Monthly Archives: January 2014

Memo to self: the IPA wishlist

As I watch with dismay as the hoary ghost of the old Howard government resolves itself into the new Abbott government, here’s a ‘memo to self’ about the IPA’s wishlist of 75 changes they want to see.  They were published in August 2012 and received quite a bit of publicity following news of the IPA’s 70th Anniversary  dinner prior to the last election,  where the keynote speakers were Tony Abbott, Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart, with Andrew Bolt as MC.

The Institute of Public Affairs is a free-market public policy think-tank.  It has connections with the Liberal Party, and it champions privatization, small government and deregulation.  I don’t think I want to link with them, so look them up yourself if you’re interested.

Somehow, I think that we’ll be hearing more about these proposals which you can find if you search for ‘wishlist’ on their site.  I shall keep watch, and unfortunately I think that I’ll be able tick them off as we go.

1 Repeal the carbon tax, and don’t replace it. It will be one thing to remove the burden of the carbon tax from the Australian economy. But if it is just replaced by another costly scheme, most of the benefits will be undone.

2 Abolish the Department of Climate Change

3 Abolish the Clean Energy Fund

4 Repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act

5 Abandon Australia’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council Continue reading

How my Daddy saved the Birthday Beacon

It’s Australia Day today.  I’ve blogged about Australia Day before,  here and here and here and here. I think I’ve said all that I can think of to say about Australia Day, especially as I feel rather ambivalent about the whole thing. So today, I’ll take a different but related tack about Australian patriotism and its expression.

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Some weeks ago I attended a seminar called ‘Fire Stories’ presented by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of the Emotions, held at the University of Melbourne.  I intended blogging about it but found myself caught yet again between the desire to take time to reflect before putting fingers to keyboard, and the inexorable march of days rendering the whole post irrelevant and undermining my confidence that, after such a long time,  I could render the presentation or  my responses faithfully.  So it remained a blog post unwritten.

I particularly enjoyed Associate Professor Alan Krell’s presentation on beacons where he juxtaposed the grand beacons of antiquity, the splendid imagery of the Beacons in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the more prosaic beacons of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, before moving on to Turner’s little known painting The Beacon Light [1840]. From his abstract:

SMALL FIRES, BIG MEANINGS: IMAGINING THE BEACON FIRE

Functioning variously as guidance, warning and inspiration, the Beacon Fire may also be turned to ill use.  Embodying fire’s paradoxical character, the beacon fire lends itself to multiple representations in text and image, the subject of this paper.  From the lingering evocations of the Greek tragedian, Aeschylus, describing the progress of the beacon fires that carried news of the fall of Troy, to the thrilling spectacle provided by the film director Peter Jackson, who describes another type of ‘progress’ in his Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [2003], the beacon fire flares triumphantly.  These grand scenarios are countered by the prosaically patriotic lighting of over 4000 beacons (around the globe) to celebrate the British Queen’s 60 years on the throne [2012].

We were sitting watching the final scene of Broadchurch on television some months back- if you saw it, you’ll remember where the town assembled on the beach to light the first of a string of beacons around the bay to mark their support for Danny Latimer’s family.

Broadchurch Beacon

“What was that beacon I helped with again?” asked Dad.  Beacon? What beacon? we said.  It was up at La Trobe University (my university, very close by) during the 1980s, he said.  A real schemozzle, apparently.  We had no idea what he was talking about.  Off to Google we went, as you do- and there it was, Australia’s very own “prosaically patriotic” Bicentennial Beacon Project.

According to the IPA review (I can’t believe that I’m quoting this source), the Bicentennial Birthday Beacons project arose from “concern at the direction the Bicentennial was taking”.

When the Australian Bicentennial Authority first published its national program of projects and events, it was a product of modern special interest politics.  It had a special program on multiculturalism to satisfy the ethnic lobby; another to satisfy the feminists; another for the trade unions; another for the Aborigines; a program for youth and a program for the handicapped and so on.  It emphasized the diversity of Australians without a balancing emphasis on the overarching unity and identity of the nation. (Ken Baker p. 48)

As the ‘Bicentenary Battles’ chapter in Stuart Macintyre and Anna Clark’s book The History Wars points out, Ken Baker’s rather snide and waspish comments above reflect a concern that he had expressed as early as 1985 that the bicentenary was turning into an apology rather than a celebration.

And so, headed by Claudio Velez from La Trobe University, the birthday beacon project was born, comprising 550 official sites around Australia on the night of 18-19th June 1988, with an estimated two million Australians taking part.  None of this special interest stuff: this was something that ‘ordinary Australians’ could embrace and be part of.  La Trobe University, as the administrative heart of the whole project, was to have its own beacon.

So, what was my daddy’s involvement?  Dad was Lumley’s Loaders, Lumley’s Constructions and Lumley’s Farm Machinery with a sizeable collection of low loaders, caterpillars, graders etc. based at Thornbury, just a few kilometres away from La Trobe University.  He can’t recall just how he became involved- he remembers it as a phone-call (the extracts below notwithstanding)- because the Glen College site is not visible from public roads, and he was unlikely to see it just driving past.  But what he does remember was that it was an “absolute schemozzle”  in the pouring rain and that if he hadn’t brought along his heavy artillery, there was no way that the La Trobe beacon would have eventuated, let alone flared.

I’ll let Shaun Patrick Kenaelly in Australia’s Birthday Beacons: The Story of June 18-19th 1988 tell the story.   He puts it down to “Beacon luck…the kind of luck which found Mr John Lumley of Lumley Loaders in Thornbury, driving by in the afternoon.” (p.25)  He quotes from Dr Richard Luke, the President of Glenn College:

There was a special incentive to build a beacon at La Trobe University, as Glenn College had been ‘home’ for “Birthday Beacons” since the beginning of the concept itself grew out of meetings held in the College.  Initially it was thought that students of the College might prepare a simple beacons, and a talk by the Executive Officer, Wayne Jackson, on 13 April, provided further impetus.  Then followed involvement of community groups, notably 1st and 3rd Rosanna Scouts and Rosanna Primary School, and the goals became more ambitious! Decision to provide entertainment meant that sponsorship became necessary and this was provided by local firms and Councils.

Weeks prior to the event, under the watchful eyes of the University’s Landscape Manager, material for the bonfire was delivered to the site by employees of Preston City Council.  No attempt was made to arrange the rather unsightly heaps into a bonfire until the actual day and the experience of a nearby group whose bonfire was prematurely lit TWICE vindicated this approach…

Anxious attention to weather forecasts for days before the event was a waste of time! The day itself dawned clear and full of promise that the forecast of a fine evening would be borne out.  How misplaced was such optimism.  As a small band of people struggled with increasing weariness and legs which were beginning to object to climbing ladders (“…what, not again…!”), the clouds began to gather and the clock began to go even faster.  Then [a] miracle occurred! A stranger who had been driving past and had stopped to help, quietly asked whether some heavier equipment would be of use.  An unambiguous ‘yes’ from the builders was followed a little later, by the arrival of a low loader and Drott.  Our ‘welcome stranger’ turned out to be a local earthmoving contractor! For the  next couple of hours the unsightly pile got smaller, the bonfire got larger and our ‘saviour’ got wetter and wetter! As the rain got heavier and the ground got softer under foot, the organizers (along with many others in Victoria!) wondered whether anyone would brave the elements to see whether liberal applications of diesel would enable a bonfire to be lit in the pouring rain!

By dusk the weather had cleared a little and the CFA brigades from Diamond Creek, Eltham and Epping were able to stage a most impressive torchlight procession.  The large marquee, which was to have been the focus of bush-dancing was full of people trying to stay warm(ish) and dry.  The unlit bonfire was surrounded by a large number of more adventurous people interested to see whether the torches borne by the shivering runners could, in the hands of two Mayors and the University’s Vice-Chancellor, find the ‘priming’ hidden under a mountain of sodden vegetation! The deep laid plans of the organizers…! Where were those air vents so cunningly constructed according to…instructions? Answer…buried under the material moved by the Drott!

Well after a few minutes (which seemed much longer to at least this organizer!) and repeated use of the flame-thrower, the fire ‘took’.  The remainder of the evening was greatly enjoyed by the estimated 2000 people in attendance… The last pole did not fall until the small hours of the morning (by which time there was a cloudless, star-filled sky!) and the fire was still burning days later.  (p. 25)

The local newspaper, the Heidelberger talked it up: (you can click to enlarge)

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A quote:

Australia will be a ball of fire this Saturday night- but Heidelberg families need not worry.  Local people will light a fire of their own at La Trobe University as part of the bicentennial birthday beacon project.  Australia will be embraced by the longest chain of beacons in world history, with the first being lighted by the Governor General Sir Ninian Stephen at Botany Bay. The national project, which is based at La Trobe, is the brain child of university sociology professor Claudio Veliz. It has been designed to give communities around Australia their own slice of the 200th birthday celebrations…

Communities around Australia will light their own beacons at staggered times, effectively starting a ball of fire around the country.  Heidelberg’s beacon will be lit promptly at 5.45 at La Trobe University between carparks three and six.  Attractions on the free evening will include a torchlight procession, fireworks and a bush band.

Another article in the Heidelberger of 15 June noted that Rosanna Primary School children were selling commemorative programs for $3.00.  The beacon would be lit by three torches to be handed to the mayors of Heidelberg (Cr. Hec Davis) and Preston (Cr. Gary Jungwirth), and the Vice Chancellor of La Trobe University Professor John Scott.

The Heidelberger of the following week (22nd June) carried the rather anti-climactic news of the evening- with no pictures.  More than 2000 had braved the cold, wet and windy weather, it reported.  Costs were just covered by sponsorship, and some money was made from food sales.  To add insult to injury, thieves stole a $500 chainsaw, owned by the university.

But Dad had his fifteen minutes of anonymous fame:

Mr Braddy paid tribute to an anonymous man who had turned up with a front end loader to help build the beacon after seeing the organizers were having trouble.

Trouble? A schemozzle, in Dad’s words.  It puzzles me, actually, why I didn’t attend this.  Did Dad even tell me about it at the time? I had a 4 year old and 2 year old who would have enjoyed it but perhaps the weather was just too daunting.  In fact, I remember nothing about it at all, and it would have slipped from family memory completely had the sight of the Broadchurch beacons not triggered Dad’s recollection.

Mr Muo’s Travelling Couch

drmuostravellingcouch

2003 (2005 translation from French), 264p.

Well, that’s 264-pages-reading-time that I’m not going to get back again.

Dai Sijie is the author of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, and there are similarities between the two books.  Both books revolve around the power of European literature (Balzac in the earlier book; Freud in this book); both refer to the ‘re-education’ policies of the Cultural Revolution; both books involve journeys.  But where there was the theme of innocence and awakening in his first book, the major plotline of this novel is that Mr Muo, recently returned from France where he qualified as a psychoanalyst, needs to find a virgin to offer as a bribe so that his girlfriend can be released from prison.  All rather grubby really.

He speaks (albeit almost casually) of post-Cultural Revolution and post-Tienanmen Square China, and I did find that interesting.  I was wondering when it was going to expand into a full-blown critique, but it remained very subtle- unless it passed completely over my head.  I know very little about Freudianism but the author’s use of it all seemed rather obvious and simplistic.  I am, however, very ready to concede that there might be nuances and critiques of Freud here that may have also passed completely over my head.  (I’m wondering if Freud in Oceania has read it?)   I kept waiting for this book to DO something, but alas it never did.  In fact, I don’t know if anything happened at all or whether it was all a dream after all.

Even more disconcerting were the blurbs front and back that described it as ‘hilarious’ and  ‘amusing charming read with a sharp, satirical edge’ and ‘allusive, intelligent and very funny’.   I obviously have a different sense of humour from such readers.

My rating: 3/10

Read because: it was a bookgroup choice for February (even though I won’t be there for the meeting).  Boy, I’m glad I didn’t choose THIS book!

Sourced from: CAE

Judge Willis on the front page of today’s Age? Not quite….

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It’s the 20th January and so it is the 172th anniversary of the hanging of Maulboyheenner and Tunnerminnerwait.  Each year this anniversary receives more prominence, and I see from today’s article that Melbourne City Council plans to erect a memorial, probably outside the Old Melbourne Gaol.  Details of location, cost, size and nature have not yet been decided. You can read the research paper by Monash University academic Clare Land supporting the proposal here.

I thought that Judge Willis was about to get his 15 seconds of 21st century fame in this article, but he’s not mentioned at all.  So, you’ll just have to read my earlier posts about Judge Willis’ part in these hangings, which were the first official hangings that occurred the Port Phillip district.  You can read them here and here.

Again, I’d strongly encourage you to read Leonie Steven’s article ‘The Phenomenal Coolness of Tunnerminnerwait’ published in the Victorian Historical Journal, Vol 81, Number 1, June 2010.  If you’re a member of the State Library of Victoria, then you’ll be able to get access to it (likewise with the other state libraries in Australia.  It’s really worth joining your state library: you get so much access to databases and journals from home).  Alternatively, there’s an online version here.   It’s a beautifully written article that has the humility to admit that sometimes motives for action are ultimately unknowable and that it is important to go back to the primary sources again and again.  Good advice.

Hot, wot?

We Melburnians can think of little else but the weather at the moment as we are enduring a hot spell of four consecutive days with temperatures over 40 degrees. But then again, we’re always a bit weather-obsessed, as our temperatures often fluctuate wildly.  In summer,  over two or three days we build up to a hot (usually mid-low thirties) day, then have a cool change that plunges us back to 20 degrees before gradually building up to the mid-thirties again.

Now, as many of you will know, I am very fond of my newspaper. A friend asked me recently “what makes you get out of bed?” and my answer then and now is “getting the paper”. I am distraught when it’s late: going out every five minutes, checking under all the plants in my increasingly bushy cottage garden, checking again…and again…and again. Even when I already know most of what appears in it through the internet or BBC World Radio overnight, I still like opening up new pages and reading the paper cover to cover. It takes hours on the weekend (and yes, I am very tempted by Morry’s Schwartz’s  forthcoming Saturday Paper as well)!

When I settle down every morning to read the paper, I always read the death notices.  I always read the Odd Spot.  And I always read the weather pages.  I look at the international weather reports and I mentally transport myself to each of the places I’ve been and try to imagine them under the current weather conditions.  I look at Kenya because my boy’s there, where there is either “increasing sunshine” or “showers”; I look at Paris and think of myself sitting on a bench at Versailles; I look at London and think of myself standing opposite the Tower of London; I look at New York and think of Central Park; I look at Toronto and think of the streetcar running past our college at the University;  I look at Wellington and think of standing at the harbourside; I look at Christchurch and I grieve for its cathedral in the city square.  I have all these pictures in my mind like a series of mental postcards and I riffle through them in my imagination, superimposing that day’s weather report onto them.

Then there are those weather graphs for our own weather in Melbourne for that day. Every day I sigh and say “I don’t GET this graph”.  I know that they’re working on probabilities and scales. I’m certain that there’s some mathematical and scientific rationale to this display that my very unmathematical brain cannot understand, and has no interest in trying to do (so explaining it to me in words of one syllable probably won’t help.)

Here’s one for a pleasant summer’s day, (Saturday Jan 11)  with little variation between the minimum and maximum.

GRAPH 1 SATURDAY JAN 11

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My first problem is that even though the prediction shows 19 – 25, the graph  shows a high of 24 (the highest part of the graph) and a low of 20.  In every graphic, every day, the temperatures shown never match what is predicted on the left hand side of the page.

GRAPH 2 MONDAY JANUARY 13

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But here we are on Monday Jan 13 where the temperature more than doubles- from 14 to 35 degrees (or as the graph depicts, from 15 to 33). Here’s my second problem- wouldn’t you think that this graph with a vast range between minimum and maximum would look very different from the day where the temperature barely moves?

And here we are for today (Friday Jan 17) , when there’s a sharp cool change predicted tonight (alleluia!)

GRAPH 3 FRIDAY JANUARY 17

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To be sure, it does show a dip between 6.oo p.m. and 9.00 p.m. but it doesn’t reflect the prediction that the temperature will fall 10 degrees within an hour.  It shows a high of 41 at 3.00 pm but doesn’t indicate when it’s going to go even higher to reach 44 (and believe me, once you’re over 40, the single degrees DO matter!)

Moreover, the rain predictions confuse me. Here’s a graph from Tuesday 14th where the temperature almost doubled (which is not immediately obvious) with rain forecast in the evening with a 70% likelihood of between 10-20 mm.

GRAPH 4 TUESDAY JANUARY 14

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Yet if you compare the appearance of the rain prediction for the January 14th graph with today’s ( Graph 3 January 17th), it looks as if we’re due to get more rain today, yet it’s a 60% likelihood of between  1-5 mm.  If it’s only 1 mm, then it barely counts.

While I do appreciate information about the predicted time of a cool change (so that you know whether to take a cardi or not), I am bemused, confused and amused by these graphs every single morning. Gives me something to get out of bed and grumble about every day.

P.S. I wrote about the last heatwave in 2009 here, with a backward glance toward early-Melbourne commentaries on the weather.

The ‘fairytale’ is over

Well, who would have thunk it? Geoffrey and Brynne Edelsten’s marriage is over.

geoffrey-edelsten-brynne-gordon

Here are the wedding celebrations described with breathless enthusiasm in 2009, and here’s a rather sad analysis of the same celebration written by a guest some four years later now that it’s over.

Celebrity gossip is my rather grubby secret vice- indulged mainly at the check-out, the hairdressers and doctors with the odd furtive glance at internet links on The Age website-  and I don’t normally write about it here.  But bad hair transplant, curious suntan and Brynne notwithstanding, I do have rather a soft spot for Geoffrey Edelsten.

It was a couple of days before Christmas in 1988 (I think- might have been 1989) and I developed the mother of all sore throats.  Ye Gods- each swallow felt like a knife and I felt absolutely terrible.  I could barely open my mouth; the taste was terrible; as soon as I lay down I felt as if I was going to suffocate…. oh, it was dreadful.   In desperation I went to the walk-up 24 hour clinic in Kingsbury that was owned by none other than the famous Dr Edelsten.  I think that it must have been at the nadir of his fortunes: it was a very humble grey brick surgery in two old houses on a busy corner.  It had the chandelier, but that was about all, with threadbare carpet, hard chairs and the ubiquitous doctor’s-surgery magazines. There were no other patients, and the whole place looked rather tired and crumpled- as did the doctor himself.

It was quinsy, which sounds all very Victorian and old-fashioned.  People used to die of it- in fact, I read a description of Queen Elizabeth I’s death and even though I know that she was supposed to have died of poisoning (perhaps from her face powder), I reckon it was quinsy.  Alison Weir (Elizabeth the Queen, 1998 p.481-4) says that her final illness began with “slight swellings- probably ulcers- in the throat” and she complained to Nottingham “My Lord, I am tied with a chain of iron around my neck. I am tied, and the case is altered with me”. Apparently she just lay on cushions on the floor, “holding her finger continually in her mouth, with her eyes open and fixed to the ground”.  Well, that sounds like me Christmas 1988. Eventually Queen Elizabeth’s ulcer burst and she felt much better (although went on to die a few days later), just as mine burst on Boxing Day (and I lived to tell the tale, obviously).  Instant relief.

The good doctor made his diagnosis and gave me a hefty injection of antibiotics (there was no way that I could swallow a tablet).  And another the next morning and evening, and the morning and evening after that.  By now it was Christmas Day and there he was, alone in that surgery at 8.00 in the morning and there he was still alone in that surgery at 7.00 p.m. that night.  Not once did I see another patient there.

I’ve had quinsy a couple of times since, although never as bad as that first time- touch wood I haven’t had it for the last ten years or so.  I still get nervous at the sign of a sore throat.  I haven’t forgotten that kind doctor in his empty surgery and in spite of all that has happened to him, I feel rather sad for him.

Trains and skeins

I don’t like tagging.

But I don’t like the PSO (Protective Services Officer) hutch at my railway station either.  It sits up against the entrance, so that everyone has to squeeze past it.  These dongas are part of a state government law-and-order policy to put armed security guards on every station after dark.  No staff, mind you, to sell you a ticket or tell you when the next train’s coming.  Just two goons with guns.  Of course, there’s nothing to do on these very quiet, deserted stations between the trains, so they need a shed. And the powers that be have decided that at Macleod, it has to be right in the doorway.  That’s nice, isn’t it?

As I said, I don’t like tagging.  It’s ugly. It’s offensive.  It’s rude.

But so is that PSO hut.

And so, with great pleasure, I see that it has been tagged.  It’s the only one on the Hurstbridge line that has been so ‘adorned’.  I hope they do it again and again and again.  And I hope that they take this ugly, offensive and rude building away.

On a happier note, I see that someone who loves Macleod is yarn-bombing it.  How appropriate for Macleod- the home of the nannas.  It’s good to think that young ones are knitting away, with a sense of humour, with a light touch that harms no-one and brings only pleasure. Thank you.