Modest expectations – Mali

In my heyday

Young men wrote to me

Everybody seemed to have time to devote to me

Everyone I saw all swore they knew me

Once upon a song

Main attraction, couldn’t buy a seat

The celebrity, celebrities were dying to meet

I’ve had every accolade bestowed on me

And so you see

If I never sing another song

It wouldn’t bother me

I had my share of fame

You know my name

This was the last recorded song of Matt Monro when he was dying of cancer. Matt who? Frank Sinatra recognised him as his equal in voice and ability to connect with his audience. However, there is a plaintive quality – you know my name. Really, you, Mr Monro have been a long time dead – and there is limited space in a nation’s collective memory for anyone, even if a superb crooner such as yourself.

The problem is that you may know my name but the passage of time will dull and obliterate it.

That is unless you make sure that there is a memorial, where its message is relevant to an ongoing generation, and not just to remember “my name”.

For me, the muffled sound and grainy sight of Salvatore Allende crying out “Larga vida a Chile”, and the fact that his cousin, Isabel has been such a prominent author, has meant the name has stuck around, as a romantic standard bearer for the oppressed – something South America has in droves.

Museum of Memories and Human Rights, Chile

I have recently returned from Santiago where I made a point of visiting the Museum of Memories and Human Rights. This was the brainchild of President Michelle Bachelet, to ensure that one memory sticks in the mind of the Chilean people. On a wall on the first floor are myriad photographs of Chileans murdered by the Pinochet regime – 130,000, probably more.

People who are just an anonymous as Mr Monro may be now, but they exist, not by names but as a powerful dark photographic reminder of the cruelty of Chilean to Chilean; in other words, you may be nameless, but collectively you are not forgotten and that is due to the overarching forgiveness led by this remarkable woman. After all, her father was killed by Pinochet’s thugs and she and her mother tortured.

Perhaps this memorial will serve the people of Chile and remind them to never abandon democracy again. Never, never. Ask Chileans of the age what they were doing on the 11 September 1973, when the military forces were unleashed on the democratic institution and they know, as well as those of my age know what they were doing when we heard John Kennedy was assassinated.

On the surface, Chile is now a stable country with a reasonable economy, the most robust in South America. Some may say its economy is built on copper, but Chile is increasingly diversified. Santiago could even be a Spanish speaking Australia city if it was not for the appalling slums that litter its outskirts.

But what of the forces behind the public face of the Chilean coup and the lugubrious Augusto Pinochet on 11 September 1973, during which the legitimate President, Salvatore Allende, was probably assassinated? That ghastly horn-rimmed Kissinger and his President Nixon, who also gave us the Killing Fields of Cambodia; only worth remembering for the cold-blooded approach to their fellow humans.

Unlike Michelle Bachelet who has gone some way towards rectifying one of the injustices they perpetrated.

Pain 

Opium poppies, northern Tasmania

One of the most unexpected sights is driving around northern Tasmania in early summer is seeing field after field of opium poppies with their delicate pale mauve flowers giving such an innocent touch to the sinister drug industry which is dependent on its supply from this one of few legal areas for opium cultivation.

I am not one to unnecessarily applaud anyone, but I do applaud the Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, for sending out 5,000 letters to doctors who have a profile of high prescription of opioids. That letter elicited the usual aggrieved response, particularly as it was sent to so many doctors. The problem with many doctors, even in a climate of increasing peer review, is this natural reaction to being questioned on “infallibility”.

Even if the letters implicate those who have a legitimate excuse, it should flush out those who are just drug dealers with a medical degree. Let us get one matter straight, this letter relates to chronic usage – not acute usage. There are times when complaints have been made of the under usage of such drugs where the need is acute.

I well remember the country doctor who was well known to government for over-servicing which, among other misdemeanours, involved handing out opioid prescriptions. When this particular doctor died, his funeral procession through the town streets was lined by grateful dependent patients. It was an ironic way to end one’s days, with a town, which had become addicted to this one doctor.

I hope that the Murphy initiative ends with a marked decline in the chronic prescription of opioids – it is a strange state of affairs that doctors are reportedly suddenly afraid to prescribe opioids because of the letter rather than fearlessly continue to exert their clinical judgement as to whether opioid use in a patient are justified.

For my part I have an auto-immune disease in which pain has figured so prominently that I was taking the maximum dose of paracetamol each day and counting the hours until my next dose. However, I eschewed opioids because of the fact that I feared addiction, given how long I would gave to take them. Just hankering for my next paracetamol tablets was warning enough. I survived the time without resorting to opioid, and fortunately my need for analgesia has abated.

It was interesting to note that the recommended maximum dose of paracetamol in the USA is lower than in Australia. I wonder whether this had any effect on its use and the substitution to opioids.

The other problem is exemplified by the woman who claims to have been prescribed opioids for 25 years for pain and now her prescription base has dried up. I make no judgement on any individual case but it is not difficult to hypothesise that there is a cohort of people who have become addicted because of doctors, who act as drug dealers rather than as medical practitioners.

I do hope that Dr Murphy’s action will lead to this cohort of medical practitioners being exposed and appropriate action taken. The medical profession will be well rid of them.

In the USA, as usual with the vigilante approach long after the wrong has happened, they are lynching the drug companies without solving the problem. The drug addicts are there; the overdoses are there. Making the drug companies pay does not solve the problem. However, when combined with an initiative such as being prosecuted by Murphy, it just may work. Keep it up, Doctor so that its success will be celebrated as part of Murphy’s lore.

Where do we go from here?

The ABC has produced a four part series Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds; it is modeled in some degree on a BBC series of the same name.

Lucy Mangan wrote in the Guardian about the BBC version (sic):  The show continues to tread the fine line between heart and sentimentality, between reporting on measures involving vulnerable groups without patronising them … and that at the very least the sociological gubbins should be let fade into the background instead of the makers trying to paint a scientific gloss on the commonsense appreciation that anyone’s mood, mobility and memory will improve if you throw activities, new experiences, a few highly supervised hours with some charming infants and the money to pay for it all at them.

I am somewhat uneasy at the sight of four year olds being led into an old people’s home to play with the residents. To me, the children could just as well be going to the zoo. These are strange creatures to the very young; and the carefully depicted interaction predictably elicited parental clucks by the commentariat at the wonder of it all. Annabel Crabbe is the ideal presenter.

However, where is it all leading after the cameras are turned off and the academics drift away to write their papers? The numbers participating are few and given that the camera cannot be a continuous record but one determined by the selectivity of the director, then the temptation is to have the cutest cuts and leave out the scenes that do not correspond to the producer’s definition of bliss.

There have been other experiments, such as the Seattle one where a preschool was placed in an old people’s home. It has been locally successful if one can believe the reports. However, it is just one example; but what does a policy maker do with such a project to make it generalisable? The other factor is the enthusiasm of those who initiated the transfer of concept to action. They have a vested interest in making it work, but times change, enthusiasm wanes. These sort of projects need a wider support base not only to be sustainable but more importantly generalisable.

The actual conduct of the operation probably requires a high level of supervision, because one is dealing with the interaction of two groups where there is both dependence and yet a high level of unpredictability. One group will soon move to another age group and perhaps will be left with a positive view, while the other group are about to die and leave their trace on a filmed archive only.

I remember when I was a small boy and following my father as he went around a ward full of war veterans. At one bed while my father saw other patients I got talking to a patient – a soldier. He was friendly and he talked so that I understood what his life had been, without any sense of self-pity. I remember saying I would see him next week. He smiled, called me “Blue” and patted my arm.

Later, (I cannot remember the time gap) I came back with my father and went straight to his bed. I don’t remember whether it was empty or if there was another person in the bed. However when I asked about “my friend”, the reply came back that he had died. I could not believe it. I think it was my first experience of loss. Whether this was experienced by any of the children in this “experiment”, coming back to see one of the old people only to find they have died. For me the memory has stayed tucked away for years.

Why do you tell stories as you get older? Nostalgia is the province of the elderly and the benefit of this type of interaction is that the elderly have an audience – admittedly a very fleeting, easily distracted audience to which to tell your tale. Perhaps in the end the ability of old people to tell a tale where the audience still has the flush of wonderment is a good thing. But loneliness is a 24-hour experience.

However, if the attempt of mixing the groups is just voyeuristic – “been there; done that”; then I believe the makers of this series have probably done a disservice to all involved if nothing further eventuates.

Old age is an increasing societal challenge. It should not be just a case of waste management. Yet I fear that is happening – and David Attenborough-like explorations of human foibles and cuteness should not replace serious consideration of what can be done.

The clue is in the series – get the elderly to tell their stories, whether they have a four year old audience or not. After all, it gives you a sense of relevance, even when you may be the only one listening. However even one child listening and responding with questions is a bonus. After all, I believe we are all storytellers.

Mouse whisper

I don’t know what I will be able to squeal and the Press to write once they silence Trump, but this quote from the New York Times has a degree of murine richness. And I thus thank Mr Krugman for the quote.

At that point you might expect an intervention from the grown ups in the room – but there aren’t any. In any other administration the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a.k.a. the Lego Batman guy, would be considered a ridiculous figure; these days, however, he’s as close as we get to a voice of economic rationality. But whenever he tries to talk sense, as he apparently did over the issue of currency manipulation by the Chinese, he gets overruled.

Protectionism is bad; erratic protectionism, imposed by an unstable leader with an insecure ego, is worse. But that’s what we’ll have as long as Trump remains in office.

Modest expectations – Duckworth

We may be in our lounge room in Sydney or in a hotel room overlooking the Iguaçu Falls in Brazil, but there is a timeless quality surrounding mass murder in the United States. The latest atrocity was in El Paso. There is Fox television glued to nothingness – just the front of a supermarket. It is like an Andy Warhol movie. However the commentary tries to make up for the lack of action by repeating the same nothingness in that urgent tone of expectancy. Later there are clips of law enforcement officers rugged up like escapees from a video program. You know the video violence which is attracting million of dollars of sponsorship so that the male youth of the world can be warriors without the pain but with the smell of vicarious power.

It does not matter how many are killed in El Paso. The more killed or maimed the better the news story. After all the Gilroy incident in California only resulted in three deaths, hardly worth recording. Now there are a score or more dead in this Texas border town. The social media graphics start to trickle in – the snaps of bodies, the picture of the supposed offending AK rifle – it is only a matter of time before the loony manifesto of the perpetrator will turn upon social media. This delusionary detritus of humanity who wants to be recognised – the profile of a young white male consumed by his own self-loathing egged on by a society where hate is increasingly the norm.

Then hours later, we have the tawdry spectacle led by the Texan governor praising the law enforcement officers’ quick response. Six minutes. In the meantime two score or more are shot dead or wounded. Then from these officials comes the outpouring of pious platitudes about prayers and “hug your family”. After the Governor, the Mayor and so on in a paean of self-congratulations where tragedy is a backdrop to self-aggrandisement, telling us nothing except the “shooter was disarmed and is now in custody”. Not a word about gun control from anyone – not a word. Just everyone wants to be re-elected.

And a macabre copycat dessert occurs not long after – Dayton Ohio.

And somewhere in the distance one hears a presidential bleat about change in the rules – and then predictably welshes on what he has promised to do.

The Real Amazon

One of the problems with any short-term visit, you only scrape the surface. It is a four-hour flight to get from Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro to Manaus. That is for starters and the South American airlines are very basic, jammed into the small Airbus. Manaus is the starting point for a five-day trip up the Amazon. Really the Iberostar does not travel far – 100 kilometres at the most, up a river, which is nearly 7,000 kilometres in length, arising in the Peruvian Andes and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, where its water is still fresh.

Pink River Dolphin in the Amazon

Living in a big country as we do, immensity of land mass for Australians is nothing new although a river which is twenty-three kilometres across in some places makes one realise that Brazil is a serious bulwark against global warming – for now. This huge river is the jungle artery – endless jungle traced with tributaries of the Rio Enorme. There is a very occasional settlement; so different from the port of Manaus which is a mixture of modernity and of a long past. With two million people it is a significant Amazonian presence. Yet this lively port still has the overtones of a pre-container ship existence.

Unlike Australia where 25 million people occupy the country, Brazil has 220 million people. The cultural heritage is a roll call of European countries, but there also is a large population of black people, the descendants of a massive importation of West Africans, as slaves, in Brazil’s early years. After all, the Portuguese were the first major European colonisers after the Romans. Today there seems to be sensitivity to these past wrongs as the word for black shuffles between “preto” and “negro”.

Then there are native Amazonian Indians, which the current government seems intent on strangling – little settlements where currently every body looks healthy, but who knows with this current President, a man with the mien of warthog.

The Portuguese language may seem to us the most insignificant of the Romantic languages, on a par with Romanian. After all it is only spoken in Portugal and in a few former Portuguese colonies, including Timor- Leste close to home. However, one of the former colonies is Brazil, potentially a major power in killing this planet if the current government deforests the Amazon Basin, a gargantuan task given that Australia could be swallowed up in it. However, do not underestimate the madness of the human race.

If you are going to travel there, while it still exists, it is useful to have a working knowledge of Portuguese. It is not an easy language as the pronunciation is confounding.

The Brazilians appreciate you attempting to speak the language, and knowing even a few words opens up many of the cultural links. However, when you are a tourist, who is not a backpacker as my son was years ago in Brazil and was robbed, we live in the comfort zone of care. Luckily thus we have been looked after well.

However, the downside is alleviated if you learn some Portuguese before you embark on such a trip on the Amazon.

And the currency “real(s) is pronounced “hay-il”or in the plural “hay-eesh”. Get it?

Uruguay – the place where the Italians colonised

Now everybody knows that Uruguay is the place where man for man, they have the most successful futebol team in the world. I say man for man as the game for women is just stirring.

Uruguay is not large. It has been described as a thumbprint between Brazil and Argentina. Consider, it has a population of just over 3 million and just over a million of them live in Montevideo and just over 300,000 live in condominiums in two of its suburbs overlooking the River Plate. For an Australian comparison, Tasmania is about 40 per cent the size of Uruguay

Not that the River Plate is a river, it is an estuary which defines the limits of the country to the south, and as you drive along coast, the meeting of the Plate and the Atlantic Ocean is not as clear today as it apparently can be – the sea is all too civilised where the waves are mere frills on the rocky coast line here.

Beaches of Uruguay

This is a country where it is increasingly the beach resort for wealthy South Americans, and where such wealth is denoted by high fences around large estates. It is interesting to note that the Uruguayans have strengthened by consolidating their money laundering laws as of last year.

The Uruguayan law establishes “that certain high-level public officials, such as the president and vice president of the Republic, national senators and representatives, ministers and under-secretaries of State, general secretariat directors at ministries, directors of autonomous entities, decentralized services, non-State public entities and holders of any political or trust position cannot be shareholders, ultimate beneficiaries or have any relationship with commercial companies domiciled in no- or low-tax jurisdictions while holding public office.” The devil is in the detail of this last proviso, and one of the ingredients of this small state is that the ruling elite is not corrupt.

Elections are underway and billboards for candidates dot the landscape. The biggest billboard high on one of the condominiums simply has Luis in huge letters, apparently the presidential candidate for the white party, the support base of which is rural and moderately conservative. This party together with the red party which is central and the ruling left wing Popular Front are striving for the run off, assuming the unlikely results of one candidate getting over 50 per cent in the first round. All very civilised.

For the size of country, Uruguay has a long coastline and a substantial border with Brazil. Argentina is just across the River Plate, two and half-hours will take one there by ferry. They have to tread carefully and although their international trade is denominated in US dollars, there is always currency instability in the area. Last week the Argentinian peso fell dramatically in response to the presidential elections and the return of Peronistas. There will be an inevitable effect on Uruguay.

Uruguay is a land of beaches and a summer that is not dissimilar to ours. Resorts line the River Plate; the expectation is to overlook the River Plate in the east and the mouth of the River Plate and the Atlantic Ocean in the west.

But this is also an agricultural country. Being next to Argentina the expectation is for beef cattle, and although, it is an important part of the economy, Uruguay is more diversified.

Driving through the countryside either east or west from Montevideo could be the western district of Victoria – just scattered population amid rolling countryside without a mountain in sight.

Uruguay farmland

Here our car passes through the potato growing area. There are dairy cows on either side of the double carriageway. All sorts of cheese are freely available to buy by the side of the road, as are apples and mandarins. On the side of one the undulating landscape is a large spread of canola. Soya beans and rice are big exports. However, the biggest export is probably wood chips, and plantations of eucalypts are also a prominent feature of the countryside.

Cannabis Medicinal

Cannabis is now a legal product in Uruguay – for registered Uruguayans. Shops openly market the weed and the associated paraphernalia. However, hemp as such is not grown here, and these cannabis outlets rely on Asian imports of hemp. The colourful backpack prominently states that it was made in Nepal, and given the loosening of restrictions in this part of South America, those with the inclination or need for this substance may start wandering across the Pacific.

The only useful quirk is that if you pay your bill by credit card you get a 15 per cent plus discount. Covers the tip anyway!

Colonia

Uruguay will never see many Australian tourists because it is so similar to Australia apart from Spanish/Portuguese heritage, particularly evident in the city of Colonia. But it is a long way to go for quaintness – unless you are thinking of having a quiet life away from scrutiny in this country.

And if you want to get away from Alan Jones… 

A Case to Answer

Mentioning this individual, even in Buenos Aires you cannot get away from the poisonous splinters that break off from this individual when anybody displeases him. Making a comment inciting the Australian Prime Minister to murder the New Zealand Prime Minister by shoving a sock down her throat is so disgusting it is amazing that it has not caused this individual to be charged. One of the characteristics of women who have socks thrust down their throat is that they die terrible deaths where the sock down the throat is accompanied by mutilation and unspeakable depravity.

By saying that it was a re-interpretation of a saying “put a sock in it” as an excuse fails on two grounds. The first is that it is an admonition for someone to use a sock to put in “it” however defined. The term is not applied to inciting attack by a third party. Here Jones defined “it” as the New Zealand Prime Minister’s throat, and he was not saying that she put the sock down her own throat. He was inciting the Australian Prime Minister to do so.

To say that the Prime minister was disappointed shows how much this popinjay inspires fear. Instead, if I had been in Morrison’s socks, I would have sought legal advice on the offence of inciting a crime. Such an action as I understand it has also been legislated in the Crimes Prevention Act 1916 (NSW) (‘the Act’) and s11.4 of the Criminal Code 1995. The Act is extremely brief, and therefore it should not be difficult to get an opinion. There are also specific offences within the Crimes Act 1900 that include ‘inciting’ as an element of the offence – murder (s26), suicide (s31C) and sexual assaults (s80G). Nobody – just nobody – even this person, has the right I would have thought to ask me to kill the New Zealand Prime Minister.

The reason is that I would have not been just “disappointed” – I would have seen if criminal charges were warranted, and that course of action remains open to the Australian Prime Minister.

Withdrawal of sponsorship for his program is tacit disgust by his money trail. Although don’t forget that they signed up to advertise on his program in the first place …

Yet this sponsor displeasure and the outraged responses in social media starkly contrast with the attitude and behaviour of Jones’ employer. A slap on his sock is his retribution.

And sending a sock to Costello? If that is true, what form of pointless “smart-arsery” is that? This man Jones should have his day in court if the legal advice confirms he has a case to answer.

Mouse Whisper

Heard from a pulpit in Petersham:

In Portuguese, the word for share is dividir. Thinking about that word, sharing is indeed dividing, but not with a sense of equity. The problem is that “divide” has come to be a synonym for the meanness of the human spirit.

Modest Expectations – Majority

When I was writing a book funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health to celebrate the bicentenary of Australia in 1988, the idea behind the book would be to take a number of people of various backgrounds in the health field and ask them why they were there at that particular time – 1988.

I had very few refusals. One I would have liked to include had terminal cancer, as I learnt later. Most of them I knew to some degree personally, but for some, like Vivian Statham nee Bullwinkel, it was a matter of cold calling. She must have liked what I wrote because she sent me a nice note. Others, like Professor “Pansy Wright”, sent back his annotated chapter with typical pithy oblique yet amusing marginalia. He never said anything was wrong, mind you.

In 2004, Who do you think you are“ appeared on BBC television. Bill Oddie was the first, but most of the subjects have been entertainers or sportspeople because they trained professionally to run the gamut of faux-emotion when the insights are “magically” opened up for them. Judging by the longevity in the series, it is great theatre and being copied in other countries, such as our own.

Business is booming in the whole ancestry business. The growth of analysing the individual DNA for racial heritage is alive – wonderful to know that one has a smudge of Lithuanian with a nuance of Savoyard barbecued on the heritage grill with a smidgen of Genghis Khan.

I do not know why we do it, apart from the fact that we live in a world of self-absorption where “I” overwhelms anything else in the alphabet.

However, who am I to talk? I have always been fascinated by my mother’s Irish heritage.

Crossard is on a hill about three kilometres north of Corofin and one km from Kilnaboy (the Catholic parish). Corofin in turn is about 16 kilometres north of Ennis in County Clare.

I have visited Crossard where John Egan, my great-great grandfather was born about 1770. All that remains of the 18th century Crossard is one stone wall of the Moravian Church, where one of the local families, the Burtons, helped 100 Moravian refugees from Central Europe establish a community at Crossard.

After the Moravians left, the building survived for a number of years, becoming a Catholic Church in the 1830s before falling into disuse. In addition to the remains of the Moravian Church and one stone ruin there are four modern stucco-rendered houses, one unfinished plus a farm called “Crossard Cottage”.

The Moravian Church at Crossard

Crossard is near the river Fergus, and here John Egan was a flour miller, and the flourmill building still exists at Clifden about two kilometres from Crossard on Lough Inchiquin. The Burton family had a large house on the Lough in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I had driven the narrow raised track towards Clifden knowing that would have been the route along which John Egan probably went to work. I have been on better roads, especially when confronted by a large piece of farm machinery travelling in the opposite direction. The road was on the edge of a substantial drop to the river plain. Having to reverse back down the muddy track was a deterrent to plunging back down that road – or off the road.

John Egan married Margaret McNamara and there are still both Egans and McNamaras in Corofin. In fact the McNamaras have a 200 year tradition of being the doctors in Corofin. And as for the Egans, there is a saying “if there are fish in Lough Inchiquin, there will be Egans in Corofin”. Lough Inchiquin is the local lake which lies below Crossard.

His son, my great-grand father Michael Egan migrated to Australia in 1848, and first went to Kapunda in South Australia, as did a number of the Blood family. That settlement was where the first commercial copper mine had been opened, antedating the gold rush. The Bloods, Burtons and Bindons were prominent Protestant landowners around Corofin and I had an idea that Michael Egan was employed by the Blood family as a young man in Ireland. Even to this day there is a Clare castle pub in the main street of Kapunda.

Eventually, Michael Egan was to become a very wealthy man in early Melbourne, benefiting from the gold rush as a wood merchant.

The Corofin Genealogy Centre was very helpful, but records in the National Library only go back as far as 1819. Searches could be undertaken in parish records to try and trace our lineage back further, as John Egan would have been born a Catholic in 1770. It could cost up to 500 euro for an extensive search of remaining baptismal and land records to find out more. These are matters that you intend to do, but I am closer to being a heritage listing and further puddling in baptismal records. My descendants may wish to do so.

I really just wanted to see what type of countryside our ancestors left to assure our existence. Although close to the Burren, it was very arable, but was particularly badly hit by the potato famine. This eventually was the reason the Egans came to Australia, but that is another story.

The Roo Revenge

Charlie McMahon concludes his time in the Western Desert 

Nicholas who had been in much strife at Kintore, was no trouble and was keen to use tools, particularly the screw drills. Charlie Tjakamarra who always wore a men’s red headband was staunch, cheerful and worked with me, always offering to lighten my load. Henry reckoned Charlie stayed close to me because he thought me to be in too much of a hurry (which was probably true), and worried I was likely to harm myself. There was no racial divide, none of the troubles of drink when you are two days drive out from the nearest boozer.  

In my four and a half years in the Western Desert there was not a drop drunk. I did keep an emergency flask of Chateau Tanunda brandy behind the passenger seat but never had to call on it. In the evenings Venus flickered between red and blue on the Western horizon and if I woke at night, the stars of the Southern sky told the time in the cloudless winter dry season, skies so clear that they looked not so much black as a faint blue. Frequent meteor streaks evoked trepidation among the fellas as they were thought to be the spirit of someone who had died far from their home.  

Everyone was pleased to see Minyina aka Anatari Number 3 and his wife, whose name I cannot recall, turn up one day with young Andrew Tjakamarra who was about 16 and the driver, a cheerful lad who immediately moved to camp with us while Minyina set up the first humpy at Kiwirrkurra about 100 meters to the north of us, an indication they must have lived out to the north BTT (before trouser time) because desert people always choose to camp in a spot adjacent to their country.  

They relished hunting fresh terrain, bringing a cooked cat (the one that I described earlier) to our campfire. Three weeks into the job the bush food was well received. With more hands than planned for, the town supplies were running low. We were down to flour, a few cans of bean and we had run out out of tea and sugar.  

The crew saved the day one afternoon returning with a fair sized roo and smaller one that were cooked immediately the Pintubi way. One had a poor little joey in pouch that the crew had some fun with, watching Danger nudge it to try to make it run, but I couldn’t stand to see it suffer and knocked it on the head. With a lot of care and special milk joeys can be nurtured but this was a work camp.  

I was tempted to do a dash to Kintore store for food but it was a day’s drive there and back and with only three days to finish the job I didn’t really want to. Henry dared me to make it through eating roo. The meat didn’t go off in the dry air stashed in a tree. We ate smoked and dried roo for the duration. I imagined how good a counter lunch at the Stuart Arms was going to taste in a few days. I got the runs, which no one else had. So I put it down to me being unaccustomed to roo meat. Still it was a good feeling to have finished the preparatory work so that the next month the windmill and tank could be erected. Henry drove and with no load it was a relatively quick trip but I was a mess when we pulled into Kintore at sunset and came across Jim Dooley at Steve and Kerry’s camp. Dooley had just dropped off freight there. Dooley was a funny bugger always joking, and my predicament was ammunition – I became the butt.’

“Welly welly Charlie Hook has gotten a crook belly playing at being a Pintubi”, he proclaimed.

“Henry, you trying to make a black fella out of Charlie?”  

“Shit you stink, Charlie and you will reek of roo for days.”

“Easy on mate, I’m rat shit!” I said.

Dooley’s kindness was my lucky break. Henry drove my vehicle to the loading ramp, onto the deck of Jim’s truck. Danger and I rode into town through the night in the sleeping bay with a few “crap stops”. Occasional farts erupted and smelt so bad that Dooley’s Jack Russell on the front seat would whimper, looking at me with ears down with forlorn, yet not reproachful face that dogs do so well. My odour did not worry Henry and Dooley. They just yarned all the way to town.

After a few days I recovered though Dooley was correct, the smell stayed with me. I could tell by reactions of the dogs. A yard guard dog had a go at me but turned tail when Danger responded in defending me. Since then I invariably get a vomit reflex when I smell wild roo meat. I am OK with the premium young doe roo meat that supermarkets sell as it has hardly any stench and in a spicy stew with onions I have no worries.

A brief note on Prohibition

Some years I was invited to a social function on a U.S naval vessel. It was a beautiful Sydney night. I had forgotten that there was no alcohol on US naval ships, with few exceptions. For instance, if a vessel has been at sea for 45 consecutive days or more, sailors are allowed to have two beers, on a one-time basis. However, it was salutary to attend an evening function without alcohol and only Kool Aid on offer. The function was pleasant and it was good to wake up the next morning and not regret the previous evening.

I was put in mind of the recent medical shock and horror at the alcohol industry’s response to the recent furore about alcohol and the recognition that alcohol is a part of our daily life.

Everybody knows that alcohol in excess is a poison, but whether lecturing the community is the best way to get the message through is probably problematical.

However, what the medical and other health professions could do is to emulate the US navy and ban alcohol at all official functions – all dinners. There would be mocktail receptions for distinguished guests. No more wine and food society functions under the auspices of medical groups – more than two glasses of booze a day contravenes the NH&MRC warning.

It is after all somewhat hypocritical to have happy snaps of health professionals at dinner with glass of wine in hand, if one is excoriating the alcohol industry at the same time for its collective irresponsibility.

Therefore, if the medical profession were really serious it would implement a total ban on alcohol being served at any sponsored dinner, and check the guests for hip flasks as they arrived.

It would also test whether anybody really wants to go to these functions, where self-aggrandisement is no longer an essential ingredient nor alcohol the essential lubricant. 

Mouse Whisper

Overheard in the Classics department of the University of Chipping Tarcoola.

“You know Scott Morrison has a Shakespearean connection. His name is Scottish-Irish, a derivation from the Latin word “Mauritius” – meaning a bloke from Mauretania – that is, a Moor. Not sure he would have liked to be known as Othello Morrison. Hate to know who he would pick to be Desdemona though.”

Modest Expectations – The Dark Blue

When you read this I shall be far away, floating down the Amazon where the piranhas are actually fish. One of the diseases of the Americas that gets very little airplay is Chagas disease, named for the Brazilian doctor, Carlos Justiniano Ribeiro Chagas. With the globalisation of disease, which is impervious to political shenanigans, cases are turning up in Australia. However, while it has the acute manifestation of any infectious diseases, it is the long-term insidious effects on the cardiovascular system.

Trypanosoma cruzi

It is said that Charles Darwin picked up Chagas disease as a young man when he was “Beagling” his way around South America. It would explain why an outgoing young adventurer increasingly became a reclusive invalid as he grew older, never again venturing from Great Britain.

Chagas disease is caused by Trypanosoma cruzi, a protozoa which is carried by a particular bug, commonly called the ‘kissing bug’, so called because of how it cuddles up to you, sucking your blood and letting the protozoa bug into the blood stream. There are drugs to treat the trypanosoma but the course is long and hazardous as one may be strewn with complications.

However, given its insidious nature and that the fact that when backpacking it is romantic to sleep under thatch or in adobe, remember to have that mosquito net, however inconvenient it may be, and a good amount of insect repellent.

The Lancet has said in a sobering statement: “Chagas disease has been considered a neglected disease, without fully effective drug treatment to avoid the chronic stage.

Australian figures on its prevalence are scanty, but undoubtedly it is there as I noted above. After all, disease is a free market.

I shall keep reminding myself of that as the Amazon drifts by. 

Setting down Bores

Charlie McMahon continues his reminisces …

We took the smoothest route via Papunya but that was still a rough corrugated dirt road for 600 of the 750 km drive. There was one lane of good tarred bitumen up the middle of the road so that you drove half on the dirt shoulder when either overtaking or accommodating oncoming traffic.

Near the Mount Zeil plain we came up to overtake a fully loaded “3 dog” road train doing about 90 kmph to our 100. I reckoned it looked safe enough to overtake with the road ahead dead straight. The truckie was not likely to go half on the shoulder to ease our passage and I indicated my intention to pass with high beam flashes and came up beside the road train driving entirely on the shoulder, which slowed us a bit. I was going OK till about a quarter away from passing the road train, a huge hump appeared on the edge of the shoulder, a blasted drainage gully that the dust swirled up by the road train had obscured. I slowed but still hit it at speed. Up and over we went with the load and fellas on the back bounced around. Danger barked, shouts of dismay and Henry with me in the front woke from his snooze looked back and “oh-ho jingiles, lucky one, Murra Hook. They all there still” was all he said. We barrelled on and made to pass the road train again. The truckie congratulated us with the road train horn blaring. “More better I drive ilta” (true questioningly) Henry said. So he took over at the Papunya turn off. Had Henry been driving he would have seen the bump long before I did and we drove on into the night without incident to camp at the halfway point west of Mt Liebig.

On the way the next day we found Freddy West and his family of six camped 100 km before Kiwirrkurra at the Moying Bore near Tjiterong. They were there as an expression of his eagerness to move to Kiwirrkurra, his traditional land. He waved us over, offering a billy of warm sweet tea and put his son Nicholas on board telling him ‘work karriantjku’ (go work with them). Nicholas had been in a lot of trouble sniffing petrol, breaking into places at Kintore – his ability with locks astonished everyone for a child with zero formal education.

On arrival our Kiwirrkurra camp appeared pretty much as we had left it, though the Vinnie’s bag of clothes had been dragged about. “Lotta myall dog been here”, Charlie reckoned and there was much discussion about tracks the crew saw as they gave the place the once over and the first timers showed elation at being on ancestral ground, old hands pointing to and naming places near and distant.

Danger, the dog, got a good sniff of some scent and bolted off not to be seen again till dark. I took a quick shower and said to Henry “you’re next” as well as suggesting to Charlie that since he had been sitting next to Henry for two days he would do well to have one too. I dried off beside the fire as the crew had started. I got out the scabies oil for Henry. As Aboriginals do, he showers with his clothes on. Whether he was shy or just efficient I didn’t bother to ask but handed him fresh clothes from the Vinnie’s bag.

August was perfect work weather. After about two weeks we were well into the job with the four 1x2sq metre-footing holes for the windmill tower legs dug with crowbar and shovel. The John Deer tractor had a bucket and ripper, good for pipeline trenching, and a trailer for carting water and aggregate but without a backhoe for deep holes. The fairly soft soil of Kiwirrkurra made digging easier, which was one of the reasons for choosing the place, so the proper job pit dunny was finished in three days. It was a design called the Blair Ventilated Pit Toilet, shown to me by Steve Pattman at the Centre for Appropriate Technology.

To briefly describe it, a 2 x 2 meter mesh reinforced concrete slab is poured with an off centre “crap hole”, another near the edge for a vent pipe and left to set while the hole is dug 1.8 metres or more deep. The slab is dragged over the hole and the shelter fastened to it with the vent pipe painted dark running up the exterior of the sunny sidewall. An insect mesh cap goes on top of the vent pipe. The dunny building has a hall type entrance to darken the inside so that when you look down into the “crap hole” there’s a circle of light on the bottom of the pit from the vent pipe. Any flies that enter invariably seek the light to leave and drawn by the draft up the sun warmed vent pipe, get stopped at the mesh. Walla! An odourless fly trap and having a proper dunny was a treat for in two years work at Kintore I had to do with a shallow trench – there was always too much to do and the quartz rock subsoil would have been a very hard dunny pit to dig.

We did not listen to the radio so the outside world mattered little. We worked every day and no one bothered with the time or names of days. Sometimes in the evening we turned on the Codan SSB radio tuned into a frequency used by locals, so that the crew would have great fun telling other clans away of the new place they were building. I heard amazing tales of doings in life out there in the days they laughingly called ‘before trouser time’. They would mix up dreaming stories with actual ones and I gave up asking ‘ilta’ (true) ‘did it really happen’ after realising they were often unsure themselves of what was myth and what wasn’t. The young fellas liked to hear Henry’s take on things and looking at the moon one night he asked me to confirm the moon trips “Tjpangarti (my skin name) true int it, some white fella been longa moon, been leave house and car there too”. We cooked and ate together. A coil of black one-inch pipe on the roof of the half walled shed we had built gave us the luxury of warm showers. It pleased me to see the crew (except for Charlie) use them fully dressed so body and clothes got washed in one go. Bathing was not an option for desert people and living around a fire tends to cure or cover their bodies with smoke.

The missing Horse

One reads brochures about Slovenia and they all say you can get horse and foal meat in some of the restaurants. Intriguing, I thought.

Slovenia is a tiny country nestling between Croatia, Italy and Austria, with the Alps forming a crescentic barrier in the north. In the south, Slovenia has a narrow coastline on the Adriatic Sea, with Trieste nearby.

We travelled to Slovenia by car from Venice headed for Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. We were told to get a vinjete before the border. This is the only way to pay the road toll in Slovenia (15 euros for a week). We were warned that the Slovenian police wait just across the border, and the fine for not having the vinjete is substantial, 300 euros.

Otherwise the passage across the border is seamless. One moment the signs are in Italian, the next in Slovene – transition from the Romantic to the Slavic.

However we are travelling in a more north-easterly direction towards the capital of Slovenia. Ljubljana is a trap for the new arrival because of its central hill; the tunnel through it, the shortcut to the north but not to the city centre, can fool even the GPS. Ljubljana is one tricky place to navigate, to coin a phrase.

The Antiq Palace Hotel turns out to be a rambling allegedly 16th century building. We are piloted to the room up stairs, via a lift, along a series of corridors bending and twisting until we are on a landing overlooking an internal courtyard. Here we are greeted with music, its source unseen. There is singing, then a horn; a violin struggling to escape; a cacophony of variable quality. Apparently there is a music school in the building on the other side of the courtyard.

The room turns out to be a suite. There is a huge dining room, a lounge area, a bedroom and a bathroom dominated by a huge spa bath. Over the bed in this white painted room was a painting which seemed to indicate that if you had difficulty with nightmares this would ensure you would get one – a weird sylvan scene.

The centre of Ljubljana has been preserved in its pre-World War One architectural attire. Its Austro-Hungarian past is evident in the two-storey houses with gabled roofs, stuccoed walls and large windows lining Ljubljanica River. One early evening when the sky was still blue and the streetlights were lit, you could be forgiven for thinking that this city was the inspiration for Magritte’s series of Dominion of Light paintings.

The problem with the food started on the first night after a meal of kranski and sauerkraut. Whether it was that or a roll I had earlier bought from a motorway food barn, I had a generous bout of food poisoning. I could not blame the horse. My first day in Slovenia thus was spent recovering, but she roamed the streets far and wide, photographing the Triple bridge and beyond.

The narrow Ključavničarska (The Locksmith) Street in the medieval part of the town, connecting Cankarjevo nabrežje (Cankar Quay) with the Mestni Trg (Town Square), contained a surprise. The central gutter was full of bronze heads about the size of billiard balls, most looking at you, as the water trickles over them. Oddball does not do them justice. These are the work of Jacov Brdar, whose work is scattered around the city. It has a Tolkien feel – with the heads looking like members of the Gollum family. They are featured above in the heading of this Blog.

In many ways, walking from bridge to bridge is a reminder of walking along the Seine in Paris, but without the cars streaking alongside.

Ljubljana and the Ljubljanica River

The river lies just down the hill from the Antiq Hotel and acts as a magnet – so much so that until the last day we did not use the green coloured electric cars, which circle the inner city and are reserved for the disabled and the elderly and their carers. They are called “cavalier”, the name being adapted from the Slovenian for “gentleman”.

On our last night in Ljubljana we used the transport to a traditional restaurant on the outskirts of the old city – the Taverna Tatyana. It was away from the tourists and the bar was full of locals quaffing their beer. It was all brown beams and low ceilings and homely hosts, who spoke passable English. It allegedly had horse and foal on the menu. Not so. Instead they provided a Dalmatian stew and grilled pork with wild mushrooms and after the main course, the magnificent strudel. Slovenian wine is a cheap and good accompaniment as is the complimentary glass of the local honey brandy called medica.

The electric car was there promptly to take us back to the hotel – I wished I had used it more given that my ability to walk was limited –no longer able to roam far and wide. However, the bridge near the hotel was always a site of “a happening” – tonight there was a pumpkin-shaped carriage, which fitted in well with this fairy tale backdrop.

On another night the bridge provided the dance floor for a group of young people elegantly executing the tango. We watched the precisely executed movements while sitting on a granite bench, consuming a cornet of freshly roasted chestnuts.

Yet for all these fairy tale qualities, Ljubljana is a university city. Those walking past are predominantly young and fashionable. The restaurant in the riverfront, overflowing with young people, labelled itself Mexican but the food was “pancake parlour” and the service was poor; yet nobody seemed to care as they oscillated between conversation and iPhone – or just sat, concentrating on their screens, tapping away ensuring future thumb disorders as they decoded life.

The lack of transport and reliance on foot and bicycles accentuates that this is a place for youth. The elderly lady dressed all in white struggling with her bicycle was an exception. She stood out in this world where it was the young who cycled.

We did travel elsewhere – but a full description of our “Cook’s Tour” could well become a Clog. But not a sign of horse on the menu.

When I asked my adviser on Slovenian food about the “missing horse”, he looked at me and asked me whether we had gone to the Tivoli Gardens as he had suggested. Apparently horse burgers are available in the Tivoli Gardens – at least I can confront my vegetarian friends with somewhat of a clear conscience.

But as for the survival of Slovenia, a tiny remnant of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which survived Tito and the break up of Yugoslavia with which it, I am reminded of what that wise observer of human nature, whose writing appears above, Charlie McMahon has said about small countries and survival of language: “Learning a language from a culture where the core practices are gone is really only good for that.” The Slovenes have never let their culture be destroyed, and hence they have a vibrant language with all the blossoms that that will bring.

Still, there is this matter of konjsko meso. 

Mouse Whisper

To further annoy the occasional reader of a vegan persuasion, overheard in a restaurant in Swakopmund in Namibia, after perusing the menu she was heard to say, “I think I’ll try the zebra.”

Not a laughing matter …

To which the waiter impeccably replied ‘Black or white stripes, madam?”

No, it was not an exchange of hoarse whispers, but in fact it was true, (with apologies to Mr Brydon).

Modest Expectations – Hole

In the blog two weeks ago, Neil Baird, and in this week’s Chris Brook have indirectly or directly alluded to self-sufficiency. With the advance of globalisation the need for self-sufficiency seemed not to be so important. The supply chains were efficient, and it may be argued that they remain so. However, the rise of nationalism and the belligerent rhetoric accompanying this surge have made a number of those multi-national corporations worried if you believe The Economist. Apparently, so it goes, most multi-national corporations found that they did not know who supplies the supplier to their supplier; and so it is conceivable that on distant shores there is a vendor who cannot or will not fulfill its obligations. When the supply chain works, as Brook as shown with blood, the tendency is to take it for granted – nothing will change – let’s move on.

However, this quote from The Economist is salutary: “In the wake of the Japanese tsunami in 2011 a global semiconductor giant tried to map its vulnerabilities to third and fourth tier vendors; it took a team of 100 executives more than a year to work out which firms were in its extended supplier networks.” Presumably this would not happen now if Silicon Valley were hit with a massive earthquake – or Seattle for that matter.

Apart from natural disaster, borders are going up everywhere yet we still depend on the integrity of the supply chains.

Meanwhile back at Parliamentary St Andrews, they chortle over their wonderful use of the wedge, the bluntness of the mashie and the judicious use of the constitutional niblick, while along the course the clouds are gathering. 

Blood

 Brook recounts his Success Story

I first got involved in the organisation and management of blood (and then blood products) in 1988 when I was appointed as Victoria’s youngest Chief Medical Officer.

Then every State has its own separate blood service which, although under the umbrella of the Red Cross, could and did have differences in approach, even donor deferral. This could create problems and these were not resolved until the early 2000s. 

Most of the big concerns at that time were about fresh cellular products, including adequacy of supply, in a system where only a tiny minority of the population are donors, predominantly white and “Anglo”. This has not changed. There are many cultural and even religious reasons for this, but it remains a big problem.

In my early stewardship, I was confronted by the HIV scourge and subsequently the rise of Hepatitis C infection in the blood supply.

Preventing their transmission through transfusion was urgently needed and for people with haemophilia the risks were multiplied due to pooling of plasma used to fractionate into products like haemostatic factors and fractionated plasma products like Immunoglobulin. The number of deaths of those with haemophilia due to contaminated products resulted in a drive to eliminate this spectre. 

It is difficult for people who were not there to understand the horrors of the HIV / AIDS era in the 1980s, before adequate testing and treatment. Australia’s response is regarded as a world leader, thanks to Neal Blewett, then Commonwealth Health Minister, whose government funding provided a systemic health response, community programs and research.

The Hepatitis C virus was not even identified at the time – it was suspected to be a new virus, but was known only as “Non A – Non B” hepatitis. Its subsequent devastating long-term effects were then unknown.

Universal testing for HIV was introduced and Hepatitis C antibody testing came later. There were also stringent rules for a person to be accepted as a blood donor thus assuring safety of the supply.

Problems in product supply and clinical usage became evident in the early 1990s. Australia’s blood and plasma product supply was considered to be largely self sufficient, in reality markedly sub-optimal plasma product use was masked, and overuse and wastage of red cells needed to be addressed.

The States and the Commonwealth jointly funded state-based Blood Transfusion Services on a 60:40 basis and the Commonwealth government at that time funded the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL). CSL did not fractionate some products from Australian plasma due to low volumes and large cost; and while there was funding for some imported products, like purified Factor VIII, the arrangements are best described as chaotic which led to perverse outcomes.

For example, haemophilia was treated only “on demand”, only at the time of a bleeding (often into a joint); and even then the treatment might comprise cryoprecipitate (a form of clotting factor soup)  or even fresh frozen plasma , as these products were “free” being available from CSL, whereas purified  Factor VIII was not and was thus a significant cost to the hospital.

So not only did a generation of young people with haemophilia suffer HIV and Hepatitis C, those who survived grew into adulthood with not only often severely damaged joints but also with repeated painful hospitalisations.

In 1994 CSL was privatised and as a successful case study in the benefits of privatisation when properly enacted CSL Pty Ltd has gone on to become the largest plasma fractionator in the world – a stunning achievement.

In the same year, with support of the then Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, I chaired a Working Party to look at Factor VIII in young people with haemophilia. Best practice meant prophylactic daily treatment with purified Factor VIII to prevent bleeding. 

This prophylactic treatment actually reduced hospitalisations, far better adult functional outcomes were achieved, and lives transformed from one of disability to one of approaching normality.

Then imported recombinant Factor VIII became widely available for the treatment for Haemophilia A and other bleeding disorders.

In 1996, I participated in the Red Cross amalgamation of all of the State blood transfusion services into a single national Australian Red Cross Blood Service (ARCBS).

In 1999, the then Commonwealth Minister for Health, Dr Michael Wooldridge, commissioned an enquiry into blood and blood product arrangements in Australia, chaired by Sir Ninian Stephen. Its 2001 report still reads well.

The most important recommendation was to create a National Blood Authority (NBA) to assume all supply planning and purchasing on behalf of all Jurisdictions (including the Commonwealth), using common pricing, and clear jurisdictional agreements.

The design of the NBA included the influential Jurisdictional Blood Committee (JBC), which reflected my belief that overcoming some of the problems of Federation can only be achieved by well functioning cross jurisdictional bodies, a lesson I learned as Chair of the Intergovernmental Committee on AIDS when the initial HIV / AIDS Strategy was devised and which incidentally informed the structure of the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality Health Care. 

During this time I was also the Chair of the AHMAC Blood and Blood Products Committee and remained so until the National Blood Authority creation in 2003.

In 2004 all recombinant clotting factors were funded by the Commonwealth government.

The NBA has performed to above expectations. It is a small agency with around 50 staff and I remain on its Advisory Board.

The NBA has contracts with CSL and with suppliers of imported haemostatic factors. ARCBS is funded by NBA on a product pricing basis for each State and reconciled annually. All products are funded jointly by the Commonwealth and States on an agreed 63:37 split with annual supply plan for each jurisdiction agreed by COAG Health Council.

There are excellent information systems allowing NBA to track fresh product issues and usage, plasma products, and haemostatic factors.

There are guidelines for usage of Immunoglobulin (Ig) and haemostatic factors, and a major blood usage (Blood Matters) program with all jurisdictions having vigilance programs to identify appropriate use and risk. 

In conclusion, Australia is well organised and managed in relation to the availability and supply of blood products.

Red cells are no longer the demand driver. Red cell use is declining as better education and usage monitoring occurs , along with reduction in waste.

Haemostatic products are now predominantly synthetic recombinants. This a great advance, given the tragedies with plasma-derived products in the past as occurred with both boys and men with haemophilia. 

Having said this, demand is now driven by the Ig requirement, which has ever-wider uses but is currently unable to be synthesised. This is not a insurmountable problem, but I also believe some of its uses will be replaced by specific antibody drugs in the future.  

Australia is one of the highest users of Ig, along with the US and Canada, but have long since needed to import Ig. Now imported, Ig is the majority source and costing much less than domestic supply.

Ig usage in Australia, whilst high, is not inappropriate and countries currently with lower usage rates will rapidly catch up – with all kinds of global consequences for its supply. 

Australia can boost domestic supply, but currently at relatively high cost, yet a cost-effective local supply should be pursued given the uncertainty of the global supply.

However, there are three matters that should form the basis of any ongoing review – just because, “it ain’t broke”, does not mean that it could still be improved. 

First, Australia is committed to at least try to achieve self-sufficiency, with minimal waste. We are self sufficient in cellular products, but arguably this should apply also to plasma products, which should this country aim to be?

Second, blood and domestic plasma collection is a totally conducted by ARCBS. The Blood Service is not a charity funded by the Red Cross, but a multi hundred million dollar government funded business, as it should be to assure the community of its efficacy. Should the community know this? 

Third, the ARCBS is trying to increase plasma-only donations but even so, our model has a higher cost structure. As a result Australia uses products from the USA and Germany, which generate the majority of global plasma products. These countries remunerate the donors. Australia is legally committed to a voluntary donation model, and the government would be loath to change. But should it at least be looked at?

Blood is too important a part of the health system not to always be in the forefront of policy considerations, especially when biosecurity and self-sufficiency are on the agenda.

Beware the unintended consequences, my friend

We returned to Australia through Darwin and as always, it is difficult to resist the two-bottle duty free concession. However bottles become heavier as we, not the bottles, age – or else seem to! I am disabled because of an intercurrent autoimmune disease, requiring a wheelchair at the airport. We had to board a flight to Sydney. My companion had recently had a heart attack, and though well enough to travel needs some assistance with luggage.

Thus we have the curious experience of the commissionaire, the name for the wheelchair pusher, being able to place my small bag and two of the four bottles in the overhead luggage compartment.

My companion had gone on ahead, and I was presented with the unedifying spectacle of a young female flight attendant standing by while my elderly companion, who had a recent heart attack, struggled to place her items in the overhead locker.

This spectacle was further compounded by the fact that we had been allocated business seats in row one. In the front row, all bags –including handbags and toiletry bags with necessary medication –must be off the floor. In other words at some time in the flight, bags must be taken down and in a full flight this means moving bags around in the overhead locker often, a strenuous manoeuvre if the passenger is disabled.

Apparently there is some recent ruling that prevents the flight attendant helping with placing luggage in a overhead container. We had not brought on portmanteaux, which for some reason the airline allows people to do. Rather the airline insists that the flight attendants stand back and not help. When I protested, I was put firmly back in my box, old man … them’s the rules.

The problem with rules is that there are those flight attendants with common sense and those without. A rule does not have a brain to distinguish one from another. I would suggest to the airline to stop people bringing on huge cases, and that when people are placed in bulkhead or exit rows, which require all baggage to be off the floor, to exert a bit of common sense. And if they cannot, defer to somebody who can.

Finally, I would say I have been disabled for six years and the problem with airport terminals is they are getting larger, and the demands on disabled services is not getting any less. I have been able to observe many cases where there has been no obvious reason for a wheelchair except it seems culturally important to have your mother when she gets to late middle-aged to be wheeled around the airport. So the task is not getting any easier when you also have to deal with a sense of entitlement as well as disability.

Mouse Whisper

What did you mean by “He met her in abasement” or should it have read “He met her in a basement”? Might be the same. Nevertheless, it put me in mind of the time when I was the MP (mouse parliamentarian) for Mousehole. I sent a stern letter to a PS (parliamentary skunk) where I meant to write that his action was “imprudent” but somewhere along the way, the “r” was dropped. Created quite a stink!

Mousehole

Modest expectations – Pale Waves

One thing I seem to have missed as I have aged is the music revolution. Last week in Melbourne there were all these people in red dancing around in a park – something to do with Kate Bush, in red, outside a window singing about “Wuthering Heights”. My appreciation of music is limited by the fact that in its creation, playing and singing I am completely talentless. However, I understand that there is a very popular band called Pale Waves, an Indie-band with a lead singer called Heather who has one of the voices that would divide a mosh pit like the Red Sea. They sing:

I was eighteen when I met you

Poured my heart out, spilt all my truth

I finally felt like I could feel for the first time

When I met you.

The video is dark and moody with more than a hint of sex but with all the “on the road” clichés pasted along its way.

Now my era danced to Chuck Berry’s “Sweet little Sixteen” – bit of poetic licence in the age difference, but it is all about being young, which is the root of nostalgia. The Beach Boys pinched the tune for “Surfin’ USA”.

Sweet Little Sixteen

She’s just got to have

About half a million

Framed autographs

Her wallet’s filled with pictures

She gets ’em one by one

She gets so excited

Watch her look at her run

Berry was a genius. The singer from Indie Pop group, Pale Waves may turn out to be one as well. I saw Chuck Berry perform in the twilight of his career in a basement in St Louis. We were the ageing mosh pit; it was one of our most memorable experiences.

Chuck Berry

I missed the Pale Waves when they were here in 2018, but perhaps they will roll in again.

Fanfare for the Common Man

I am not an American citizen, however for what it is worth, I have an alternative view of the USA to that of its President.

I have friends in Lubec, on the Canadian border in Maine. Across the water in Canada is Campobello Island, which is synonymous with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt smiled; he exuded optimism. He was also a cripple, struck down by the poliovirus one morning on this most beautiful of islands. Yet he strove for his own independence and courage.

I come from a country where to bare arms is to get down to work with my fellow citizens. I have never seen a gun except sleeping in a rack. Maybe I am careful, but the myths of the NRA are powerful, like those of Washington Irving. The story goes … it’s the guns that kill, not people. Guns must therefore awake, get off the rack, stretch their barrels, and discharge a thousand bullets before breakfast. People are killed but guns remain the same.

I live a country where there is no gun culture comparable to that of the United States and yet our major commemoration is a World War One disaster at Gallipoli and our national day is called by some “Invasion Day,” when Great Britain dumped a bunch of their unwanted – convicts and marines – in a desolate place called Botany Bay in 1788. Despite its apparent vigour, this is a country rooted in pessimism.

America’s national day celebrates something more than putting a British foot on a distant shore.

Australia has a dirge for a national anthem. America’s anthem was forged as the smoke from the British bombardment of Fort McHenry cleared in 1814 and the American flag was still flying. Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Today Fort McHenry is one of only two places in the United States where the 1814 fifteen-star flag still flies. The other is at the end of the Oregon Trail.

I love my country. I have travelled all over my own country.

But then I have also been privileged to roam the United States too. I have sponsored musk oxen called Amethyst and Pixie Stix in that Folly, Alaska. I have sat in the San Franciscan courtyard and then written about the early days and aspirations of Genentech before Silicon Valley arrived to crush the city. I have eaten king salmon in Salem, Oregon, and crab in Sabine Pass, Texas – both sublime experiences. I have stood at the doors of that miracle of Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic. I have gazed at Mount Rushmore and know now why those four presidents were carved. I have wept at Shiloh. I have stood in the wheel ruts of the Oregon Trail in Douglas, Wyoming. I have joined in a march to the Tenderloin on January 15. I have worshipped in the bitterly cold of the outdoor Navajo Mass in Santa Fe at Christmas. And so on … identifying something extraordinary in all the 50 States I have visited, not to mention Puerto Rico.

However, I am white and while there was a certain exhilaration of being part of a January 15 homage to the life of Martin Luther King, I have had another far different experience of turning a corner in the national capital from a gentrified brown stone street, to find that I seemed to be the only white person in the street. Not even an Officer Krupke. I did not turn; I walked briskly making no eye contact yet experienced the tension of being alone in a very foreign country, well outside my comfort zone. I walked the block, before turning into another zone of brownstone gentrification.

I have money; I do not have to panhandle; I have a bed to go to every night. I do not have a child in a cage on the Mexican border. I know where my children and, for that matter, my grand children are.

Now, my luggage did vanish forever at Los Angeles Airport. I still had money and passport, but trying to find a suit of clothes in downtown Washington was a challenge. In the end a modified “zoot suit” made me feel very foreign.

Only once have I had to use the American health system. I quarantine myself by taking out very expensive travel insurance. I am able to do so. My actual experience with the health system came one day after I had run in the Annual Bay to Breakers fun run in San Francisco, a novel way to see that city. I developed a dental abscess, but as I had to fly to Orlando taking a day to get there with only aspirin and bicillin which did nothing. Hence when I arrived late into Orlando, I experienced probably my worst night in pain. I sat up all night watching the wrestling on TV and in the morning the organiser of the conference, seeing that I had a face the shape of an angry balloon, took me to an endodontist who immediately drained the abscess without requiring me losing any teeth. I had immediate relief from the pain.

The United States in all its diversity, both good and bad, has been my energiser from the first time I went there. But I am and have been a privileged observer able to see the sights and yet travelling around its less well-known parts without a gun being poked in my face.

Even in adversity, America has always exuded optimism, and on my latest visit it was no different. But that was almost two years ago.

Make America great again!

What crap!

America remains Great despite all its warts. The only problem is that the USA has a President who wants to make America Hate.

He wants Americans to lose their Smile, to lose their Optimism; to lose the meaning of the fourth of July.

Such a pity!

Twenty years has passed

Let me start with a quote:

“… there is no substitute for a careful and painstaking history and a meticulous physical examination. This is the cornerstone of medical practice…”

This came from a 1977 article by Lou Ariotti – it is clear; it is not infested with jargon. It says it all. It is applicable across all health practice.

Lou Ariotti was the real deal in Charleville for many years and some of what he did with limited resources was remarkable. Initially, there were no beds in the hospital. So he taught the families how to look after the sick in the home, taught them simple procedures. There were inadequate facilities at the hospital; so he set up the forerunner of the day surgery in his premises.

However, very tellingly he stated that he got his inspiration from the Mayo Brothers who trekked out from Chicago as young medical graduates into the Minnesota wilderness – and today we have the Mayo Clinic.

Charles and William Mayo

What the Mayos demonstrated was that you can move intellectual capital to remote areas, but you have to have succession planning. As I have said many times, the doctor in the bush faces inter alia social dislocation and professional isolation.

Yet that world of the Mayo Brothers and Lou Ariotti was the world of the individual. The difference between the Mayos and Lou was that the Mayos left a legacy and Lou Ariotti a memory. Lou made sure the Queensland Premier provided him with a large hospital, but as you know monuments are just that. He may have admired the Mayo Brothers, and while he left an adequate health service – his legacy was the memory of himself, the man rather than memory of Charleville itself being a centre of medical excellence.

After all, we are still digging up parts of the ruins of ancient Roman monuments, but the Vatican on the same site as Ancient Rome has learned the trick about matching monument retention to succession planning.

This was written last year for the commemoration of the first 20 years of the Mount Isa University Department of Rural Health, part of the successful endeavour to move the education of medical and other allied professionals to universities of rural health and rural clinical schools. In my last blog, I questioned the glacial progress of the review of the MBS. Having been closely involved in the introduction of the rural clinical schools, it is disappointing to read that the Rural Health Commissioner, in a recent article, can only conclude by saying “a nationalist rural generalist pathway is good for rural communities” Appointed two years ago in 2017, it has taken him two years to say that! Oh, I forget, there are the inevitable diagrams. 

But at least he will have a huge number of happy snaps to remember where he went over the past two years as the rural Bill Peach. 

Seriously are these reviews going anywhere? Now there is talk of the Health Minister ordering a heath of private health insurance review. Hopefully, Minister, the deadline will be somewhat tighter than the ongoing ones. Show the community how they are influencing health policy or are they just an elaborate way of doing nothing while re-arranging the flowerpots on the window sill?

Mouse Whisper

I remember when the song “Diana” was released in 1957, and the sensational fact at the time was that Paul Anka was the 15 year old song writer as well as the singer.

The story goes that Diana was an older kid who used to look after Paul when he was a child. Paul had a kiddy-crush on her with less than enthusiastic response on her part. There was about a three-year difference. Years later, after the song went to Numero Uno on the charts and he was a star, she suddenly showed up saying, “Take me! I’m yours!” to which he gently replied, “Sorry, our time is past.”

But she still had Diana!

Modest expectations – Chlorine

I am indebted to Stephen Zifcak and the Menadue blog for this quote:

“If I were a journalist, these and other related developments cumulatively would be causing me very considerable alarm. Recently, in response, the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom has produced a report on the state of press freedom in Australia (Press Freedom in Australia, White Paper, May 2019). It describes the progressive erosion of that freedom. The report argues for the enactment of a Media Freedom Act. The purpose of the Act would be to enshrine the principle of press freedom in law.

 The Act would recognise the fundamental importance of national security and the protection of the Commonwealth’s intelligence and law enforcement activity while providing for the fundamental right of journalists to investigate and report on government corruption, surveillance and misconduct in public office. The report’s recommendations are not without legal difficulties. Nevertheless, it provides a sound starting point for a debate that goes to the heart of the Australian democracy.”

I would have thought that this is a call for the media in the jargon of today to weaponise itself. The head of this Alliance is Peter Greste, and as the face of the caring yet resolute person, there is none better.

The Alliance has a Chief Executive Officer who has been recently appointed. Olivia Pirie-Williams has a record as an activist and her poems reflect her deep affection for our planet. Her first target in January this year was the release of the two Burmese journalists employed by Reuters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They were released from prison in May.

The Alliance seems to have powerful friends and as such should consider running candidates at the next federal elections, targeting electorates in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. They are the potential spine of a centrist party, where the various freedoms of speech and association are protected; and where the enemy is defined as the trump-sucking, authoritarian, rent-seeking mercantilist.

The problem with the Independent is that they have no future. They can stay around a long time like Andrew Wilkie, but unless the seat is turned into a dynastic satrap as the Katter family has made Kennedy, he will eventually become a footnote in history, a nameplate on a wall in the Royal Hobart hospital.

The way the seat of Indi has been “transferred” indicates that succession planning for Independents is possible and what has been done in Indi may be a blue print. Catherine McGowan may be the centrist required for setting up such a party.

In the end the problem is that Independents are generally rounded up. The least line of surrender coupled with seduction of the perks of office means joining the party most likely to retain the electorate, thus goes the independent back into the authoritarian fold. South Australia like Tasmania has a history of independent thought, but who remembers Steele Hall – and his legacy? Even NSW – but who remembers Ted Mack?

From my experience of journalists and politicians, their personalities are complementary – they like to tell people what to do. Press secretaries in politicians’ offices generally come from the fourth estate in a revolving door. Some go further, as Deakin, Curtin and maybe Abbott have done federally and Carr and Rann at State level.

Therefore the Alliance has the opportunity to form a centrist party, provide an umbrella for the current Independents and target vulnerable seats in the cities – and you never know. Greste has the personality honed by mental if not physical agony, where the right wing trolls would try and destroy, but I am sure he would have studied the Trumpian playbook on John McCain’s reputation.

A perfect time to review defence capital expenditure (Capex) 

Neil Baird comments …

With the elimination of Chris Pyne, Australia is presented with an excellent opportunity to make a comprehensive review of our defence priorities. Pyne’s apparently more realistic successor, Senator Linda Reynolds, should grasp that opportunity.

In real terms, all the major Navy and the Air Force Capex projects have barely started and, in many cases, are decades away from completion. They could sensibly and relatively economically be paused, if not cancelled, while Australia takes a breather and re-thinks our requirements, priorities and most importantly, what we can afford.

Many of the ship, submarine, aircraft and weapon system purchases are scheduled so far into the future to be almost certainly obsolete long before their delivery date. They will undoubtedly cost a not inconsiderable $200 billion or more and be delivered years later than the already ridiculous 30 years that have been signed off by then Minister Pyne, his generals, admirals, senior bureaucrats and their American advisers.

Too many of the projects were ill-conceived for reasons more related to South Australian than National warfare. Minister Pyne may well have been a great representative of South Australia but he was wasteful of national taxpayer funds during his parliamentary career. Now, since he abandoned Parliament, apparently thinking that the Coalition Government was “a sinking ship”, he is seeking a new career as a defence industry lobbyist. That will only add insult to severe fiscal and defence readiness injury. Thus, the current orders for submarines and F35 aircraft, among others, could well be stayed if not totally scrubbed.

The nature of modern warfare and its weapon systems is changing dramatically and rapidly. The Americans are spending vast sums of money on unmanned systems for land, sea and air warfare. What Australia could learn from the Americans is more about unmanned technology, as Israel is doing; Australia should be rapidly developing its own. For example, the Boeing Aircraft Corp is developing an unmanned submarine that could well be appropriate for the shallow seas to our north. The Americans are also very advanced with the development of unmanned aircraft, including helicopters.

China has openly declared that America and Japan are its biggest worry and is continuing to battle with them. China has examined American weaknesses and is developing comparatively economical weaponry to exploit them. Ironically, the platforms for some of their best fast assault boats capable of launching long-range hypersonic cruise missiles were designed in Sydney. The Chinese (PLA) Navy has more than 100 of these vessels each carrying eight missiles. Their role is to “take out” American nuclear aircraft carriers.

By contrast, the Royal Australian Navy has none.

The Australian “Defence establishment” suffers from a considerable cultural cringe. For instance, it seems to believe that Australian designs and innovation are generally worthless. Some unkindly suggest the acquisition of frequent flyer points influences Defence purchasing decisions – but surely not!

Nevertheless much of the Defence Capex is invariably purchased offshore. It is then, too often, married incompatibly to being constructed locally. It is no wonder that local shipbuilders, except for the inefficient government-owned ASC, shun dealing with the Australian government, despite the local connection with the abovementioned Chinese missile boats.

This point is worth reiteration, because it is usually forgotten by Government. Australia is a world leader in the design and construction of very effective and efficient fast craft, including large and small patrol assault boats and fast logistics support ships.

While they had little choice, China has taken a practical “clean sheet” approach to the choices of weaponry and doctrine. Australia should follow their example, as it has its own unique cultural and geographic advantages and disadvantages, rather than blindly be following the USA and other ostensible allies. In the end Australia may be very much on its own. After all, who would USA side with if Japan were to go mad again and attack us? Japan has done it before. As far as trade is concerned, it could be argued that Japan is far more important to America than Australia is. We should prepare for all contingencies.

We could learn a lot from a closer study of China’s defence plans and practices. Its Maritime Militia should inspire Australia to look at this inexpensive option for our fishing and offshore service fleets as well as state government owned patrol boats. Unlike China, Australia has virtually no Merchant Navy and the few domestic cargo vessels Australia does have could be much more effectively integrated. The CFMMEU, of which the Maritime Union of Australia is a small but important component, should be eliminated or drastically reformed. That is the only way that local shipowners might be encouraged to invest in coastal cargo shipping which is imperative for defence.

Australia should also be very carefully re-considering our aversion to nuclear power and weaponry, but nevertheless should be developing a substantial cadre of nuclear engineers and other experts.

Australia constructs no diesel engines. As most warships, submarines, tanks and other land vehicles are diesel powered, Australia should be developing the capacity to build a wide range of them here. There is an existing global system for building diesel engines under licence to leading manufacturers. Australia should involve itself in that system as soon as possible.

Similarly, Australia refines almost no diesel and jet fuel in Australia. Most of our diesel is imported from Singapore. Australia has tiny reserves and should be encouraging industry to develop at least one diesel and jet fuel refinery in each state plus a couple more in the north.

China is also constructing much longer-range fighter-bombers than their American equivalents. They are also being fitted with long-range hypersonic cruise missiles to further extend their effectiveness. The cost of all these is dramatically less than for their American counterparts.

The effectiveness of the Russian Buk missiles recently used to down the Malaysian Airlines aircraft over the Ukraine should be heeded, despite the tragic connotation to many. Such truck-mounted weapons could be spread all round our northern coastline. They would be much cheaper to position than using ships or aircraft.

There is so much that we could do better, more logically and more economically. We should remove the focus on welfare from defence planning. The favouritism for South Australia has to go. If something can be built better in that state than elsewhere, fine, but otherwise, it should be built where Australia can obtain the best deal, not to provide jobs for redundant car workers. A fundamental thus should be that the review be a truly national project and not one that favours any one geographic region.

With the re-election of the Scott Morrison government, now is the perfect time to re-think our defence priorities. However let us “leaven” the defence establishment “experts”, its generals, admirals, air marshals and bureaucrats seasoned by academics with some practical business people, among them ship builders, naval architects, aircraft manufacturers, electronics experts, petroleum refiners.

Otherwise, Australia is doomed to repeat past mistakes. The Defence Department decision-making will continue to be slow and an ineffective, expensive millstone around our national neck. Our current purchases will inevitably be delivered so late that much of the equipment will be obsolete before it sees service. Senator Reynolds, as a senior Army Reserve officer, should be aware of the many defects of the current Defence Capex arrangements. It is up to her to ring the changes.

Neil Baird PhD is non-executive Chairman of Baird Maritime, a leading global maritime trade publisher. Neil has expert knowledge on fatal ferry accidents, their causes and how to prevent them. He is a former chairman of the World Ocean Council and the Australian Marine Environment Protection Association; a director of the Australian Shipbuilders Association; a member of the Domestic Ferry Safety Committee of INTERFERRY, the international association of ferry owners; and co-convenor of that organisation’s FerrySafe programme, sponsored by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

The Christie syndrome

Some may think Winston Churchill was an undischarged maverick. However, he recognised one principle of politics, for whatever else he did, he could be forgiven.

He refused to appease the tyrant.

He refused to appease Hitler. He realised that you cannot appease tyrants – especially those so self-absorbed they believe in their own infallibility. The only outcome was unconditional surrender, which Hitler helped by committing suicide. Whatever Churchill had done before in his long public and chequered career could be forgiven, given his resoluteness to stand up to Hitler. I am sure that he had all the pressure to make peace with Hitler, especially when the other appeared to have the upper hand.

Chris Christie was the hapless Republican Governor of New Jersey, who urged his way into heading the Trump transitional team. As he admits “He felt he could stay on the sidelines or support Trump, gain a seat at the table, and improve Trump’s behaviour”. Wrong – under the chuck wagon!

This situation has been repeated: appeasement – effusive praise – abusive humiliation – under the chuck wagon.

Theresa May tried to appease – dismissed.

Sir Keith Darroch trying to smooth the Trump visit to meet the Queen – a very stupid guy.

The British government has quite a record of cuddling up to dictators. For instance, Mussolini was given the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1923 from King George V and, more recently, the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu got a gong.

So much for appeasement. But the saving grace, which probably burns within the Trump brain was he was not accorded a peerage on his recent trip, or at least an Order of the Garter, given his self-confessed love of women.

Fast forward to Boris Johnson. He is already a Halifax rather than the Winston Churchill he blusters to be. He will be tossed aside unless he does exactly what Trump wants him to do – apparently destruction of the European Union with his peculiar enhancement of the Putin connection. My only parenthetic comment is that I hope to see this skein of history seared in our collective memory when all is revealed.

However, Boris first has to be crowned.

But irrespective of this outcome the British Isles are now held hostage to the Trump manipulations. Appease all you like, I fear that to get anywhere with the special relationship is to make him the Duke of Queens and betroth his son, Barron (the name says it all) to one of the junior royals in good ol’ mediaeval splendour in a new Trump Tower Cathedral opposite Buck House. Now that would be a deal.

However, seriously, just as with the Nobel Prize speculation which took off with help of Trumps’ publicity machine, wait for the quest for imperial decoration.

Meanwhile, Australia dangles on a thread of aluminum.

Mouse Whisper

Be careful if you approach a door in Portugal and someone says for you to push. That sound in Portuguese means that you actually should pull open the door. However, when you see the word, most of us would have difficulty recognising it as “push” – “puxe”.

On the other hand “quando empurra vem empurrar” – when “push comes to shove” – the Portuguese use the same word for each.

After all, the Portuguese very early gave us what should be our watchword: “Abre olhos!” Open your eyes!

The West Australians know it well as the Abrolhos.

 

Modest expectations – Tennessee Ernie Ford

We were having lunch at the weekend and were discussing the penalty of age and what happens when you grow old. “Yes”, he reflected. “You may have a point. Once, my phone calls were returned immediately; now it may take four days or longer.”

I immediately thought of a time I was at a function in Dubbo and a number of politicians mentioned my name in glowing terms. One guy came up to me and said he had not heard of me, but I must be influential because of the things being said about me. “No, I replied, “Influence is ephemeral – it can disappear as quickly as it appears.’’

Not that some people do not retain influence for a long time – but there is a price to pay. You have to mix with a crowd of the same types grasping at the ephemera until, like Citizen Kane, they have only “rosebud” to murmur; some don’t even have that.

The comment that summarises much of what occurs was from the defeated member of parliament who said what he noticed most was that the telephones stopped ringing. Obviously that image needs to be updated in social media terms, but it summarises the ephemeral nature of influence and the intellectual laziness that surrounds it and which is epitomised by the growth in each politician’s office of the number of consigliere.

Traditionally, the more senior the ex-pollie the more important the government sinecure away from Canberra; some ex-Ministers have became chancellors of universities all the way down the ephemeral rungs to that of teaching politics part-time. Using their retirement or ousting, some are able to undertake pro bono or voluntary work, underpinned by their generous pensions and their contacts.

The problem is that politicians over the past 40 years have become outrageously well paid, with generous perks that seem to be never-ending. However, the stories of excess are not met any more by community outrage when reported but by clamours for more of the gravy train tickets.

“Jobs for the boys” have been replaced by the scourge of “rent seeking” – essentially jobs for doing nothing while wrapped in the gossamer of influence.

The hoary excuse for such greed is “I have sacrificed so much.” To which is added the lachrymose sacrifice my family has made for my increased prancing around in the Ephemera.

To put it bluntly, a rent-seeker is just a metastasis. A cancerous excrescence away from the main tumour, but still reflecting the nature of the tumour as it destroys the framework of the body. Doing no good but draining the life from the body for a price.

Yes, a metaphor, but the metaphor is obvious. And the metastases, male and female, let’s mention no names but they know who they are.

Mr Unaipon – My modest acknowledgement of NAIDOC week

Of all the Aboriginal people, I would have most liked to have met David Unaipon.

He died when I was in my mid-twenties. I had never heard of him then.

But what had been my exposure at that time to Aboriginal people? Virtually none. I had been to the Hermansburg mission as a child and seen Albert Namatjira and Rex Batterbee, the white fella associated with encouraging Namatjira’s talent in watercolours and that of the Western Arrernte people.

I was a rabid Essendon supporter from a young age. Norm McDonald played on the half back flank for Essendon. I never thought of him being Aboriginal, a Dhauwurd Wurrung man from around Lake Condah; just a magical footballer – boy was he fast!

Then, if an Aboriginal person was mentioned with the word “footballer” it seemed always to be Doug Nicholls.

It was a world where I could have met David Unaipon but there was no $50 note to tell me he even existed.

David Unaipon died in 1967, and the closest I have got to him is his grave overlooking Lake Alexandrina, Victoria’s name before she became queen.

One of my fondest memories of when I used to go around the bush was seeing the Ngarrindjeri land near the mouth of the Murray river at Raukkan. Its Lutheran church is pictured on the $50 note. For some reason, it has some of my best memories.

One of my clearest memories of Raukkan was going into the Aboriginal office and seeing the number of portraits of their late elders lining the wall – mug shots as you would see in a whitefella boardroom. There was no concern about showing the faces or mention of the dead among the Ngarrindjeri, so I was told.

I happen to have a wonderfully annotated copy of David Unaipon’s slim volume “Native Legends” which he wrote in 1929. It is said to be the first volume actually written by an Aboriginal person. He is succinct.

For instance, Pah Kowie – The Creature cell of Life and Intelligence is just one page and concludes:

Thus many of the ideas formulated by my ancient fathers may seem absurd to an enlightened age fantastic and absurd, but to us these ideas are the foundation of a structure and edifice of knowledge under whose shadow we live today.”

I wonder what Mr Unaipon would have said today.

However, I am a bit surprised that this early work has not been reprinted, at least as far as I know, given that most of us are reminded of him everyday.

The Bruce Robinson New World Odyssey

I remember the Independent Enquiry into the Repatriation System under the wonderfully named Justice Paul Toose. It was set up in 1971 and did not report until February 1976 – three elections and three Prime Ministers later. As people in government joked, this “plodding” inquiry lasted longer than the First World War and ran to 800 pages and 300 recommendations, one of which seems to have been changing the name of the repatriation department to the department of veteran affairs.

Not that I would like to see the Review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule break the Toose record, but Professor Robinson is giving it a red hot go. The review has been going for four years – for what? Any review that takes that amount of time becomes problematical.

As a comparison, while this Robinson Review with its 30 committees has been meandering along, the Review into Australian banking practices under Mr Justice Haynes has been [2017-2019] and reported in 1,137 pages ; in the USA the Mueller investigation has also been [2017-2019], and reported in 472 pages.

They were somewhat significant inquiries.

Yet here we have Bruce Robinson and his crew backed by McKinsey just like the Mississippi River, “it just keeps rollin’ along”. I have heard the time 2023 mentioned as the new end point. Well, that would break the record – a formidable feat. Probably we could have a plaque to celebrate the finish of this Homeric epic.

Perhaps getting a sharper Shadow Minister for Health in Chris Bowen will see if we can dam the Robinson and his multiple tributaries.

The subsidiary question is how much has McKinsey cost the Government for no noticeable impact – you know McKinsey, the firm that is in a running feud with the NYT about its methods and clients. It is an unedifying backdrop.

It is interesting that the latest round of Ministerial adjustments to the Medicare Benefits Schedule by Minister Hunt did not seem to mention the Review. As one senior politician said to me once, governments use these inquiries as a means of maintaining a freeze on patient benefits. I wonder if the patients themselves know of this stratagem.

Unlike the original Nimmo Inquiry which reported in 1969, which had the knowledgeable advice and expertise of John Deeble and Bruce Scotton, subsequent reviews since the breakdown of the periodic Enquiries conducted by Government and the AMA have not achieved very much – but at a great cost in time and the employment of outside consultants.

I should know. Medibank and Medicare have been central to the life of most doctors, including myself and it should not be left to slowly decay, because of an interminable uncertainty, which is the other side effect of an unending wander through the Medicare Benefits Schedule.

Knock before Entering

My wife loves photographing doors. Front doors, that is. Front doors opening on streets; front doors not hidden by a pathway, a garden, a porch or verandah and a flyscreen.

In it simplest form she believes the front door defines the place, the thoroughfare, the relationship of one place to another, the people behind the door in the space, working and living there.

I am not so sure. I see the front door as an identifier of the place but not necessarily those behind the door. Many of us merely inherit our front doors. Many front doors do not identify anything. There may be nothing behind that door but an empty space.

The doorway is Ianua in Latin, named for the god with two faces and from where the word “January” is derived – and janitor as well. January is the doorway to the year. We cannot prevent anybody from passing through the doorway. February always comes.

We, however, may have a janitor to maintain the upkeep of door and passageways. That person may have many names and interpretations in many languages.

We invented the door and then locks to keep people away from the space behind the door, for whatever reason. The door becomes the vehicle for the lock and for maintaining permission to use that space. The door can become a massive contraption to secure that space or as occurs in rural areas in my country just a way of keeping the dust and the animals out. The houses meanwhile are left unlocked. The unlocked door can be a measure of trust, but also a measure of carelessness.

Once I could turn the handle on any church door in any out of the way place, and I could enter and stand in this church with all its furnishings and stained glass intact. This is not carelessness, but an act of trust by those who have the key to the door.

The front door as an inanimate piece of wood or metal is an obstruction to that passage, and so may be an identifier. My wife may be right. How we regard the front door in fact may define the civilisation in which we tread.

Mouse Whisper

I decided to try my hand at shrew taming. I sent for an application form and received the following questions. Well, not actually.

I have inserted the word “shrew taming” to protect the names of the drongos who manufactured these questions. My reflection is the same as it has always been, except my fur is bit greyer and the lines on my faces are deeper than when I was a pinkie.

But see if you can interpret this set of Parts into English. Good Luck!

Part 1: Tell us about yourself and your role 

Objective: Understand the individual’s overall role and interactions with shrew taming

Part 2: Tell me about your experience with shrew tamers

Objective: to understand individuals touch points with shrew tamers and their overall end to end experience

Part 3: What is your overall reflection based on these experiences? 

Objective: to understand shrew tamer’s strengths and pain points to identify future areas of focus for the end to end experience 

Part 4: What would you like to see more of in future? 

Objective: focus on the future experience and how we can orchestrate touch points in the future to ensure a seamless experience.”

Modest Expectations – Union

One can hardly believe that in a country with so many challenges there is so much concern over some footballer who made a list of people he wished to be assigned to Hell.

Echoing what I wrote in an earlier blog, Peter Singer, the bioethicist, is reported as having written:

“Folau is a born-again Christian, and his post was an expression of his religious beliefs. To prevent misunderstanding, I should say that I do not share those beliefs. As an unrepentant atheist, I am among those for whom, Folau believes, hell awaits. But that does not trouble me, because there is, in my view, no god, no afterlife, and no hell. Nor do I differentiate, ethically, between homosexual and heterosexual relationships.”

Singer picks up the “hell awaits”. It is not as though Folau is advocating violence or even earthly sanctions. Nevertheless, the sheer arrogance of such a list should not have goaded the Rugby Union establishment into a response, which in turn has started a chain reaction. It has enabled the fundamentalist Christian groups to start braying about religious freedom, using Folau as a martyr strung up on a goal post.

In the course of this saga the community is being suckered into a situation where a silly statement is now being adopted by those who want to use the cloak of the Christian Church to run extreme agendas; where dominance of women is one of, if not the main objective.

Symptomatic is the resurfacing of the anti-abortion crew, who have never gone away – the matter has become a surrogate for maintaining the subservient role of women. Christian churches out of the mainstream are very good at keeping women as handmaidens, where the violence is not necessarily physical. And it is not limited to Christianity.

I have a visceral dislike for abortion, but it is not my business – not my choice. It should be a woman’s choice.

There was one occasion when I was faced with a friend who wanted an abortion, and the potential father had disappeared. It was at a time before the Menhennitt ruling changed the secrecy and enabled abortions to occur openly, and the words “criminal abortions” rendered obsolete. (In Victoria, a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1969 (‘Menhennitt ruling’) established that an abortion will be lawful if the accused held an honest belief on reasonable grounds that the abortion was both ‘necessary’ and ‘proportionate’.)

The whole episode made me so disgusted that we, in an ostensibly Christian society, were allowing women to be exposed to emotional and – on those occasions when the “backyard” procedure went wrong – physical trauma on women. Here a degrading scene was being played out, because men – predominantly men, and celibate men at that – thought it sinful.

Fortunately, my friend survived the ordeal. She recounted what had happened, I was appalled but we never talked about it again.

That is the worry if this whole Folau imbroglio, with the forthcoming legal action, is allowed to energise this group of anti-abortionist misogynists over what is, in the end, a belief lodged somewhere inside Folau’s head that should have nothing to do with anything but his contract with RU.

Nearly 20 years ago, Susan Ryan, the former senator, reminded us it had not been that long ago that the House of Representatives’ vote against abortion – four years after the Menhennitt ruling – was 98 to 23.

“The debate was conducted in an all male chamber, the women were outside rallying, organising, shouting through loud hailers, preparing for disappointment. I decided that next time we should be in there making the laws.”

It is not often that I agree with Susan Ryan, but I do on this matter – wholeheartedly. The whole of the Coalition voted against the decriminalisation of abortion although one young Liberal party member who stood up with a flourish as though he was going to break ranks and cross the floor to vote for decriminalisation, looked around and seeing he would be on his own, sat down.

As for Folau, it may have been easier to tell him to get lost. Of course he would not have, but I do hope that when some other sportsman near the end of his career and with enough notoriety to be noticed, says something as stupid as Folau has, that the situation is better handled, including not to renew the contract at some astronomical figure.

For instance, select him in an Australian team and he can then work out who is the adversary, given that he likes to compile lists.

Somewhat more important than Israel Folau

Opera is watched by an estimated a total audience of 300,000. It is a form of artistic licence that belongs to a different age. In that age women were treated dreadfully, composers had various forms of pathology. Who knows how many operas were written under the creative phase of syphilis so rife then. But now, to try and change the opera so as to satisfy a fad is as crass as the efforts of the Bowdler family in the 19th century to change Shakespeare to remove the “dirty bits”.

It is ironic that a report in the SMH of the opera “deisembowdlerising” itself, is perched alongside a report about the number of hate and violent items appearing on Twitter, Facebook/Instagram and YouTube. Here those indulging in such unspeakable behaviour are totalled in the millions.

So while token behaviour to cauterise opera plots may make those involved feel appropriately righteous, the problem is not solved by tokenism towards women’s rights.

However there is, as reported, a public health emergency in the way social media has become diseased.

Humans coming in contact with one another harbour the means of infecting one another with both the good and the bad. Globalisation is the jazzy word that we have for the removal of barriers to the spread of a vector, be it conventional trade, disease or whatever.

As the globalisation of Christianity occurred so did the spread of European disease against which the Pacific islanders and Australian aboriginals among others had no defence.

Similarly the globalisation of those who went to the New World of the Americas took a cornucopia of transmissible diseases as the contribution of Europe in this “free trade of infection”. In return Columbus is reputed to have brought back larges doses of syphilis. So it was a form of bilateral trade.

In those days when there was no idea what caused disease: perhaps the miasma, which was great for the perfume trade; or some dark unknown medium, which provided the excuse to torch women – and the ersatz cure – the miracle sustained by intercession via prayer or veneration of some osseous part of a saint.

Perhaps it is encryption that is the best analogy, especially as the means it has to deceive is akin to microbial mutation.

However, it is always the word “plague” which focuses the mind. And while we do not have the spectre of bodies loaded on carts being wheeled to mass graves, the world is entering into a time of cyberdisease, and “cyberplague” is convenient shorthand, although it has been used in generic terms before.

We now know the bacteria Yersinia pestis causes plague. Fleas and lice carry the bacteria. They can also lodge directly on humans if sanitation is bad – otherwise rats, dogs and cats inter alia are convenient intermediate hosts.

These abbreviated instructions from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta on how to prevent plague provide clues:

* Reduce rodent numbers. Make your home and outbuildings rodent-proof.

* Wear gloves if you are handling or skinning potentially infected animals to prevent contact between your skin and the plague bacteria.

* Use repellent if you think you could be exposed to fleas or lice.

* Keep fleas off your pets by applying flea control products. Do not allow dogs or cats that roam free in endemic areas to sleep on your bed.

So it should not be too difficult to assign the appropriate language to deal with Cyberplague. One thing is for sure: it is the role of Government to supervise. The private sector does not do this well.

This darkening cloud over social media is the scourge. It is a public health emergency. And Donald Trump seems able to call a National Emergency, at a drop of a red cap… if he understands.

Where did all the Money Go?

I received an email this week from John Kitzhaber, once the Governor of Oregon and the man who received international attention when he devised the Oregon Health Plan. In part he wrote:

The cost of health care in this country is utterly out of control.  Mind-boggling. Approaching $3.8 trillion a year. This amount of money has attracted a whole host of private equity funds (that are) simply milking the system to feed shareholder profits. We had big national for-profit insurance companies that are likewise using public funds to increase shareholder value instead of reinvesting in the community.

John Kitzhaber – painting by Henk Pander

That problem is now also occurring here. When the Medibank model was established here in Australia, the expectation was that the patient would receive a medical benefit when they consulted a medical practitioner to assisting in paying for that medical service.

Doctors were considered to be in solo or group practice, and in fact when the first benefits were struck for procedural items, it was assumed that the benefit reflected what the government was prepared to pay to the patient for the perceived skill of the doctor.

Therefore when the array of medical benefits was struck for a surgical procedure, it was assumed the patient benefit recognised the skill of the doctor. The cost of the attendant scrub nurses, the surgical materials, the operating theatre were all absorbed into hospital costs, covered either by the public or private hospitals. In other words, the Medibank the scheme was constructed on a guild model – a hangover from the time when doctors sent accounts in guineas to patients who could afford to pay.

However, the medical professional entrepreneurs recognised that with the advance in technology, particularly in pathology but followed by diagnostic imaging with the arrival of the CT scans, there was a “pot of gold” awaiting. Radiotherapy and general practice have followed, and now other specialties such as cardiology are the target.

Technology improvements emphasised two of the problems with an open-ended floor price scheme as Medibank and subsequently Medicare demonstrated. The first one was the entrepreneurial manipulation of throughput against capacity for a particular procedure. This was lucrative when the Medicare benefit was set at a low throughput and not scrupulously adjusted over time as throughput increased with technological improvements. The second was the tiresome ‘pass-the-parcel’ game between the state and federal governments, otherwise known as ‘cost-shifting’. Private sector entrepreneurs have been able to utilise this for their financial gain but state governments have equally become adept at the cost shift and at the same time burying the real costs of health care.

As can be seen, health financing was drifting away from the original intention of enabling the patient to get a fair and reasonable subsidy for their medical care

The problem with the business model, which may have been devised first by economic rationally doctors in the Edelstein mould, is that it has been transformed into a business model not unlike the one described by Kitzhaber.

Here the doctors may be listed as the providers but in reality it is a company which employs them in some form which is harvesting the profits and shovelling Medicare money who knows where into tax havens around the world. Medicare money has acted as seeding finance for the eventual acquisition of overseas health companies.

It is difficult to watch the Federal government being so compliant. The problem is compounded by these companies giving a fraction of their Medicare-seeded profits to political parties for them to enable to run election campaigns saying they are looking after “all Australians” and thus these private firms to have a firm foothold into the political process.

The central governmental agencies know this but at present their political masters are impervious to this flow of taxpayer’s money off shore – after all we have a taxpayer Medicare levy so some firm profiting from such taxpayer funding can buy a health service in the USA or a pathology company in Germany – in effect using Australian taxpayers’ money to fund their business and not only that, but funding where there is a guaranteed floor price for each of services. So risk is negligible once the investment model is settled.

Kitzhaber’s comments are more than timely.

And for us in Australia, it gives us gives another meaning among others for a sonic boom.

Mouse Whisper

Heard between Nobby and Cambooya driving through that magnificent black soil country of the Darling Downs.

“Mate, the soil is so good out here you can plant nails and they come up crowbars.”

Yes, appropriately it is Steele Rudd country out here. But as my young mouse cousin asked “Who is Steele Rudd?”

 

Modest Expectations – Thaddeus Stevens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balibo sunset (Photo Sue Morey)

Anti-Vaxer – Prosecute for Genocide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Cook a Roo – Part 111

Charlie diversifies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouse Whisper

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