Saturday, July 30, 2011


Where one person's freedom begins, another's must end


Many years ago, while sitting in a tram at some traffic lights [not far from St Francis Church] I saw two little old ladies deeply engrossed in conversation, walk into the wrong building. A minute later, they came rushing, red-faced, from a “Live Sex Acts on Stage” theatre, then go, giggling, into the Catholic Book Shop next door.

First came a kerfuffle about building a mosque at Ground Zero in New York. Now we hear that atheists have lodged a protest about plans to install a cross-shaped piece of wreckage from the 9/11 ruins.
What won’t be in the memorial museum when it opens are any toilets. If the cross does not make it into the museum, it looks like a visit to Ground Zero will still remind people of Rome.
Received an email yesterday. Although it mentions Sydney, it actually came to us by way of France, a country which has done its best to ban the burqa. By extension, it comes by way of Europe, an area which is becoming increasingly vocal about the pros and cons of multiculturalism. [Beyond the sentiment it expresses, it’s actually rather clever.]

I am truly perplexed that so many of my friends are against another mosque being built in Sydney.
I think it should be the goal of every Australian to be tolerant.
Thus the Mosque should be allowed, in an effort to promote tolerance.
That is why I also propose that two nightclubs be opened next door to the mosque, thereby promoting tolerance from within the mosque.
We could call one of the clubs, which would be gay, "The Turban Cowboy", and the other a topless bar called "You Mecca Me Hot."
Next door should be a butcher shop that specializes in pork, and adjacent to that an open-pit barbeque pork restaurant, called "Iraq o' Ribs."
Across the street there could be a lingerie store called "Victoria Keeps Nothing Secret", with sexy mannequins in the window modelling the goods.
Next door to the lingerie shop there would be room for an adult sex toy shop, "Koranal Knowledge", its name in flashing neon lights, and on the other side a liquor store called "Morehammered."
All of this would encourage the Muslims to demonstrate the tolerance they demand of us, so the mosque problem would be solved.
If you agree with promoting tolerance, and you think this is a good plan, please pass it on...

Does/can multiculturalism work? If people feel that it isn’t working /can’t work, where is it going wrong?
At what point does any “anyist” joke cross a line?



A few days ago I made a fleeting reference to Ireland’s ‘mandatory reporting of child abuse’ legislation. This is to extend to priests, requiring them to break the seal [confidentiality] of the confessional.

Senator Nick Xenephon has spoken out in favour of mandatory reporting in Australia.
Arguments against mandatory reporting of what is confessed include assumptions:
·         The priest will be able to ensure the sinner feels true remorse;
·         Encourage the sinner to ensure they will not repeat the sin [e.g. seek help]; and
·         Encourage the sinner to find ways to make amends [penance might require more than just saying some prayers].
Without a guarantee of confidentiality, the Church quite reasonably expects people will not risk admitting to any wrong at all.

While I endorse all the principles behind confession, in the case of child or sexual abuse I’m inclined to vote for mandatory reporting:
Few paedophiles are going to confess to the fact, mandatory reporting in place or not. Most either feel quite strongly there is nothing wrong with what they do, or are so consumed by shame they are in denial.

Mandatory reporting, overriding the religious policy of confidentiality, follows a principle vital to the success of multiculturalism:
You can believe/do whatever you want, so long as you abide by the law. If Muslims were to assert the importance of confidentiality, even using the same arguments as the church gives, there would be a large outcry on the issue.
Is it because this is a Christian issue that it has not become a big issue?


publishing history

After the closure of the RedGroup bookstores, and our local A&R outlet, some enterprising newcomers took a short term lease on the shop and shipped in tons of remainders, all going out for $5 each. There had always been heaps of remainders in this store before, but there was no way I was going to pay full price for them.

One great find has been a book called 1989: The Year That Changed The World [the untold story behind the fall of the Berlin Wall.]

Before the wall fell, in early 1989 the Hungarians opened some of their section of the Iron Curtain, along their border with Austria. Because Hungary was a Warsaw Pact country, East Germans often took holidays in this area. The opening of the border had been well publicised, but people seemed cautious about crossing the border, fearing border patrols might still shoot them.
Some radical Hungarians, sensing that Gorbachev really did want change, proposed a picnic demonstration near Sopron where the barbed wire had been cut. Hungary's leaders invited the Austrian government to get involved, and the Pan European Picnic of 19 August 1989 went down in history as the day heaps of East Germans - after pfaffing about nervously all day - finally discovered they could just walk across the border. Austrian buses were queued up, waiting to whisk people away as they crossed.

But if the Hungarian border opening paved the way for the fall of the wall, the first really free elections in Poland in 1989 were what kick-started it all. It was the first open defiance of Russia which had not resulted in the arrival of a couple of million tanks.
Which finally brings me to what I think is the best part of the $5 book by Michael Meyer:

"At their dying day, all but finished and out of steam, Poland's communists mustered the strength for one last perversity, a final crowning act of unwitting but utter self-humiliation. They devised an electoral system whereby Poles would not vote for candidates of their choice. Instead, they would cross out those they did not like...
Revolution by deletion! The pen, at last mightier than the sword, became a weapon of glorious retribution, wielded with style. Some voters slashed their ballots boldly, decapitating the old regime with flourishing strokes, like a charge of Polish cavalry, sabers drawn and glinting in the sun. Pfft! Pfft! Whole pages of communists were x-ed with disembowelling slashes. Others savored the moment, deleting slowly, perhaps puffing a cigarette as they paused over this or that name, not so much considering their choice as pleasuring in this or that special deletion. Oh yes, he jailed my cousin. Pfft! ..."

This 'show don't tell' approach to writing history left me wondering what it would be like if, instead of being asked to number boxes, we were asked to delete the names of people we did not want to vote for... would there be less informal votes? It sounds like fun.
Commenting on my post about some Australian books, Andrew and Red Nomad Oz have raised the interesting issue of how much publicity is enough or too much when promoting a book?

Sell-air-brity [celebrity of the most vacuous kind] seems to guarantee a minimum number of sales, and the offer of a personally signed copy can drive sales through the roof.
A hardback copy of John Howard's autobiography Lazarus Rising costs a whopping $59.95. At a time when retail sales are plummeting, 75,000 copies had already been shifted by mid-May this year. Who bought all those copies? More to the point, why?
Christine Nixon's autobiography Fair Cop is close enough to $37 in paperback. [for foreigners, like people who don't live in Victoria] Nixon is a former Victorian Police Chief, who was in charge when the Black Saturday bushfires roared through Victoria.
The Herald-Sun is whipping up a storm over this book. Nixon was originally criticised in the press for leaving emergency command on the Saturday to work on her biography, get her hair done, and eat a meal at a North Melbourne pub.
In her book, Nixon lashes out at the press, the Royal Commission, and people who are sexist and/or fattist. Naturally, a lot of people are lashing right back.
Is it true there is no such thing as bad publicity?

So now we know that at least 12 copies of a public figure's biography go to journos and a couple of other enemies, but how many copies of this one will sell before it's remaindered? If I see it for $5 will I buy it? If the Herald-Sun publishes enough of the content in the interests of a fair public debate, will there be anything left to read if I do pay $5 for a copy?

If I don't buy it, will this make me fattist or sexist? Would this make me tallist? Would this mean I am intelligent or stupid, or just plain tight with money? What if I just have copophobia?
If I try to borrow it from my local library, will I discover that it's in the catalogue and marked as available but some mongrel has, once again, nicked a book I want to read from the collection?

When enough time has passed for me to know the answers to these questions, will I still care?

Friday, July 29, 2011

small problems

My grandmother was a very tall woman. All of her children were tall, except for my mother who was the runt of the litter. I, in turn, am the runt of the runt's litter.
The Other, surprisingly enough, is even shorter.
Our schnauzers are miniature.

The Other likes my family. Even tho my big bro is 6'2", Both The Other and I tower over his wife.
I don't know what the legal definition of short is. I read in the paper that short people are worried they'll have nothing to hold on to when seats are ripped out of our trains to make room for more people. It's already bad enough, said one short spokesperson, that travelling on public transport means they have other people's bums in their face all the time.

When I first read this story I did not give it much thought. But today I actually did something totally out of character and cleaned the oven. When I grabbed some steps to clean the range hood, I didn't give it much thought.
It was only when, with the oven door open, I reached in to to wipe the back of the oven I remembered I'm not very tall and, being in proportion to the rest of my body, my arms are relatively short. As I struggled to reach the back of the oven I remembered that when I see people my height they look weird to me. And as I finished cleaning the oven, I remembered that the best thing about crowded trains is if we are all really packed in tight I can't fall over.

When I started secondary school my new uniforms were the smallest size available. My mother sewed up six inches at the waist and hemmed another three inches off the shoulders. When I left school 5 years later only the shoulders had been altered though, by then, at least I could hold a school bag normally without it dragging on the ground. The best thing about being short at school is never having to play sport because no one picked me for their team, I could just take a book along.

Even after I left school and started a new job I still had to ask people to pull the cord for me so I could get off the tram at my stop. The reason I wear 'sensible' shoes is not to reflect my lifestyle, but because I am afraid of heights and refuse to wear heels. I never teased my hair up into a beehive because I didn't want to look desperate to appear taller.

Armchairs, lounges, car seats - all have head rests designed to push the head of a short person forward at an unnatural angle. Being much taller than The Other, when I drive my feet can reach the pedals without me having to jam my fat stomach right up against the steering wheel.

In supermarkets, I climb up on the fixtures to reach stuff off the top shelves. On the way to the car with our shopping, The Other climbs up onto the legs of the supermarket trolley, to ride it down hill.

But even though they are taking seats out of trains and there will be less to hold on to than ever, this is cool. When you live in Melbourne, and you actually manage to get ON a train, you count your blessings. And while standing in a crowded summer train with malfunctioning air-conditioning means my face is usually in some rank armpit, sitting puts my face at groin level.
I drive a sad, old, dented Hyundai. My car has been rear-ended [lady driver turning around to scream at her kids]. I've been backed into [furniture removal van]. I've been side swiped waiting in a left hand lane by some bloke in a brand new car who was rushing to catch a right turn arrow [cost him more than it cost me].

By now you've probably seen pictures of the big car pile up in Monte Carlo. 
The Herald-Sun headline for this story screams '$1m car pile up [it involves a blonde].'
The bingle involved a Bentley, Mercedes, Ferrari, Porsche and an Aston Martin.

Some wag commented that the next time a used car salesman claims a car was 'only driven by a lady' potential buyers should exercise caution. 

The cars ended up packed so tightly together the driver could not open her car doors and was trapped. She must be blonde, commented another wag, because she was in an open convertible.

I can see the humour in blonde jokes, even before someone tries to explain them to me. I don't mind having blonde hair; it's more than my brothers have. They've reached an age where the only hair they grow is sprouting from their ears. It's blonde.

When I searched for 'blonde jokes' Google immediately located 1,900,000 hits.

A blind guy on a bar stool shouts to the bartender, "Wanna hear a blonde joke?"
In a hushed voice, the guy next to him says, "Before you tell that joke, you should know something. Our bartender IS blonde and the bouncer is blonde. I'm a 6' tall blonde, 200 lb black belt. The guy sitting next to me is a blonde, 6' 2, weighs 225 and he's a rugby player. The fella to your right is 6' 5" pushing 300 and he's a wrestler. Each one of US is blonde. Think about it, Mister. You still wanna tell that joke?"
The blind guy says, "Nah, not if I'm gonna have to explain it five times."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

is it a con or fair dinkum?

The Happiest Refugee

Anh Do's best selling autobiography The Happiest Refugee has won 3 Australian Book Industry Awards;  for best newcomer, best biography, and the book of the year.
Today, The Age reports claims that the book is largely the work of a ghostwriter. Well, duh!
In the preface, Do thanks the ghost writer for teaching him how to write, and how to structure the book. Generally speaking, when an editor works on a book - especially one that has been commissioned by a publisher - their job is not just to correct spelling and grammatical errors, but to make sure the structure works.
There is no way in the world this book has any voice other than Do's.

On the other hand, there have been some Australian best sellers in the past that would have been rubbish without the input of an editor.
You can tell an Australian author has been given the FIGJAM treatment if, half way through a book, you find a page of dense, unedited drivel that has "slipped through the net". Happily, this is pretty rare: I've only seen it happen three times, but as I don't read a lot of fiction it might be more common.
The Australian book industry is small, because the market for Australian titles is small. Editing is something few publishers can afford to do as thoroughly or constructively as in the USA or the UK.

The Happiest Refugee is one of the 4 best books I've read in the past 2 years. It's not just a true story, it is a classic story in every sense: Hope, fear, despair, spirit, human flaws and personal growth are all between the covers. Great guy; great book.

An online comment about the book cuts down the implied charge of cheating very nicely; someone who uses the name Pinky says "Anh, take it as a compliment, you know you are a successful Australian when you've been Tall Poppied".
One best selling Australian [fiction] writer has sold a heap of titles that are very popular. His first novel - published before he migrated to Oz, was an international best seller. It's such a fantastic book that I've given a copy of it to several teenage boys as a Christmas or birthday present. It's such a fantastic book it became a very successful movie.
The books of his that have been published since he arrived here could benefit from a great deal of re-structuring and, although the spelling is fine, the grammar frustrates me so much I find the books unreadable.
[No, in case you are wondering, Tom Keneally was born here.]
Chloe Hooper's The Tall Man - Death and Life on Palm Island is a wow of a read. It tells the story of Cameron Doomadgee who was, more or less, Australia's Rodney King. It should surprise no one to hear that an Aboriginal died mysteriously while in custody, nor to hear that there was a riot following the initial coroner's report that no one was to blame.
Although The Tall Man is a non-fiction book, it has none of the feel of a piece of reporting. It's so engaging, in fact, it has won a whole swag of awards; ironically, one of those awards was the 2009 Queensland Premier's Literary Award.
It's a lot like an episode of Law and Order really, only it's real and the writing is better.
Numerous books are published every year, in many countries, about institutional abuse of young children. Many books have already been published about the British child immigrant scheme. For the most part I tend to avoid them all, because there is only so much vicarious pain I can bear. However, one book released in 2009 is a standout.
The Bush Orphanage- Recollections of a British child migrant and the truth about Australia's human trafficking past, has a very informative section explaining what John Hawkins was able to uncover about the scheme, and  the struggle he had to uncover it.
If the title attracted my attention, the photos inside the book made me feel it would be a safe and rewarding read. Far from wallowing in self-pity, Hawkins seems to have become an adult with a reasonable level of anger about what happened to him, but who has been able to prove that sometimes "success is the best revenge".
The last book to win a place in this year's scuze i awards - and this book wins first place - is Raft.
The first good sign was a quote on the front cover which reads "A doctor in a yarmulka enters Aboriginal Australia... these are the clinical notes of a humble and compassionate man."
The second good sign was that the quote was from Martin Flanagan.
The third good sign was when I turned the book over and saw another recommendation from Arnold Zable.

This was the book which showed me that The Gap, Gangs and Golliwogs could be more than just a whinge about people who think Australians are racists: This is the book that proves most of us have no bloody idea, and that we need to.
Howard Goldenberg, in so far as I can know anyone from a book they have written, reminds me of the priest who was chaplain when I was at school. If we only get a chance to know half a dozen very special people in a life time, then now that I've read Raft, I've already met two of them.

One of Ted Baillieu's election promises was that Victoria would get tough on crime when he became Premier. [Well, if there are no boats, how else do you get votes?]
This week, as a result of that promise, the Attorney General launched a survey on sentencing. There are copies in newspapers, and the survey can also be completed online.

As surveys go, its format doesn't reveal any blatant bias. But, it's hard to imagine how much sway it will have, as there is absolutely no control to ensure the survey is representative of the population at large: Anyone from anywhere in the world could log on and complete it as many times as they like. Is this one of those "promise them anything but give them a lemon" charades governments sometimes resort to?
[If you want to join in the fun, or simply get a snapshot of how sentences compare here with where you are, you'll need a legitimate postcode beginning with Victoria's prefix, 3.]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

the battle to be

A song that's actually older than me! [just]

Although I'm not quite so old as this song, I heard it all the time when I was young, and the profound lyrics are embedded in my brain. This has not left a lot of brain space for other ideas. In fact, there are many events or situations in life which trigger the "not responsible" synapse.
Perhaps one day I'll write a screenplay for a musical comedy; one in which the protagonist responds to random events by singing banal lines from hits of yesteryears.

When I first heard the dreadful carnage in Norway had been committed by some right wing christian fundamentalist nut, I found myself humming the words to this song. Really, there is not even any reason to change the tagline "I'm so in love with you", because the beastly Breivik claims he was martyring himself for the greater good.

As interesting as anything the Herald-Sun has published in my life time, are snippets about this beast, based largely on his online rantings. If not a musical comedy, what kind of fiction could we build simply by taking pieces of Breivik's story and manipulating the sequence? Could we come up with a plausible beginning, middle and end to explain what happened?

He used to hang out with Pakistani gangs and claims they beat him up eight times. Forget that the guy was a slow learner - what was he doing to make them so cross?
SCRIPT ACT ONE: He did not "approve of the super liberal, matriarchal upbringing" he had, as it completely lacked discipline and only served to "feminise" him.

He identified with the Knights Templar who, during the Crusades, made a lot of money hunting down the infidel [i.e. Muslims]. Accordingly, he asked if he could wear a uniform in court, but couldn't say what uniform that would be.
SCRIPT ACT TWO: Like the Knights Templar, Breivik is a dedicated Christian. His stepfather is a military man.

He wanted to face death knowing he was biologically, mentally and spiritually at ease.
SCRIPT ACT THREE: He defeats his undisciplined and feminised self and reaches his full potential by preparing a budget for his mission, planning to celebrate with some expensive champagne and some "high class model whores".

This is an arty-farty movie script so we leave viewers to decide what he was really trying to prove.



I'm comforted to learn Breivik's online manifesto runs to 1500 pages - much more than my own blog output so far. I can write lots of words, but when I look back over them and delete all the bits that come from songs I've heard there's not much left.
And I don't really worry about my tendency to pontificate, because I know Australians don't take themselves too seriously:

[warning - rude words]

Monday, July 25, 2011

what in heaven's name

You shouldn't have to be a sports freak, or even an expert on AFL football, to be impressed by Liam Jurrah's total focus... no matter where the ball is, his feet seem to find it at just the right moment.

Liam Jurrah, also known as the Warlpiri Wizard, is a fully initiated tribal man from Yuendemu, a desert community way out from Alice Springs.
This community is the home of the Mt Theo Outstation Program. Quite simply, petrol sniffing is a problem in some communities where tradition and law have broken down, and teenagers find their lives almost unbearably meaningless.

Petrol sniffing and taking drugs can become a rite of passage in the absence of a better alternative. The Mt Theo Program has been a success because it takes kids away on country [where they have no access to harmful substances] and elders can engage them with exposure to and reinforcement of tradition.

The success of this program is an argument in favour of people sharing a set of life affirming values.
Some people say sport, or football, is a religion in Melbourne. Any religion that keeps people's heads out of a petrol container is a good thing, I reckon.
Catholic Health Australia has today apologised for forcing around 150,000 single mothers to surrender their children for adoption between 1950 and the mid 1970s.
This practice was not a uniquely Catholic practice, but it was just one of the ways the Irish Catholic church sent a disproportionate number of British kids to Australia under the postwar child immigrant scheme.

In the meantime the Catholic Church in Ireland, whose rules once set the standard for the whole of the free Irish state, has been criticised yet again by the Irish government. Child sex abuse by Catholic Clergy was concealed until as recently as 2009. Now the government has warned that any priest who thinks the seal of the confessional is an excuse for not reporting sex abuse will be prosecuted.
I find the notion of a supreme being at best unbelievable, and in essence, ludicrous. Nonetheless, as the west develops and moves away from an unquestioning acceptance of god, we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The stories and values of the faith I was raised in, or the stories and values of other faiths, have meaning whether god exists or not: A metaphor does not have to be true to be useful.
Conversely, no one has to believe in god to be a good person or to have a decent set of values.

Like money, gods are neither good nor bad, it's what we do with them that counts.

Radical political isms and rigid fundamentalist gods are simply the piss poor rationalisations evil people use so they can live with themselves. Unfortunately, Anders Behring Breivik could live with himself but didn't want anyone else to live at all.
When Julian Knight shot up Hoddle Street in 1987, he made that decision himself. He expects to be out on parole in 2014 but has learnt nothing, spending all of his sentence taking one petty grievance after another to court.

I like living in a country that tries to rehabilitate people rather than simply locking them up. I like living in a country that doesn't believe in capital punishment. I like the way our judges decide on sentences and, even though I sometimes disagree with them, their sentencing statements generally show they can be trusted to make good decisions.

But there are some times when the laws just suck, and I do believe the good people of Norway are finding themselves in a similar bind because their maximum sentences are not appropriate for people who go out on a rampaging massacre, not appropriate for those who feel inadequate and can afford guns but not a big red sports car.

When in heaven's name are we going to have a "can't be rehabilitated" sentence that will keep mass murderers, or recidivist perverts off the street completely?

the problem with problems

Vale Amy

Like most people, I had heard of Amy Winehouse before, and none of the news was good.
About two weeks ago one of her tunes was played on the ABC and I was shocked to hear a hint of Billie Holiday in her voice - not the tragedy but some other great quality in her voice. No idea what the song was, but this one is not too bad either.
Sadly, it's not til someone famous passes away that I stop to think of all the guilt addiction causes to family, friends, associates, or even passers-by, in all corners of the world. To all of you carers out there, be kind to yourselves; you can only do your best.
I'm curious about whether our press is making more of the Murdoch hacking story than the average person is inclined to make of it. Perhaps it's just me who feels ho hum about it all. The British tabloid press have never been purveyors of anything but crap, and if the hacking of Prince Charles' romantic "tampon" message to Camilla didn't create this level of fuss it's strange that this has now become an issue.
As technology changes, so will the nature of crime. The law never has and never can predict the nature of these crimes, it can only respond to new crimes as they arise. This is simply the exploitation of children during the Industrial Revolution with WiFi.
A great deal of what I'm reading or hearing seems to revolve around the question of whether Rupert has too much sway, or whether he is an evil or trustworthy person.
I think his mother is a good-hearted, naturally charitable and kind person.
I think Rupert was the reporter who printed a lot of crap during the Warburton Ranges scandal.
I think Wendi Deng brightened up everyone's day when she bitch-slapped Mr Cream Pie. She also delivered a similar blow to all the smug gits who strut their stuff in security circles, and she delivered one ripper of a blow to all those who questioned her motives in marrying a man so much older than herself.
Go Wendi.

Australia's deal with Malaysia seems set to go ahead, with provisions that asylum seekers sent to Malaysia will have the right to work, and access to education. Announcements are now talking up the advantages of preventing children being brought in on leaky boats.
Another current story is that a legal challenge is being made to laws requiring sentencing of people smugglers: In principle, if the passengers on these leaky boats have the right to seek asylum, then those who ship them here are simply supporting an international law to which Australia subscribes.

What has brought us to this? A chain of unprincipled grabs for votes.
Pauline Hanson was not popular because she was a racist, she was popular because no matter how repulsive her policies seemed, she was refreshingly honest. What she tapped into was not xenophobia, but national spin-fatigue.

The simplest way to cut down her less palatable attitudes would have been honesty. Forget the quiet, lacklustre press releases, this was a time when a government with gumption could have tackled all the urban myths about how much immigrants, or asylum seekers or any other newcomers actually get. But no one wanted to deal with the fear the rest of us were somehow missing out.
Howard used his own face to catch an omelet with the Tampa and the children overboard dramas. He ponced around saying "WE will decide who comes to this country..." It was very much a case of the best DEfence being OFfence.  He created a straw man out of the boats to save face.

The boat problem does not exist: It is a fabrication. Forget the rot about stopping boats, this was a lost opportunity for a government with gumption to tackle the things that are really concerning voters:
The size of our border does not make us vulnerable. In an age of high tech death and destruction, and in an age of terror, the size of our border is irrelevant. If someone wants to get us they will.

For the first time in our history, we now have a minority in our midst who are hell bent on getting away with murder and blaming it on our lack of sensitivity to their racial, cultural or religious needs. The handful of radical Muslim Australians who are demanding interest-free loans because of their religious beliefs are missing the point: They are already free to think and believe what they will, and they already have as much protection against discrimination as is legally offered to everyone else. They are already free to apply for loans like everyone else, but equal opportunity is not the same thing as an equal outcome.
None of this has anything to do with boats. None of this is being confronted in a fair but firm way by leaders.

Because neither of our two alternative governments have the gumption to face down this internal threat; because they would rather blame the asylum seekers who come here by boat; because it is easier to blame the UN, they have ensured that billions of dollars would be wasted on the boat people issue and, in the process, guaranteed that the rest of us will have some reason to resent these outsiders.

Let's forget the straw men and get back to basics.
What do we want? Some would have it that what we want is to stop the boats.
What we really want - regardless of party affiliation - is to help as many people who need help as we can by getting the best possible outcome for each dollar we spend. Stopping boats is irrelevant.

The cheapest option would be supporting two or three roving UN teams in Asia so asylum seekers can actually apply for asylum without getting on a boat.

Whether asylum seekers arrive by boat or plane, they should be treated the same way. Straight to the back of a queue in an established camp in some place like Africa where people, already screened by the UN, have been waiting a life time already. Any person who can afford to fly into Australia, with papers, and ask for asylum will have to wait their turn, just like the boat people.

At this point no doubt some people will start jumping up and down about children. I make no apology on this score: Nothing short of child abuse by the guardian figures will ever justify removing or separating children from their families.
Where people are in detention they can like it or lump it. Call me cruel, but I would rather be in an Australian detention centre than living in any of a thousand free situations in other parts of the world. I don't for one moment suggest any person needing refuge should have to grovel for help, but they do need to keep a sense of proportion.
It might well be depressing, but there is no other refugee camp in the world that is not already full of children and depressed adults. Maybe the children and depressed adults who have been waiting the longest, who are waiting elsewhere, deserve a break too.

Rioting, destruction of property, self mutilation or any of the other stuff that keeps happening is not winning much sympathy from the average Australian. There is something rather idiotic in rioting because there aren't enough computers, and then expecting Australians to say "Oh yes, you are just the sort of person we need here, by all means do come in."
None of this has anything to do with boats. Why isn't it being dealt with?

Some of this bad behaviour is the result of jealousy between different ethnic groups. Rumours and misinformation are rife in detention centres. This might not be nice, but once again there are not many Australians who will sympathise.
After World War II we had an influx of migrants who had, a few years earlier, been at war with each other. Germans, Italians, English, Slavs, Poles... they all came here, got over it and got on with it. We do not want people coming to this country who won't let go of traditional feuds and resentments, because we've seen what it does in other countries. This is the sort of hate that results in massacres like the ones in Bosnia.

Some of this bad behaviour is coming from people kept in detention for a year or more. Yes, a year is a long time to live without certainty, but until people actually arrive in a country where they can claim asylum they are living with much worse uncertainty.
The delays are due to the extra time taken to process people with no papers, and in some cases, a shortage of accredited interpreters familiar with all of the legal, medical and other terminology and concepts they must discuss with asylum seekers.
Another, and perhaps the most important source of these delays, is that asylum seekers in Australia have extensive legal rights including rights to appeal. These legal processes have a vital role to play in ensuring Australia never becomes a country where someone's fate can depend on how easily officials can be bribed. Australians pay in dollars for these delays, asylum seekers pay in time. That's the way it is.
There are many Aboriginals today, for example those in East Arnhem Land who had far less early contact with whites than other Aboriginals, who must live with the frustration of having few interpreters at their disposal. More disadvantaged than asylum seekers, they are lucky if they have the same counsel twice in a row when dealing with a legal issue, and are less likely to be represented by someone who has had the time or means to even understand the case. It's not an ideal situation, but that's the way it is.

It's possible some of the worst rioting is coming from people already denied refugee status. While they are waiting for the appeal process, they should be segregated from the rest of the people in detention.

There is absolutely no special excuse for self-mutilation that doesn't already apply to far too many Australians already.
We have homeless people who deserve help. We have people with mental illnesses that are treated like pariahs. We have people denied life saving drugs because they can't afford them. We have people denied basic hospital services like hip replacements because being in pain and unable to move around is not "life-threatening" enough, so surgery is deemed to be "elective".
We have people who have paid taxes all their lives unable to eat properly or heat their homes - many of them would be glad to live behind a fence if it meant having decent accommodation, computers, regular meals and access to medical assistance when they need it.
Many Australians do feel that asylum seekers are getting better treatment and I agree with them. Australians should not have to compete for basic resources nor compete for equal opportunities.

Every riot, and every dollar spent re-housing asylum seekers with children, takes something from other people languishing in the world's refugee camps.

Our greatest concern should not be boats. Our greatest concern should be "economic refugees". We should be concerned about illegal workers who undercut our wages and don't pay taxes. We should be as worried about the people who employ them; who threaten them with deportation so they can treat them like crap. The people who do this are as bad as any other people smugglers.

We do not take our share of refugees. If we assert our right to control the numbers entering this country, and if we take people at a rate which will keep the fabric of Australia intact, we have an obligation to ease the burden on those countries which have been flooded by millions of refugees. If we won't take people in, we must make a better contribution to feeding, housing, and educating them where they are.  We are currently wasting billions on this boat bull**** that could be better spent in any number of ways.

But of course, I'm dreaming if I am waiting for some leadership. It's easier to set up a handful of boat people; to talk down to Australians than with them.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

back to where i came from

Loooove this song by Christine Anu

What makes a place home, is it people, place, or history? Do we all have one special place where we belong more than any other?

One of the places I would call home is anywhere we walk in the door and are greeted by unconditional love.

Miss M thinks home is where the food is. Mr D thinks there is a tennis ball behind my back. Do they love food and tennis balls unconditionally, or is there a share of unconditional love for the people who provide these things?

The Other and I have just spent time with our respective mothers, but they are both in care, so the place where they live doesn’t feel like home. But if there is a bit of unconditional love in the air, that’s a bit like home.

There are plenty of places that feel like home to me, not just because of the history I have with the place and the people who have been there with me, but also because I feel I know some of a place’s secrets. I can turn down a lane in Melbourne and almost see what was happening there 150 years ago. On the other hand, the city has changed so much it seems to have more and more secrets I don’t know, which makes me feel less and less like I belong.
This might be part of the reason the Hume is boring. Not just because for miles there is nothing but dead or dying grass most of the year, but because the Highway bypasses all of the places that have personal histories, or special people, or secrets.
Unless you take an exit, there really isn’t much to see.

We did stop at Longwood on the way through, to visit my cousin and his lovely new wife. Dropping in unannounced we learned that it was her 45th birthday that very day, and although we had no present to offer except our company, not only did we get a free cup of coffee each, there was birthday cake to go with it! [Timing is everything.]

You may have noticed from the photo of Miss M and Mr D I’m not much of a photographer, possibly because no one took many photos when I was growing up. 

Digital cameras have changed my world. Now I can take 16 photos of a flower blooming in the front garden and not once actually get the flower in the frame, but it doesn’t cost anything for film or for developing photos that are fuzzy.
It could be my eyesight is generally tragic. Or it could be just that my highly trained brain is better at something else I’ve yet to identify.
This time when we headed off up the Hume, because The Other’s mother was turning 90, I made sure I took a camera and some batteries. 

I took 2 photos in Corowa’s main street, before the party. First settled in 1840 something, the town’s main drag has a lot of large, two-story red-brick buildings, so at some stage it was booming. If you’ll pardon the blurriness of the second photo, this is what happened to the old cinema:

It's a total dump. Doors are boarded up, some of the floorboards under the carpet are a bit soft, the seats are gone, the balcony has been removed, and there are water stains on the walls.
There is no reference on the council website to any other theatre or performance space in the town. [But just look at that proscenium arch stage!]


So there we were, The Other, The Other’s sister, The Other’s brother, The Other’s mother, The Other’s mother’s brother, etc etc. I took about four photos before the batteries in my camera died.
Thankfully there were other people there who not only knew how to take pictures with their phones, but probably know how to download them as well.

Anyway, the whole camera thing was a disappointment because we came home via Yarrawonga, Shepparton and Murchison which also meant travelling through Nagambie, and I had lots I wanted to take photos of and discuss. I kept meaning to buy some batteries but the truth is I just lack focus [in more ways than one].

A new Herald-Sun report says there are gangs of thugs terrorising African people in the western suburbs. Loved this comment someone posted:

SEND THEM BACK TO WHERE THEY CAME FROM! Oh wait they are white..they can stay..

Thursday, July 21, 2011

onward to woop woop

The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band classic Wangaratta Wahine

In the days BVC [before video clips] groups would mime their hits for TV pop shows. No one ever bothered lugging around leads or speakers, but the question here is, did the guy on the harmonica suddenly realise half way through he wasn’t kidding anyone, or did he simply drift off?
Stage 2 of the journey: [map]

Leaving Longwood, with one last lingering look, it’s back onto the Hume and heading for ‘You rowa da boat I catcha da fish” - Euroa. The last ever Victorian town to be bypassed by the Hume it was once a regular halfway point for travellers to stop for body and car fuels. The town started to die when wayside stops with petrol stations and food chains began popping up along the newly renovated highway, then the bypass almost killed the town completely.

Now, you can drive into Euroa and just past the very pretty park on the banks of Seven Creeks find the unappealing sight of several abandoned petrol stations; all concrete, weeds and cyclone fencing. They occupy what should be prime parcels of real estate, but apparently the cost of decommissioning service stations is phenomenally monumental – not just digging out old fuel tanks but also cleaning all the soil into which toxic goo has been leaking for years.
A nice little bookshop/café on the banks of the creek would be fantastic. Oh well.

Another reason the town is terminal is probably the almost total lack of insight into what good customer service means.
I sat in one new little place for 30 minutes after ordering a devonshire tea one day, listening to the staff in the kitchen having a right old blue. If I hadn’t already paid I wouldn’t have stayed. When our scones finally arrived the plate was banged down with such force they went flying across the table and into my lap.
Another place I went into, the door was open but it was about 15 minutes before someone noticed I was even there. In this case I stayed because I just wanted to see how long it would take to be noticed. [If you live in a small town long enough you can develop a distorted attitude to time.] When the owner finally came out he asked me “Did you want something?”
I could say a cafe and the Chinese restaurant in the main street are both excellent, but I haven't eaten there for a few years so anything is possible. Hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Euroa is at the centre of a large area containing all the towns my many Great Greats settled way back when. This means all the bad customer service is coming from people I am probably, in one way or another, related to.
You’ve got as good a chance of seeing platypuses [or is that platypi?] in Seven Creeks as anywhere, but it’s probably easier to go to a good zoo, like Healesville Sanctuary. Ornithorhynchuses are actually very tiny tackers and hard to spot.

Euroa’s historical society stole the old bank building from Longwood, how desperate is that?

There are 3 very strong memories attached to Euroa:
  • swimming in the creek [before the pool was built];
  • riding my aunt’s giant bicycle [which only had one pedal], to collect beer bottles then take them to the bottlo for pocket money;
  • magpies singing, flying, looking, landing, warbling and making me smile

When the highway was finally duplicated, the two northbound lanes were laid smack bang over the very spot where the old family homestead was first built, near Balmattum. The property was called Tara. No it wasn’t, I just made that up. The property was actually named before Gone With the Wind was published, so it was named after the town in Ireland these particular Great Greats came from.
Lots and lots of people claim the name Balmattum is an Aboriginal word for “the place where the big man is lying on his back”. This might be a corruption of a Dreaming story, but it might also be a bit like the translation of the word Moomba - as in Melbourne’s Moomba Festival – “Let’s get together and have fun” - my a***!.
Lots of memories of family stories passing through Balmattum but, to be honest, if you blink on the way through you’ll miss seeing it altogether.
There was an original [except for the roof] stone cellar right on the Hwy, but a truck hit it in 2001. [I must have a look on the way through and see if it has gone from eye-sored to re-stored yet.]

Next non-stop is Violet Town, the first fully surveyed inland town in Victoria. If this does not make you want to rush there for a visit, how about the street names? The town is named for violets and one of the main streets is Cowslip. [No, this was not meant to be a joke about the local dairy industry; when the streets were named, they were all named after flowers.]

Killing Heidi hail from VT. Another good thing to come out of the town is a road connecting the Hume Hwy with the Goulburn Valley Hwy.

Before we head off there is one other, big claim to fame for Violet Town that rates a mention: In 1969, the southbound train The Southern Aurora crashed into a northbound freightrain just south of VT, when the Southern Aurora’s driver had a heart attack.

If we go back to 1895 and Mark Twain again we gain a hint of why this crash was – deaths and injuries apart – such a big deal:

Now comes a singular thing; the oddest thing, the strangest thing, the most baffling and unaccountable marvel Australasia can show. At the frontier, between New South Wales and Victoria, our multitude of passengers were routed out of their snug beds by lantern-light in the morning in the biting cold of a high altitude to change [rail] cars on [the way from] Sydney to Melbourne. Think of the paralysis of intellect that gave that idea birth; imagine the boulder it emerged from on some petrified legislator's shoulders.
It is a narrow gauge road to the frontier, and a broader gauge thence to Melbourne. The two governments were the builders of the road and are the owners of it.

This is the state of affairs that prevailed until 1962 when there was finally a single gauge railway link between Melbourne and Sydney. The Southern Aurora was the equivalent, to a traveller, of a great big life changing lottery win. As for Twain’s assessment of Australian government competence, well, it’s not 1962 yet.

And so to Benalla; a reasonably large town of 9,000 people. It’s a town that’s small enough to be welcoming and big enough to be useful. One of its major attractions is an annual bonanza of roses.


I’d be happy to live in Benalla except it would be hard to find a job. [Though how it might be harder than in Franga I don’t know.]

Long before Jackie Kennedy made the pillbox popular, Ned Kelly wore a hat which looked like a letterbox. Glenrowan, the site of his famous last stand, is a little town which has a lot of Ned Kelly type attractions for people who like that sort of thing.

14 Kms further up the road is the rather large provincial city of Wangaratta, home to about 17,000 people. 
Way back in the 70s when Wangaratta Wahine was a hit, greasy spoons were as common in Wang as anywhere. It probably says a lot about the culinary and customer service standards of the time that people were more likely to break their journey at Euroa.
Wang is not a town I’ve ever been able to warm to, but a few months ago we went to visit a cousin of The Other who had relocated there, and did find a nice little coffee shop with nice coffee, a waitress who listened, a cook who smiled and all sorts of special treats. I’d love to recommend it but can’t remember the name.

Outside Wangaratta we turn off and take a minor road called Federation Way to Corowa, a little town just over the NSW border. This is one of the border towns where large meetings were held to talk about Federation. I’m not sure a lot has happened since then, except for The Other’s brother taking up residence there.

The next day it’s east along the Riverina Highway which, oddly enough, runs parallel to the Murray River. Then we visit The Other’s other sibling in Albury, before crossing back over the river to Baranduda, where we can visit The Other’s Mother who is about to celebrate her 90th birthday.

For the first time I’ll not only suffer withdrawal symptoms without the internet, I think I’ll be experiencing blog withdrawal symptoms as well. When I return I might have some photos [not too blurry] of some very interesting places we’ve not yet discussed.
That Weird American Who's Obsessed with Australia had an interesting blog discussion about The Hillsong Church, and what is referred to as Prosperity Theology.

I have a personal fascination with two of the topics polite people refrain from discussing at a dinner party - religion and politics. 
To get good value from our pay TV subscription, I sometimes watch Joyce Meyer flogging prosperity - partly because it seems so weird and partly because she has a dry sense of humour. Really, she might seem fundamentalist because she quotes scripture, but my lasting impression is she is simply quoting scripture as a means of selling her self-help products; i.e. the scripture is used to justify the self help stuff, whereas Hillsong uses the self help - and a promise of heaven on earth - to flog scripture.

In any case, I had a "duh!" moment when listening to Tanya Levin being interviewed by Andrew Denton. Why have I never noticed before that the more radically fundamentalist a Christian sect is, the more likely they are to draw unpalatable or even bizarre conclusions from the Old Testament, than to draw nice conclusions from the New?

I can't speak for other people's experience of a Catholic education, but there are several major differences between Catholicism and other branches of Christianity.

The first difference is in the level of insistence on a single, strict interpretation of scripture. I was taught to question. I was taught that a necessary condition for sin is knowledge that one is wrong. This has a parallel in the legal notion of mens rea, of what the Laura Norder TV shows refer to as criminal intent. 

Yes, there are some not so tolerant Catholic clergy, but most Catholic clergy focus on the New Testament notion that all people everywhere share, somewhere inside themselves, a little bit of God. If we hurt other people with a criminal intent or through indifference, we are hurting God.

Another difference is that although the Catholic party line is that Christianity is a continuation of Hebrew religion, the Old Testament is largely interpreted in a way that supports the New Testament view. rather than the New Testament is interpreted in a way that supports the Old.

I'm happy for people if any belief system can give them confidence, but not if it's an excuse for avoiding responsibility for their own actions. There has to be a line somewhere between "the Devil made me do it" and "I blew up this abortion clinic because God told me to do it".

People who seek certainty from religion - and fundamentalism without question certainly provides certainty - are living on the edge of physical or social terrorism.  

And the whole "flag" or "my country right or wrong" thing is just a secular form of fundamentalism for people who crave certainty. Scary.
Having said that, The Other has for years said she wants a flag pole and an Australian flag in the front yard. This has been a bit of a running gag - or so I thought. I told her I don't want to look like a redneck, tear the house down and replace it with a caravan, or to buy a Ford Pickup Truck. 

A few months ago we came back home [along the Hume] and there was a ruddy flag pole and flag in the front yard [a gift from a friend].
The Other has offered to buy me an Aboriginal flag for Christmas, but I am torn between this option and a pirate flag, or a flag with graffiti on it.

The Other is not a redneck, she's a very nice person. She's like no one I've ever met before in my life. I've had to revise all my preconceived notions about flags and rednecks and certainty. Darn. The world would be a much happier place if I could just tell people what to believe. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

of carriages and things

Carriage Racing - sport of the rich and famous

In a few days we will be setting out on yet another marathon journey north along the Hume Hwy. I tell you this not because I am excited but because I feel a whinge coming on.
Until I went across the Nullarbor by car, I thought the Hume Hwy was the world’s most boring road. As time passes and memories of the trip across the Nullarbor fade, and as I continue driving up and down the Hume Hwy with monotonous regularity – a tautology if ever there was one – I am becoming convinced once more that the Hume Hwy is the world’s most boring road.
How boring can the Hume Hwy be? More boring than the preceding paragraph!

My life as a frequent Humer began before I was born and it continues today. To be sure, there were periods of living away from Victoria, and the highlight of each of those stays away was that I did not have to Hume it.
Just one of the problems with the Hume is that it is such a convenient and well made road. Each time it is improved and upgraded – at least the Victorian stretch – there are fewer turns, gentler slopes, and less scenery. It just goes on and on. And it’s not so much a case of all roads lead to Hume, but the Hume leads to everywhere you need to go.

The journey begins at Franga, Frankghanistan - or Frankston as it is labelled on maps. [map of journey available]
Onto the freeway[s] we go. The highlights of this stage of the journey are ‘freeway art”, including a hideous metal flower that looks like a vicious, noxious weed, followed by a faux hotel.

The Hotel, a scaled down representation of a real hotel, sits in an infrequently mown paddock rather than the carefully landscaped surrounds shown in the artist's model shown here. This being the Franga end of the freeway, the Hotel is regularly vandalised, complete with broken windows and graffiti. Actually, it’s reminiscent of many of the buildings in Franga central, sans squatters and drug deals.

Next, the early bird what catches worms [actually a cheering sight]. Again, this is just an artist's model. The real thing is just in a paddock, but it's huge and shiny and people must like it because to the best of my knowledge it has never been graffitied.

Several “artworks” later, one heads into the tunnel, now grotty from dirt and fumes. What were they thinking that thing would look like?
The tunnel with a funnel

After an hour of these delights one reaches Collingwood. Ahhh, civilisation; 6 lanes of crawling creeping traffic.
Past the old brickworks chimney, and the Gasometer Hotel which is opposite the corner where a gasometer once stood.

Past the Fitzroy Baths featured in Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip. Memories galore til one links up with the Tulla Freeway and more, then out on to the Hume Hwy.

For a long time I avoided travelling this way, but they’ve now made the road much safer and it cuts an hour off the world’s most boring journey. Best abstain from drinking anything caffeinated for about 3 hours before leaving Franga, though, because there is nowhere to wee for about two hours. [One might stop at an inner city café, but if one found somewhere to park one might die of the excitement before one got one’s latte.]

The first pitstop is at Hungry Jacks, just before Donnybrook road. How did a road come to be named for an Irish brawl?
One enters the Hungry, praises the proprietors silently for being so extraordinarily clean, then leaves without buying anything. One feels strangely clean but grubby at the same time.

A short way on is a spot called Kalkallo. ‘Twas here my dear, sweet old Grandmother once pulled up in her Ford Consul, heading south and busting for a wee. Into the pub she went, asking where the toilet was. “This is not a $%^&^% public toilet,” spat the exasperated publican. “Well,” my Grandma spat back, hopping from one leg to another, “I wuz gunna ‘ave a beer here, but yuz can #$%$^ it.”
Another 50 years and I might stop blushing as I drive past, though I shall never stop missing the old girl.

Further up the road, at the top of a hill, is a sign which reads “Pretty Sally Hill”. The road has been straightened and improved so many times over the years this sign is now nowhere near the real Pretty Sally, but this point on the road is still a milestone, so the name has stuck.
‘Twas here, a cousin once told me, a soldier hitchhiking to Puckapunyal Army Base, was on the side of the road. When said cousin and wife pulled over to give him a lift, the soldier dropped his head down to window height and enquired “Are ya goin’a Pucka?”, to which my cousin replied, “Nah, we’re married now”.

One drives northwards for a while longer, eventually passing a decrepit farm house with even more decrepit shearers’ huts and an even more decrepiterer still woolshed. Keep promising myself I'll stop one day and take some photos, so maybe...

Ask any Australian my age what their favourite smell is and, if they've ever been near a shearing shed, they will probably say nothing beats the smell of sheep shit and lanolin. But I digress. One more digression before I undigress: Took Mr D and Miss M [the schnauzers] to get a wash and trim yesterday. I can assure you they are far less compliant than the sheep in this video, and take 58 minutes longer per dog to shave. Okay, undigression program starting...

Here, at this farm with the decrepit buildings, one Christmas when the shed was newly built, everyone gathered for a huge party. An uncle arrived with heaps of little writing pads, one for each child and a few left over, and a matching number of pencils.
While the big people christened the new woolshed, and while a storm raged outside, we kids spent some time with writing pads and pencils. I watched my older brother practising his running writing and told my very young self “I can do that. What is writing but a lot of bumpy waves interspersed with big waves in an up or down direction?” [Well I probably didn’t use a word like interspersed, but precocious little devil I was, if I had known the word I would have.]

My own pad filled with echocardiograms, I moved onto a pad abandoned by some other kid with attention deficit disorder. Well, whatever I was doing left me with an enormous sense of achievement and I’ve been scribbling drivel ever since.

The decrepit shed and shearer’s huts are just outside Tallarook. Too many times a year for too many years as we drove past Tallarook, Uncle Writing Pad would say, without fail, ‘Things are crook in Tallarook and there’s no work in Burke…”. 
These are the first words of an old depression-era poem which whinges and whines its way from one town to another. Many variations on the original have been penned since then, each and every one as bad as the other.

Further north from Tallarook is a turnoff which leads either to Seymour, or to the town shown on my birth certificate - Puckapunyal.
Once one of the largest army bases in Australia, Puckapunyal is now little more than a token presence on the map. Wars and their machinery have changed too much, and training bases have been scattered far and wide in a northerly direction since Pucka’s heyday. The Pucka “street” shown on my birth certificate no longer exists.

At Pucka there is an army museum, which is rather piddly as museums go. There you’ll find the usual old uniforms, guns, a few photos and rusting tanks. The only thing of interest there is a Japanese mini-submarine of the type which entered Sydney Harbor and other ports around Australia in 1942.

It is inconceivable to me that anyone could conceive of asking a human being to climb into one of these inconceivably small things. Perhaps they are sometimes called ‘midget subs’ because only an anorexic midget would fit into one.
[Check out the diving gear - pre scuba style !]

The turnoff also gives you the option of visiting Seymour. Until long after I entered the world, the railway station at Seymour marked a break in the rail journey between Melbourne, and Albury on the Vic/NSW border. In its heyday, the station’s refreshment rooms could serve 800 people a 5 course meal so quickly they would make it back on to the train at the end of a 20 minute break.
During World War II [1939-1945], the people who ate here included German, Italian and Japanese prisoners of war as well as foreign nationals, all on their way to internment camps. Over a quarter of a million meals were also provided to servicemen travelling through. The tearooms did not close completely until the 1980s.

It's hard to find a photo which shows the enormous scale of the station buildings that remain. [Seems a lot of railway heritage people are fair dinkum train spotters and think the station is less important than the engine.] 

The Seymour Station was busy even in the 1960s, because relatively few city people had cars, and an airplane was something you looked at through the window at the airport on a cheap day out.
But the Station is far more historic and famous than you would ever think looking at it today. Picture Mark Twain stopping at Seymour in 1895, as he composes the following description of his journey to Melbourne:

And there were little villages, with neat stations well placarded with showy advertisements--mainly of almost too self-righteous brands of "sheepdip." If that is the name--and I think it is. It is a stuff like tar, and is dabbed on to places where the shearer clips a piece out of the sheep. It bars out the flies, and has healing properties, and a nip to it which makes the sheep skip like the cattle on a thousand hills. It is not good to eat. That is, it is not good to eat except when mixed with railroad coffee. It improves railroad coffee. Without it railroad coffee is too vague. But with it, it is quite assertive and enthusiastic. By itself, railroad coffee is too passive; but sheep-dip makes it wake up and get down to business. I wonder where they get railroad coffee?

I tasted a cup of railway coffee at Seymour. 

A friend once conducted a quick experiment for me in Seymour. Several times, he stopped someone in the main street, explaining he had never been to Seymour before and wondered what were the main attractions. Invariably, Seymourites responded by pointing vaguely to the distance, saying “That road there takes you to Yea, but if you head out in that other direction it goes towards Shepparton.”

Nobody thought to mention the famous caravan café. In 1956, light years before the word franchise was ever heard in Australia, a Polish immigrant bought a sad little wooden caravan from a not too successful gambler. His wife used it to start a hamburger business. 
Eventually the van/cafe collapsed, and the council let Stella Salakowski replace it with a tiny brick building. Mrs Sal kept working there until 2004 when, sadly, she had a stroke at the age of 90. 

For many years it was almost a cult thing to drive all the way from Melbourne, just to get a decent hamburger.

The next town that rates a mention is Avenel, once home to a young Ned Kelly, one of Australia’s most famous idiots heroes. His brother and father are buried in the local cemetery. 
The town has a mixture of old and new buildings but is, in many ways, quite a pretty little town.
Royal Mail Hotel [& Coach Stop] Avenel
The next important town on the journey is Longwood. It rates a special mention because for many years I lived there.

A thriving metropolis in the late 1800s, “Winding Creek” once had dairies, a creamery, a rabbit processing and exporting industry, timberyards, pubs everywhere, train lines branching out in all directions, and a Cobb & Co coach station.
Today there’s just a pub, a general store/post office, and a primary school, about 200 people, 26 feral cats [in one home], 600 dogs, and the best ever array of bird life anyone ever had the pleasure to see or hear.

The previous pub owners featured blues bands every Sunday afternoon and, if I didn’t make it to the pub, I could still enjoy the music blasting across the railway line. Friends sometimes came all the way from Melbourne for a weekend, the music as big an attraction as my own scintillating company.

It’s said that in a small town you don’t have to worry – if you don’t know what you are doing, there is always someone who can tell you. But it’s a great place where no one is intrusive, but at the first sign of an ambulance or something else out of the ordinary people drop by to see if there’s something they can do to help.

Cross the highway to East Longwood and you’ll see echidnas waddling around or koalas asleep in trees. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like when a car and a kangaroo have an argument, you only have to drive around there carelessly after dark.

The Shire is becoming something of a horse mecca, with lots of agistment, racing stables and even a horse quarantine station in the area. There’s a big turnover of youngsters on working holidays in these places which is not surprising, because you’d have to love horses or be desperate for money to take on a stable hand’s job. A young Irish girl stayed for a few months and, like many others before her, thought someone was pulling her leg when told her first job every morning would be going up to the top paddock to shoo away the roos.

The most exciting thing Longwood offers, though, is carriage driving. 
After a horse related accident when I was seven – the motor stopped suddenly causing me to fall from my wooden mount onto a concrete floor – I’ve never been terribly gaga about gee gees. 
But the carriage driving comps at the Longwood Oval are something to behold. The Longwood championships are as exciting as the ones in the video clip above of Windsor, except the clothing ain’t as posh and the horses don’t always look like they match. 
Well, in Europe it’s a popular sport with the rich [including those too old to play polo] but in Oz it’s mostly a family hobby.
The next Longwood championships will be in April 2012. It's free.

Enough for now! So far to go, but so much to do first…