Sunday, October 30, 2011

murchison area

Murchison lies to the west of the Goulburn Valley Highway, between Nagambie and Shepparton. Further to the west is the larger town of Tatura. The whole of this area – like most other places in Australia – was originally the site of a short-lived gold rush.

As it’s part of the Shepparton Shire, there is a regular rotation of Shepp's many “Mooving Art” cows, between the two towns. 

The cows look even more interesting from the front but, hey, I tried. And anyway, who decided to set out this lot all looking the wrong way? 

This parkland along the river bank is conveniently located opposite the bakery.

Not far up the main street there is a park commemorating the visitation upon Murchison of a whopping great hunk of meteorite. “Big Deal” I originally said to myself.
Big deal indeed, according to QI’s 2nd Book of General Ignorance. As a result, I have revised my early opinion of this ad near the door of the shop next door to the bakery:

 Before white settlement Murch was home to the Daun Wurrung people. Two of my great great grandparents were teacher and overseer respectively at the Aboriginal protectorate in Murchison. After several years of searching, all I can be sure of is that the protectorate only existed here between 1850 and 1860, and that the Victorian Government’s attitude to protection was pretty slack. [Possibly the reason I can’t discover much.]

Hard to imagine this was all flooded six months ago

Australia’s rivers were once wider and deeper, and extensive networks of paddle steamers made it easier for primary producers to transport wool and other goodies.

It’s a sad joke that the philosophy of early settlers was “If it moves, shoot it; if it doesn’t, chop it down”. In the case of our waterways, we might add “If nature put it in one spot, move it to somewhere else”. By 1887 the steamers could no longer make it to Murchison. On the other hand, the creation of the Waranga Reservoir provided irrigation for dairy-farms and orchards.

My Aunt tells me that as a young’un, living in Melbourne at Ascot Vale, she went one morning to play with her Italian friend, only to discover the whole family had disappeared overnight. They might have been moved to Murchison or Tatura, as several internment camps were built in these here parts during WWII.
In the first instance the camps housed foreign nationals and later some refugees from Europe -  including a share of the people who arrived on the Dunera. [You’ll find more about the Dunera story in Hels’ blog.]

As WWII progressed, the district camps also became home to a large number of Italian and German Prisoners of War – many of these helping to pick local fruit crops, and many returning to this district after the war as ‘New Australians’.

The site of the camp located in Murchison is now an Italian Memorial Cemetery, with a mausoleum and ossuary for Italian detainees and prisoners who died in camps around Australia.
German prisoners who died in the area are buried in a special cemetery in Tatura.

At nearby Dhurringile, there is a 65 room mansion built in 1877 as a home for James Winter, who invested some gold mining money in pastoral pursuits.

Officers from the German merchant raider Kormoron were stationed here during the war; more strictly guarded than other detainees.

After the war Dhurrungile was purchased by the Presbyterian Church and used as a home for some of our other unfortunates – British Immigrant Children.
Two key features of this scheme were:
  • the children would not be fostered out, rather, Australianised and trained for useful occupations;
  • funding from the British and Australian governments was conditional on institutions not using the boys to raise funds from the public.
Best quality I can provide, but the substance of this letter is
"poor us, poor them, pour money into it".

The Presbyterian [now Uniting] Church sold the property when the training institution closed in 1964.
It was subsequently converted to a low security prison by the Victorian Government.

Apart from Dhurringile, the only remaining evidence of these camps is at Camp 1 – what remains of the rest is largely on private property. [I did once visit the area where the Greytown camp was located, and all that remained were a few lumps of concrete footings.]

When the Officers’ Mess at one of the camps had fallen into almost total disrepair, some paintings on the wall were rediscovered. The paintings were dug out of the wall as slabs, then restored and framed. These now adorn the walls of the nursing home where my mother lives.


This time I have sort of an excuse for the lousy composition of these shots: The flouro lights at the nursing home were hard to allow for when I took the pics, and I decided it might not be a good idea to turn the lights off while residents were moving around. There are heaps of these pictures on walls. Is this a case of 'we don't want to lose them, but where can we put them'?

There are historical societies at both Murchison and Tatura, staffed by volunteers -unfortunately I've never been in either town when they are actually open. The Tatura group organises one tour a year of Camp 1. 

what more can i say?

No story needed here.

qu'est ce que c'est que vous just sayed?


So, there we were, sitting on the pedestal of the Chinatown gate waiting to see a live performance of a British TV show in an Australian theatre. The sun was shining. Lovely.
The audience was made up of an enormous variety of types, little old ladies, middle aged couples, youngish couples, and a few of ‘the other sort’ of couples; the sort of people who would rather watch QI live than dress up for Derby Day, I suppose. All of which is to say that the TV show QI – now in its tenth series – is not just a cult success but obviously a raging one.

Just one of the things that I thought would make a live version of QI ‘quite interesting’ was to see how on earth Stephen Fry and Alan Davies proposed to entertain us for two hours simply by doing what they do on the teev.

Seated and waiting for the show to start, we sat and laughed with other audience members as little bits of trivia appeared on a screen; things like “mother in law is an anagram of Hitler woman’. Eventually, the Oracle of the Obscure, that Expert Etymologist and Wizard of Words himself, Stephen Fry, appeared and treated us to a ¾ of an hour monologue.
Turns out he not only has that very pleasing English accent so many of us know and love, but is an excellent mimic. Relating a joke he had heard from Billy Connolly, he gave us both Billy Connolly’s own voice, and the voice Billy Connolly uses when he tells a joke.
In between jokes, stories relating to the friendly rivalry between English and Australian cricket teams, and taking the micky out of Australian TV voiceovers, Fry made frequent indirect but very funny references to his sexuality, prompting The Other to comment quietly to me “He’s a very naughty boy!”.

Alan Davies, QI’s regular panellist, tickles my funny bone mainly because he has a wonderful sense of fun. For the live shows in Australia, the plan was to choose three from a set list of Australian comedians to complete the panel.
Dave Hughes is not just funny but someone whose values I like. With him today were Shaun Micallef [someone who has a fine mind but has never made me laugh much] and Jennifer Byrne [who also has a fine mind, and is a fine journalist, but probably only comes close to funny when she is at home with Andrew*].

There was no interval, which may or may not have been a good thing. No matter how entertaining the subject matter, two hours of active listening was a big ask but, on the other hand, the quiz show portion might have seemed a bit flat after Stephen’s entertaining monologue.

No spoiler required here – fans of the show /readers of the books will have already heard about the mating method of the octopus: Totally queer [in the true sense of the word] and revisited as a great launching pad for some improvised laughs. It did generate a lot of laughs, but having heard it more than several times already, Alan Davies struggled to appear as interested as he did when it was first discussed on the teev. The Australian panellists – with the exception of Dave Hughes – seemed almost overawed by the occasion. [I would have been too if it were me up there, but I wasn’t getting paid today to be amusing.]

Please don’t think I’m complaining. This was not meant to be great theatre, and if I live to be one hundred and fifty, I know nothing will ever come close to Gordon Chater in The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin, or Amanda Muggleton’s Shirley Valentine.
But it seemed a little like we were making up the audience for the filming of a TV show, with Stephen Fry as the warm up man. Which we were. Which meant it was a lot of fun, because not many TV shows have a warm up man like Stephen Fry.

On the train when we were coming home, a French couple and their 3 young daughters were seated not far behind us. They are travelling the world, and currently staying at Carrum. This being a day for fancy words, it was interesting to put my schoolgirl French [from 40 years ago] to the test: After eavesdropping for ¾ of an hour I am chuffed to say I recognised two words – vous and vous.

Two, coincidentally, is exactly the number of legs an octopus has.

*Jennifer Byrne is married to comedian Andrew Denton

Friday, October 28, 2011

a weekend away

The layout of country trains was different in "the olden days", but this clip is interesting because:

  • even though the train is suburban it still provides an idea of what a red rattler was; 
  • I wonder what movie this was stolen from; 
  • I wonder if the non-speaking extra standing at the end of the platform was typecast; and
  • it includes a Collingwood supporter.

Last weekend was a weekend for visiting mothers. The Other had a day off on the Friday, so she headed off to Seymour where I was to meet her in the afternoon.

The last time I travelled by train to Seymour it was a red rattler, so it has been a while.
The newer train was a lot more civilised [except for some of the country women getting snippy with each other because people were boarding from both ends of the carriage, and their steamer-trunk sized suitcases were too big to even move down the aisle sideways so why don’t youse just wait and give me a chance geez oi’ll be glad ter get bakome].

From Seymour, the first stop was Murchison to see Mother Fruitcake. The rear yard of the nursing home was a tad chaotic, as a monster garage sale had been planned for the next day. Mother was so stimulated by the junk and the activity that she refused to engage in conversation, so we killed an hour by rummaging around and buying things like aprons and table runners [total outlay $3 plus a donation of the rest of the shrapnel to hand].
What with the lack of conversation and the fact that someone had removed the kettle from the visitors’ tea making facilities, we eventually headed off to Shepparton where we had booked a room for the night.

Before leaving I took a photo or two in Murchison, just in case you have any delusions about my ability to compose a good shot:

This work of art is called "find the ten worst mistakes you can make when taking a photo".

The next morning, we decided to head for Albury via Beechworth.

What a great little town Beechworth is! These photos [taken by a professional] are excellent but the town offers many more interesting buildings and features than appear in this set. 
I can’t imagine why I’ve never had a look around before; we must definitely go back for a weekend of rubber-necking.

Those of you who have been to the Beechworth Bakery will know why the owner is a multi-gazillionaire with bakery franchises. There was a bit of Ned Kelly overkill, but my éclair brought back memories of when grandmother could throw together some choux pastry as casually as make a pot of tea.

After spending too much on books at a local store, we travelled four inches down the road and spotted a church bazaar. Our next book purchase was equally satisfying but infinitely more affordable.
In Albury we learned The Other’s bro-in-law had – as country folk do – put his bare feet into a pair of shoes that had been sitting outside the door for yonks, and was bitten by a spider that very morning.

As The Other had been building a rock garden the previous weekend, casually wiping redbacks off the rocks with her bare hands, she had been bitten first. The timing of the bites was important, because The Other and her sister are more fiercely competitive than Olympic Champions. 
Score one point for The Other being bitten first [Ka-ching!]. 
Her left hand is still enormously swollen and she was happy to explain to her sister that the venom has even left her left side lymph glands enlarged! [Ka-ching.]

The sis-in-law claimed two points [ka-ching, ka-ching] straight up because she had had to take her husband to the Albury Hospital. They were doing blood tests at that very moment! [Ka-ching, another point.] 
Next came the ‘who has the worst symptoms’ leg of the competition, with the sis-in-law insisting that if the skin on The Other’s hand had not sweated profusely after the bite it was definitely not a red back. [Ka-ching.] The extent of the sweating on Bro-in-law’s leg was the worst the doctor had ever seen. [Ka-ching]. They think they might have to give him some anti-venom stuff. [Ka-ching.]

All of which is to say there was much running back and forth to hospital, leaving The Other’s mother more confused and disoriented than ever. So much for a nice day away from ‘that prison’ [i.e. the hostel at Baranduda] with her daughters.

I have, myself, witnessed non-sweating redback bites. So far as I am concerned, if you aren’t dead two hours after being bitten, you’re laughing. Furthermore, a few months down the track and the bite will be cleared up. In contrast, a whitetail bite will definitely put you in hospital, and is a bit like malaria: Once it is in your bloodstream it will flare up at intervals for the rest of your life.
[I might be wrong about the relative nastiness of various spider bites, but as I wasn’t a sibling and I'm not so silly about rocks and shoes, my opinion is irrelevant anyway.]

Considering the tendency for said siblings to constantly rearrange trays and adjust oven temperatures while the rival was not looking, dinner was nice and the roast lamb surprisingly tender. Mother Other got to hold her new-born grandchild and her confusion was forgotten.
So, all in all, it was a successful visit from many points of view.

The next day we returned to the Beechworth Bakery, and after morning tea chanced upon a second hand bookstore. It had a surprisingly extensive, top quality collection with no rubbish at all, the purchases were satisfying, and the price a reasonable compromise between unaffordable and dirt cheap.
At Murchison again, mother was finally in a mood to talk, and we didn’t care about the kettle because we weren’t desperate for a cup of tea. But geez we wuz glad ter get bakome.

Link to Beechworth Bakery's website - not a LOT of pictures that do justice the enormous range of fresh cakes to choose from. [But you will see that it is not the run of the mill bakery.]

Thursday, October 20, 2011

lesson time


Four score and umpteen years ago, I was married. Mistakes are okay so long as we learn from them. Now we have that out of the way, let’s move on:
Many years ago I was living in a reasonably large but technically ‘remote’ town, which had a sizeable Aboriginal population. Without getting bogged down in detail, there was an air of ‘us and them’ about the town – not overt hatred so much as indifference.
A relative of Mr Ex was a primary school teacher and, learning that I was at a loose end with no paid employment to go to, suggested I volunteer to help kids with their reading. Boy, was I in for a shock.

I think the class consisted of a mixture of grade 1 and grade 2 kids – young, in any case. It was no surprise to me that some of the white kids were extremely literate, some moderately literate, and some had no bloody idea at all: This pretty well reflected the white demographic; which parents paid attention to their kids, which didn’t and so on.

There was, however, an enormous difference between the way Aboriginal kids showed and dealt with their illiteracy, and the way the white kids who could barely read showed and dealt with their illiteracy. No wonder said relative-in-law was despondent about the future of the Aboriginal kids at her school.

Educators have come an awful long way since way back then. Traditional western schooling focuses on the 6 big western questions; Who What When Where Why and hoW?
We now understand that direct questions are viewed as bizarre and rude by traditional Aboriginals. Hopefully we also understand that the big 6 questions are not necessarily central to the Aboriginal worldview. Culturally speaking, a western school is a vacuum.
We now know that Aboriginal kids would not dream of advancing any further in their learning than their peers, because that would also be bizarre and rude - and there are many more issues and this we need to account for.

No surprise then that, on that day many years ago when I first sat with Aboriginal kids to practise reading, it hit me that most of them were thinking "who/what TF are you and what has any of this to do with me? Why am I here? Why do my many, many parents send me here?"

I misinterpreted the lack of eye contact as evidence of shame or embarrassment but - my bad - by staring them directly in the eye I was just being threatening.

Any of the white locals would have told you the children were there because the parents were paid to send them. Whether that was true or not is irrelevant. 
What is definitely true is that although the Aboriginal housing butted up against the white housing, there was a spiritual apartheid at work in the town. 
What is almost certainly true is the children were not sent there because the significant adults in their lives saw the point of it. If anything, many of the adults would have had unhappy memories of the time they had spent going to school.
At least white kids who hate school and go under sufferance know that speaking English is ‘normal’, as are things like going to school or eating vegetables.

All of this comes to mind quite vividly every time the idea of tying Aboriginals’ welfare payments to school attendance is raised. [To be fair, this was a part of the NT intervention Tony Abbott has long since threatened to extend to some white welfare recipients.]
For now, however, as this measure is directed at NT Aboriginals, it is directed at predominantly remote Aboriginals.

In some cases I would expect the idea that school exists has become normalised for Aboriginals, but I would also expect that in homes or communities where alcohol and/or violence are a problem – the very places where tied payments might really be important – a majority of the children might well turn up for school with a huge dose of WTF?s.

It’s only natural for white people to assess this proposal based on their own experiences of school and of interacting with remote Aboriginals – those experiences in turn possibly coloured by a white worldview.

If a white child stays home there is a strong probability they will be stimulated by at least some western ideas, they'll learn a western language, some western attitudes or manners, and they'll be trusted or encouraged if they develop an interest in something - something western.

The outcomes for remote Aboriginal children who don’t go to school are vastly different.
If their parents – or their community – are extremely dysfunctional, there is a strong chance they will end up suffering anomie, and do something to pass the time like sniffing petrol. They would certainly be exposed to awful scenes of violence or bad behaviour.
On the other hand, if their community has failed to adapt to western ways but is otherwise functional, then they have a chance of developing healthier habits.
I doubt school would make much difference to either scenario, except some kids would be more likely to get healthy meals and other attention.

None of this is intended as a slur on any Aboriginal. If, for example, a remote area Aboriginal kid turns up for school appearing unwashed and grubby, there’s a strong chance the pump that sucks water out of the ground is broken and the government is too focused on making people earn welfare payments to worry about water. Grubbiness is not always a rejection of western standards.

None of this is intended to suggest that sending Aboriginal Children to school is a bad idea. Personally, I think it’s vital: If children learn to deal with the west and then later want to drop out, that’s fine, but let’s at least have them make an informed decision to drop out, and give them coping skills for the times in the future when the west and their Aboriginal world collide.

What is really behind this debate about linking school attendance and welfare payments is some distorted set of priorities [let’s not call them values].
Are we being ‘politically correct’ and assuming that plonking an Aboriginal kid into a white class – any white class – will automatically make him white and successful?
Are we trying to satisfy the politics of envy by pretending to punish bad Aboriginal parents?
Are we just on a power trip?
Or are we just relying on advice from white people who have taken their advice from other white people?

The final word belongs to Pia Pagotto, of Vermont South. Her letter to the editor of The Age appeared today, and deserves to be read in its original setting [not just because I don’t want to go breakin’ any copyright laws!].
Her letter is titled Tackle Child Health, and it appears about two thirds of the way down the page.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

one flow to go

If you tip your cup of coffee over in the morning, does this mean you are going to have a bad day?
Not if the coffee gets into your handbag, on your jacket and shoes, all over the floor and chairs – in a café – but doesn’t land on your favourite linen blouse.

3 gold stars to Starbucks at Spencer St oops Kings Southern Cross Station;
  1. Bringing a mop and cloths to the problem without any fuss;
  2. Providing a new cup of coffee free of charge when it was the last thing on my mind;
  3. Using Fair Trade Coffee.
The Port of Hastings has finally got the go-ahead for container ship development. The only vexing question is how containers headed for the western suburbs will be moved across – rail or road?

Lindsay Fox has been asking for a second, sensible logistics centre for years, and the suggestion has been made there will be one established somewhere around Dandenong or Lyndhurst. None of this NIMBY [not in my backyard] attitude from me, just so long as I don’t have to do battle with 30m road trains around the inner city area.

This proposal could no doubt bring a lot more jobs to the peninsula [without disturbing its favoured western shores].
There are already regular visits from oil tankers because of the Esso and BlueScope Steel plants – forget my backyard, I do worry what we can do if/ when an oil spill finally threatens Phillip Island?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

books, bags and bopping


Commuting on the train to and from the city has not only given me a chance to perve into people’s backyards, it’s reminded me how fascinating people can be.

This evening on a crowded train [the one after the one that didn’t run] I found myself opposite a young chap of about 30 who was, from what I could hear [quite clearly], listening to the Beatles.

To my right was an older chap reeking of eau de ale who sat, for an hour, quite focused on a sudoku on what I think was his mobile phone. 
[I’m not sure about new tech, so I won’t tell you about the 60+ man the other night and how many pads, phones, book readers and what nots he fiddled with because it’s irritating when anyone over the age of 8 can understand these gizmos.]

The 3rd person to join our little group of seats was a tall thin young woman of about 25. Her long black hair was pulled casually into a bun with a lovely silk flower worthy of Oak’s Day.
The weather being perfect today, she was wearing a thin cotton jumpsuit with split sides up the legs. She wore a nose ring, and braces on her teeth. Nails and make-up were just right.
[She did not have a tissue, though at one stage she rummaged in her bag furiously yet unsuccessfully before she started sniffing again.]

Completing the outfit was a pair of old fashioned head phones which put me in mind of Princess Leia from Star Wars [a movie I have never been able to sit through but the details of which are nonetheless burnt into my mind forever].

“Flora’s” phone rang at regular intervals [traditional ring-ring ring-tone], and she made arrangements to go out with her friends on “the boat”. She would walk down to the pier and meet them there once the train arrived at Frankston.

In between phone calls about boating [and about the deep gash on Tony’s knee], Flora finished reading The Help, while bopping along to the music on her phone thingy. Her taste in music was quite eclectic and strangely ‘old’; including Bob Dylan and The Doors.

Having finished The Help, she heaved up onto her knee what can only be described [for want of a better word] as a carpetbag [only bigger and more flasherer]. Rummaging in this bag again she found a new band for her hair, replacing the fashion on the field flower with a more mundane felt rose [presumably more appropriate to boating].

Inside the capacious carpetbag [which I had assumed would be full of make up and various unguents], was an assortment of jars and clangy things. From what I could see [hopefully without being too conspicuously curious] most of this stuff consisted of large economy sized containers of vitamin supplements, along with a well used aluminium drink bottle.

So, was she all set for a weekend away, with a change of clothes and something warm to wear? If not in the carpetbag, perhaps the necessaries were in the giant plastic shop bag also crammed with ‘stuff’.

As if to answer my question at the very moment I posed it to myself, out of the plastic bag came a slightly smaller paper bag of books from Robinson’s [the local equivalent of Readings]. I concluded she must be a local. Perhaps someone who lives atop Oliver’s Hill.
Perhaps someone who gets a good income from whatever work she does, or gets a large allowance, or maybe even gets a very interesting credit card statement each month.

I find it difficult to leave the closing moments of a good book without savouring some of it for a while, and without replacing the atmosphere and events of one book so quickly with the words of another, more demanding novel.

Her copy of The Help, wrinkled and swollen as if it had been read in the bath – under the water – was replaced, briefly, by a new edition of a Salman Rushdie classic. It seemed she is one of those bookworms of the genus who don’t give a hoot about the condition of books so much as the content, as Flora immediately started flattening Rushdie’s pages, and wrapping them backwards around the spine.

No, Salman Rushdie did not suit the mood, so back it went into the plastic shop bag and out came a book about chakras.

Soon after this, the train pulled into Frankston Station and, as we alighted and made our way towards our vastly different adventures to come, she continued reading about chakras while bopping vigorously to the catchy sound of - wait for it - Johnny Cash’s rendition of the Ballad of Ira Hayes.

Worth each of the 510 cents the trip cost.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

now look here

After three years with the same specs, and having a new job where I stare at a pc screen all day [as opposed to staring at my own pc screen all day], I decided to trot along for an eye check. Then I changed my mind and instead of trotting, I hopped into my car before dropping in to my local optometrist’s shop.

Even if my eyesight had not deteriorated, I decided, a new pair of specs could be justified. No, I don’t want to do an Elton John and have a different pair to match each outfit – though this wouldn’t be expensive as I only have one outfit and that is ‘gr frumpy’. 

What was really causing a problem is that I have developed a naughty habit of slipping my reading glasses up onto the top of my head so I wouldn’t lose them while not looking through them. Doing this has stretched the frame so much that every time I look down the rotten things hit the deck.
As a consequence of this I had taken to slipping them into my hand bag and as a consequence of this one lens was scratched by my car keys. It also meant that I was doing uglifying things like squinting as I pointed to coffee cup size at starbucks and saying 'one of those please' instead of just asking for a tall.

One alternative to the frame stretching thing is the chain around the neck thing which I just can’t bring myself to do. The chain would just get caught up in my flash new security key/prison photo government issued lanyard, anyway – said lanyard already managing to get caught in everything else until I shortened it with a cuppla nots.
Another alternative is bifocals. Tried that and found it great when driving, because I could actually see both the road and the speed at which I was travelling. Unfortunately, they are hard on the neck if browsing in bookshops. Worse yet, because reading through the bottom of the lens requires some lowering of the eyelids, I couldn’t stay awake while trying to read with them on.

Anyways, the good thing about using the same optometrist is that someone is recording measurements from test to test, providing a baseline for comparison. A glaucoma test is a standard part of the service but, in my case, a good idea because my father had glaucoma. There is no absolute quantum of eyeball pressure that can be used to diagnose glork, but Paul was able to tell me there had been a relative and slightly worrying increase since my last test.

All of this made me a bit weepy, and not just because sight is the sense I would most hate to lose.
I never met my father until into my late 40s, and then only for a day, and only two or three times. About ten years ago he and his wife came to stay with me for five days and I finally got a chance to get to know him a little. He’d lived for a very long time in the Philippines, and this would be his last trip to Oz.

He'd been a member of the occupation forces in Japan just after WWII, and I was chuffed that he'd brought some of his many photo albums with him on his visit. I knew he had glaucoma but hadn’t realised how bad it was until he started showing me his photos. It seemed, quite honestly, that he really couldn’t see them and was simply reciting details in a practised sequence, the way a child can memorise a bed time story and seem to read along when they really can’t read yet.

So now I’m about to get some new specs which, hopefully, won’t fall off all the time, and then I’m off to see an ophthalmologist. All of which is to say, if you don’t know your full, family medical history – or even if you do – think about occasionally getting glaucoma tests from the same place, at least two years in a row. Apparently the only way to diagnose glork is after your eyesight is irreversibly damaged, but with a timely warning about eyeball pressure the damage can be prevented.

pauline palin

This week we've learned that Sarah Palin has decided not to run for President.
She’s an interesting character, as much for her similarities to our Pauline as for anything else.

Sarah and Pauline have both been the butt of some very big jokes. Laughter is healthy, and many of us owe both these ladies a big debt of gratitude.

Sarah had her Tina Fey

and Pauline had Pauline Pantsdown.

Sarah appeared on Saturday Night Live, while Pauline was a big hit on Dancing With the Stars.

They both seem to have earned a lot of followers because of their uncompromising honesty. While I may not agree with much of what either of them say, I will respect to the death their willingness to say it.
I was very jealous when I first saw my brother wearing a special T Shirt: On the front was a picture of Martin Luther King Jr, with the words I had a dream, and on the back a picture of Pauline, inscribed I had a fish’n’chip shop.

Well may I mock. I’ve never run a fish’n’chip shop or any other shop for that matter. Sarah too, seems to have always been self-reliant and a down-to-earth, hard worker, providing an extra hand for her husband during the commercial salmon fishing seasons. 
If she is unashamed of her willingness to go hunting and proud of this measure of self-sufficiency that fills her freezer, is this any worse than me buying meat at a supermarket without having to deal with the less appealing parts of the process?
They’ve both been rather naïve; naivety being something Pauline is more than ready to admit to.

She had no idea how to set up a political party legally or in administrative terms and so, reliant on others, allowed others with different agendas to hijack her popularity for their own ends.
Her famous comment that Aboriginals had once practised cannibalism was in a book she happily put her name to without ever reading it.

In her maiden speech to parliament she said Australia is in danger of being swamped by Asians. I think Pauline might be more culturalist than racist. A careless and ultimately damaging over-generalisation, but I’m confident she was not decrying all differences, simply the values that are incompatible with those already held by Australians.

I don’t think too many Australians do want to see the country sold to absentee landlords, or over-run by extremist values.
It’s an interesting exercise to compare the clip above with the following report from New Zealand.

Perhaps this highlights how different the Australian media’s attitude to open political debate in general as much as their attitude to Pauline. Yes, there are some decent shows on Australian television which tackle a little detail, but they rarely attract a significant audience. More popular and therefore successful current affairs programs here tend to limit themselves to product placement interspersed with the odd bit of David the consumer vs business Goliaths. 
It’s hard to know how much this reinforces lazy thinking, or how much it simply reflects it.

Palin’s famous gaffes include a reference to the ride of Paul Revere. It looks like a reporter has caught her in an unguarded moment when she was totally distracted by something else. I can identify with that [the distracted inarticulacy, not the camera magnet part]. I’m a plodding thinker, and prone to big leaps from one idea to another parallel idea without having the words to explain the link.

Even when she was given a chance to explain the Revere thing, she was unable to put her answer simply. Paul was captured by the British and, effectively, told them they would not win because a significant militia had been established, and was already winning its fight for liberation from British rule.

Which was worse, Palin’s idea that Africa is a country, or Pauline’s honest request that a reporter explain the meaning of the word xenophobia? 
Does democracy belong only to those who have made a career or study of politics – and experts on everything – or does it also belong to Joe the plumber who sees double standards at work in a number of areas?

Why is Jenny Macklin in charge of indigenous affairs? Why are we moving essential services towards regional hubs where Aboriginals will have no access to them? How familiar is Jenny with the legal and linguistic challenges faced by indigenous people in Arnhem land? Why are we paying through the nose for contractors to build inappropriate housing for indigenous people, when there are indigenous apprentices at a Darwin TAFE building more appropriate, more portable housing for a tenth of the cost?

Am I wrong to assume that Macklin, like many other politicians, relies heavily on the findings of public inquiries or briefings from government advisers to bring her up to speed? Or that Macklin has greater access to this information and advice than non-government MPs?
Is it fair to assume that she knows more about indigenous affairs now, but sfa detail about the war in Afghanistan because someone else is taking care of that; that there is no need for her to be an expert on everything?

Just one of the things I disagree with Pauline on is the need for reverse racism to address Aboriginal disadvantage. I do, however, agree with her that some people have made a lot of money out of what we might call an Aboriginal Industry. 

[In an earlier post I spoke about the issue of Aboriginal Identity and the advantages it might bring. Here, I am talking about something completely different - about white people in overpaid positions who are complacent, ineffective or ignorant, and people of any background who blatantly steal from these organisations.]

Palin, I admit, has some extremely unpalatable ideas. I’m not sure Australians are totally into the god, flag, and my country right or wrong jingoism Palin was selling. 
She makes no secret of her admiration for Reagan, or her extremely conservative attitude to economics and public debt. She believes Reagan’s greatest achievement was his ability to sell a vision to Americans.
Reagan’s Berlin moment, when he said “Mr Gorbachev tear down this wall!”, coincided with a process already in train. The fall of the wall had nothing to do with Reagan, but at least it was a vision.
McCain’s biggest failing was that he is not an orator’s bootlace, whereas Obama not only had some good ideas he was able to sell them effectively.

If McCain was happy enough to take Palin on as a running mate, why should she be the scapegoat for his loss? Like the ‘real Julia’, Palin was handled by campaign managers, told what to wear and what she could or could not say and whom she could and could not talk to.
Why the media criticism of her wardrobe? 

If Palin does not like the idea of sex before marriage but stood by her pregnant daughter, she deserves a little credit. If she does not approve of abortion but is able to love and care for her Downs Syndrome son, she deserves a little credit.

Sadly, independents don’t always have any power or if they do they can only horse trade on one or two issues. 
Sadly, opposition players – especially in Australia – seem fixated on what they don’t like and forget to offer alternatives. There have been one or two in our history who had a vision and were able to sell it, but for the most part all they are selling is cynicism.
Sadly, cynicism not only makes Pauline attractive to voters, but makes me despair sometimes for the future of this country.


Jayne from Our Great Southern Land has made an informative comment, which warrants a late addition to this post:

Saturday, October 1, 2011


The Other has sent me a few flash mob video links which have been quite interesting, not just for the quality of the music but for opportunities for armchair travel, such as seeing just how much natural light reaches into Copenhagen’s main railway station.

I’m not planning to flog the flash mob thing to death, but have decided to share the following because the sound is surprisingly good. I always avoid food halls because the total lack of any soft furnishings produces an unbearable level of noise [deliberately designed, of course, to facilitate churn].

Hallelujah Chorus


More than a year after the right wing journalist Andrew Bolt published an article about ‘professional Aboriginals’, a Federal court has decided he was in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. It took Justice Bromberg 175 days after the hearing before he handed down his carefully worded judgment.

What I inferred from the tone and content of the original articles was that several people, who appear white and therefore only have a teeny tiny bit of Aboriginal blood, have exploited their genetic history and claimed to be Aboriginal in order to advance their careers or gain other benefits. 
The people who took him to court were saying that other people would take the same meaning from his words as I did.

Justice Bromberg did not give Bolt a dressing down for being politically incorrect, he gave Bolt a dressing down because what Bolt wrote amounted to defamation. Bolt could not use truth as a defense because he made errors of fact in his articles.


Not surprisingly in this era of news as football, the Herald-Sun newspaper likes to publish the sort of opinions its readers hold, while The Age prefers to publish the sort of opinions its own readers hold, so the two papers are now sniping at each other [presumably on behalf of their readers] about whether the result of this case is a threat to freedom of speech.

The Herald Sun has taken the 'your rights are next' moral high ground approach to to the decision. They've resurrected the past mistakes of one of the Aboriginal litigants - a past which is not pretty but has absolutely nothing to do with the case or the 'professional Aboriginals' accusations. Dirty.

It’s the sort of thing that is such fun to watch it almost makes up for Essendon not reaching the Grand Final in the footy this year.

Bolt claims that far from being a racist he simply hates any kind of discrimination at all.

He also, incidentally, totally refutes any claim that Aboriginals were ever 'stolen'. 
In his mind, when Aboriginal children were taken away it was for their own good, just as non-Aboriginal children are taken away from their families for their own good. This belief of his is not just a casual ‘agree to disagree’ belief, but an obsession he pounds away at every chance he gets.

There is no way to deny race – and worse still, racial composition – was a big factor in deciding which Aboriginal children were taken ‘for their own good’ and which weren’t. 
Nonetheless, it could be argued that children were taken - no matter how selectively - with the best of intentions.
Without asserting that the western way of life is morally or spiritually superior to traditional Aboriginal life, I suggest the cloud which always hangs over policy-makers is that it’s hard to imagine Aboriginals being better off living a purely traditional lifestyle now that everything has irrevocably changed. 

Whether one respects or simply romanticises a traditional Aboriginal lifestyle, for many Indigenous Australians the traditional life was a bloody hard life. 
Which is more important today, the physical quality of life or the right to self-determination? 
If we can allow Indigenous adults the right to self-determination, at what point should we intervene to protect Indigenous children from the physical consequences of living a purely traditional lifestyle?

As just one example, we know that without vaccination Aboriginal children would succumb to white diseases at a disastrous rate, no matter where or how they were living.

And yes, one of our agreements with the UN is the right of people to choose which ethnic lifestyle they prefer, but children with no taste of a whitefella life or education will not be in a position to make a very informed choice. 

A parallel argument might be made against the tradition of a very small number of 20th Century migrants, of practising female circumcision. 
Some of might like to say Aboriginals were here first so they should be free to do what they like, including raising children in an exclusively traditional way.
Does this mean those of us who are not Aboriginal have no right to say to more recent immigrants they should not be free to choose female genital mutilation?

Can we give absolute self-determination to one group but not another? Should we allow Aboriginals the absolute right to dictate the terms on which all non-Aboriginals are to live?

For me, the ideal and practical approach would be to go for the best of both or all worlds. No 'way' is perfect, and most incorporate some rubbish that should be jettisoned, but let’s not throw out the good with the bad.

With respect to the stolen generations, what Bolt fails to see is that children of any background, when institutionalised or separated from their parents at a young age, are damaged by that separation whether they are better off in every other way or not.

Whitefellas have done some hideous things to whitefella children over the years, and whitefella children have suffered. This was the whole point of Rudd's apology to Forgotten children.

Given the enormous contrast between the Aboriginal world and the whitefella world, the difference in physical appearance, and the tendency of some whitefellas to be smug about race, Aboriginal children have unquestionably suffered more than whitefella children when separated from their families.

Bolt does not discriminate on this score, he holds that regardless of colour separation has NO adverse impact on anyone of any colour, and will slap down any person who dares to suggest otherwise. It’s no surprise then that he cannot allow for the notion that even if Aboriginal children were not ‘stolen’, Aboriginals have every good reason to see it that way.

I’m sure I would have trouble convincing any sane person that we have ripped off Aboriginal stockmen, gone n--- hunting, fed people poison flour, taken the land, and sent body parts to museums in jars of formaldehyde [etc], yet insist “but when we took the children, that was different; it was because we really cared about them.”

Given that Bolt has made a great deal of noise about his attitudes over time, no matter how much he protests he meant well it should have been no surprise his ‘professional Aboriginal’ slur provoked a little legal action.


In the two offensive 2009 articles in question [and some related blogs] Bolt accused some people of choosing to be Aboriginal even though they look and could pass for white. His tone suggested this was wrong of them.
This attitude alone implies white is what one ought to choose - even if the idea of ‘passing for white’ doesn't itself amount to incitement to commit a ‘justifiable fraud’.

One of the complainants in the case against Bolt was former ATSIC chairman Geoff Clark who, let’s face it, doesn’t warm the cockles of many hearts.
But the person Bolt really got stuck into was Larissa Behrendt, and it was in sticking it to her that he really came unstuck:

     blah blah blah …”demanding special rights for ‘my people’. But which people are ‘yours’ exactly, mein liebchen? And isn’t it bizarre to demand laws to give you more rights as a white Aborigine than your own white dad?”

This is extraordinary stuff, including his defence that he Googled the people he mentioned to check his facts because that is what journalists do [excuse me while I laugh up my sleeve]. 

Google lists, for the first few pages of an enquiry, nothing to suggest Behrendt's black father might have been a white German.
Behrendt has done very well for herself, graduating from Harvard Law school - with a doctorate no less. She has long been active in Aboriginal affairs, and has published a wide range of influential papers on topics pertinent to Aboriginal Australia’s past and future.


One of the things I believe Bolt was suggesting is that if someone Aboriginal is healthy, has a sufficient grasp of the white world to know how to dress, and behaves well in mixed company, then perhaps they should pay for their own Harvard education and let some more disadvantaged Indigenous person[s] use the money. Did Behrendt prevent other, more needy Aboriginals from getting these funds?

There are several possible answers to this suggestion":
  • If it’s legal, why not take the money?
  • Only Larissa and her community really know whether she has always identified herself as Aboriginal or not [though I’m voting for ‘of course she has’].
  • Perhaps the good she has achieved – as a person who knows better than to wipe her nose on her sleeve in public – far outweighs what it has cost in terms of Aboriginal dollars
No, this judgment against Bolt does not sound the death knell for freedom of speech. It was simply a request that he get his facts right and stop being a personal, sarcastic bitch when discussing reasonable questions about the politics of race.

And what has the white colour of anyone's skin to do with racial identity? 
If I were Aboriginal and appeared white and heard someone trashing my family - many of whom were dark and conspicuously Aboriginal, should I feel nothing? Say nothing? Just get on with life thanking the good Lord that I was lucky enough to inherit white skin?

One’s cultural and ethnic upbringing is not a matter of choice. Behrendt was raised by Aboriginal people, and her family and community are Aboriginal. Should she turn her back on them?

I can only judge this by looking at how my own upbringing influenced my own identity. [Given that many Anglos are genetically mongrels, this seems a valid way to approach the issue.]

Only 1/8th Irish, I was raised as an Irish Catholic. The Irish part meant genealogy was as important to my family as it was to the Celts a thousand years ago, and I place specific values and expectations on my relationships with members of my extended family [including second cousins twice removed]. 

Being raised to think of myself as Irish Catholic meant viewing the English occupation of Ireland a certain way, colouring my opinion of British royalty and the British class system. 
It’s probably why I would rather listen to Irish music or the Hallelujah Chorus than to Chinese Opera.

With each successive generation of the Fruitcake family, the red hair and freckles are fading, but my colouring has nothing to do with anything I feel or believe or the rules I live by, nor does it change the very Irish names in my family tree. 

Raised within an extended and exclusively Greek family, my niece has children who are Greek Orthodox in religion, and think of themselves as Greek Australians. 
In truth, many Greek whitefellas place their own interpretation on the importance of family, and the western world's cult of the individual. 
Being culturally Greek, my nieces and nephews will have slightly different personal aspirations from their Anglo-Irish relatives.

For many Aboriginal Australians, the importance of family and communities is more than slightly different from whitefellas. Their traditions relating to mutual obligation, for example, have an enormous impact on whether there is any incentive to work hard and acquire the trappings of success.
For many Aboriginal Australians whitefellas are not just different but are, in accordance with real living memory, the enemy. 

Although I am only an Irish octoroon, praties are on my list of the essential food groups [though I’ll pass on the jellied pigs’ trotters, thanks].
If I claimed to be English or Scottish or Welsh I would be a fraud and it would show.

As an Irish Catholic, even if I don’t believe in God it doesn’t stop me from finding peace and solace inside a Catholic Church. I am comfortable with the Catholic rituals that allow me to express myself, and inside a Catholic Church I have access to a sense of shared belonging with a very large number of strangers. 
Not believing in God does not stop a very thorough religious education from informing all of my values and views.

Colouring and bloodlines are irrelevant, or if they are not, they should be. We are what we live.

As whitefellas, one of our greatest fears ought to be adopting a 'weren’t we horrible we should feel guilty' approach to history, instead of adopting a 'this is how we went wrong and this is how we can avoid repeating our mistakes' approach. 

We ought to be very afraid of a ‘we said we were sorry now shutup’ attitude.

If we do not allow Aboriginals ownership of their own history, why should they allow us ownership of ours?

Indigenous Australians are, for the most part, rightly suspicious of whitefellas. This is not something that will change in just one or two generations. If we want the trust of Indigenous Australia, we shall have to earn it. Indigenous Asutralians will not grant us absolution until they truly believe we can be trusted. 
Aboriginals – even the obnoxious ones – are not creating division or reinforcing difference by identifying as Aboriginals, they are simply responding to their version of reality.

But every time we breach whatever trust there might be between our two communities, we exacerbate and validate their sense that they are "other".

To even consider that someone might identify as Aboriginal for selfish reasons, or to even suggest that the colour of one person's skill should determine how they are to behave around white or Aboriginal people, or even towards their own families, is as ignorant as it is preposterous.


In the 70s, many people explored a whole range of theories about why women were not allowed to drive trams or be bank tellers or receive equal pay. 
Many of those theories revolved around a gender imbalance of physical, political and financial power. Had I decided the system that was stacked against me could not be changed, I would have become a victim of my own truth.
The schism between black and white Australia today is compounded by exactly such a sense of powerlessness. Thankfully, activism is now advancing to a stage where Aboriginal people are rejecting the notion of passivity and victim thinking.

Every Indigenous Australian who does not give in to the perception that the system is stacked against them is a success story. Let’s not give anyone a reason to think the past must totally determine their future, that they have no options and should have no hope, or that they are powerless to achieve anything within the system.

Instead of taking a swipe at Aboriginals who, light or dark skinned, embrace whitefella ways by going to Harvard or working for their community or becoming doctors or politicians, we should be breathing a sigh of relief, not criticising them. 

Just as those in the already developed world cannot help everyone in developing countries without reducing us all to a state of penury, Aboriginals should not be expected to aim for equality amongst themselves at the expense of Aboriginal quality of life.
At the end of the day, some successful 'white Aboriginals are no doubt giving a great deal to their people and communities.

Who of us knows what any Australian gives to others, if they do not make a fuss of the giving?

Colouring and bloodlines are irrelevant, or if they are not, they should be.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I think that when the day arrives that we can live out the dream of judging people solely on the basis of character, political correctness won’t be an issue: People will know we see each other for who we are, not how we think they should be.

In recent times, multiculturalism has been declared a failure.

Unfortunately, multiculturalism has become confused with plurality. Multiculturalism allows my Greek relatives to enjoy an Australian lifestyle without surrendering important traditional values. Multiculturalism allows us to live in harmony, each group celebrating differences which are special but not incompatible.

Plurality, on the other hand, assumes that significant or excessive differences - such as a tradition of female genital mutilation - must be ignored. 
It is the support of such extremes, in the name of political correctness and tolerance, which people fear and find abhorrent, not tolerance and an agreement on the most important issues.

I do not support the notion of limited rights to speak. Discussion and a constructive exchange of ideas are essential to the maintenance of freedom. On the other hand, English law has a very long history of protecting people from character assassination. 
Bolt is not guilty of speaking freely; he is guilty of reckless defamation. Far from encouraging equal treatment he has simply hammered one more nail in the coffin of that trust we so sorely need from Indigenous Australians.