Thursday, December 20, 2012


December 20, 2012, the day before the Summer Solstice:

I press buttons on the little hand-held doo-hickey and a familiar face appears on my TV screen. It is a smart screen apparently, though I don’t know what on earth that means, and get the distinct feeling many of the broadcasters out there in ether-land have no idea what a smart screen is supposed to do either.

A face comes into sharp focus on the screen, looking as serious and concerned as the face of anyone reading a teleprompter can. Perhaps the replacement of idiot sheets with teleprompters marked the beginning of the smart revolution?

The face’s mouth moves slightly out of sync with the sound of words filling my living room.

“My fellow Australians, if you are  not  watching this broadcast now, it is because the world has ended.”

There is a 30 second delay as I process this information, wondering if I ought to breathe a sigh of relief or simply shake my head.

I realise I will live to work another day, and shake my head.


At some point back in the 70s, a particular Christian group were promising Armageddon was just months away. Construction work and fundraising nonetheless continued apace on their new Kingdom Hall. Were any other new halls under construction in other parts of the world?

Only 144,000 [one gross thousand] were promised salvation after the world ended, theoretically all males and virgins. If no other branches were building halls on the cusp of doom and destruction, did this mean the gross thousand saved would all be Australian?

The News of The World would undoubtedly say nothing about that – it seems, for example, they only report the arrival of aliens when USians are taken up into space ships for examination. Everyone else in the world could be walking around with radioactive probes up their anus, but News of the World would not think it news. Why would a little thing like Armageddon be interesting if it happened 'somewhere else'?

No doubt St John was under the influence of something psychotropic when he wrote down the book of Revelations, but drugs were probably not illegal then. Are the four horsemen really Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe?


Nostradamus’ French ramblings gave birth to a whole publishing industry.
The works of a raving nutter are always popular in a world where people feel disaffected and impotent, and many people have certainly felt that way for a long time. [Unless, in relative terms, 500 years is just the blink of an eye.]

Le chat de ma tante est sur la plume
La table est dans la cuisine
La mere fait du tricot
Le fils fait la guerre

The cat of my aunt is on the pen
The table is in the kitchen
The mother knits
The son goes to war

The meaning of this quatrain, one of those translated from Latin to French before being translated to English, is quite clear:

While a farmer in Colac stops to ask if it’s lunch time yet, his cat Tom is in the kitchen ripping a pair of hand-knitted socks to shreds. When the farmer’s wife sees what has happened it will be the end of the world as the cat knows it.

No, this is not a picture of Patrick and Moira hoping the praties won't rot. This is a classic picture of two French peasants praying the Angelus. The prayer begins "Thank God we get to stop for ten minutes... this is backbreaking work."

What has this picture to do with the end of the world? Indirectly, I suppose it suggests that a life cut short can still seem to have gone on forever, depending on one's occupation. Also this is intended to distract readers from the question I might have answered but cannot - Did old Nossie predict the end of the world?


But what of the Mayan calendar?

Here’s part of the explanation available on the web.
The Long Count is really a mixed base-20/base-18 representation of a number, representing the number of days since the start

Those of us who are pre-decimal will be familiar with mixed base-20/ base-12 representation of monetary amounts. So far, makes sense.

Those who trigged around at school will understand how we can mark the passage of time with a round dial, given the relationships between degrees and minutes, miles and seconds. But seriously. 

That there are other countries further east than Australia but still this side of the International Date Line gives me some comfort. New Zealand, for example, is to warnings of the sun's failure to rise in the morning what canaries once were to coal miners. 
I'm not sure what to make of the fact Hawaii is so far west of us. If the world does end, they will certainly know what's hit them.

Anyway, what's in a date? That which we call today, by any other name would be something else. The current year is 5773 for Hebrews, and for Mahommedans the year is 1434. 
Einstein knew that time is relative. [Personally, I don’t grasp that theory much more clearly than any other, but it gives me comfort.]

Never has something been so frequently predicted or so eagerly anticipated as the end of the world. Y2K, we discovered, was nothing more than a lubricant tackily packaged, full of promise, and hastily recalled by the manufacturer.

End of the world? My arse!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

please don’t look at me in that tone of voice

A shortwhile ago I made some introductory remarks about the proposed Federal Human Rights and Anti‑Discrimination Act 2012.

The Story So Far:
unlawful conduct  includes the usual types of discrimination except when the government does the discriminating.

There is a whole swag of protected attributes – “excuses” we are not permitted to use to discriminate against someone. While I do believe the list is excessive, I must concede that an obsession with the music of the late Elvis Aaron Presley does not rate a mention. Thank God for every small mercy.

There is also a comprehensive definition of a “disability”. There is no mention of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but if the manual doesn’t recognise Presleyphilia, then no biggie.

Now, Read On:
The bit that’s got everyone stirred up reads like this:

other conduct that offends, insults or intimidates the other person.

The clock is ticking. Soon, it will be an offense to be offensive.

Q. Where will it be an offense to be offensive?
A. In a public place

Q. What is a public place?
A. Work and work-related areas, for example

How lucky am I? I’ve managed to find some work. It’s only casual and it’s only 3 days a week and it’s only 1 hour 40 minutes’ drive in each direction!

Before I even arrived on the scene my new workmates have been working hard to change their ways, in preparation for the passage of this new law.

BOSS:           My mother used to work at Coon’s Shoes
P.A.              I find that offensive
FC                Coon’s Shoes? Wouldn’t that be a contradiction in terms?
BOSS            I find that offensive
P.A.              It would be an oxymoron
FC                Well, there’s no need to be personal

FC                How do you like your coffee?
BOSS            Whi… with milk

Instead of wasting 202 pages of paper, it would be easier if the Act simply said “DON’T think about the elephant in the room.”

Q. Is a blog a public place?
A. Yes, a blog is a public place

Drafting a law well is a challenge, but being able to enforce it is a whole bigger challenge altogether.
However, just to be on the safe side, I shall share the following while I can:

The Archbishop of Canterbury and The Royal Commission for Political Correctness announced today that weather forecasts in the UK should be more inclusive, e.g. “partly Sunni, but mostly Shi'ite”.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

sentio ergo sum

Andrew at Highriser consistently publishes interesting posts and, from time to time, they are provocative. Depending on how emotionally disturbed I am about an issue I can comment briefly, or find myself heading off into a rant it would be rude to put anywhere but in a post of my own.

Climate change is always worth a rant.

When it comes to climate change, do some of us think we know better than scientists who base their opinions on evidence?

We can’t know everything and so, yes, we must rely on those who specialise in a field to inform us. Naturally we tend to go with what the majority of experts believe.

But the idea of a simple majority opinion in a scientific field is weird. My thing is economics, so indulge me for a second. Current, provable majority opinion in economics is easy to identify. Keynes was right. Or Milton Friedman. Or Adam Smith. No wait, what about the Supply-siders?

Some test-tube type scientists would argue that economics is not really an objective science. I would argue the more complex the issues scientists study, whether test-tubers or economists, the more difficult it is for them to establish controls for all factors.

Yes, we tend to go with what the majority of experts believe. If it suits us, or if it matches our belief set.
Well, until we realise the world can’t be flat because when a ship appears on the horizon it appears to be climbing a hill.

We might believe stuff for a while until we can no longer deny it – until we learn about falsified study results. Or that a lot of drug trials are funded by drug companies. Or we hear someone has decided vaccination vastly increases the risk of autism when, truth is, there is no way of knowing whether autism has increased at all or is now simply acknowledged for the first time in history.

Well, okay, we would like to go with a majority opinion, if only we knew that it was a genuine majority rather than something as artificial as a papal bull. If only we could be sure what passes as the majority opinion of scientists is not just the most widely publicised interpretation. Or the most easily understood.

No, I’m not siding with Andrew Ostri Bolt. If his leg was on fire he would deny it, regardless of the consequences. But he gathers followers because he is more in touch with his readers’ feelings than most. Acknowledging how people feel he is able to sell ridiculous ideas. Using the same method – Hitler’s, in fact – caring journalists would be able to sell sensible or upright ideas, but they are few and far between.

Arguments against climate change may be straw men - something Bolt exploits quite well – but again, Bolt is one of the few people prepared to acknowledge peoples’ doubts or questions. He might not provide the right answers, or even any answers, but he listens.

I know I’m sick to death of politicians – let’s not call them leaders – who peddle patently stupid ideas using the “the public are stupid we just need to educate them” approach. If I can’t trust them with things I can understand, why on earth would anyone hope I should trust them with things I can’t understand?

Why should I be impressed or suddenly feel educated and informed when a government spends millions of dollars getting over-consumers and hypocritical sellairbrities to tell me – in simplistic and patronising tones – that I’m wrong?

Yes, to be accessible to most, complex ideas must be couched to some extent in simplistic terms. But for every force there is an equal and opposite reaction, and simplistic explanations will draw simplistic responses. And patronising dictates will draw negative responses from those of us who are averse to being told we are naïve.

In a world of information overload, it is perfectly human to draw grand conclusions based on our own experiences, or personal stories we hear whether these are statistically significant or not. It is also easy to accept that many political policies sold as ‘noble’ have had a negative, personal impact on a lot of real, individual people with few financial resources.

Blind faith is required for us to believe something we cannot see or understand. We do see people struggling now, but it is harder to "see" tomorrow with any certainty. 

It is much easier to see the tonnes and tonnes of manufactured crap we can buy, before and after it all too quickly becomes landfill. The pollution and waste of resources caused by all of this are a lot easier to understand or believe than consequences repackaged as “a scientific theory of climate change”.

Climate change is a big issue, but an unfortunate side effect of it being so big is that it has been set apart from other forms of pollution. If the crap churned out in factories all over the world is not contributing to climate change I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. If this crap is not really the root cause of climate change then, okay, prove it is not and I’ll call myself an idiot. Well, okay, you don’t even need to prove it, but that’s beside the point.

I don’t doubt there is a link between human activity and weather conditions. I also have no doubt that the earth once experienced an ice age – climates cycle in the medium term, and climates will change over the very very long term no matter what we do. And in Melbourne the climate changes every two minutes.

What I have doubts about are the motives and competence of those who make grand policies about what we must do next. If I disapprove of the carbon tax this does not make me a denier, it simply means I personally disapprove of the tax and the way it has been implemented.

If climate change is caused by humans, the only way to effect change is to change human behaviour. Ideas might be proven in laboratories, but they can only be effected in the real world, where real people must live.

The only way to achieve real change is to confront the reality of people’s feelings. A paradigm shift in scientific theory is one thing, but a paradigm shift in social thinking at the individual level and on a global basis will not be achieved by assertion or bullying.

A majority of scientists might be passionate, sincere and quite right about climate change, but they will be tainted by association with politicians. The best and most successful ideas come from below – pushed from above ideas will achieve little.

Lest you think I am just being my normal, cynical self here, think of Ghandi and Indian independence, or the moratorium movement against the war in Vietnam
Think of Rosa Parks.

It is easy to see the obscene hypocrisy in selling coal – and let’s not forget uranium – just because we can, or because if we don’t then someone else will.

It is easy to imagine how smug the west must seem, telling third world countries they cannot or should not do this or that when we have benefited for centuries from an “excuse” like scientific ignorance. Our hypocrisy will do more harm than good in the long run, because it feeds or generates a quite reasonable suspicion the west is, as always, intent on keeping privilege for itself. That all our reasons for suppressing growth in developing countries are just bullshit and propaganda.

Whether we are rich or poor, educated or not, living in the west or the third world, we are most of us the same. “Do as I say, not as I do”, or “Because I said so” do not cut the mustard. Most of us would rather walk with someone than walk behind.

We are human, not silly, and while we are happy to follow a real leader we are loathe to be pushed. Understanding this is the first and most important step to addressing climate change; nothing else will come close.

Friday, December 14, 2012

round 3

When I got home last night, my wife demanded that I take her somewhere  expensive, so I took her to a petrol station.

And then the fight started...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

the cameron clause

We’ve all done it; told ourselves to fight our basest urges, only to give up and give in without having really enjoyed being base while the idea was fresh in our minds. [If you are struggling to follow that intro please don’t ask me to explain it, because I’m not sure I could]. Or if you never have base urges, how the heck did you stumble across this blog?

The latest temptation to base behaviour is the 202 page long draft of Nicola [don’t look at me I didn’t vote for her] Roxon’s new Human Rights and Anti‑Discrimination Act 2012.

It is not only stupid on many, many levels, it’s scary. I’ve got another 30 years of political incorrectness in me, but I think I’ll have to try and use up all my credits before the next election.

Where is the line between a nanny state and a fascist state? It’s not on page 202.

Once upon a time politicians understood it’s impossible to cover every possible contingency in a new law.

Here is a list of the sorts of people the act wants to protect from offence:

(1) The protected attributes are as follows:
                (a)  age;
                (b)  breastfeeding;
                 (c)  disability;
                (d)  family responsibilities;
                (e)  gender identity;
                 (f)  immigrant status;
                (g)  industrial history;
                (h)  marital or relationship status;
                 (i)  medical history;
                 (j)  nationality or citizenship;
                (k)  political opinion;
                 (l)  potential pregnancy;
               (m)  pregnancy;
                (n)  race;
                (o)  religion;
                (p)  sex;
                (q)  sexual orientation;
                 (r)  social origin.

[Please pay particular attention to the many ways the good people of Frankston will be spared the usual slurs.]

Well, if Penny Wong is trying to sell it, it must be fair dinkum, don’cha reckon?

Oh, sure, the intentions of the act are noble, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Or, as I might have to say once the act receives royal assent, where do gooders go, punishment is sure to follow. I might have to be careful what I say because I daresn’t give offence to god fearing people.

This thing starts with a whole bucket-load of definitions, quickly followed by a couple of 44 gallon drums full of exceptions to the rules about not discriminating. I particularly like this bit:
          (1)  This Act binds the Crown in each of its capacities.
          (2)  However, this Act does not make the Crown liable to be prosecuted for an offence.

See, the guvmint can continue to discriminate under lots of laws especially the immigration act. This is a useful catch all.

The govmint can continue to insist those in categories e) h) or q)cannot migrate to Oz to live wiv their partners. It’s the freedom from discrimination you have when you don’t have freedom from discrimination.

Before we get down to the nitty gritty of where we will be able to say what under this act [if anything] just check out what “disability” will mean:

disability means any of the following:
                (a)  total or partial loss of bodily or mental functions;
                (b)  total or partial loss of a part of the body;
                 (c)  the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness;
                (d)  the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness;
                (e)  the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of the body;
                 (f)  a disorder or malfunction that results in a person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction;
                (g)  a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgement, or that results in disturbed behaviour;
and includes:
                (h)  behaviour that is a symptom or manifestation of a disability referred to in any of the above paragraphs; and
                 (i)  having any of the following because of having a disability referred to in any of the above paragraphs:
                       (i)  a carer, assistant, interpreter or reader;
                      (ii)  an assistance animal or disability aid.

Yep, anyone with the name Cameron [gaelic for crooked nose] will probably have to change their name. Just in case someone else with a similar malformation of body part takes offence.

And I’ll be able to save more than $120 a month on non-PBS drugs, and behave like an arsehole all the time cos g) and h) say so. The stress of living with a conscience is much worse than the stress of trying not to be politically incorrect.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

round 2

My wife and I were sitting at a table at her high school reunion, and she kept staring at a drunken man swigging his drink as he sat alone at a nearby table.

I asked her, "Do you know him?"

"Yes", she sighed, "He's my old boyfriend. I understand he took to drinking right after we split up those many years ago, and I hear he hasn't been sober since."

"My God!" I said, "Who would think a person could go on celebrating that long?"

And then the fight started...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

round 1

My wife and I were watching "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" while
we were in bed.

I turned to her and said, 'Do you want to have Sex?'

'No,' she answered. I then said,

'Is that your final answer?'

She didn't even look at me this time, simply saying, 'Yes..'

So I said, "Then I'd like to phone a friend."

And that's when the fight started...

just sayin’

Wed 28 Nov
Went to Citilink website and sent off an email saying my E-tag does not beep.

Thurs 29th Nov
Citilink reply that a new tag is in the mail.
[And to think I thought I would have to get lost driving around South Melbourne or something to replace it!]

Wed 5 Dec
E-tag arrives.
The swap-over of old for new is delayed due to domestic drama.

Mon 10 Dec
Put old non-beeper in reply paid envelope and put said envelope in post-box.

Tues 11 Dec.
Spend total 60 seconds reading instructions and attaching new tag to windscreen. Head off along Eastlink and new e-tag beeps.

Previous Citilink statement shows I have been charged 26 cents “no-tag” fee for the day my tag did not beep. Beats the crap out of a massive fine for Myki fare evasion aka technological failure.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

jock shock

On the surface, I wouldn’t think there is anything terribly wrong with ringing a hospital and, in a voice one would think not remotely like the Queen’s, asking questions.

Compared to Murdoch’s phone tapping invasions of privacy, it seems like nothing.

That a nurse appears to have taken her life over this business is appalling. I don’t doubt that DJs Mel and Michael feel like crap today – after all, their names are neither Kyle nor Sandilands.

My problem is with the response of two key people in all this.

Let’s start with the response of Mr Beyond Blue himself – Jeff Kennett.

Kennett makes the predictable claims that pranks and jokes are part of the Australian make-up, just good fun, and that no harm was intended. His response has a positive in that it expresses some concern for the welfare of Mel and Michael – and I think that is appropriate.

Interestingly, the Hun article which quotes Kennett goes on to quote the Hun’s usual psychology expert, Michael Carr-Gregg.
“suicide [is] never simple… Eighty percent of people who commit suicide worldwide have mental health problems…When you have a psychological gun that’s loaded it doesn’t take much to pull the trigger… It might have been something else…”

What he says is quite right and also appropriate.
But I think they are both missing a point as important as the welfare of the pranksters themselves.


The important point is highlighted by the response of the radio network’s boss. The screaming headline in the Sunday Hun seems to summarise his attitude quite well:

One might well ask “what rules”? Would the network boss be someone who has, at least once, bemoaned the fact we are living in a Nanny State? Well, here’s a good chance for someone to take a leaf out of the Cherry Tree Story and say “The consequences are unintended, we are deeply sorry, but we cannot tell a lie, we did it and we accept responsibility for doing the wrong thing.”
Maybe finishing off with something pro anti-suicide efforts would show that they have reflected on the matter a little.

Phone pranks are not inherently evil, but before the Nanny State there was a thing called duty of care. Before the demise of formal religion there were rites of passage that highlighted the need to accept a duty of care.

A duty of care asks us to think before we open our gobs. If I say A, what will be B?

Pranking is not a generic joke which takes its humour from the acknowledgment of a universal truth.
[What did the bald man say when he was given a comb for Christmas? I’ll never part with this.]

Pranking is not a joke on the teller.
[Norman Gunston, when told he should use an electric razor, says “I do!”]

Pranking is pure schadenfreude. It isn’t the laugh we get when we feel relief only after we discover the person who slipped on a banana peel is okay. Pranking is about having a laugh at someone else’s expense. It is an attempt by one person to make the other look a prat.
I have my own reasons for not finding pranking funny – lots of reasons. It’s not something I do, or take kindly to. It’s not something I find amusing. But other people enjoy it and it is not inherently evil.

I doubt anyone – certainly not me – could have foreseen the result of this particular prank. But what could we learn from this?

Responsibility. If we don’t want to live in a Nanny State then we must make our own actions considered. If something goes wrong we should gather some insight from it.

The Royal Family is “fair game”. But the Royal Family is an institution, not a person. The Royal Family is fair game, but its members should not be fair game with no hesitation at all.
The Royal Family is fair game but, most of the time, the Royal Family is surrounded by people who are not members so much as innocent bystanders.

A comedian might suggest Prince Charles has been given a comb for Christmas and sworn he would never part with it. Charles would probably find it funny or not depending on his existing relationship with the comedian.

If I rang someone like Bob Hawke and using the same voice as Mel claimed to be Kate’s Mother in Law, someone like Bob Hawke would just dismiss me as a ****ing idiot and give me a mouthful.
Goodo. It would seem a safe thing to do because I think I know the man a little. There is a pre-existing relationship of sorts.

Jacintha Saldanha had no existing relationship with Mel and Michael. She was an anonymous cog in a big wheel but a cog which had a huge personal and legal obligation to her patient, and was publicly humiliated.

Beyond my general opinion of pranking, I don’t believe Mel and Michael committed a crime or should be punished. But as they probably [hopefully] realised by now, they did make a mistake. If they are decent people we don’t need to punish them because nothing we might dish out could be worse than the punishment they will dish out to themselves.

But… if we don’t want to live in a Nanny State it wouldn’t hurt for us to hesitate occasionally, or give a little more thought to what we are doing. It’s not enough to say people who commit suicide are usually on the edge anyway. This does not make the result okay.

When we ask “If I say A, what will be B?” we need to remember that we can’t presume to know who is on the edge.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

big mistake

Professor Penington, who led Australia's successful response to the AIDS epidemic, told an obesity summit in Canberra this week that the inclusion of weight in primary school reports could spark discussion between teachers and parents about diet and levels of physical activity.

Not once, the whole time I was at school, did anyone turn up on a parent/teacher day to discuss my academic progress. Well, perhaps it would have been a lack of academic progress. In either case, a day’s pay was too much to lose.

One of my school chums was in strife one day. I can’t remember why, but I do remember Sister Tortia saying to her “tell your mother I want to see her”. I went home with her that afternoon and was there when she walked into the kitchen and told her mum, “Sister Tortia said she wants to see you.” Quick as a flash her mother replied “you can tell her I don’t want to see her.”
This did not surprise me, as my chum’s mum had not passed through the front door of her home in over five years.

The nuns had other creative solutions to compensate for a lack of personal discussion between teachers and parents: the letter. Every time there was an election, we were given letters to take home informing our parents they must vote DLP. My mother used to snort and put them in the bin.

If this plan was implemented, wouldn’t it be a little like giving a child a letter to take home, addressed to the parents and telling them they were inadequate, or somehow defective? Or not, depending on the level of insight or the resources of the parents.

Toast and dripping was one of the four main food groups in our home. If there was little money or food left at the end of the week we ate pancakes. Or toast and dripping. Or fried bread. I know times have changed, but maybe it's only the type of junk that has changed, really. 

As for activity levels, we went to Royal Park on Fridays for an hour to play stuff like softball, or basketball. The equipment the school had was minimal, but I always took a book to read. There were a few kids left over after two teams were full, and no one ever picked me anyway, praise be.

On the other hand, why shouldn’t teachers solve the problem of childhood obesity? Many people assume they can solve all the world's other problems.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

water, water, everywhere

The lovely Grace of Perth Daily Photo fame seems as smitten by the story of C Y O’Connor as any Western Australian should be, and has mentioned him more than once in the last wee while.

The main reason I mention this is that, thanks to Grace, O’Connor’s name popped into my head this week while reading about Victoria’s desalination plant. O’Connor’s story is reasonably well known, but there are some details that might be new to one or two of my readers.

[For the most interesting bits of this story I’ve relied heavily on Evan McHugh’s Outback Pioneers, Penguin 2008.]

Charles Yelverton O’Connor was born in County Meath, Ireland, in 1843, trained as an engineer and established a good rep over the 25 years he worked in New Zealand.
In 1891 he was lured to WA by Western Australia’s first state Premier, John Forrest.

c y o'connor

Railways, roads, water supply – the whole infrastructure headache was to be O’Connor’s and he rose to the challenge with an enormous amount of skill, common sense and vision.

A year after he arrived, the Kalgoorlie gold rush was born. As WA was relatively isolated from the rest of the country until the mid 1900s, it would be fair to suggest the whole state was once in the middle of nowhere.
It would be no exaggeration to further say that in 1892 Kalgoorlie – 450 camel kilometres* from the state capital Perth – was the very epicentre of the middle of nowhere.

With no river and bugger all rainfall but lots and lots of gold, the population quickly reached 5,000.
Some enterprising people were carting water 50kms** to the goldfields and flogging it for what, in today’s terms, was more than $2 a litre. If typhoid didn’t knock the miners off, there was a strong chance the body odour might do the job anyway. [Temperatures averaged more than 40C degrees ***]

By 1895 it was clear that this gold boom was no flash in the pan [if you’ll pardon the pun] and O’Connor was formulating a plan to deliver water to the 1,000 square kilometre***** bottomless money-pit.

[One way of highlighting the importance of the boom, if you’ll forgive me for making a small detour, is to consider WA’s then new Constitution.
If WA was to be a state, the British Government had insisted, then its Constitution should make special provision for Aboriginal welfare - £5,000**** or 1% of colonial revenue for each year- whichever was greater.
No one was phased about the one percent provision – at first. The Constitution was very quickly revised once the gold rush started.]

Here was an opportunity, O'Connor thought, to set the state up for a great future. Done properly, the project would open up and supply a whole corner of the state. Sooner or later WA would need farms, and without water there would never be a railroad east.

Although this was to be the largest water main anyone had ever constructed anywhere in the world, there was nothing new about building dams or reservoirs, pipes to deliver water, or even pumping stations to get water up hill and down dale.

Premier Forrest supported the idea. Until men could bring their families to live with them, money would keep pouring out of the state when they sent money home.

People jumped up and down and demanded a quick fix; although O’Connor knew there was no artesian water in the area, the government spent a fortune drilling as deep as 1,000 metres only to prove that beneath the bedrock there was no water, just more rock. This went on for two ‘solid’ years.

A British company wanted to set up the water supply in exchange for a twenty year monopoly on the sale of water.

The state opposition wanted to hand the whole thing over to private enterprise. O’Connor insisted that private enterprise might supply ‘stuff’, but the work had to be carried out by his department to ensure it was done properly.

O’Connor had estimated entire dam/ pipeline/ pumping station project could be done in 3 years. Unfortunately, it was nearly 3 years before the first of the money was finally available. Where there had once been a glut of cheap steel on the world market, there was now a shortage driving the price up.

O’Connor came up with solutions to potential problems. One pipe manufacturer had devised a mechanism for joining pipes that didn’t involve welding or rivets.
Work finally got underway 3 years late, and in 1901 Western Australia joined the other states in making Australia a federation. John Forrest, the original WA Premier who had single handedly managed to get the go ahead by the state parliament, went into the federal parliament and left O’Connor without a champion.

A great method of caulking the joints [with hemp and molten lead] was mechanised, providing a better seal. Work on this started in 1901 just when John Forrest had moved on.

The state had 4 different governments in 1901.

Bills were not getting paid, funding was being withheld, supply contracts not signed, and decisions not being made. Bits and pieces of the project were being sabotaged at random by government confusion and administrative incompetence, at levels higher up than O'Connor and without whose cooperation he could do nothing.

Couston, the public servant managing the caulking process wanted to go into business for himself, and be awarded a contract to finish the caulking.

In 1902 Premier Leake leaked a letter to the press demanding O’Connor’s department explain why the project had taken longer than 3 years. Every man and his dog started to fling dirt at O’Connor, and nobody defended him.
It was easy, given the number of governments that had fallen in just over a year, for everyone to say they had opposed the project in the first place, it wasn’t their fault, it must be O’Connor’s.

A parliamentary committee was set up to examine problems with the scheme, and the proposal by Couston that he be given a contract to finish the caulking.

None of the 5 chaps on the committee were engineers, goldfields representatives, or qualified to assess the caulking contract proposal. Most had been opposed to the scheme all along. The only person they did not call was O’Connor.

When the WA government sent O’Connor on loan to look at a South Australian harbour project, the media and some WA politicians accused him of fleeing the state.

The Sunday Times:
“It is an open rumour everywhere that this shire engineer from New Zealand has absolutely flourished on ‘palm grease’ since that first day…”

When O’Connor returned from South Australia he had his office highlight every negative word that had been said about him.

Was he a megalomaniac with grandiose ideas about his own importance? Was he a crook, or simply a man who wanted to do a good and sensible job for his employer?

On the 10th of March 1902 he wrote a note before going for his usual horse ride along the beach.

The position has become impossible. Anxious important work to do and three commissions of enquiry to attend to. We may not have done as well as possible in the past but we will necessarily be too hampered to do will in the imminent future. I feel that my brain is suffering and I am in great fear of what effect all this worry may have upon me – I have lost control of my thoughts. The Coolgardie scheme is all right and I could finish it if I got a chance and protection from misrepresentation but there’s no hope for that now and it’s better that it should be given to some entirely new man to do who will be untrammelled by prior responsibility.

He rode his horse into the water and shot himself in the head. You can see Grace's picture of just one of several monuments to this man here.

Couston never got his contract.
No enquiry or report showed O’Connor had done anything wrong.
Once it finally got underway, the whole thing took four years and two months to build.
There were only ¼ as many leaks as O’Connor had expected.
The water started flowing in January 1903.
It’s still flowing 109 years later, with over 8,000 kms of mains and pipelines, providing water to 1,000 square kilometres, 110 towns, and more than 100,000 people.

*450 kilometres = 280 miles
**50 kilometres = 31 miles
***40 degrees Celsius = 104 Fahrenheit
****£5,000 = a bloody great pile of money in any language
*****1,000 kms 2 = 386 miles 2


Victoria’s Desalination Plant
[The Herald Sun, Dec 3, 2012]
THE French boss of the troubled Wonthaggi desalination plant has admitted for the first time that the plant is too big for Melbourne's water needs.

"The design was done to provide water to the full city of Melbourne in case of no rain during one year - which was not realistic. The details why it was 150GL per year, I don't know," he said.

"As a state asset for the long term the plant required a 50-year design life, with many assets having a 100-year life….”

The Wonthaggi plant is able to produce 150GL - or 150 billion litres of water - every year if required.
This makes it three times the size of the 45GL-a-year Gold Coast plant and 65 per cent bigger than Sydney's 91GL-a-year Kurnell desalination plant.
Mr Chaussade's company is suing the State Government for $1 billion to reclaim losses from the job, due to weather delays and industrial action.

I think water is supposed to go from the desalination plant to Cardinia Reservoir, but I have no idea what the reservoir’s capacity is or how its water is supposed to be distributed to all the parts of Melbourne that use water.

Before the desalination plant was finished, a North-South pipeline was built by the previous state government to take water from the Murray Darling basin to Sugarloaf reservoir – and if used, required the government to buy water rights from farmers in the Murray Darling Basin irrigation areas.

The 750 million dollar pipeline was used for a few months in 2010.


It’s not hard to understand why CY O’Connor is revered in WA. It’s easy to see why good leadership is about finding the right man for the job, and letting him get on with it.
It’s sad to think most of Australia’s heroes are anti-heros like Ned Kelly.

I suspect the public service is often under-rated and [what’s left of it] is still used as a whipping boy. And I doubt private enterprise is the solution to everything.