Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Missing children

must be one of the worst nightmares for parents. I can't even begin to comprehend how bad it must be to have your child go missing, thought - or known - to be abducted by a stranger and almost certainly sexually abused and then murdered. If you don't know for certain then there must always be that tiny hope that, one day, there will be a knock at the door and your child will appear.
It must be bad enough when a child leaves home and you know they have gone but you know that they did so of their own volition.
I know someone whose child was murdered and another whose son committed suicide. They won't ever fully "get over" those events.  They have perhaps learned to live with them in their own way but their children and what happened to them are part of each day of their lives. 
     "Sometimes I just stop for no reason and say S.... and it hurts! What must it be like for them?" one of them told me in a quiet but anguished voice yesterday. We were both in the library and she had just heard that there was going to be a new search for the three Beaumont children, children who went missing fifty  years. Nobody knows - yet. How did someone manage to abduct three children from a trip to the beach without someone noticing something? How did someone manage to, presumably, murder three children and hide their bodies and not get caught? It seems incomprehensible.
Two more young girls went missing later and their whereabouts has not been discovered either. It doesn't make sense. The sister of one is still hoping to find out. No doubt other family members are too. Those involved in the searches will always wonder. Did I miss something? Could I have done this instead of that? Is there a question I should have asked of one of the people I interviewed? If...if...if...  It must go on forever.
I know other people whose children have simply disappeared from view. They know their children are alive but they have had no contact with them for years. One of them once told me, of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann,  "It doesn't feel like it but I suppose we're the lucky ones compared with the parents of children who disappear like that." 
The parents of the Beaumont children are frail and elderly now. They must know they won't see their children again, must hope that the new site being explored will reveal something - but, if it does, then a tiny little hope will also be extinguished forever.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The date of Australia Day

is under "debate" again. It's Australia Day on the 26th January and this year the demands to "change the date" appear to be more strident - at least in the media.
I have my doubts as to whether the vast majority of the population is interested or cares in the least. It's a holiday, an excuse not to go to work, an excuse to have a BBQ and a beer. Ask people what the day is supposed to commemorate and many of them would have only a vague idea. 
I am not too sure what it is supposed to commemorate myself. I am not sure that you can have a "national" day in a country which is so determinedly "multi-cultural". It seems slightly ridiculous.
I suppose we should really be celebrating "Federation Day" - the day on which the states came together under the Australian Constitution in 1901. That might make more sense.
But both the major political parties say there are no plans to change the date.
One of the reasons put forward for changing it is that some indigenous Australians claim it is "Invasion Day".  They are in the minority but they are likely to be heard. Such claims make good media copy. 
Was it an invasion? I suppose it depends on how you interpret the word. Yes, a small fleet landed and a small number of people settled permanently. Yes, they took over a very small part of a vast land, a small part that belonged to someone else. We now see that as wrong but, at the time, it was thought that the land did not "belong" to anyone.  It wasn't until the "Mabo" (Mabo v Queensland (No 2) case in 1992 that land ownership by the indigenous people of Australia and the Torres Strait was recognised. It was a complex case and the decision is a complex one. It wasn't simply, "Yes, you own that and we took it away." The decision in the case actually took more than twelve months to be handed down. There had been years of work prior to that.
But what would have happened if the First Fleet had not landed. A former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, recently suggested that the colonisation of the country was a good thing for the indigenous people. He was promptly howled down. Statements were made about the theft of the country, "massacres", "genocide" and more.
Such statements show little understanding or knowledge of the history of the country. I know people who still believe that "measles infested blankets" were deliberately handed out to the local tribes. Historians have been able to find no evidence of that. There has been argument over whether small pox or chicken pox caused many of the deaths but the idea that it was a deliberate act has never been proven. What is much more likely is that the local tribes were simply not immune to the diseases brought by the First Fleet and that it was the highly contagious chicken pox virus which was responsible. It would have taken just one infectious person from the First Fleet in close contact to be responsible.
If it had not happened when it did then colonisation would have happened soon after. It might have been the Dutch or the French or perhaps people from Indonesia or China who landed and laid claim to what was a sparsely populated land mass. There were perhaps thousands of small tribes, some of whom had connections to others but whose languages and cultures differed. It wasn't a unified country with a common language and culture. 
A lot of that has been lost and humanity is the poorer for it but, for the most part, it wasn't deliberate. 
It certainly changed the way of life of the indigenous peoples but trying to hold present day people responsible for the acts of others more than 200 years ago  isn't helpful.
Teaching that view of the past and demanding a change in the date for those reasons isn't helping anyone.   
 

Monday, 22 January 2018

The proposed testing of young children

in England was under discussion on Facebook yesterday. It followed an article in the Guardian which suggested the testing of very young children was verging on "immoral".
I certainly think it is wrong. I know one reader of this blog will be tempted to point out to me that there are places where children as young as five are already at work. That doesn't make it right. A five year old should not be at work. They may do some work but working full time at the age of five, particularly in the conditions they work on, is wrong.
But testing children at five - and long before that - isn't helping either. I know there are nursery schools in Japan which families fight to get their children into because of the rigid regime designed to ensure that the children attending it will get into the "best" schools and then into the "best" high schools and then into the universities. The son of the Japanese ambassador of the day told me all this and more - and how glad he was that he had been schooled in Downunder and was at university here. No, he wasn't lazy. He was just well aware that the pressure to succeed was not as great.
Thirty plus years later it has become a different story. 
Pre-school and kindergarten are now supposed to be a constant, supervised learning experience. Children are constantly being told what to do and how to do it. "Imagination" is actually guided by an adult. Books are about "facts" and "experiences". Politically incorrect nursery rhymes and fairy stories are being abandoned in favour of rhymes about climate change, animal care, racial differences and customs. If you learn to use a pair of scissors it is only as a one-on-one experience with an adult and you also colour that part of the picture red because the teacher tells you to do that - even if you want to colour it blue. 
Teachers now teach to the test. If the children in their class fail then they fail too. They must be doing something wrong.
When I was teaching I remember one of the boys coming in one morning looking white and obviously close to tears. 
      "Want to talk J....," I asked him quietly. 
He shook his head and sat down in his seat. After a moment though he got up and came up to me and muttered, "My gran died."
Then he burst into tears.
I stood there and hugged him briefly - yes, I know but it was in full view of those members of the class who had already arrived.
     "May I tell them?"
He shrugged and then nodded. So, when we were all ready to start the morning's work I told them what had happened. We spent the rest of the time up until the morning break talking about it. The work I had planned went undone. I wondered what their parents would have to say, whether I had done the right thing. 
It seemed though that I had. Not one parent objected. I actually had a couple of notes the following morning thanking me for confronting a "difficult" issue. 
I still have no idea how much good it did in the end but I don't think that time was wasted. It could have been spent on arithmetic and spelling but we spent it on life and death instead. We did the work later and missed a couple of "weekly tests" instead. 
I could not do that now for any number of reasons  - but I am glad I could do it then.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

School uniform

sizes have apparently increased - to accommodate the expanding waistlines of students.
Ms W informed me of this in an email yesterday. She is currently in Italy with her father and enjoying every moment of it if her messages to me are to be believed. But yesterday's email was also a reminder that she will be back at school at the beginning of February.
       "I need new school shoes and new sports shorts only the size that is long enough is probably too wide."
Ms W is of average height. Ms W is not fat. If anything she is on the "skinny" side. Her father is not fat either. Both of them have problems finding clothes that fit. 
Fifty years ago they would both have been considered "average". Commercially made clothes would have fitted without too much trouble.   
My mother and my grandmothers made most of their own clothes, my clothes and the clothes of my siblings and my cousins. I also inherited clothes from other children. The winter coats I wore were passed on to my mother for me from a woman who had three girls. Her first two girls, older than I was, wore them first. Then I wore it for a winter before it was passed back to her for her third girl. Then it was passed back to my mother for Middle Cat and then the Black Cat. My brother's winter coats were made from cloth that my grandfather had available in his tailoring business and did a similar amount of duty with another family of boys.
My box pleated school tunics - for those of you old enough to remember those  horrendous garments - lasted for years. I never seemed to grow fatter or much taller. They were passed on to another child and then back to my mother for Middle Cat and then the Black Cat before another child wore them.
The thing about all this was not just the quality of the cloth and the care taken of the garment but the curious fact that none of us were fat. The garments might be "taken up" or "let down" but they fitted us at least after a fashion. 
I don't think it would be as easy to do that now. There are many more children who are considered to be "obese". Others who are now "average" would have been considered to be verging on "fat" when I was a child. 
Before I started school I remember standing in the local haberdashery store not far from my paternal grandmother's home while she and my mother looked at patterns to see what was being made. (My mother drafted any patterns herself after that using the "Enid Gilchrist" books and adapting them.) There were patterns for "chubby" children. I wanted to know what the word meant and my mother saying, "Fat. You aren't fat. You're thin which is how you should be."
I wish the same was true now. I'd still fit into an "average" uniform.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Migration has been

an essential part of Downunder's present makeup. 
My great-grandparents were migrants. My great-grandfather was a ship's pilot and marine cartographer. He discovered the city I live in on a trip in which his best friend was washed overboard in a terrifying storm. The experience reportedly left him shattered and seeking quieter waters than the Bay of Biscay. 
He  married his best friend's sister and they made a home for themselves in the port area of the city. He went on working as a ship's pilot and he mapped the waters right along the gulf and a number of other places. Until computers and sophisticated equipment took over his maps were the initial reference point on which all future maps were based. 
Looked at like that his contribution to the economy of the state was enormous. His work helped immensely in getting goods in and out of the state. 
From all accounts I imagine he never saw it that way. He was simply doing his job. His wife did her job - bringing up eleven children and acting as an untrained, unpaid social worker to the maritime community. There was plenty for her to do too.  The Senior Cat remembers people being constantly in and out of her house and his aunts, her daughters, being told to put extra potatoes in the pot because someone who needed a meal would be joining them. They may both have been rather "dour" Scots but they were
apparently extraordinarily accepting of people from different races, religions, and cultural backgrounds. I suspect that, at least on the part of my great-grandfather, it had something to do with the travelling he had done as a sailor.
But I am wondering now how migration and migration patterns have changed since then. My great-grandparents were not well off. They came from fishing and crofting communities in the far north of Scotland. Yes, they probably wanted more than they had and the climate probably seemed far superior to that of the far north. They came prepared to work hard because they had worked hard all their lives and everyone around them worked hard. If you didn't work you didn't eat.There was pretty well full employment there and here at the time.  There were no social services as such. The church or the laird provided help there and the church provided help here.  Now there are government funded social welfare services. All too often they are difficult to access and impersonal. Work is harder to obtain. Jobs that once required little or no training have largely ceased to exist. Those who migrate often come from troubled backgrounds and are seeking to escape conflict.
I thought of all this yesterday when someone phoned me and asked for some advice with respect to a migrant whose papers had landed on his desk. 
     "I don't think he really wants to be here," I was told. 
I wonder if my great-grandparents ever felt like that? They must have felt homesick at times but did they ever regret coming? I'll never know. I wonder how they would feel now. I'll never know that either. 

Friday, 19 January 2018

It is too hot to play sport

or be outside unless it is absolutely essential.
Yesterday hit 44'C at this tiny spot on the planet. I kept a close eye on the Senior Cat. He put his nose outside for no more than a minute and came back in with his tail drooping. He likes to be OUT and DOING and neither was possible.
Today will be no better. Tomorrow might drop to the mid-thirties if we are lucky. I have just looked at the forecast for the rest of the week and it is going to go on being too hot to be out. I will need to do some essential shopping but I will do it as early as possible.
Middle Cat has strong views about people being out and about in the heat. 
      "Heat stroke can lead to an ordinary stroke," she has told the Senior Cat more than once. Doctor-Nephew Cat has backed her up warning his grandfather, "Don't go out in the heat."
He sighs and is sensible and stays inside but he also has a severe case of "cabin fever". He's read things and watched video clips about things he is thinking about on his i-pad. He has folded origami and had naps in the afternoon. He would prefer to be doing "gardening" (very slow and little of it but still OUT) and doing "things" in his shed (which is OUT - at least, out of the house).
His shed can reach 60'C+ in the heat. It is just an unlined tin shed.
Nobody could work out there for long. 
So why are people playing tennis - at the Australian Open no less - and tearing around on bicycles - at the Tour Downunder? It's plain outright stupid. Oh yes, they cut short part of the bicycle race and cancelled something else but part of the race went on and the tennis didn't stop.
Is it going to take the death or permanent disability of someone due to a stroke brought on by the heat before they cancel these events? I know, it's money. People have paid to come and see these things. It costs a lot of money to run them.  You can't "disappoint" the public - who are equally foolish to be out watching these things in the heat.
I will shortly pedal up to the supermarket and get milk and be thankful for the "cooler bag" and visit the green grocer for some more lettuce and tomatoes and other "salad" ingredients. After that it will be good to get home and, cabin fever or not, we will stay IN.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Bullying in schools is,

if the media is to be believed, worse than ever. The media also places a lot of the blame on social media. Whether that is true or not I don't know.  
There has also been a government initiated "Safe Schools" program which was supposed to stop the bullying of children who  have different sexual preferences and another program to stop the bullying of children who are intellectually, psychologically or physically different.
I doubt they work. In some instances they may even exacerbate the problems.
With an election coming up the current opposition has announced plans to scrap the Safe Schools program. It's been controversial from the start. There have been claims that there is a hidden agenda in the program. Certainly some of the exercises which students have been required to participate in are not what I would want my children to be part of.
I wonder what the Senior Cat would have done as the head of a school. He would have been required to have the program in his school. He would not have liked the tone of it. I can't think of a single teacher who taught me who would have been comfortable teaching it.  I also know many other current teachers who are not comfortable about it.
It's gone too far. Asking children or adolescents to "role play" something as intimate and personal as "different sexuality" is not like asking them to imagine the loss of sight or hearing or giving them a book written in a different alphabet and asking them to try and understand what it is like when the letters on the page are meaningless.  Issues of sexual intimacy have no place in the school classroom. 
     "It's their business," MsW informed me when we talked about it last year. Her friend and her friend's mother were there as well and they agreed. It was her friend's mother who had asked the question about whether we thought it was appropriate. The school had asked for feedback about whether it should be taught and, if it was to be taught, how it should be taught.  Parents voted against it. The school's deputy, who was responsible for asking, later told me that only five parents felt it should be taught. There were several hundred parents involved.
There are anti-bullying measures in place in Ms W's school. Ms W and her friends tell me that there is very little bullying at school. There is some of course - no school is entirely free of it - but the girls tend to deal with it themselves - mostly  by publicly shaming the perpetrator. 
It has probably come about because most of them have been at the same school all their school lives and the school has a reputation for  insisting on good manners, very good manners. Parents are not just encouraged but expected to back the school in this. When their child is enrolled they sign an agreement about these things.
The Senior Cat would have liked the same sort of agreement from parents in the schools for which he was responsible. I know his view is that parents are primarily responsible for the way in which children are taught to behave. The school's job is to reinforce acceptable social behaviour rather than teach it from the start.
I know not everyone will agree but I still feel that if good manners and respect for others is taught at home and reinforced at school then "differences" of any sort will be much less of an issue.  
I was bullied at school and there was nothing I could do about it because my parents worked in the same place. Simple good manners would have prevented most of it. It had a profound impact on me and it still makes me wary. I tend not to trust people but Middle Cat also told me the other day, "You never stick up for yourself."  More than once Ms W has looked at me and said severely of someone who has upset me, "You should tell them" .
Does that work?
I'd like to see the "Safe Schools" program replaced by a program which emphasised respect for others.