II Council made some changes, including making the Mass available in the vernacular, and substituting that the priestly backside by him facing the congregation when saying the Mass. However, those two clerical misanthropes, the Pole and the Bavarian, did all they could to sabotage the Vatican II reforms, and the Church was particularly not well served during the years in which the John Paul II was demented with Parkinsonism.

Vatican II happened when I was a young man. The celebrant at my first wedding was a Bush Brother, who was celibate, and an Anglican priest, my friend who carried the cross in front of the bridal procession became a worker priest, anathema to conservative elements of the Roman Catholic Church. He was an ordained Anglican priest, never moved to Roman Catholicism, initially celibate, he later married. However, he spent much of his life working with immigrants and the poor. Back then, I believed I was optimistic about the future.  Secular truths complemented one’s religious beliefs and freedoms would naturally follow.

Max Charlesworth

A significant incident in my life was my introduction to Max Charlesworth. Late in life he too attributed much of the ultimate failure of Vatican II, to the Polish pope who, as Charlesworth wrote, used “modern communications media effectively to make himself bishop of the World”. Ironic because he was the first non-Italian pope since the Dutch Pope, Adrian VI, who had a short one-year papacy (1522-23). John Paul II thus effectively sidelined the doctrine of collegiality, reducing the bishops to ciphers, whose responsibility was to the Pope not to their diocese. Appointments, as Charlesworth opined, were opaque and the appointed bishops would be a gathering of “yes men”.  Charlesworth wrote it as he saw it.

In 1960, I was invited to Mass on University Sunday at Newman College. I remember I was placed at the end of a row of pews, and when the Newman College students went to take the Mass, the whispered “heathen” was one of the more complimentary epithets directed at me.

Max Charlesworth, then 35, had recently returned from Louvain University. He was the guest speaker at the lunch which followed the Mass. This was before Vatican II but his theme was very much about liberalising the Church’s attitudes. In Melbourne, it was the time of the Roman Catholic Archbishop Danial Mannix, the crucial supporter then of Bob Santamaria. His Catholic worker anti-communist views had precipitated the split in the Australian Labor Party in the 1950s. At that stage, the model that seemed to guide Santamaria was that of Franco’s Spain, a combination of temporal and spiritual authoritarianism.

While many of the Roman Catholic bishops were in attendance at the lunch Archbishop Mannix, who then was 96 years old, was not. Daniel Mannix had been a divisive figure in Melbourne. His views were fashioned by his Irish antipathy to anything British, rather than by any Falangist motivation.

Listening to Charlesworth’s conciliatory but challenging speech about the need to address the sectarian conflict by his call, I was inspired to live constructively.  I was optimistic then.  Much of what he said presaged Vatican II, which commenced two years later.

Sixty-three years later, seeing this Pope and his feeble attempts to try to reform, I have little time to complete my construct of a Roman Catholic Church where women were equal and some of the doctrine which seems based on the biases of elderly men shed. Unfortunately, my optimism is now a tattered banner barely able to flutter. But then, what have I really done, especially as I have clung to my Anglicanism rather as a security blanket than as a cloak of reform.

Road Rage in the Scottish Highlands

In 1980, a strange thing happened to us on the way to Glencoe.  We happened to be in a rented MGB. There was a line of summer traffic somewhere close to Fort William, on a narrow country road. There were road works ahead. We had come to a halt, when I heard a crack and our car lurched towards the edge of the road. We had been struck by the rear end of a swaying caravan, which was being driven far too fast on the wrong side of the road.


I surprised myself by the speed of my reaction. I pulled the MGB out onto the wrong side of the road and set off in pursuit. Completely crazy, she said later. The vehicle with its caravan was disappearing down this straight stretch of the Scottish tarmac.

I was after it, my hand pressed hard on the horn. I hoped there was nothing coming the other way. It was an uneven match. The MGB was too fast and its horn too insistent.  The game was up! The car and caravan had found a gap in the traffic and lurched to a stop.  Then a strange thing happened. A man got out of the car with his hands raised – a skinny middle-aged man with drawn emaciated features and a hunted expression from under an old Wehrmacht field cap.  The bugger had surrendered as though it was a conditioned reflex. He looked so wretched.

People were climbing out of their cars to come and have a look. Some were clapping. Some were muttering uncomplimentary words about Germans.

Our car had barely a scratch.

“Be careful, Jack. You’ll be a war hero if you don’t watch out.” I was still fuming. I saw a middle-aged lady peering out of the car, wondering what retribution I was going to enact.

I walked over to him. He was shivering. I noticed I was taller than he was. I felt that there was quite an audience at my back.

My voice was loud. “Don’t do it again. Get out of here.” That is all I said. I am not sure he understood. However, as I continued to stand in the middle of the road he scampered back into his car. Only then did I realise how shabby the car and caravan were. I could not understand why I had had such a stupid brain snap.

I walked slowly back to the car as the German couple drove away. She was perched up on the seat. I don’t know what she really thought. I gave her the car keys and asked her whether she wouldn’t mind driving for a bit. That was the signal for all those watching to climb back into their vehicles, and until the road widened, the MGB led this column of cars and assorted caravans. The Germans had long since gone. My companion had been very stately in her driving, then suddenly she accelerated our car and we sped away.

It turned out she was very sensible and not very reproachful apart from saying I was completely crazy in her Laura Ashley voice. “Let’s get some clear air. I think we were lucky, but that poor fellow. He was completely frightened and you blasting the horn really was quite dramatic. But it was an anti-climax; that poor man surrendering as though you were going to take him prisoner. Probably you needn’t have done it, but the people in the line seem to be appreciative. It seems to have made their day.”

I must say that there are various forms of road rage, and I was not immune. I was lucky not to cause an accident. The lesson learnt did not survive, and a year later I had a major accident, the sequelae of which emerged 42 years later. Fortunately, in one way, this time I had no passengers, but the car went up in flames.

On reflection, once an anecdote which I thought funny for years, I am now a bit ashamed about it. Too late to learn.

Come in, Spinner

The Mouse Whisper reminded me of Jack Iverson, the right arm unorthodox leg spin bowler, who had a brief test career in Australia versus England in the 1950-51 series. He had come from nowhere two seasons before, but he had developed his unique spinning technique with a table tennis ball. Using his middle finger to spin a cricket ball rather than a table tennis ball was something else. His grip involving this powerful middle finger and thumb meant he could bowl off spin, leg breaks and googlies without changing his grip.

After a couple of successful seasons, as described in Wisden,at the age of 35, he was chosen for his country against the England team captained by F. R. Brown. So perplexing did the visiting batsmen find the bowling of this tall man that in the Test series he obtained 21 wickets for 15.73 runs apiece, including six for 27 in the second innings of the third Test at Sydney. During the fourth Test at Adelaide he suffered an ankle injury when he trod on the ball. He played in only one game in each of the next two seasons and then gave up cricket altogether.

Iverson was an appalling batsman; he just had no idea. However, coincidently, in the Australian XI at the time, there was a left arm bowler called Bill Johnston, who played in 40 Tests for Australia. He was classed as a rabbit, the sobriquet for the batting inept. He played in these five Tests with Jack Iverson. He batted 10 and Iverson at 11.

Iverson was so bad that he had his own classification – Ferret. After all, don’t ferrets go in after the rabbits?

Mouse Whisper

They could have included this in the ABC series Bay of Fires. The wife was driving through Zeehan the other day, and I nearly fell off the dashboard. There was this young woman walking a ferret on a leash.

Ferrets don’t mind a bit of mouse tartare. Due to their short intestinal tract and high metabolic rate, ferrets must also eat raw meat, a little at a time but often. They can’t digest vegetables, especially those which have high fibre.

Lady, keep that animal on a leash, so I can stretch my paws and have a leisurely scamper while my chauffeuse goes into the hardware shop.

Modest Expectations – All aboard for Wakefield

I last had lunch with Tom Reeve and a few people at the Mixing Pot in Glebe about 16 years ago to thank him for all the support he had provided us in the consolidation of the Broken Hill University Department of Rural Health and his general interest and leadership in improving and maintaining health care.

Tom Reeve

The Mixing Pot has been closed for years and Tom Reeve died at the end of last week, just short of his centenary. Others are better qualified to write about his life, but the progression from being a doctor in the mining town of Collinsville in Queensland (about which he wrote) to be the leading thyroid  and oncology surgeon in NSW and Executive Officer of the Australian Cancer Society demonstrated the breadth of Tom Reeve’s experience and influence.

One memory I have of Tom and Ross Webster (then recently retired from the University of Melbourne but acting as part-time Director of Medical Services at the Broken Hill Hospital) was them sitting in the garden of the Menindee Hotel having a beer. It was in the mid 90s. This was before the hotel burnt down and therefore the backdrop was still the old hotel where Burke and Wills stayed on their journey up North.

Reeve and Webster made a different mark on Australia, when they worked together in Broken Hill for that all to0 brief a time.

There was one flower in that courtyard – a lone red hibiscus. Strange what you remember. As the hibiscus and all flowers are fragile, so is human life. The beauty of flowers, like the enjoyments of life, is fleeting. This quote with its link sums up that privilege of working with Tom. Fleeting – yes; but also so very substantial.

The Problem with having only one Joyce

My real worry in flying Qantas is that it is now an unsafe airline. An irrational fear, but it is embedded in my psyche.

I fuss over the number of frequent flyer points I have accumulated. At present I have over 700,000 points but I doubt the value of the Qantas program. I seem to be bombarded with emails wanting to sell me a whole raft of goods in which I have little interest. Yet try to use them for flights, especially business or first – squeezing through the eye of the needle by comparison would be a doddle.

I once preferred to fly British Airways and their customer service, including its rewards for loyalty program set a standard. I remember the rewards, a touch of luxury with a stay at the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris and a weekend at Belltrees in the Hunter Valley. In those days, British Airways even offered an upgrade on Concorde. Days that have long vanished.

I had always travelled domestically with Ansett, and I found their service was very good. I travelled thousands of kilometres around Australia and abroad with Ansett, until it went broke, leaving me with over 600,000 unusable frequent flyer points. I switched to Qantas for domestic flights. I did not harbour any resentment for the Ansett loss.

What has happened?

Ansett collapsing was inconvenient and I had to build a new frequent flyer profile with Qantas, which I did, rapidly reaching platinum status. All this suggests that I wanted to be pampered. No, I just want efficiency and certainty. I have paid for flights with Qantas with that expectation.

The six years before the COVID-19 epidemic arrived, I developed a different insight. I contracted an auto-immune disease, which became chronic and with the chronicity I have become increasingly disabled.

This meant that every time I fly, I need a wheelchair. Distances in airports became just too great to walk. This has meant that for me to board a plane, assistance needed to be co-ordinated. I have experienced other airlines and other airports in a variety of countries as well as across Australia as a comparison.  Depending on other people to get you to and from the plane and the uncertainty that entails does not sit well in one’s psyche when the airline that you are used to coincidentally reduces the level of its services. Part of that is the policy of cramming more and more into economy class. Disabled people need more space not less. Qantas seems not to have given this much consideration.

Qantas has been run by a CEO whose culture is the budget airline reducing customer service, aggressive treatment of his workers, while he panders to his Board and the shareholders. To him, the plane is no better than a bus, but the cost of a ticket is anything but.

How will his legacy be judged – not now, but say in five years?

But there are even limits to Joyce, the Scrooge. He also has a touch of the Heeps, the sycophant. The Chairman’s Lounge system with an associated concierge service is a cheap way to pander to those persons of influence including, so it seems, their children. This has been a Joyce discretionary power, providing a perfumed screen shielding the politicians from the stench of Qantas’ decline in service for the masses. He can manipulate access to the flights using earned frequent flights for his coterie. It is all distasteful, but then the Australian bunyip aristocracy laps it up.

Maybe I am melodramatic, but the level of complacency and non-concern about the overall deterioration, even with the pitchforks at the gate clamouring for change, is mind blowing.

Prime Minister, don’t you t’ink the livery on the plane advocating “yes” shows how well our airline is appropriately politically correct?”

Maybe. I’m afraid that what Joyce substitutes for an airline, is now a hollowed out advertising hoarding, and hardly a suitable vehicle for carrying passengers in comfort.

Stress and The Emergency Department

I spent nearly seven hours in the emergency department one day last week. I had an uncontrolled nosebleed for 36 hours. The bleeding would stop with pressure on the affected area, but then would start again once pressure removed.  I had stopped the anticoagulant immediately. Still, it takes time for the anti-coagulant effect to wear off.

I went to the emergency department at 11.30am and was home for the evening news at 7.00 pm. I had only gone to emergency department with one clear objective, to have an ENT specialist cauterise the nasal bleeding point as I had been bleeding since late Sunday evening. At times, as I have written above, I thought the bleeding had stopped since I had stopped taking my anti-coagulants and was applying considerable pressure as well as placing gauze plugs up into the nasal canal.

When I arrived the promptness of a nurse getting me a wheelchair and showing concern was interrupted by the receptionist clerk who seemed to have lost something, fussing around, while I sat in the wheelchair. All the time I was glad that the blood was not gushing out as it had been earlier. Eventually, he found what he was looking for and I was allowed to proceed. I passed through the first set of doors and was wheeled into what was labelled hilariously RAFT (Rapid Assessment of First Treatment).

It took me over three hours to see a doctor, and then in the meantime the nurse-driven protocols started annoying me. When I was shown to have high blood pressure – which was already known – I was given a tablet without any reference to my current drug regimen, nor was there any instruction about further treatment. Then another nurse bobbed up wanting to take a blood sample, which I worked out was an INR test, which has been shown to be useless for the “novel” oral anticoagulant measurement that I had been taking. I pointed that out, and the nurse beat his retreat.

The protocol enforcers were ever present and had to be beaten off. I came in with a nosebleed, and yet they wanted to take blood for various pathology tests, and fortunately I had the results of blood tests done a few days before. ECG. Why? Chest X-ray. Why?

I was told my refusal of blood tests (the results of which apparently would take two hours) would further delay any prospect of treatment. At that point I spat the dummy well and truly, and no blood test was taken. I had my complete pathology profile which had been obtained the previous week.

There was no questioning about whom my local doctor was – no sense of referral back to my local doctor. They seemed not to notice I had compression stockings and leaving me in a wheelchair for such a long period was not a good strategy. Fortunately I had a sheepskin, but even sitting on it there was still prolonged compression of my thighs. It was not optimal.

Eventually I was examined by an emergency physician and an emergency physician registrar, and they discovered a small, ulcerated nasal area anteriorly. However, they then admitted that they did not have the equipment to cauterise the area from where I was bleeding. Thus, I had to go up to the ENT outpatient clinic, where I waited for a further hour, the last patient for the day; a lonely sight sitting in the vast outpatient area. Why I could not have been sent there hours earlier is totally due to this protocol driven bulk handling of patients.

I remember when I was responsible for the Casualty aka Emergency Department at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, we reduced the waiting time to an average of fifteen minutes. It was before the advent of emergency physicians. Some of my colleagues have wondered about the long term value of having this intermediate specialty lengthening the time for patients being seen in order to justify it being a separate specialty rather than a salaried hospital practitioner with common sense.

The Emergency Department is stressful enough without having a person like myself being kept there because of the requirement to be examined by a doctor labelled “emergency physician”, when they didn’t have the equipment to treat me anyway. Simple common sense would have referred me direct to ENT outpatients, and saved hours waiting – but as I was reminded more than once, priority is determined on clinical need, notwithstanding most of those presenting can be quickly triaged out of the Emergency Department to a more appropriate clinical setting.

Here the ENT registrar was a young doctor training to be a specialist. She fixed me up in half an hour, to be reviewed in a week, when I can go directly to the ENT Outpatient Clinic without having to be checked through “The Hospital Customs”, once known again hilariously as the Emergency Department. She also prescribed me oxymetazoline HCL nasal spray to be used three times a day for five days.

Finally, after all this stress, I could not be discharged until I was given the “green light” by a clerk attached to the emergency department. Mercifully, the ENT registrar intervened so that she had permission to discharge me. Otherwise, as my wife observed, we would have to stage a prison break.

I was once a doctor, then I was listened to by government; now I am a customer with the added experience of being a patient to complement the knowledge I’ve built up in years of practice. Am I now listened to by the next generation of policy determiners?  No way – I’m just a mug emergency department statistic in a wheelchair, my knowledge of my medical condition not taken into consideration.

You see, when I ran the Emergency Department, I would have looked at the presenting complaint, and quickly confirmed the provisional diagnosis and sent the patient to the appropriate specialist unit or to be seen. I have never had any time for collecting patients.

Epistasis – An Addendum

There were ambulances parked outside the hospital. We had contemplated calling an ambulance at one stage when my nose bleed was particularly acute, and we were unable to bring it under control. In conversation with the paramedics, my wife found out that ambulance officers, including the paramedics, have no special training in stopping a nosebleed, apart by compression for up to 30 minutes. Let me say that compression for that length of time is difficult to sustain, as I found out when my nose was bleeding, seemingly uncontrollably.

Added to the fact that ambulance officers or emergency physicians are unable to staunch the blood except by pressure, it is appropriate for treatment of this condition to be reconsidered. I have since read the NSW Health sheet on nosebleed, and none of the protocol recommendations were used by those in the emergency department. I did it myself (well until eventually the emergency department registrar removed the gauze plug I had inserted).

I was bleeding anteriorly, but as I read on through the material on nose bleed, postnasal bleed may be a far more serious condition requiring specialist attention without delay. One can lose blood very quickly as the postnasal space is the terminus for a vascular plexus to which two arteries contribute.

Finally, it was also incidentally discovered that I have a deviated septum. I remember I sustained a heavy blow as a child boxing in an inter-house final. A deviated septum, means that one of your nasal airways is smaller than the other and more likely to bleed. You live and learn.


Each year for more than 15 years now, we benchmark the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The point is, what will we do about this gap? Truth is important, but it must be followed by action. Identifying the problem is only a start. The next question is what do we do? And this is why we need a Voice. That’s why the Voice is our first priority. We must change the process to ensure governments and bureaucrats respond to the voices of ordinary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people who truly represent their communities from the grassroots up to the decision-makers in Canberra.

The Voice will be an authoritative representative body elected by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It will be a committee, in a sense, an advisory committee, to make representations on behalf of First Nations peoples. No special legal powers to write or implement policy, but the moral power of representing the true Indigenous population of this country. Representation that is consistent. – Rachel Perkins.

Charlie Perkins

The fondest memory of many I had of her father, Charlie Perkins, was the time I was walking across King’s Hall during the dinner break, when Mick Young and Eric Walsh approached us and addressed Charlie: “You coming to dinner with us, Charlie?” It was an invitation designed to publicly humiliate me as I was pointedly excluded. Charlie turned to them and said quietly, “I’m going to dinner with Jack Best.” It was recognition the Aboriginal people were not unquestionably beholden to the Australian Labor Party. It was also recognition that, once he determined a course of action however trivial this gesture may appear, Charlie would follow through.

I knew Charlie at the height of his power. I believed he was too much constrained by the bureaucracy. He was too much of a free-flowing spirit.

Now we have his daughter on the “truth-telling” bandwagon. This is a Marcia Langton ploy to shut down discussion. Truth is what Marcia determines; whereas the stories incorporating the myths and legends belong to each tribe, as it was how they may be interpreted in terms of natural phenomena. We constantly hear that the Aboriginal people have been here for 60,000 years. Then there are thousands of years of silence broken by secondary sources and much speculation. No truth here.

Here, storytelling is important to fill the gap, especially where such tradition is in the main oral. But that is not truth. Truth is something that is accepted – such as the dark side involving the complicity of Aboriginal troopers in the massacre of other Aboriginals and the fact that Aboriginals collected Aboriginal skulls now being repatriated back to their ancestral burial grounds alongside the more commonly stated “truths” about whitefella actions. This is one of my aims – to remove the sense of whitefella guilt and expunge this insidious so-called “truth telling” as if “truth” only exists on one side of the ledger.

Once we admit that we all live an imperfect world, which will always remain so, then there will arise a Voice which, for a brief time, I shared with Charlie as we sat around a campfire outside Old Parliament House 40 years ago. Surely there are other examples that could give meaning to the Voice, as a call for mutual respect in which sins of the past are cleansed rather than weaponised.

My Favourite Gourd

One of my favourite reminders of times we spent in Maine near the Canadian border overlooking the Bay of Fundy is a gourd. My wife had bought it in Maine. I had always associated gourds as water containers that Mexicans lugged around the desert strapped to the sides of their burros.

Yet gourds were found growing all through the New England area from pre-historic times. The earliest gourd carving was found on an archaeological site in Maine and has been carbon-dated to 6,500 years ago.

As one authority has written, growing gourds may have been spread initially in conjunction with improvements in fishing techniques, with small gourds used primarily as net floats. In this scenario, gourd growing spread northward from the coastal plains of the Southeast into river valleys of the Midwest and Northeast as fishing became more significant. The growing of gourds was fully compatible with a fisher-gatherer-hunter lifestyle.

Gourds have been grown worldwide for thousands of years. They have little food value but their strong, hard-shelled fruit, in addition to being used as fishing floats, have been long prized as containers and musical instruments.

This lightweight “container crop” would have been particularly useful to human societies before the advent of pottery and settled village life and were grown before there was any systematic horticulture.

Thus, gourd harvesting was not an impetus for widespread horticulture nor did it necessarily trigger a transition to the Agricultural Revolution.

Women may have grown gourds, but the possible role of women in fishing activities as noted above is more ambiguous than is their role in gathering and eventually domesticating the food plants along the eastern seaboard of Northern America, well prior to white settlement.

Gourds being used for folk art has a long history in south-west USA among the Indian tribes such as the Apache, Hopi, Zuni and in Central and South America among Indian tribes, particularly those of Guatemala and Peru. But I had no idea that gourd carving occurred in Maine. Some of the carvers are the descendants of the local indigenous people.

The gourd my wife purchased has the patina of leather and is unexpectedly light. It is easy to see why the gourd was used as a bag. But our gourd with a narrow opening with a rim of pine needles would be an inconvenient vessel.

Pine needles are only one such decoration; porcupine needles are also used. The needles are usually baked in glycerine water (and dye, if colouring them) for four hours and then dried for 3-4 days. This preserves the needles from breaking.

Our gourd seems polished amber in colour with its circular walls etched with figures of prehistoric horses which seem to have been transferred from the cave paintings of Altamira.

Overall, a piece of art which attracts the eye, and carved in Maine!

Mouse Whisper

The F-16 offers Ukraine the ability to safely strike targets hundreds of km away, deep in Russian-controlled territory. That’s vital if any ground offensive is to succeed.

An American declaration about the refusal to send the latest F-16s to the Ukraine because they might fall into Russian hands is a ludicrous excuse. This implies that you would be using your worst equipment (or at least equipment no better than the inferior equipment of the other side) in all warfare. War is not fought that way, and we all know that.  Just imagine the RAF, in the Battle of Britain, saying that the boffins advocated they use Sopwith Camels instead of Spitfires for that same reason.

Really you American squirrels should stop treating us Australian mice as though we are drongos.

Australian speckled drongo named Barnaby

Modest Expectations – James Phipps

So many of the antics around the Voice “yes” case are classic rent seeking. The more the whole argument proceeds, so the clarity of the rent seeking basis of the promoters’ “Yes” case become. I have hesitated to muse out loud, but there is still nothing substantive for those who are thinking about their vote to hold back on disclosing what this exercise has become.

I have read the news for the last week, and positive outcomes have occurred in one case specifically and in another generally without waiting for the Voice to happen.

During this last week, the Barngarla Determination Aboriginal Corporation in South Australia has the Federal Court ruling in its favour in relation to a nuclear waste dump. The Federal Education Minister has opened the universities to essentially positive affirmation for Indigenous people. Then Michael Mansell, whose playbook is that of protest, comes out with a reasoned argument to call off the referendum all together and start negotiating a treaty. At no stage has there been any impediment because Aboriginal rights have not been incorporated into the Constitution, and with all respects, what happened this past week epitomises policy development.

At the same time there is negative news. In the Northern Territory, as reported by the ABC, the Gove bauxite mine will close by 2030 and other major mines have either ceased or are set to finish up in Jabiru and Groote Eylandt. This will see millions of dollars in royalties evaporate from regional economies across the NT.  As further reported by the ABC, author Richard Trudgen, who has been living and working with Yolŋu in north-east Arnhem Land for half a century, many people aren’t even aware the royalty payments are coming to an end.

The aboriginal landowners have received $700 million in royalties over 42 years from the Rio Tinto Gove operation. As reported by the ABC, “flash cars and grog” have consumed much of these royalties, plus the cost of bickering by the landowners over the rightful division of the royalties. Enter at this spot, the lawyers and the anthropologists, and they have, as expected, carved a proportion of the royalties away.

The money has provided investment in a sawmill, and the ABC reported that it had been productive; yet on the day the ABC reporters visited, there was only one worker on site, the rest were on the local version of “sorry business”. So, what’s new? To think that these Aboriginal mobs having had the chance to invest the royalties are talking about going back on welfare mocks the very essence of the “Yes” case.

The problem is to define any objective except that of a few well-placed Aboriginals having a go at bluffing the Australian people into this rent seeking exercise, which is essentially a sophisticated form of “sit-down” money. The arguments on both sides are as crude and as ill-thought through as one another.

The “No” vote is being hijacked by the community racist element, which lies very close to the surface of Australian society. Given the flimsiness of the “Yes” case as presented to date, this has allowed the racist element to gain far more currency than it should have had. The “Yes” case should have been framed to support constructive evolution and admit the failure of the current funding model.

Unfortunately, the “Yes” campaign is bereft; it could have been built on what has been accomplished, given the amount of funding being sunk into Aboriginal affairs. Having seen waste, having seen success in Aboriginal policy, I would have recommended that the Voice should have recognised what works and used the Voice as a logical progression instead of the attempt to exacerbate guilt among whitefellas, most of whom with all due respect have never spent time with Aboriginals, and are in a quandary because much of Aboriginal policy has been confusing, if not frankly incoherent.

Still, no way can I align myself to the racists overtones of the “No” case. 

Death of the Boondoggle?

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.Modest Expectations, 30 July 2021

It’s a comprehensive let down for the athletes, the excited host communities, First Nations Australians who were at the heart of the Games, and the millions of fans that would have embraced a sixth home Games in Australia.”

The multi-city model for delivering Victoria 2026 was an approach proposed by the Victorian Government, in accordance with strategic roadmap of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) … beyond this, the Victorian Government wilfully ignored recommendations to move events to purpose-built stadia in Melbourne and in fact remained wedded to proceeding with expensive temporary venues in regional Victoria.

Craig Phillips AM, Commonwealth Games Australia Chief Executive Officer – 18 July 2023

Australia is fast becoming the dumping ground for unwanted sporting events. I identified the Brisbane Olympic Games as a potential boondoggle about two years ago but missed writing about the extravagant Andrews’ offer to fund the 2026 Commonwealth Games and in the proposed involvement of regional centres that were being showered with kudos for being – Drum roll – “inclusive”. Then it was all about Andrews getting votes in the Victorian regional areas to win the then forthcoming election, and indeed crush the hapless coalition.

Jeroen Weimar is a very smart man, and Premier Andrews fortuitously put him in charge of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee. He would have done the sums, because one of his briefs would have been to predict the real cost and the real benefits. Then, enter the inevitable consultants and the rubbery cost accounting which these firms have allegedly used. They would have constructed a number of scenarios, and they all came up with a brick wall of massive debt. Andrews could then be criticised as being a “mug lair”, a show pony who on occasions has had to be rescued without representational scars, this time by Dr Weimar with one or other of his collections of metaphorical lifebuoys.

Nevertheless, the figure of $7 billion is about as fanciful as the other figures; it was a big enough “alternative fact” – allegedly – as all the other figures are, but enough for Premier Andrews to unequivocally justify the cancellation. If the figure had been, say $4 billion, then there would have been the quibbler brigade, but $7 billion slammed the door shut.  Not that it has any effect on my agreement with the decision to cancel. But to reassure the public, with a straight face, I would suggest all the cost accounting for this Games be released with accompanying assumptions.

On the other hand, Phillips AM is very much part of the Coates Hoodwink. He contradicts himself; and forgets that nobody wanted the Games after Durban was stripped from holding them, because it could not afford the extravagance. He conveniently forgets the proposed 2030 games, which are to celebrate 100 years since the first British Empire Games were held in the Canadian city of Hamilton. Hamilton has indicated that it does not want to hold the 2030 Games – nor does any other Canadian city.

We have come a long way from Premier Fahey jumping around like a dervish when Sydney was awarded the Olympic Games in 1994. Coates seems to have sniffed the winds of change in relation to the Commonwealth Games, because his reaction was that of dancing the Edging Away.

It is inevitable for someone to disclose the lack of policy raiment these jingoista in pursuit of fool’s gold have. During the games, the media obsesses with the progressive medal tally – have we more gold medals than England?  Has Australia won more gold medals than anybody else? Really, who cares when we wake up next morning, except the individual with the medal. The crowds are gone and facilities built for a two-week event lie empty.

Percy Bysshe Shelley put it perfectly:

My Name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Ozymandias – wrecked

Time for the Commonwealth Games Federation to face the inevitable. The Boondoggle has burst. 

What about the Olympic Games?

My original comments were directed towards the 2032 Games, which nobody wanted. As the time draws closer, the value of the commitment will become clearer. In the meantime, the 2030 Winter Olympics need to be sorted. Ostensibly there seem to be four applicants – Sweden (venue not yet revealed), Sapporo in Japan, Utah (presumably Salt Lake City, where the 2002 games were held and were the biggest to date) and a late entry from France.

The latest information this month: Utah taxpayers have spent nearly $92 million on the state’s Olympic facilities in recent years, a total that could exceed $140 million as they’re readied for another Winter Games as well as for continued community and athlete use.

Utah announces its bid

Salt Lake is thus the only unequivocal bidder, but would prefer 2034, so as not to overlap Los Angeles’ bid to raise the required funding for its Olympic Games. Sapporo seems to blow hot and cold, because of scandals surrounding the Tokyo games; plus, the Sapporo residents have not been particularly keen.

Sweden is in a similar situation of the Swedes blowing hot and cold, but at this stage of the cycle they are apparently positive. France has indicated an interest – late but the IOC obviously welcoming the fact that two Alpine districts are interested. Vancouver pulled out because of financial considerations. So, to say the situation is fluid at the present is to ignore the possibility that everything will be washed away. And, of course, will there be enough snow anyway?

It should be remembered that the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games were awarded in 2017, and the World has changed mightily since then. The Paris Games are scheduled to start on 26 July next year. Will Europe be as hot then as it is now?

Discovering Fire on the West Coast

I have spent a great deal of time in Broken Hill and it was a privilege to work there as I have said many times, especially when I had a bloke like Clyde Thompson working alongside of me. Clyde is a guy so different from me that once we knew how to communicate, he became one of my most admired persons to cross my path.

Mundi Mundi Plains

Just down the road is the settlement of Silverton, where life had centred around the pub. If I drove out further to the end of the macadam, below were the Mundi Mundi Plains stretching out West as far as the eye could see, a beautiful place to watch the sunset while drinking a flute of champagne.

Silverton has been the site of many Australian films, and the road out to the Mundi Mundi plains was where the early Mad Max films were made.

I have referred to the time my son was bumped off the then Eastern Airlines flight from Mildura to Broken Hill, by a film team shooting a Coke advertisement on the Plains.

It was the time when the desert loomed large in Australian films if, in that other scenario, stunt riders were in cars and not galloping horses at breakneck speed across the Alpine landscape.

So, when we saw the trailer for the new Marta Dusseldorp TV drama, Bay of Fires, we immediately recognised it as Zeehan, just down the road from Strahan.

The actual Bay of Fires is on the east coast of Tasmania, whereas Zeehan is not, which is mildly confusing.

Zeehan’s main street

Zeehan is an old West Coast mining town, and it had been not only wealthy once but also at that time the third biggest settlement in Tasmania after Hobart and Launceston. It was also known as Silverton and, lying as it does on the one of most mineralised areas on the Planet, was rich in ore. Both silver and gold were originally mined, but now just outside Zeehan there’s a nickel mine and in the area considerable zinc mining. It’s difficult to assess how much, but what we do know is that Australia has the largest deposits of this element, and is the third largest exporter. Then, to the north, there are the tin mines which extend around Rosebery, and then Queenstown down south, where the Mount Lyell mine has produced one million tonnes of copper ore as well as considerable amounts of silver and gold.

This mineral background has nothing to with the plot of this drama, but its establishment has provided the sets for the drama, in the faded yet still ornate Victorian and Federation buildings which line the very broad main street of Zeehan.

Very few people now live in the town permanently and during the filming, which occurred during the height of the COVID pandemic, the film crews were able to sequester the whole population indoors while providing them with food and the other essential needs.

If you get the angles right, Zeehan achieves what the producers wanted to project – foreboding. It rains on the West Coast on most days of the year. In winter, snow periodically blocks the Murchison Highway which bypasses Zeehan; however, from Zeehan there is another good road to Strahan, which is the only port on the West Coast.

Strahan, located on Macquarie Harbour which is bigger than Sydney Harbour, was where the ore was taken to be shipped. Railways preceded roads. The modern road to Strahan from Zeehan is an easy drive, whereas the Murchison Highway to Queenstown ducks and weaves through the undulating land where rainforest creates many blind corners.

Zeehan, from the right camera angles, epitomises the isolation of a faded township surrounded by this mass of deep green brooding forest which, in parts, has existed in a form not much different from when the dinosaurs roamed. Rivers flow dark because of the tannin washed into them from the button grass on the high meadows, which lie above the forests of blackwood, myrtle and sassafras, not forgetting the native pines. Man ferns abound, and the ground underfoot is marshy. The beaches are windswept, this being the land of the Roaring Forties – icy winds that sweep in from the west, and sou-west.   There are pine plantations, there are huge dunes, and there are stripped slashes of earth where pine plantations have been cleared. The eye of the camera sees that the overall atmosphere projects suspense – something in the dark gloom about to happen. Welcome to the world of an Australian Ingmar Bergman – perhaps not by this “Bay of Fires”.

The old hospital, Strahan

In relation to the “Bay of Fires” eight-part series, I hope to watch all of it to see how the film producers use these surroundings to develop the plot. The house where the characters played by Marta Dusseldorp and her two children live is the old hospital at Strahan, which lies not far from our property. Unfortunately, when you know a place as well as I do, I can’t help trying to spot the actual location, and see how much script licence has been taken. The problem is that you tend to lose the plot in more ways than one.

These refugees are kept awake by Tasmanian devils. I suppose this spices the plot up, but I’ve never heard them, let alone have them keep me awake.  They do not substitute for wolves.

Anyway, the plot seems to have a certain similarity to others of that ilk – good people being pursued by bad men into a community where there are dark secrets. I can visualise many of the places here on the West Coast, where dramatic cliches can be very well enacted. At the end of the first episode our heroine, having crashed through the house floor, sees something growing under the house … which the second episode confirms is a marijuana crop.

The second episode extends the sets to a Queenstown motel, distinguished by the characteristic bare peak of one of its mountains peeping over the roof of the motel. The location of the final scene seems to be at Nelson Falls on the other side of Queenstown, where the Dusseldorp character finds the body of the local real estate agent, who has been murdered. I’m now getting more and more involved in the story, rather than just analysing the background.

What you find on YouTube

Arturo Toscanini

In 1944, to honour the Allied victory in Italy, legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini–a refugee from Fascism in his home country–decided to conduct a performance of Verdi’s “Hymn of the Nations”. “Hymn” is a composition that Verdi originally built around the national anthems of Britain, France, and Italy. In order to honour all four of the major Allies, Toscanini decided to add “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the U.S. and “The Internationale” for the Soviet Union.  

The music was performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra, with the Westminster Choir and the great tenor Jan Peerce as soloist; conducted by Toscanini. It was filmed as a featurette to be shown in movie theatres, and was narrated by Burgess Meredith. In the early 50’s, at the height of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, U.S. censors excised the portion of this performance that featured the “Internationale”. For years the sequence containing The Internationale was considered forever lost. But recently a copy of this missing piece of film was rediscovered in Alaska. So now this rousing rendition of the Internationale–together with chorale and orchestra under the direction of a great conductor–can be enjoyed again.

Mouse Whisper

North of Zeehan is the Pieman River. There is a car ferry to enable travellers to cross the river and the cost given that I could, on a good day, swim across was for years $10. (Recently increased to $20 for a three-minute crossing.) When you think about it, it’s an outrageous fee scale. In the $10 days, there was an additional hurdle to cross the river.  If you pressed the call button more than once, the ferryman at the time – as punishment – would not come out from his hut in Corinna, the tiny settlement on the northern side of the river. Thankfully he has gone.

In relation to the name, Pieman, the legend is that there was a convict who escaped from the penal colony at Macquarie Harbour with other convicts, and as they all starved, he killed them serially and turned them into meat pies.

Not true, but a good, if gory, story. This man, Alexander Pearce was in a fact a serial cannibal.  The actual pieman was another convict, who also escaped from the same penal colony at Macquarie Harbour. He was indeed a pastry cook, but not a cannibal. There is no record that the two ever met and exchanged recipes.

But awaiting us is the film, perhaps Pie are squared.

Pieman River

Modest Expectations – Jeppe Bruun

Blair Comley PSM

Here we go again. The Federal Government has appointed Blair Comley PSM, “an economist and former special advisor with PwC” as the new Secretary of the Department of Health and Aged Care.  As was reported in that announcement, the writer added “there is no escaping the spectre of that consultancy”.  

His five-year term commences on 17 July. My concern is that, at a time when the health sector is in turmoil, a person with no experience in health has been appointed. Not that the previous incumbent has left much of a legacy and he was medically qualified, but he did achieve acclaim for his “sure hands” in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.   At least he knew the language – Health. I am one of those who do not subscribe to the notion that once a manager, the language of management overrides everything – no matter the expertise or subject matter.

I have worked my entire career in the health sector and had a business partner who was originally a transport economist and cost accountant, but who gradually developed a fluency in “health”, albeit with an accent and a limited health vocabulary. But he could negotiate his way around in the language and knew when he was being deceived by fancy “med-speak”.

What I find somewhat interesting is that in his curriculum vitae, as published, Mr Comley is vague about his age. I know that some people are sensitive about their age, but it always has a reason. What is Mr Comley’s?

He is impeccably qualified. Comley holds a first-class Honours degree in Economics and is a Master of Economics from Monash University. He holds a Graduate Diploma in Legal Studies from the Australian National University.  He spent time in Treasury and three years in the OECD. Comley seems to have attracted the attention of the Labor Party and worked for the Rudd-Gillard Government, first as Secretary of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency from 2011 and then for a short time at Resources, Energy and Tourism – appointed secretary in February 2013. He was thus well on his way to “Mandarin-hood” before, with two other Department Heads, he was sacked by Abbot on the first day Abbot took over as Prime Minister in September of that year.

It was at this time he moved to PricewaterhouseCoopers as a consultant in April 2014, a special advisor to the company’s Canberra economics and policy team. The then NSW State Premier, Mike Baird, later appointed him as the Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet in 1914, where he lasted for three years before he was off again onto the consultant carousel, this time with Ernst & Young as Director and Partner at EY Port Jackson Partners, a strategy-focused consultancy advising leaders of business and government – in other words – a lobbyist.

In January 2012 Mr Comley was awarded a Public Service Medal for “outstanding public service in the development of public policy, particularly in the areas of carbon pricing and emissions trading, tax policy design and debt management”.  But not Health!

“Mr Comley has a wealth of experience and a record of proven leadership navigating complex issues,” Mr Butler said. We’ll see. He still has potential spins on KPMG and Deloitte; to which he may say, “Come back in five years.” I prefer not, but on reflection the Australian Health system has survived the likes of Jane Halton.  The problem is that these top health bureaucrats know the streets of Geneva better than those of Alice Springs. So, Mr Comley you certainly have a challenge for someone who is 53 years old (verified from another source).

One obvious question. How would you handle a national public health emergency – say Ebola or some other haemorrhagic contagion, Mr Comley? Whom would you trust?

My Little Orange Lamborghini

One of my favourite film opening sequences is that featured in “The Italian Job”. This was the thriller-comedy featuring Michael Caine and Noel Coward as leaders of a band of robbers intending to steal a large amount of gold bullion in a Turin heist.

The opening sequence features an orange Lamborghini Miura being driven up the winding Great Bernard Pass. The pass links the Aosta Valley region of north-western Italy and the Canton of Valais in Switzerland. The opening scene features Rossano Brazzi at the wheel, fag in mouth and wearing fashionable sunglasses – Ford Mustang Renauld Spectaculars. The sunglasses were specifically designed for driving, with the curved sides to stop wind coming through.

Belying the wistful opening song “On a day like today” sung by Matt Monro, the opening scene ends with the Lamborghini crashing into a front end loader hidden in the tunnel and not only that, there is also a shot of the sun glasses lying on the road being ground under a Mafia heel. Such gratuitous destruction, but as the publicists of the film said, the Miura tipped over the mountainside had already been destroyed in a previous accident in the Middle East – where else?

Oh, what a relief. I must say the fuss surrounding this car, with its numbered chassis #3586, was surprisingly lost for 50 years after its appearance in the 1969 film. When the car reappeared, it needed restoration and now resides with its owner in Liechtenstein, with a value of about US$5m.

It was the first supercar with a rear mid-engine and two-seat layout, something which other supercars have followed as a mantra ever since. Introduced in 1966, the Miura remained in production until 1973. In different forms a total of 764 were manufactured. All came powered by the 3.9-liter V12 although Lamborghini could coax out different power from different versions of the car. It was also the fastest production car of its time.  While Fiat is synonymous with Turin; Lamborghini are manufactured in a small town near Bologna – Sant’Agata Bolognese – in Emilio-Romana.

I sound like a Top Gear presenter. I must stop this adulation. Yet I do remember staying in London next to a Lamborghini dealer, with these low-slung cars spilling out into the narrow street during the day seemingly immune from parking tickets. Watching them being driven hither and yon, it seemed by those driving these vehicles you needed training as a contortionist – all seemed to be athletic young men replete with what the French call “quincaillerie”.

Likewise, the signature sunglasses have been revived, available online for around AUD2,100.

Brazzi’s cameo appearance must be akin to the brief appearance of Janet Leigh in just surviving the opening credits of “Psycho”.

Yes, Turin is an impressive city, being the capital of Piedmont and once the seat of the Savoyard royalty.  Thus, it has the air of a city of typical oppressive majesty, with the long colonnaded shopping centres where you can drink coffee, quaff a white Piedmontese wine and eat agnolotti while watching the Torinese walk past. However, more spectacular was sipping Negronis on the roof of the gardens with an admittedly interrupted view of the Alps, clinging to the far horizon as a spectacular backdrop to the intervening city buildings.

Turin is a sedate city, not the frenetic scene in what was a very entertaining film, and there is no doubt that Turin is one of those Northern Italian cities which is known, at least for a long time, by the Mini Cooper car chase through its streets, the colonnades perfect for the car stunts. The classic pursuit through the sewers was not actually filmed in Turin but in England. Obviously in the traffic gridlock scenes, the Torinese seemed to be enjoying themselves; but even if you paid me, I would not have been one of that crowd. I totally unspool if caught in traffic jams, let alone that crazy gridlock with a crescendo of car horns as depicted in the film.

The most disappointing aspect of Turin is the acclaimed Shroud. We admittedly arrived late at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, and there it was, a piece of linen cloth with its head of a bearded bloke, very much the conventional depiction of Christ as an emaciated hollowed soul. We could not really get near it, and the fact that it is behind layers of bullet proof glass does not help either.  I consoled myself that at least I had seen it but then what had I seen?  The remains of a mediaeval hair shirt cut into the shape of a linen shroud – and why shroud? That is somewhat pejorative to say the least. Could just have been the forerunner of those T-shirts with Che Guevara’s image printed on the front.

Pyne for the Asking

Reading this hard-headed article about the French Defence forces, which appeared in a recent issue of The Economist, inter alia it made me compare the French determination with the apparent waywardness of our defence forces, the procurement of materials seemingly left to an array of consultants linked to US defence contractors, but without any apparent expertise in the field. Being Minister for Defence in Australia seems however to be a prerequisite for growing mushrooms; the experience of being one being invaluable in what will ever be known as your Pynestry. If one thinks about Pyne, that grinning visage profiting from just being an average politician, a guy who had never had a real job before entering Parliament at the age of 25. Now one must not be envious! After all, maybe Maurie Pyne will live long enough to receive his appropriate reward, once the AUKUS shill is properly exposed.

Meanwhile, the French have got on with the job. The lesson being very simple is to have a co-ordinated Defence Force with modern communications, just in time – not at a time decades hence when Planet Earth may be a charred remnant, with the Barrow-on-Furness submarine facility long since decommissioned without building any nuclear submarines for us.

Paradoxically, however, France has scaled back the acquisition of some extra kit. The air force will get 48 fewer new Rafale fighter jets than previously planned, and 15 fewer a400m transport aircraft; the army will get 497 fewer Griffon and Jaguar armoured vehicles. “Because we are trying to do everything at the same time, we are sprinkling rather than defining priorities,” said Hélène Conway-Mouret, a Socialist senator on the armed-forces committee.

Bastille Day

The new budget, retorts the general, “takes us in the right direction”, even if its full effects will not be felt until 2030. He argues that critics of the plan have failed to understand the importance of capable forces rather than sizeable ones. The number of tanks, ships and planes is not growing as fast as it might, he insists, precisely because of the priority given to “coherence”. “It’s important that if you buy a tank, you have men trained on it, who have ammunition to train and spare parts to go in the field with it.” There is no point, General Burkhard says, in having “an army that is ready to parade on Bastille Day, but is not ready to go to war.”


I note that Vancouver is listed as the sixth most liveable city and, given the subjective nature of such assessments, where both Sydney and Melbourne are listed above in The Economist tabulation, I nevertheless would not argue. In fact one afternoon in Vancouver I defined my experience as the closest I had ever had for ultimate “bliss” – sitting outside in the summer sun consuming a meal of Coho salmon.

Stanley Park totem pole

Vancouver has Stanley Park, the large parkland which abuts the harbour, and from where it is a jogger’s delight, running long the seawall, past a collection of the long totem poles characteristic of the Indian tribes of the Pacific North-west. One sight which remains is that of being there in April, when the cherry blossoms were in full flower, their generous pink blooms adding to the beauty that was then Canada.

There are always small moments that stick in one’s memory. I stopped after a wind sprint just outside a bower, where a young woman was sitting. I had turned away, when she asked me to take her photograph. As I turned around she had stood up and was offering me her camera. I thought what a strange request to ask a total stranger to take a photograph – just of herself. I complied; she thanked me and went back to her seat; I ran off and never saw her again. Given that the iPhone has made the “selfie” an integral part of normal social interchange, with the capacity to store any scrap of life seemingly almost unlimited, it is one of the examples of social mores trailing the technology. So different from when I had taken that photo perhaps forty years ago.

Now the picture of Canada (see below) is that of forest fires, of drought, waterways and dams dried up. Over the years, I have been to all the border provinces of Canada, except Saskatchewan. I once spent twelve hours at Calgary airport, waiting for a delayed plane and thus left to have a lot of time to become acquainted with the collection of artifacts hung on its walls at that time.

That was the time I took the train from Vancouver to Banff, thence to Calgary where I was to visit the Foothills Medical Centre. This was at a time when I was supposed to be an expert in quality assurance and had just started the first journal, The Australian Clinical Review, which gave me a brief period of international acknowledgement, including for the then CEO of this large hospital.

Of course, I stayed at the Railway Hotel in Banff, one of the faux-chateaux mixed with a touch of the Balmoral, which were built along the Canadian Pacific Railway, looking impressive against the background of snow covered mountains. Staying in hotels like this is very dependent on the room you can afford, but when young and the hotel is relatively affordable, one chases the experience. And I must say I have always gone for the experience – and North America has many of these Grand Hotels, some of which have been renovated or, as was the case when I was in Banff, in the process of renovation.

Now who was Vancouver, his name given to this sixth most liveable World city, and to the nearby Island where the Provincial capital, Victoria is located.

George Vancouver

George Vancouver is associated with exploration of the Pacific Nor-West. He was born nearly thirty years after Cook and served as midshipman and junior officer on some of Cook’s voyages. Vancouver was later asked to chart that coast and also drive the Spanish potential conquistadors from the area. He was successful enough to earn the acclaim and hence much being named after him. Ironically the sister city of Portland across the Columbia River in Washington state is named after him, but he failed to detect either the Columbia or Frasier River, something I doubt the meticulous Cook would have missed. As a piece of trivia, there is a freshwater lake near Albany in Western Australia named for him. In 1791, Captain George Vancouver, on his way to America, came to the southern shore of Western Australia, named King George Sound ensuring that all the Australian continent remained British. Where he landed, he saw nothing he thought of any consequence, and after a short stay sailed eastward intending to hug the coastline,  but was foiled by the wind shifts. He would not be the last sea salt to believe there was nothing here in Australia.

Cactus on Uluru?

As an Arrernte woman who watched the Labor party apologise for the policies which led to the stolen generations only to deny compensation, or who saw them continue the Northern Territory intervention under another name and demonise entire communities with their “rivers of grog” claims, my trust is gone. – Celeste Liddle in The Guardian

It is not often I change my mind in mid-blog to delay one of my blogs, but Monday this week provided a couple of blows to the campaign to achieve a “yes” vote. I would not say it was exactly cactus, but it certainly needs to be changed radically.

The first salvo came from George Brandis. Now George is one of those conservative Queensland lawyers, once perhaps a form of social liberal but who long since has blotted his copybook with the smudges of entitlement, such is his love of huge bookcases funded by the taxpayer and a comfortable residence in the middle of London, again at our expense. I was surprised to find myself mostly agreeing with his opinion piece in the SMH, setting out seven reasons that the referendum will fail. Apart from insulting the people telling them that they dumb red-necks if as individuals they do not vote yes, with the attendant “moral bullying”, the proponents of the “yes” vote as Brandis wrote: … need to remember it’s not about personalities … The public will see right through cute attempts to make this a popularity contest … They know it is a serious proposal for important constitutional change and expect it to be treated accordingly – not as a political Punch and Judy show.

Here I do question Brandis. Advocacy depends on personalities, but if you choose the wrong advocates then you will surely lose. As testimony to that, Megan Davis is wheeled out in Australian Story as one of the front line academics to prosecute the “Yes” case. Her mother is white; her father who has long since decamped, was an Aboriginal fettler. He is notably absent and it is clear that Megan grew up in a whitefella world, where her mother, a high school teacher, was her guiding spirit.

In her 2010 bio, Megan Davis spends time identifying her Aboriginal blood lines while admitting to South Sea Islander heritage. In the recognition of Aboriginality, it is ironic the heritage of the group descendent from the kanakas “press-ganged” predominantly from the then New Hebrides to work the Queensland sugar cane fields is largely ignored by the other indigenous groups. The biggest population live around Mackay and have their own identity including a flag.

But what is revealing is that despite her heritage, how little time she has spent as an Aboriginal woman. She has grown up as a white woman, who has used her Aboriginality as a means of developing her career, not as one who knows anything about the diversity which is both the strength and the curse of the Aboriginal race. In the Australian Story panegyric, her only link seems to be Uluru through the declaratory Statement, and the fiction that Uluru is the natural heart of the Nation. Why Uluru? Why not Mount Augustus or Mount Wudina or Carnarvon Gorge or the Mitchell Plateau?

After all, Uluru is not her Land. It is Anangu, but conveniently a tourist resort able to be isolated in beautiful photographic layouts. It is also where the Southern skies can be visualised with minimal light pollution.

In Australian Story, it was revealed that she since the age of 12 has walked around carrying a copy of The Australian Constitution. If she was not an Aboriginal person of importance, I would have thought how weird.

Then I read that early CV (sic) in her own write: We grew up mostly in Hervey Bay … I went to school at Star of the Sea, Hervey Bay and St Josephs Tobruk Memorial school in Beenleigh for primary school and then Trinity College, Beenleigh for secondary school. I studied a Bachelor of Arts and Law at the University of Queensland, where I majored in Australian History. For those three years, I lived on campus at Duchesne College, which was the women’s Catholic residential college in St Lucia. During my penultimate year of Law, I started research for the Principal Legal Officer at the Foundation for Aboriginal Islander Research Action (‘FAIRA’) in Brisbane. It was there that I started doing research into the international legal regime, looking specifically at the intellectual property rights of Indigenous peoples. Immediately after law school I was accepted into the United Nations Fellowship in Geneva. In fact, I sat my tax and evidence law exams in Geneva not long after I arrived.

As I watched her parading through Australian Story, this woman since 2010 the recipient of more academic kudos, it is clear that the strategy is to promote women with Aboriginal Heritage, women who have been loaded with academic gowning, part of an urban elite with a theoretical grasp of Aboriginal affairs. In the half an hour Australian Story journey with this strangely passive woman who loves an accusatory oratory platform, I thought why is she being given this platform. Why promote her?  She does not seem to connect with the wider Aboriginal diaspora. As Brandis has noted, the whole debate has lost transparency.

Thus, Uluru which seems to be the only Indigenous handle that Davis plus her apparently tight relationship with the genuine Aboriginal activist, Pat Anderson, makes me wonder who is driving the “Yes” case. I wish the motives of those are understandable – or as Brandis has called it a need for “transparency”.

Mouse Whisper

Overheard outside the Mouse residence. Our mouse had one of his friends over for cheese and crackers.

Resident mouse:   In English it is a bat, pure and simple, but for the Germanic and Nordic languages, the bat is translated as variations of “flying mouse”. In the Romantic languages, only the French choose to insult us further by calling a bat – “a bald mouse”. Really, even the Romanians, the natural home of the bat the Romanian word for bat is liliac which gave rise to that famous Dracula Song – “I’ll gather liliacs”.

Joking aside, it was the Romans who had the best word for “bat” – “vespertilio”, they having observed that bats come out in the evening, but we mice do not fly, I bet you have never heard of a saying – “like a mouse flying out of hell” or “having flying mice in the belfry”.

Visiting Mouse:  Sorry, mate, I know you are very clever, a polymouse indeed! Yet, there is another word in English for bat. It Is uncommon, but it is there – flittermouse. You can put it into your Whisper, my flying mouse mate. But you can’t silence it.

Modest Expectations – Ernst not Sebastian

But if you want my quick take on it, it’s this: Whether Trump is wolfing down Big Macs on the Mar-a-Lago golf course or bargaining for bootlegged tanning lotion in prison, he will be the GOP nominee. Don’t give into magical thinking and never stop the fight to beat him at the ballot box. First, the trial itself. It’s happening in Miami. A hotbed of Trump voters, MAGA radicals, skells (tramps), boat-paraders, and people terrified of dead communists and imaginary communism. (By the way, I love Miami, I really do. But I’ve got to call this place how I see it.) Rick Wilson June 2023.

Mar-a-Lago – bought by Trump in 1985 at more than 62,000 square feet, with 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, 12 fireplaces, three bomb shelters, and a 29-foot-long marble top dining table, the house is extravagant to say the least. It is the 22nd largest house in the US – the White House comes in 33rd place. – Not Alternative Fact

In response to Rick Wilson’s “By the way”, I thought I would write about my time in Miami at a time when Trump was still a two-bit grifter. Nor when Miami was the warlock’s crucible.

I have passed through Miami more than once – even taken a Concorde flight out of there to New York on my way to London. However, this occasion was the one time we had time to do some sightseeing. We had just come back from Cuba in an unmarked Delta airline plane – nevertheless a commercial fight. As the flight attendant said to us at the time, Delta flew to Havana every day. On arrival in Miami, having been duly warned that if we had any Cuban rum or cigars in our luggage, it would most likely be confiscated, we found that there was no-one from customs on the gate barring our way into Miami. In any event, we don’t smoke, and we had enough mojitos in Cuba to last a lifetime.

17th Street

This time we had decided to go on to New York by train, stopping off in Savannah. In the meantime, we went for a stroll along 17th Street downtown, the weather being perfect, to see some of Miami. We had lunch at one of those places where the food is barbecued rib, the drink is beer or bourbon, and the music is loud and country. More Texas than Miami, but Miami is cosmopolitan, a shelter against the winter for the aged, a playground for the rich and a refuge for the colourful.

As we walked down towards Miami Beach, we stopped by the Cadet Hotel emblazoned with Clark Gable memorabilia, remembering the time he was there as an instructor of the recent inductees in the air force. The year was 1942, and he was still mourning the loss of his wife, Carole Lombard, who had been killed the year before in a plane crash.

Gable and Lombard

Gable went on to serve for most of WWII, seeing action in Europe.  As we looked in on the reception area of the Hotel, there is no doubt that Gable had a charisma, which belied the fact that he had had all his teeth extracted and his leading ladies had to be inoculated against a cloud of halitosis. Still, I remember that film “It Happened One Night” which starred Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert and that it was the first of only three films which have won the five Oscars – best film, best director, best actor, best actress, best screenplay.

Clark Gable has always had a place in the lexicon of my memories because I saw the film “Soldier of Fortune” when I was in Hong Kong in 1956, the film itself being an adventure story of Gable playing the title role opposite Susan Hayward in a story where Gable rescues her screen husband, Gene Barry from the clutches of the Chinese Communists. I most remember the scene at the top of the Peak in Hong Kong where Gable is expressing ruggedly his love for Hayward. Imagine my chagrin to find out that Hayward remained in Hollywood the whole time the picture was filmed, and Gable was romanticising a Hayward double – her screen sosia.

Looking at the photograph of Gable, his distinctive expression walks the line between sagacity and salacity, but I was not the first to gaze. Judy Garland sang to his photograph in Broadway Melody – “You made me Love You”. Well, not that I sang, I might add; and my wife has never liked him. This is a slightly troublesome matter since Judy was only 15 when she recorded the song. But the teenage crush has history, and I would have preferred Grace Kelly, the first choice for the “Soldier of Fortune” heroine, but which she declined. Then I had only just turned 17 and Grace Kelly was 25 years old.

But let’s continue walking.

We stopped off on the lawns outside the Frank Gehry designed New World Centre where we listened to the New World Symphony rehearsing and the music being piped outside to those of us who stopped to listen. We did not expect to be listening to a piece of old world music in a beach resort not famed for its cultural attainment.

Well, back to reality. By that I mean Miami Beach – a wide strip of sand lined by fenced-off villas where the rich, the famous, the colourful and the pyrites reside. There is something foreboding about high walls, with palm trees and the white stuccoed storied homes poking their heads above the parapets. In the distance is the sea, a pale blue ribbon cast against an equally azure sky, with a wisp of cloud interrupting the blue.

Beguiling. Well, yes, but really depends on when one visits.

Here in Miami the 1926 Great Hurricane left its calling card, precipitating the end of the Florida land boom and the start of The Great Depression three years early. Miami was wiped out and it is salutary to think that a comparable hurricane today would leave little change out of US$250 billion. Despite Miami being recognised as one of the most vulnerable cities in the United States to experience hurricanes, the only other one which has been classified as severe and centred on Miami was Cyclone King in October 1950, which caused severe damage but not comparable with that of 1926.

In recognition, the University of Miami has adopted Hurricanes as its nickname for all its sporting teams, but the touch I like the most is that the mascot is an ibis named Sebastian, since the ibis is the first bird to leave when a hurricane is imminent and the first to return after the hurricane has passed.

I wonder what the status of the ibis population is at Mar-a-Lago these days.

The famous Miami ibis


I have been to Antwerp twice, once in the early seventies when we were travelling through Europe and the United States, the first time, my then wife had been back to Europe from which she had come – from a British displaced persons camp in Carinthian Austria. Arriving in Australia she was unable to speak English but, as I found fluent in Slovenian and German with an Austrian accent. A medical graduate and PhD in pharmacology, she had her research papers accepted for several conference presentations, whereas I scored zero. No matter; it just meant I could track along without having to give a paper to a half empty theatre or back room. I remember that we went to Antwerp that trip, and it was somewhat comical walking through the Munich airport, past all the big planes, down the stairs, across the tarmac to the DC-3 – our air chariot dwarfed on all sides by its younger siblings.

My strange memory of that visit was having walked around a sculpture garden with all the shapes and forms representative of the interpretative impenetrability of some of this modern sculpture, I escaped from the park by climbing through a fence onto a major thoroughfare. Having been sensitised to the bizarreness of the display, the utilitarian throughway structures were replaced by my surreal vision of them.  The street with all its tubular forms, interlacing overhead wires, lights changing like giant eyes – all the street architecture which we normally ignore or accept had, to me, become the workshop of the absurd. I hasten to add I don’t do drugs, nor had I been drinking.

I had spent several hours accustoming myself to these sculptural forms, and when I emerged onto the streets, it seemed to me just an extension of what I had been looking at. It was a sensation that I’ve never had since. I do not have the imagination to concoct the vision of the great architects, but I understand the meaning of “surreal”. After all, we may be induced to say something is “surreal” when it is just something that one has never experienced; whereas surreal is a departure in a different sensory experience. I remember looking at the overhead tram wires and the stanchions and thought what if these had been placed in the garden, dimensions changed or left as stark forms amid the wooded lawns where the rail lines would lead nowhere – a phantom silvery transport system hidden under a cascade of blue leaves. Then I shook my head and followed the tram line back to our hotel to find out how my wife had gone with her presentation.

An okapi in Antwerp

The second time, my second wife and I ended up in Antwerp, because we were travelling to Cambridge. Qatar Airways had a “special return flight” from Sydney to Brussels. Having a few days to spare, we went to Antwerp by train. We stayed across the railway square in the Blu Astrid Hotel. What made this foray worthwhile was that the Antwerp Zoo was close to the railway station. The Antwerp Zoo has probably the largest number of okapi in captivity as part of a breeding program. The okapi is the only known relative of the giraffe and its natural habitat is the Congo jungle. Given that the Congo was colonised by the Belgians, it is not surprising that the first okapis were brought to Belgium. There were five or six okapis in what I thought was a generous enclosure. The total area of the Zoo is 10 hectares. However, zoos will always be imperfect, as animals are for all intents incarcerated so that we humans can stare at them.

The okapi, much smaller than its relative giraffe, was first discovered in 1901. It has a striking appearance, being almost burgundy in colour with striped legs. It’s also worthy of study, because its long term future may depend on its ability to breed in captivity. The female okapi is said to be choosey in her choice of mate, and there is not much choice in a zoo.

My wife does not much like zoos and having watched the okapi pacing around in a stressed manner, that was enough for her. She had spent a decade photographing wildlife in Africa, and hardly needed to visit an urban zoo. Okapi were an exception; she was not likely to see one in the wild unless she wandered through the Ituri Rain Forest in the Congo.

However, she does like flamingos, which we had seen in the wild, both in the south of France and in the salt pans of the Atacama Desert in Chile. Caribbean flamingos near the entrance of the zoo, attracted attention because of the noise and their vivid vermillion in colour – they seemed chatty enough.

The printing workshop

Of other places in Antwerp, The Plantin-Moretus is a unique museum that celebrates the history of European printing through the 16th century workshop and home of the city’s most celebrated printer, Christophe Plantin, which he bequeathed to his son-in-law, Jan Moretus. They printed books and maps – the cartography section being very impressive. There is a copy of the Gutenberg Bible lodged here, together with a collection of material tracing the evolution of printing up to the 19th century when innovations were introduced as a by-product of the Industrial Revolution which rendered the printing work obsolete. Looking at ancient printing presses and some of their products is to marvel at how such a collection has survived in area where bombardment, siege, and troop movements would all seem to mitigate against the existence of such an exquisite place.

I suppose we could have sought out the Diamond district where it has been near the main square since the Middle Ages. Antwerp, through its Jewish population, developed some innovative ways in cutting and polishing of all grades of diamonds. It survived two World Wars. In WWI the Germans captured Antwerp early and held the city for the duration. While there was some hesitation in deporting Jews in WWII to preserve the expertise in diamond cutting, eventually a substantial number of the Jewish population were killed in the various concentration camps, and thus compromising Antwerp’s future.

The Sinjoren, as those who live in Antwerp are nicknamed, are certainly resilient.

I found it amazing that Antwerp was able to hold the Olympic Games less than two years after the Armistice, but given the survival instincts of the population, why should anybody be surprised. Australia was represented at the Games. The flagbearer, George Parker, born in Leichhardt, died in Five Dock, seems to have spent his life walking. At the Antwerp games, he finished second in the 3,000 m walk, beaten by an Italian. The only other Australian medals were awarded in swimming – a silver and a bronze.

And my lasting impression? Workers eating this green food with chips and mayonnaise. This is palint ‘n groen – eels served with a green sauce made with fresh river herbs and wild leaf vegetables, chervil, sorrel, spinach, watercress and wild garlic leaves. Tasted it – not too bad.

Pride comes before a Fall saith Solomon

When I was undertaking the National Rural Stocktake in 1999, I found it frustrating to arrive at a desert destination to find no-one there.  I had to accept that the Aboriginal people spend a substantial amount of their time on “Sorry Business”, which took them away and thus they would be unavailable because one of their number had died. Travelling around Aboriginal communities, I often found a great amount of argument, dispute, aggression – and when I was confronted with stories about harassment and violence, I had to make a decision. Namely, I was not there to deal with the problems of the individual Aboriginal person, unfortunate as that may have been. That deserved a review of its own, and although I made incidental comments, my prime aim was to prosecute the case for developing clinical and public health education facilities in the bush, which occurred with funding allocated in the 2000 Federal Budget.

I was brought up in a whitefella world where Aboriginal people were labelled as “stone age” and hence patronised as if they should be kept in an ethnological zoo. It is not surprising therefore that the bulk of whitefellas just did not know how to communicate with Aboriginal people. At the outset I had not appreciated that being taciturn with whitefellas belied a highly complex system of communication, where verbal was only one of the means. Being able to communicate, whitefella to blackfella is a privilege, as I found out.

As background, I had become aware of the level of discrimination from a young age. It had been coated by kind paternalism. For example, when I was a child in the time of the “picaninny”, I received the Church Missionary Society news from the Roper River Mission in then far off Arnhem Land. The growth of missions, both secular and religious only served to emphasise the separation of the Aboriginals from their Land, which did not become recognised until Aboriginal artistic skill with all its complexity became recognised by whitefellas. When I had gone to Alice Springs in 1951, I came back with a large shield, which languished in the storeroom, because every time I picked it up, my hands were covered with red ochre. Over the years as I collected more Aboriginal artifacts, I began to celebrate the diversity, but not without making errors in walking the line of what was taboo and what not.

Martin Luther King

Afro-American emancipation grew out the 1960s’ cry for emancipation led by Martin Luther King and Malcom X and then the black Panthers, injecting an edgy defiance challenging the comfortable world of middle-class America. At the same time, until he was assassinated, King tried to persuade. His was an evolutionary approach, to which he harnessed public opinion for recognition.

Aboriginal advocacy grew alongside. Recognition of Aboriginal identity grew, dispatching the equivalent of “Uncle Tom” as contempt of the so-called the Aboriginal “coconut” – brown on the outside, white on the inside.  Aggression has been the watchword, mixed with a litany of Aboriginal grievances such as the stolen generation and life expectancy being continually drilled into us whitefellas, some of whom have succumbed to guilt, preferring to give in; other whitefellas in power have just employed passive resistance. Rather than mollifying the aggressors, the level of J’accuse by the voluble few has increased with bombastic Noel Pearson as one of the leading Accusers.

From Whitlam onwards, governments sought to increase funding and opportunities for Aboriginal people, despite the opposition of some of the parliamentarians. As I have said, symbolism and metaphor are simple; real action is not. I was around at the time of the first aboriginal medical graduates. I saw many of the Aboriginal medical services (AMS) which arose from the Congress model in Alice Springs, and I looked for change. Many of the AMS were clearly dysfunctional, mainly because there was no continuity in the treatment objectives. Congress has been operating since 1975 and it has had a substantial amount of funding. It has had its vociferous defenders, given it has been the oldest Aboriginal Health Service. However, stripping away the “blah-blah” apologia, what has it actually accomplished?

It is a serious question when there is this push for an ephemeral Voice, as though there is a pot of gold at the end of the Indigenous Larynx. I see the ability of the Aboriginal people to contribute and shape our destiny, but I’m afraid I’ll not accept the pompous sullen uninformed Voice of a few Aboriginal people.  Some people who should know better are attempting to gain cheap political acclaim, without thinking through what outcome is expected and what it means for the many Aboriginal people who won’t be part of the Voice. The Voice does not have a powerful Champion who can coherently unite an increasingly divided nation. Linda Burney is not that champion; unfortunately, she lacks the intellectual firepower, and those who spring to her defence further weaken her, only serving to exaggerate her deficiencies.

Narenda Jacobs

I would prefer Narelda Jacobs and Pat Anderson; but the male Aboriginal able to communicate with those tending to Vote “No” – the critical cohort I believe – should be a Rugby player in Queensland and an Australian Rules player in the West. But perhaps if the women’s football team is triumphant, Sam Kerr will trump every male.

When I undertook the Rural Stocktake, I tried to identify examples of what worked in relation to Aboriginal health, but such success could never be long term because of the harsh reality of the eventual failure to provide a plan for succession. It is not unexpected because so much of Aboriginal success depends on charismatic leadership, which does not necessarily translate to a long term success and is eventually swept under the sands of failure.

I well remember the activities of Geoff Clark and the fate of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, which he chaired. This fiasco has not come into the conversation about the Voice, even though Geoff Clark was never short of a word. In the end at a time in Australia when funding is short, homelessness is on the rise and where poverty has increased, to see affluent, mostly university-affiliated sections of the Aboriginal community continually meeting in a non-wintry part of the country and complaining about their lot, begins to grate. The Mayor of Broken Hill may not be the most subtle of individuals but in explaining why the Council would not in future pay for “welcome to country” or smoking ceremonies by Aboriginal elders made it clear when questioned responded: “Why should he pay for welcoming people to his Land.”

Grievances are met with counter grievance. As someone said, looking at the Aboriginal flag and the Australian flag flying alongside each other on the Harbour Bridge, why? The same person sees the Aboriginal flag as a sign of division and the Australian flag as an embarrassing relic – both to be replaced by a single flag for everyone in the country.  Personally, I believe the Aboriginal flag should be the Australian flag rather than the colonial relic. But to me whose ancestors have occupied the country as part of the Celtic diaspora, the Eureka flag flown first by the Ballarat miners during their 1854 insurrection also epitomises that Australia is my Land – and let nobody forget that. I too have a Voice. That is precious privilege of Democracy.

Brisbane – The Novel

Having won the Solzhenitsyn Prize, the Big Book prize, and the Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award, as well as having been short-listed for the National Bestseller Prize and the Russian Booker Prize, Eugene Vodolazkin has emerged in the eyes of many as the most important living Russian writer.

I was thumbing through a recent issue of the NYRB and came across a review by the above author. The book was entitled Brisbane. Given that Brisbane and Russian literature are not ready companions, I read the review. On reading this, it seemed to be just an extension of my perspective of Russian literature, telling the Russian story where Death is an ever-present metronome of the various degrees of misery and cruelty which pockmark the whole literary Russian Treasury of the mysteries of life. These mysteries have always been palpable in the Russian Orthodox liturgy, and in its extraordinary church music, where it soars from the depths to the heights. Terra ad caelium.

Why is this novel called Brisbane? It is about Gleb Vanovsky, a celebrated Russian guitarist who, at the age of fifty, is diagnosed with Parkinsonism which not only inhibits his ability to play the guitar but also ultimately will kill him. He has a biographer named Sergei Nesterov who, offering to write his biography, sets about establishing this dual perception of Vanovsky’s early life from each of Vanovsky’s and Nesterov’s perceptions. The second part of the novel details what has happened since his diagnosis. It seems from reading that it is a novel about various interpretations of the meaning of life.

And what of the Brisbane allusion? Apparently Vanoksky’s mother was enamoured by the image of Brisbane as a subtropical Utopia and had an Australian male correspondent, who said she should come. Unfortunately, she was killed on the way to the airport by some thugs. So Russian!

Ah, the Russian tome called Brisbane.  The author was born in Kyiv but has spent most of his life in Russia.

Premier Palaszczuk with her Polish heritage should be indeed interested in such a view of Brisbane as Utopia. But watch out going to a Russian airport.

Mouse Whisper

My mäusemaister has this obsession whence Melania Trump has gone. She seems to have vanished to Europe – no longer the lady hand in hand with the Trump.  The prominent Irish author Fintan O’Toole, in a recent response to criticism of an article of his appearing in NYRB, has suggested that Cohen, the lawyer and once Trump confidant but who has now decamped from his side to be a pigeon with a stool, is one reason for the disappearance. He was told by Trump to pay Stormy Daniels and tell Melania that the payment was made to avert Daniels’ “fake story” about Trump himself.

As Trump was reported to have said, paying Daniels off was far cheaper than a divorce settlement, as Trump wanted his wife to be mollified. O’Toole opens up another front on the besieged Trump – the circus of a potential divorce. He is probably only saved by Melania not wanting her laundry aired, well at least not before it is appropriately washed.

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 Expectations – 530 miles and What do you Get?

Good Friday is the day of the year when my belief overrides my scientific logic and training.

An Abbey Homage

William Butler Yeats died in 1939, 337 days before I was born. I have had a contemplative regard for Yeats, who interpreted the magic of Ireland, to which only those with Irish heritage can relate. I recently acquired a commemoration number of The Arrow which was published in the Summer of that year, with a price of one shilling (in today’s terms approximately £2.60). It was the occasional publication of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, and “occasional” was the watchword. The last Arrow had been published 30 years earlier. So Irish, but explicable in that Yeats had edited all five of them.

Augusta, Lady Gregory

Yeats was the last surviving founder of The Abbey Theatre, which he had set up with Edward Martyn and Augusta, Lady Gregory (she was referred to as the greatest Irish woman of letters) in 1904. Married to an Anglo-Irish baronet, Lady Gregory’s home, Coole Park in Co Galway, gave its name to this nest of Irish nationalism and advocacy of the Irish language and folklore. Edward Martyn was the fervent President of Sein Fein, but neither Lady Gregory nor Yeats was Roman Catholic.

This slim panegyric is beautifully written by 12 contributors. There are illustrations by five artists including Yeats’ younger brother, Jack Butler Yeats (Yeats holds the distinction of being Ireland’s first medallist at the Olympic Games in the wake of the creation of the Irish Free State. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, Yeats’ painting The Liffey Swim won a silver medal in the arts and culture segment of the Games. In the competition records the painting is simply entitled Swimming). There is a facsimile scrawl of a Yeats letter, which one needs an expert to decipher. Among the advertisements in the publication there is one for “the collected and definitive edition of the works of W.B. Yeats – the Coole Edition priced at sixteen guineas (now £1,350) in eleven volumes”.

Each of the writers deserves a separate section of my blog to themselves and some of the language used to praise Yeats would seem somewhat out of place in today’s world. I will restrict myself to a quote from Oliver Gogarty, the Irish doctor, writer, bon vivant who was Joyce’s model for Buck Mulligan. He wrote about Yeats: “I thought of his ancestry from Cornwall where the names Yeats, Gates and Keats are originally one and where there is Phoenician blood with all the magic of the men who brought strange knowledge from the bright strand of the East to the Shadowy Waters of the far West – men who gave Merlin to King Mark and Yeats to humanity.

Such imagery.

Maud Gonne

On a rainy miserable day I visited Yeats’ grave in St Columba’s graveyard in Drumcliffe in Co Sligo. Unfortunately he was initially buried in France and was not reinterred until 1948. The problem was that in the intervening period the French cemetery was dug up and the bones jumbled, so at best a Hybrid Yeats lies there. But his wife, George, resides alongside him.  She was the woman he married when he was 52 and she 25. She was a remarkable counterpoint to match the Yeats’ genius and assisted him to get over his lifelong unrequited passion for the fiery Irish nationalist, Maud Gonne.

WB and George Yeats

Together, George and the Hybrid Yeats lie:

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head

In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,   

An ancestor was rector there

Long years ago; a church stands near,

By the road an ancient Cross.

No marble, no conventional phrase,   

On limestone quarried near the spot   

By his command these words are cut:


Cast a cold eye   

             On life, on death.   

               Horseman, pass by!


And now I have read this remarkable issue of The Arrow, where the horseman can dismount and pause for a moment. In so many ways, Yeats was the Voice. 

Clearer Yet One Day Shall Ring The Song Our Land Shall Sing

Vlinoe Hakkila, Speaker of the Diet, broadcast the proclamation in the name of the government and said that “we believe the civilized world … will not leave us to fight alone against an enemy more numerous than ourselves.”

“To all the peoples of the world!” said Mr Hakkila. “The Finnish people, who always have tried to work with all other nations, have founded their future on their peaceful work. Today they are the victims of brutal aggression from their eastern neighbour without having given any cause for this aggression. 

“We have no choice. This struggle has been forced upon us. The people of Finland fight for their independence, their freedom and their homes. We are defending our fatherland, our democratic regime, our religion, our homes and all that civilized peoples hold sacred.

“So far we are fighting alone against an enemy that threatens to invade our soil, although it is in reality a struggle for all that humanity holds most precious.

“We have given proof that we wanted to do all we could in this struggle, but we believe the civilized world, which has given us testimony of its great sympathy, will not leave us to fight alone against an enemy more numerous than ourselves.”

The New York Times provides what it describes as a Time Machine whereby you can tap into any day and find what was reported on the particular day, and this occasion “the tap” was the date of my birth on eleventh day December 1939 when the conflict between Finland and Russia attracted the front page headlines. Later that article mentions that General Mannerheim, who had defeated the “Bolseviki” in 1918, was assuming command of the forces. Eventually, the Russians defeated the Finns and, in two land grabs, took substantial parts of Finland into the Soviet Union including the second largest city, Vyborg. The problem the Finns had at that time was allying to Nazi Germany, and certainly General Mannerheim fostered that link. In fact, at the end of WWI, the Finns had endeavoured to strike a separate treaty with Germany well before the Armistice.

Now the situation is very different. For a period in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Finns and the Russians lived in a symbiotic relationship. Finland had been ceded to Russia from Sweden in 1809, due to the Russians victory in its war with Sweden. Nevertheless, there remains within Finland a large number of Finns with Swedish heritage. The Grand Duchy of Finland was created under the rule of the Russian tsars, but with the advent of the Communist takeover of Russia, Finland in the ensuring chaos declared independence in 1917, a year before the Mannerhein-led victory mentioned above.  Its independence was confirmed under the Treaty of Versailles.

The Mannerheim Line was built from 1931 onwards as the Finnish defence on the Karelian isthmus facing what was then the Russian city of Leningrad. This was the obstacle the Russians had to overcome when the war broke out on 30 November 1939. The NYT headlines reflected the sparring phase. Because Finland was perceived to be close to Germany, they ultimately received no support from the Western allies, so that the Russians were eventually able to win. Once the Russians brought in heavy artillery that was that; the early superiority of the Finnish infantry, especially in the snow, was neutralised.

In visiting St Petersburg (reverting from Leningrad), one realises just how close the Finnish border is. Nevertheless, even though we were on the Finnish train, crossing the border from Finland into Russia, as we did in more friendly times, it still meant we had to endure the Russian border police with their Siberian smiles.

Finnish Russian border

Times are different in 2023. Finland has completely abandoned the neutrality status that it took as part of the price it paid after its defeat in order to maintain its independence, albeit presiding over a depleted territory. The Finnish/Russian border is now closed. The Russians now have a 1,340 km hostile border with this newest member of NATO. Before Putin’s bellicosity became the driving Russian force, I knew a public health specialist who was undertaking population health research in Karelia, a region which embraces both countries. She was able to freely cross the border to undertake her research project. But now? I suspect the snowshoe is on a different foot. Or more colloquially: a strong will takes you through the grey stone – Luja tahto vie läpi harmaan kiven.  One Voice of Finland!

Galarrwuy Yunupingu

In 1988, the Australian Institute of Political Science held a dinner to celebrate the Bicentenary of Arthur Philip’s landing in Sydney Harbour to commence the colonisation of Australia as one of the red daubs painted on the map of the world. The British were voracious colonisers. Australia Day has not always been celebrated on 26 January. It was first celebrated on 30 July in 1915 and it wasn’t until 1935 that all Australian states and territories used the name “Australia Day” to mark 26 January. It was in 1994 that 26 January became a national public holiday.

The problem with a national day, and we ensured that the Dinner was not on any particular day connected with vicarious symbolism, is that it has been really settlement day, and that of NSW. After all, the Constitution acknowledges that Australia is a Federation, and each of the States has its own unique settlement day. This is what separates our acknowledgement of the Day from that of India, whose Republic Day falls on January 26 also. It was the day in 1947 when the Indian Republic was proclaimed – our nominal birth as the Australian Federation occurred on 1 January 1901. That is an inconvenient date for celebration as it would be overwhelmed by the New Year festivities, unless stage managed – with the probability that would be perceived as “faking it”. After all, the day of Federation is depicted as a starch-ridden affair with a British monarch-in-waiting as the centrepiece of a ghostly diorama of elderly men in frock coats. Hardly the image that would grab the future nation – the spectacle with loosened apron strings but still in the downstairs scullery of the British Empire. Hence January 26 is what was determined as National Day, and 1988, the Bicentennial Year. There was yet for us to feel the fevered crescendo of that date be renamed Invasion Day.

Galarrwuy Yunupingu

Hence, when the Australian Institute of Political Science determined to celebrate the Bicentenary with a dinner at the University of Sydney, it needed to have distinguished speakers who reflected our heritage. One was the then Governor-General, Ninian Stephens and the other Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who turned up in a not-to-be-forgotten powder blue suit. He was still a young man. He had the charisma; he said little but gave a powerful speech. Galarrwuy was not one for small talk.

Gondwanaland, then at the height of their fame, provided the music, and my lasting memory of Galarrwuy was he “jamming” on the didgeridoo with Charlie McMahon.  Charlie had founded the band seven years earlier.  Later in the year, as recounted elsewhere,  Gondwanaland performed at the Tomita Sound Cloud in Sydney – Hymn to Mankind, a AUD$3 million light and sound opera spectacular held on Sydney Harbour as part of the Australian Bicentennial celebrations. The concert attracted an audience of over 120,000, then an Australian record for a live music event. Recently there have been media reports about the remarkable Charlie McMahon, especially in relation to the emergence of the Pintupi nine; his exploits have been reported in my early blogs.

I never met Galarrwuy again, and during my rural travels, I have only once visited Arnhem Land, apart from my visit with Bill Snedden to Kakadu in 1973. I’ve never been to the Garma Festival. When I was undertaking my Rural Stocktake in 1999, that was the first year of Garma and has been described as being no more than a barbecue for the local mob. It has grown from that time.  Galarrwuy was smart – he was able to extract money from Rio Tinto, which he was able to distribute to his talented extended family. Eventually he succumbed to that array of diseases to which Aboriginal people are prone. He received, as with Charlie Perkins, a kidney transplant. Even when it was evident that he had multiple co-morbidities and was increasingly succumbing to them, he never lost his relevance and ruled with majesty, which entailed Australians from the Prime Minister down to show homage to him. They came to him; not him to them. Maybe that is the Voice – an Aboriginal monarch.

A Cough or a Voice?

As I listened to the Prime Minister, with his trademark snarl, in defending the Voice against the Dutton-Ley decision I wondered how many Australians have read the Uluru – Statement from the Heart. I assume this statement may be considered as Day One of the progression towards the referendum to give recognition to the Aboriginal people in the Constitution. It was a ceremonial clearing of the Throat. Having read it, and wondering how many others have read it, it is a most underwhelming document. The only substantive objective I gleaned to begin to understand the motivation is the following with one assumption crashing against the next:

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future. These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.  

To me, if you strip away the reasons and do not succumb to the blame games, and the background theme that “it’s everybody else’s fault”, it seems that too many whitefellas have not paid much attention and have not understood how to communicate meaningfully with Aboriginal people. Therefore, they (both whitefella and blackfella) become swept up in the slogans, without considering how to set priorities which the previous and ongoing funding has failed to deliver.

I have always marvelled at the fact that, for such a long period, Aboriginal people divided into its various mobs have roamed this continent, for so long mostly undisturbed, although there is no doubt that there have been periodic incursions.

Trading with the macassars

There were Macassars from Sulawesi in search of trepang and sea cucumbers in the waters to the north of Australia. Then there is the presence of Machado Joseph disease in Aboriginal people on Groote Eylandt off Northern Australia. This is a neurodegenerative disease which originated in the Azores and has a Portuguese genetic signature.

While Dutch ships were wrecked on the Western Australian coast, with the Batavia attracting the most attention, I believe the fate of the survivors of the Zuytdorp, presumably destined to live with Aboriginal people, must have left some genetic imprint. None of the Zuytdorp complement survived to return to Batavia to tell what actually happened to the survivors.

But the one single event which has always intrigued me was the Mahogany ship story, whether it was a Portuguese caravel stranded on Killarney beach near the Victorian township of Port Fairy. No one can find any trace of it now and it seems to be the stuff of legend, including the claims of the mahogany being used in local buildings – the question of Portuguese adventurism remains.

Nevertheless, in large part the Aborigines lived alone for eons, developing their unique culture that we whitefellas did our best to eliminate – euphemistically called assimilation with an overlay of the policies which led to the “stolen generation”.

They lived for generations as a pure outpost of H. sapiens, the modern human race of which we all are members, which had seemingly emerged from the Rift Valley in Africa. As Rebecca Wragg Sykes has written, H. sapiens encounter with Neanderthals nearly led to H. sapiens extinction about 70,000 years ago.  H. sapiens reaching Australia was made feasible by the land bridges. It’s noteworthy that some of aboriginal lore refers to the end of the Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. Sykes made the assertion that the genetic makeup of the Australian Aboriginal show traces of the Neanderthal race, unsurprising given how far this H. sapiens offshoot travelled across the globe, only to be isolated by the end of the Ice Age.

This was a unique people who lived for those eons without the wheel, without bows and arrows and, despite the assertion to the contrary, never embraced the Agrarian Revolution. Yet they were close to the Indonesian Archipelago and the Melanesian Island of New Guinea, where the people did have “gardens” and bows and arrows, and where the Torres Strait islanders seem a mix of many people from the South Pacific. The Aboriginal people live close by on Horn Island; the Torres Strait Islanders are different.

The Aboriginal people had an intricate oral tradition and intergenerational transmission as the way the culture survives. One of the difficulties is that western H. sapiens has long abandoned the oral pathway; and where the Aboriginal people lore has been transcribed, it has been done by whitefellas with the co-operation of each of the local mobs.  But so much remains a matter of conjecture.

Recognising the aboriginals by throwing money at them has not worked if you believe that the only substantive matter in the Statement of the Heart is the rate of incarceration. Aboriginal culture is under threat because education and the whole pressure of social media, television and even substance abuse is homogenising Aboriginality. There is no one First Nation in Australia; there is a huge number of strands, of a folk lore, of customs, men’s and women’s business – and frankly I do not know what to believe in terms of what is heritage and what now is confected. How can I? I’m not Aboriginal and, by their own admission, many Aboriginal people themselves have lost contact with their heritage. The one realisation I have through my contact over the years with each Aboriginal mob, is that each has its own traditions – just look at the art and other cultural expression.

If the Voice is to have any impact, it must not be a Whine – and the preservation of Aboriginal culture, with a basis in the elder inheritance of the lore. This must be combined with lifting the Aboriginal people out of the conditions we consigned them to in the past 200 odd years. This oral culture is all very fragile, and prone to self-serving distortion. Because what does Voice mean? Nobody can articulate it – except to enshrine Aboriginality in the Constitution. If that statutory recognition does that, then that will be an achievement. But if it is a cynical political manoeuvre to settle old scores, to try and exacerbate white guilt or to give a small cabal of Aboriginal politicians an enhanced platform and heaven help us, delusions of grandeur, well then what is the point? It will not bring about the change that Australia wants.

Prime Minister, you have cleared the Throat, now let’s see how melodious is the Voice. It is up to you. Otherwise, it is in danger of being overwhelmed by the Noise.

Mouse  Bipartite Whisper

Part 1:

In her recent book “Kindred – Neanderthal Life, Love Death and Art” – Rebecca Wragg Sykes has written:

Moreover, despite disbursing populations obviously spreading all the way into Australia by 65ka – adapting to arid deserts and wet mountain forests even an ocean crossing to Indonesia – there is no clear sign of H.sapiens in central or western Europe until 20,000 years later. Perhaps that land was already taken, and the Neanderthals were successful enough, at least for a while, to prevent others coming in.

Part 2:

A recent article in the New York Review of Books, entitled “Finland’s turn to the West” shares an interesting fact:

I guess you know that Finns invented the Molotov cocktail, which was named after Stalin’s foreign minister Vyascheslav Molotov and used by Finnish troops to deadly effect against Soviet tanks during the Winter War( 1939-41).”

Presumably they are now hatching up a Lavrov cocktail to match that attributed to his predecessor – stirred not shaken?





Modest Expectations – Shot to Pieces

A union hack, part time actor and superannuation call taker beat a Brunswick barrister for a federal seat. 

Mary Doyle, Member for Aston

This nasty tweet about the new member for Aston, Mary Doyle, hides an inconvenient truth. One can postulate that when Mary Doyle was pre-selected in 2022 to stand against the then incumbent, Alan Tudge, the seat of Aston would have been considered a safe Liberal seat. In 2019, after preferences, Tudge had won 60 per cent of the vote. In 2022, with Mary Doyle now the Labor candidate, a swing of 7.3 per cent was achieved. Then, with Mary Doyle again as the Labor candidate in this 2023 byelection following the resignation of Tudge, she increased her vote not only winning the byelection but also winning the first byelection for the incumbent government since 1920. In the person-in-the-street parlance: “Mary, you’re a legend!”

Nevertheless, the unpleasant Twitter comment has a grain of truth given that nastiness and arrogance occurs on both sides of the political spectrum. When she was first pre-selected, she was probably awarded the pre-selection on the basis that it was an unwinnable seat. Mary Doyle has become the accidental winner, an ordinary person, a loyal servant of the Labor party who had left school early and whose life epitomises the battle for the vast bulk of Australians wanting to survive. “Ordinary” is not to disparage, but she seems to be a true representative of the people, not an apparatchik coddled through the processes which seem to determine the current batch of successful political aspirants. She seems to be a well-balanced, optimistic person despite her various travails. I hope she does well and retains the “ordinariness” that so often is lacking in the rarefied Canberra atmosphere.

Borough or Burrow?

It was a cold morning when we entered the PikNik café on the Queenscliff Road. It had once been a service station; franchised Golden Fleece, which had fallen on hard times. The Golden Fleece brand in addition no longer exists.

It had been converted into a place where rugged-up local tradies and dog walkers came for their morning shot of caffeine. We had just come off the car ferry, which berthed at Geelong at a time which coincided with the middle of peak road traffic to Melbourne.  We had thus arranged to meet a friend, who now lived in Queenscliff, for breakfast.  Queenscliff lies almost at the tip of the Bellarine Peninsula, which forms one of the land masses enclosing Port Philip Bay. The Borough of Queenscliffe is a quaint hangover of the times when Victoria had over 200 cities, towns, shires and boroughs. In mediaeval parlance, the borough was a fortified town, and as a description of a local government area, it still remains elsewhere, notably in New York.

Bellarine Peninsula

Queenscliff in the Borough of Queenscliffe (note the additional “e”) is a burrow for the conservative elderly retirees, and when the reductions in Victorian local council numbers occurred in the 1990s, the local burghers exhibited their isolationist muscle and persuaded the conservative State Government that they should not be absorbed into the Greater Geelong Council, thus saving the requirement to rub shoulders with those Greater Geelong hoi polloi.

One of Victorian politicians made a very perceptive comment: “The Borough of Queenscliffe has not been included in the proposed amalgamation probably because of the number of elderly retired people in the area. The residents of Portarlington, Drysdale and St Leonards have expressed concern about their rates and the retention of the services that have been provided by the local council, such as nursing, podiatry and other services. Those people are used to the availability of face-to-face services and feel comfortable in a rural setting.”

It reminded me of several decades earlier when I was finishing my Doctorate of Philosophy on some aspects of angiotensin I and angiotensin II in the Monash Department of Medicine. I had a fabulous but challenging time, being supervised by Professor Bryan Hudson whose explosive charisma and glittering eye tended to scare the bejesus out of one; but I ended up on very good terms with him. Nevertheless, I could not see myself as a long-time researcher. Frankly, I was not good enough, and being a mediocre researcher was not where I wanted to be for the rest of my life.

While I was undertaking this PhD, I undertook a Master of Arts (prelim) at the University of Melbourne, where I needed to obtain six subjects at honours level before proceeding to writing a short thesis in order to graduate. It was in those days when university education was free, and I completed the coursework over three years. I had always been keen on the social contribution of health care since I had become “the accidental medical student” before graduating as a doctor. My social and student political agenda, marrying before graduation and my involvement in early childhood education with a working wife and two young children made my twenties a busy time. If I had wanted to undertake public health it would meant decamping to Sydney for a year to gain the appropriate qualification from The University of Sydney through its School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. In my then situation, impossible.

Nevertheless, my career was never destined to be mentored in any conventional way, and when I searched for a job that would provide the transition into social medicine, there was nothing. Then for some reason, John Lindell, took an interest in me. He had headed the Hospitals and Charities Commission since 1953 and had been an innovative force in the development of Victorian health services. He showed some interest in my desire to change from the laboratory to the community health area.

He raised with me the possibility of setting up what he described as a community health service in Queenscliff. As he said to me, he already had representation from the Borough to set up a health service for the community. There were no specifications, but from my then experience, which included undertaking a multitude of part-time jobs to augment my meagre research fellowship, plus the sociological theory absorbed by my MA prelim, I believed I had the grounding if I had suitable support. Youthful enthusiasm is not enough when confronting a conservative community that wants the resources without any outside interference. John Lindell never pursued my appointment to what was a pilot program, even though I had popped up, seemingly at the right time, willing to set up a pilot program. However, once there was pushback compounded by the negativity of his Deputy, Manny Wilder, he just let the project drop.

This all occurred several years before the development of the community health service concept under the Whitlam government. By that time John Lindell had retired and died. I had moved on, and seemingly the Borough got the services it wanted without having to deal with a pesky neophyte.  The above quote from the parliamentary member 20 years later seems to suggest that it had.

I visited John Lindell in hospital when he was dying of cancer. I think he would have liked me to come along earlier, because our resultant association would have been strong enough to assure his vision of the community health centre.  One unfortunately can’t alter the calendar of birth and death to assure the right mix of people at the right time to assure change. That conjunction had to wait for later in my career.


Breakfast at PikNik lasted two hours of warm friendly chat and reminiscence, and the bread bought just before we left was likewise still warm, being freshly baked. I wondered how many times more I would visit the Fortress of Queenscliffe, especially as some eccentric just down the road was promulgating setting up the Republic of “Jimland”. Its sovereignty would be defended presumedly by armoured lawn mowers. Not too far away from the sentiments among some of the burghers of Queenscliffe, I suspect. 

Watcher from A Cast Iron Mind

I watched this TV program called Q&A, which I have mostly ignored in the past because it is the megaphone of the self-opinionated who have little to say, aptly described as if “they are reading your own watch”.

In this episode of Q&A, the discussion between the Aboriginal people exhibited a rising crescendo as they attempted to talk over one another – one stridently anti-Voice, the other pro-Voice.  In fact, as the anti-Voice proponent pointed out, the Uluru Statement from the Heart had positioned itself as being that of all Aboriginal people, whereas Uluru was a totem of Walpiri people, who had incidentally not been involved in the development of the statement. This anti-Voice, Jacinta Price, the National Party Senator from the Northern Territory is Walpiri on her mother’s side, giving her a firm base from which to launch her salvoes. Having derided the Uluru Statement, her position was clear, whereas her fellow Senator from the Northern Territory (her land is in the Gulf Country), Malarndirri McCarthy, who represents the ALP, is very pro-Voice; hence the dispute between the two.

Listening to the competing voices reminded one of the disputes within Aboriginal medical services. At one moment one family would be in charge of the finances of a particular service and then that family was displaced by another family, both members of the same mob, the downside of that rivalry providing a lack of continuity with each family having different priorities. This does not help in maintaining staff. Aboriginal medical services do not generally have after hours service nor are open on weekends and public holidays. Disputation among Aboriginal people means that any Voice may not be a unitary force once it goes beyond this pre-referendum oratory.

A recent report among the authors of which were Aboriginal professionals, concluded in relation to the health of Aboriginal people thus: Unfortunately, the Government’s 2020 report card on Closing the Gap progress showed that life expectancy for Indigenous people, and the Indigenous life expectancy gap, have improved only slightly, and outcomes lag behind targets. Strong Indigenous voices are concerned that increased research funding and volume alone will not address this disparity without a corresponding broadening of intellectual investment in Indigenous health. This intellectual investment involves a shift in focus to self-determination, Indigenous-led research, community consultation, and research into the actual causes of ill-health, including racism and other social determinants of health.

Unravelling the learned article speak – nothing much has happened. This financial year, the Federal Government is committing $284.3m with the Ministerial anodyne: The Albanese Labor Government is continuing to work in partnership with the Coalition of Peaks, other First Nations partners and all levels of government to ensure sustained progress over the life of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. The dissonance in full writ is very clear between the two quotes. Obviously quotes can be cherry-picked, but these Aboriginal paradoxes have always worried me from the time I first became involved sitting around the campfire outside old Parliament House yarning with Charlie Perkins in 1973.

Another matter which troubles me is where the tribal elders fit within the Voice. The elders are of paramount importance in a people where there is only an oral tradition to assure passage of tradition.  I have witnessed on many occasions the difficulty of passing on the lore with all its complexity so distinctive for any particular mob, to the younger generation.

My experience itself was a generation ago, but I would like to know  how the “Voice”  takes into account the differentiated men’s and women’s business. I remember being in the mid-west of Western Australia in the late 1970s, in a one-on-one meeting, an elder of a mob spontaneously asked if I would like to see a couple of things that he had at hand. He said very little as he showed them, his voice monosyllabic. When I saw them, I must say that I have never seen the like again. This was men’s business; I was very privileged, the extent of which took me years to realise. I may have talked about what I had seen, but not in print. I continue to respect that insight; but where does that fit within the Voice.  In what appears to be a secular Voice where does the spiritual Voice fit, given that here there is not “One Nation” if the map is to be believed. There is just too much jargon to cover the unexplained; or unexplainable.

A further matter, which again raises questions, is that in traditional settings there is so much non-verbal communication. As I once said, communicating with Aboriginal people means being able to talk through the silences. The experience I’ll never forget was talking to a group of traditional Aboriginal people, and the sense of the non-verbal response I experienced from the audience, none of them announced who was who, but I detected who was “the elder among elders” and at the end of my talk, he said “bloody good meeting, let’s go and have a cuppa”. That was that. I had experienced the Aboriginal Voice.

My trouble with many of the proponents of the Voice is that they are “stateless”. The spiritual heritage of their tribes has been exterminated, and therefore they are faced with having to trying to concoct a lost oral tradition. It makes the symbolism of the Voice difficult to not only explain but also to justify.

It is over 20 years since I undertook the Rural Stocktake. It exposed me to various aspects of Aboriginal culture, including as it related to who is Aboriginal.  I was able to cut through some of the cultural blocks between myself, the “whitefella” and the “blackfella”, such that I had two who called me “brother”.

Therefore, given my exposure to Aboriginal bureaucracy which belies the oral tradition, I am concerned the Voice will continue to be just a flurry of words, full of fine oral argot but meaning nothing in improving the overall condition of the Aboriginal people. I have seen too much of the failure to improve the condition of Aboriginal people despite the accompanying rhetoric to be sanguine.

Finally, Noel Pearson has somewhat bombastically declaimed saying that if the referendum fails, he will fall silent. We whitefellas have a word for that – “sulking”! There is enough juvenile behaviour from the reactionary forces without having a proclamation like that, Mr Pearson.

Lunch on the Oregon Coast

The Oregon Pacific Coast is rugged, varied and, in parts, has quite beautiful beaches, so for an Australian used to living near the sea, one could be forgiven for being blasé. We stayed at Cannon Beach, and one beautiful autumn day, we drove down the coast, and when the lunch stomach rumbles intervened, we sought out a place to eat along the ocean road. We stumbled upon a small settlement called Netarts. We had no idea of the importance of this little place as we plonked ourselves down inside the Schooner café, there being no room outside on the terrace. We accustomed ourselves of the view over the estuarine Netarts Bay. Little did we know at the time that the bay was one of the major breeding nurseries for Pacific oysters.

The Schooner at Netarts Bay

The native Olympia oysters had long been fished to near extinction, and although tentative work was being done, they were not commercially available; but the Pacific oysters which I ordered were the plumpest I have ever eaten without losing a scintilla of taste. Those oysters remain my yardstick for Pacific oysters. Following the oysters, I ordered the Columbia River Steelhead trout, which was cooked in a cast iron skillet. This whole trout had both crispness and an underlining delicious flavour of wild white flesh. Both courses joined my gustatory memory bank. My wife had very small octopus with an admixture of capers, garlic, rosemary and char-grilled lemon. It was a memorable lunch, made even more so because it was so unplanned.

Definition of Obscenity – Washington Post Nuanced

As background to the newspaper report below, the Tennessee 5th Congressional District was one of the most closely watched of the election season because the Republican-dominated state legislature redrew the seat in 2022 during the redistricting cycle, “flipping it” from a Democratic-held seat to Republican, so that it was unwinnable for the Democrats. The District is now shaped like a person on the run. Nashville had been traditionally totally Democratic until this redistribution. There is now only one Democrat representative from Tennessee from an electoral district around Memphis.

Representative Andrew Ogles, a Republican who represents this Nashville district where the Covenant School is located, said in a statement that he was “utterly heartbroken” by the shooting there that left six people dead, including three children.

Gun-control advocates and Democrats highlighted another post from Ogles — a 2021 Christmas photo of his family posing with firearms.

After news of the Nashville shooting broke, Ogles said in a statement that he and his family “are devastated by the tragedy that took place at The Covenant School in Nashville this morning.”

“We are sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of those lost,” he said. “As a father of three, I am utterly heartbroken by this senseless act of violence. I am closely monitoring the situation and working with local officials.”

Merry Christmas from the Ogles Family

The 2021 photo, which Ogles shared on Facebook, showed him, his wife, and two of his three children holding weapons and smiling in front of a Christmas tree.

“MERRY CHRISTMAS!” Ogles wrote, adding a line that is often — and dubiously — credited to George Washington: “The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.”

Ogles is a strong proponent of the Second Amendment and gun ownership. On his campaign website, he said: “Disarming the people is the most effective way to enslave them, and we must remain vigilant when anyone seeks to erode our civil liberties. The rights of the people to keep and bear arms, protect themselves and their families, and prevent tyrannical rule is a fundamental liberty of our constitutional republic.”

Ogles is really a disgusting piece of work, so beware reading his Wikipedia entry. Sewage is everywhere in this entry.

Mouse Whisper

You learn stuff sometimes by not being satisfied with just accepting the name in this case of a racehorse. Many of the names are stupid concoctions, meaningless jumbles of letters, but since my Italian cousin Garibaldi was staying with me and we were sharing an excellent pecorino, the racing guide had slipped on the floor, and my eye alighted on a horse named “Bianco Vilano”. Garibaldi scratched his ear. “Vilano? Vilano – no. there is an Italian word, villano meaning “lout” or “oaf”. But vilano with one “l”? “Bianco” is white. I looked the name up on Mickipedia. For “bianco vilano” read the whorl of sepals of a flower collectively forming the outer floral envelope or layer of the perianth enclosing and supporting the developing bud; I must say I was none the wiser. Then the meaning paraglided in on the breeze – you mean Thistledown.

Modest Expectations – Voiture ancienne

The Defence force spends somewhere in the region of $40m a year in recruitment of men and women to the army, navy and air force. Nowhere in the advertisements is the message, join the defence force to be killed fighting for your country. Rather, learn skills, enjoy yourself.

So why would a young doctor go into general practice when there is so much moaning in the background about how terrible general practice is. When I was young, I remember “Country Practice”, a TV show which extolled the virtues of general practice. Since then there have been TV doctors featured as dysfunctional, exiled to the country, as for instance in “Doctor, Doctor”. The portrayal involved a great amount of sordid activity. The characters were hardly appropriate role models, but when you watch an optimistic sitcom such as “Call the Midwife”, one wonders how that would play out if moved from an inner London setting to the Australian outback.

I was involved in rural health until about five to six years ago. I have seen very clearly what works and what doesn’t; and it distresses me to see the same suggested solutions rolled out, knowing they have failed previously. One is this bleating about how difficult it all is; and their need for more doctors. Then when a doctor is suggested to join some of these doctors in apparent need, some back away worrying that their income will be impaired.

Then I wrote about the challenges, which I have observed over the years; I doubt whether they have changed. They seem not to have been taken into account in the platitudes in the latest 12 page report supervised by the Minister, who unfortunately seems to have been captured by these purveyors of stuff that does not work. The challenges to rural practice are:

  • social dislocation
  • professional isolation
  • community tolerance
  • succession planning

Social dislocation is encapsulated in the reluctance of one’s partner to relocate and where the doctor needs to send his/her children away to school. Professional isolation exists in a variety of ways – working on one’s own so that one is effectively rostered on duty 24/7, without locum relief or where one refuses to share on-call with doctors in other practices. I have worked in small communities with hospitals; and well managed they provide an essential resource in enabling work with other health professionals where there are not enough doctors.

Community tolerance is thus at the heart of the inter-relationship with other health professionals and the community. The idea that health professionals will automatically work together, by some magical wafting of a bureaucratic report, is fanciful. Strength of leadership and an ability of the doctor to work in the community needs someone who automatically is expected to join a community and its activity. When there is an immediate barrier of language and customs, not to mention personality traits, expectations may not be fulfilled. Some doctors are not joiners, they do not want to become involved in social activities. Added to this, some doctors need to adjust to the fact that unlike the city, there is no anonymity; one common reaction is to leave the community over a weekend “just to get away”.

Then there is the most important challenge and that is succession planning. Few practices do it, but the ones that do are successful because they promote continuity in service and hence corporate memory and trust among their patients. There should be a rule of thumb that if one survives the initial period, then one should guarantee (and be guaranteed) a certain length of time in one practice.  Five years seems to be reasonable in this modern age, where there is fluidity in employment among health professionals. That means that once the number of doctors needed to provide the best possible service is settled, then one works to maintain that level, remembering that what attracts doctors is a functional practice which, implicitly or explicitly, has paid attention to the top three challenges I have listed.

Income is always important, but it is not a specific condition for general practice and the whole matter of Medicare will be dealt with in my next blog.

I have written about rural medical practice endlessly, (my previous blogs attest to this) but the underlying problem is that the bureaucrat writes the report as if the work has been completed. In reality it is only the beginning, because implementation is always the difficult part.

Once they genuflected and cried: Go to Pell

Many shameful episodes in Australian politics in recent years, but hard to think of a lower moment than seeing two former Prime Ministers attend the funeral of a cardinal who covered up institutionalised sexual abuse of children and protected paedophile priests – Twitter comment 

My eye was attracted to this comment about Cardinal Pell’s funeral. I have a relative who played football with the young George Pell when he was a journeyman country Australian footballer, a big man (195cm) who shouldered some of the ruck load. My relative was adamant that Pell would never have been a child abuser.

The problem is that Pell did have “form” from his time as a young priest, was criticised by the Royal Commission into Child Abuse, was convicted and imprisoned, and the conviction overturned on technical grounds which did not clear Pell, but the decision indicated that High Court was not convinced that the matter of reasonable doubt had been addressed satisfactorily.  The evidence of a monsignor seemed to be believed above the evidence of others, without any real evidence of the veracity of his recall of the circumstances of the accusations made against Pell.

After Pell disappeared to Rome, the Sydney diocese must have started planning for his inevitable death. It was such a highly staged spectacle, seemingly having every Roman Catholic priest recruited for the ceremonial requiem mass. It also seems that the Sydney diocese has decided not to go with the shift in the political winds in Rome, even with the current ailing Argentinian pope, and to combat the progressives who are on the rise. Sydney may decide to become the home of such Roman Catholicism – refusing to consider contraception, abortion, celibacy, the ordination of women, vaccination against cervical cancer and even encouraging the re-introduction of the Tridentine mass (currently four churches in Sydney).

To airbrush Pell is a common trait in Australian culture – turning a scumbag like Ned Kelly into a national hero is another example. Tony Abbott ‘s extravagant comment does not do the situation justice. Abbott is not rabid, in that he has not presumably been bitten by a dog, squirrel or civet.  His statement that those outside the cathedral yelling “Pell go to Hell” meant they at least believed in the afterlife and thus this was the first verified Pell Miracle (gained him a few cheap tweets) but was just plain stupid.

The Church cannot be serious about canonisation of a man who has been shown to facilitate, indirectly or directly, sexual molestation of children by a collection of priest predators, some of whom were close to him at some point. Since Peter became the first Bishop of Rome, the Church has survived a great deal of malfeasance, and perhaps this will continue to persist.

The other perception of the Church is how ludicrous some of the regalia looks when placed alongside stated conservative attitudes. After all, look at the fancy dress of the church dignitaries and then fast forward to the forthcoming dress-ups for mardi gras by the queer dignitaries.

And the other intriguing question, will Abbott and his seminarian mates have to wait for a new Pope to get an Australian Cardinal – or will there be a progressive addition to the Curia gifted by Pope Francis? And could he reach beyond the current list of bishops to perhaps a priest of principle, a man with a progressive tinge. 

My Country, Ngangkari

It was one of those times when I was in Ernabella, and I was introduced to a young man, who I was told was a ngangkari. Ngangkari is a Western desert name for the medicine man. In every community I understood that there were these people, not necessarily men, who were responsible for the spiritual totems. I became aware of this fact when there was talk of a kadaitcha man when I was working in western NSW in the 90s. Although he was never identified, I was assured that he existed, right down to the feathered feet not leaving footprints. Before this can be dismissed as myth, I wonder if, in the construction of the Voice, whether these medicine men were consulted. Do they still exist, because it is important for the integrity of the Aboriginal traditions given the fragility of oral traditions; to assure the continuity of the spiritual values of each particular tribe.

As I said, at Ernabella I was introduced to a young man, who had been identified as a ngangkari. Like many Aboriginals, he was taciturn, especially confronted by a whitefella “blow-in”.  What attracted me to him were his luminous indigo eyes. I was looking into the 40,000 or whatever years of Aboriginal heritage. I tried many approaches to engage him, and the one that worked was when I said “Adelaide Crows”. He broke into a wide smile, and the indigo eyes glinted into the twentieth century. For me, it was important to know that the medicine man existed; it was not for me to interrogate him. He was non-committal in describing his role; but what I knew was how important the oral tradition was to the medicine man/woman and the secrets that had been passed onto this man. By responding to Adelaide Crows meant that this ngangkeri was not set apart from modern life.

Aboriginal healer and artist Betty Muffler, standing on Iwantja, Yankunytjatjara Land in front of her artwork, Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country), (2020)

The question arises as to where these medicine men and women have been included in defining such an ephemeral notion as the Voice, because so much of the tradition included in the Voice is embodied in oral tradition. This handed down from one generation of medicine man/woman to the next would seem to be more important than a bunch of Aboriginal academics with confected lines, none of which are incorporated in oral tradition that have been lost or remain as an imagined thread.

I just hope that Voice is not an exercise, a grab for power, by some clever Aboriginals without any real links to the oral discourse. It is as if in the same way I would invoke my Irish ancestors in justifying an Irish voice in how Australia is run. In the end so-called “recognition” could be extended to being an implicit right of veto over legislation, as interpreted by a sympathetic High Court so that the end result is a third chamber of parliament in Australia, with all the complications that would bring.

The ongoing judicial interpretation of something as broadly worded as seems to be proposed by the referendum is likely to cause headaches, since Aboriginality may become of one of judicial interpretation. The legal consequences of a successful referendum will move slowly. Without the involvement of those such as the medicine men or women who carry the Aboriginal lore, it is in danger of becoming the plaything of that band of academic Aboriginals, and of course Noel Pearson. I do not have to worry about the unexpected consequences of all this political malarkey which threatens to consume the country’s political life this year, but my grandchildren may.

Our Bicentenary 

I was amazed to see how the mangroves are flourishing around Iron Cove in inner west Sydney. The past three years have meant that I have spent little time in a place where, 30 years and more ago, I used to run to maintain fitness. The Iron Bay run is 7 km, and relatively flat. Nevertheless, the run includes a number of microclimates, which make it an interesting route. The problem with Iron Cove, which is one of the estuarine inlets of the Parramatta River, is that it has experienced two centuries of whitefella pollution. One of the major pollutants has been dioxan, and therefore I would never intentionally eat fish or crustacea from the Cove. But others do.

When I used to run the Iron Cove, the mangroves were there, but not to the height and extent as the mangrove forest now. It used to be stunted and did not exhibit its current lushness – rather it was a swamp bordering on the estuary, the water flowing tidally, and at ebbtide, it was a muddy swamp with just a thin cover of mangroves. Now it is different and given the mangrove so essential for water hygiene, maybe the underlying pollution will diminish.

After all, the Parramatta River which is estuarine for a considerable way contains numerous diverticular inlets to enhance its presence and importance. If there had not been such a river, the original settlement would not have survived because the soil around the harbour is poor and shallow on the underpinning sandstone. Gardening in suburban Balmain attests to the need to improve the soil and not dig too deep. The Parramatta River was a gateway to its upper reaches where cereal crops could be grown. In other words, here was the arable land,

In recognition of its importance, to celebrate the Bicentenary in 1988, we ran the Parramatta River from Long Nose Point as far as we could to Parramatta and to where the Toongabbie Creek flowed into it.

Like the mangroves, there has been a cleansing of the Parramatta River and its banks. This has been done without interfering with historic buildings built in the early years of the colony. Then many of the buildings were fenced off and left to rot because they were deemed too expensive to renovate. A large chunk of land with a 220 metre frontage on the Parramatta river was given over to the Department of Defence Naval Stores depot at Ermington, fenced off and like so much of the littoral lands unavailable to public access. In some parts, the other side of the river was available. But there was still a great deal of industrial land to be negotiated, for instance running through the coal dust and railway lines at Camilla. The skun dog carcase added to the sights as we padded along the riverside pathway nearing Parramatta one Sunday.

In 1988, it was an unloved waterway – the industrial sewer, yet with these marvellous sandstone Georgian buildings boarded up; fenced off – then too expensive to renovate. To us, just running it was our tribute to 200 years of European migrant population

Now 44 years later, the NSW Government has announced that it will put $60 million towards the pathway, which has been dubbed the Parramatta to Sydney Foreshore Link, a 91 kilometre path able to be used by both pedestrians and cyclists. It will start by the Harbour and end at Parramatta Park.  “In the process, it’ll become one of the city’s longest transport connections, spanning a whopping 18 suburbs,” boasts the media release. 

So, there you go, it took us several Sundays to run the distance. We had to make various compromises because the foreshore was unavailable; but what it said to us about 1788, there were many resourceful people who for better or for worse brought their civilisation to this huge continent.  While we have despoiled, we have avoided building a country torn apart by waves of invaders battling over territory, because the Australian continent was ignored until the end of the eighteenth century except by a few, who left alone for thousand of years developed a most intricate culture among a remarkably diverse “nation”, yet which needed only one group of invaders to almost destroy it. But then again, Australia could have been colonised like Africa, and then the Continent would have been properly shredded.

How to deal with a Pomegranate

Obviously, pomegranate seed mining presents a problem for Americans, as suggested by this article in the Washington Post.  An example of tough love?

Cut the pomegranate in half through the equator, hold a half cut side down in your hand over a dish or bowl and whack it — firmly, confidently — with a wooden spoon. 

That’s it. Just make sure you’re hitting the fruit with the underside of the bowl of the spoon, rather than the edge, which is more likely to crack it. If you want to be a little extra, you can roll the fruit around on your counter before cutting to help loosen the seeds, though I didn’t bother. If you’re worried about splatters, use the biggest, widest bowl you have. (don’t do this while wearing white.) 

It took me a less than two minutes per half to remove all the seeds, no prying required. Just periodically turn the halves over to see where you need to focus your efforts to ensure all the seeds come out. Very little of the membrane or white flesh ended up in the bowl, and whatever did was easily picked out. If I shook the bowl like I was tossing a salad, the extra bits rose to the top or spun to the edges, making it even simpler, no water needed. After that, it was easy to transfer the seeds to an airtight container in the refrigerator, where they should be good for at least five days, though I’ve pushed it longer. If you want to freeze the seeds for a few months, be sure to place them in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and then pack them in a bag or container once they’re froze. 

This simplicity of this method was in stark contrast to the more photogenic technique that infiltrated my Instagram feed, in which you carve out the top and then try to cut the pomegranates into its naturally occurring segments. It took me way longer to do this, as I still had to press and pry out the seeds. Plus, surprisingly, it sent more seeds onto the floor than the whack-it-over-a-bowl method.

As an added bonus, the wooden spoon strategy is incredibly therapeutic. Whack out your frustrations, and then enjoy the fruits of your labour. Win-win.

Mouse Whisper

As he says, his pronunciation leaves something to be desired. Thus, when he pronounced his Citroen as a “Citron”, he wondered why it did not sell, until he was placed in the front of a mirror and given an elocution lesson.