Monday 31 August 2015

The difference between a migrant and a refugee

should be obvious but it still seems some people don't want to understand it. 
A lot of my working life has been spent working with people who work directly with people who are - or become - refugees. I have been told many stories about them. 
I have also met many refugees and talked with them. Some of them were refugees in the far distant past and others are raw, new refugees.
The world is a terrifying place for a refugee. You have nowhere to call "home" if you are a refugee. You have few, if any, possessions. You can't go back to where "home" once was because you might get killed if you do or that place doesn't exist any more. There is no food for you. You are dependent on strangers for everything.
And you are, in all likelihood, homesick for the place you once called home.
You are not a healthy young man who has deliberately committed a criminal offence and who is now seeking to avoid punishment. You are not a healthy young man who is seeking work to "send money back home" or coming as the advance party in the hope that a family can migrate.
Migrants, even "economic migrants"  (people who would simply like to move somewhere else for a "better way of life"),  are not refugees. Migrants have choices. Refugees don't. 
I can understand why some people want to migrate. I can understand why they are prepared to leave their place of birth and seek what they believe will be, and often is, a better way of life somewhere else. The country I live in was built on convict settlements and migration - yes, even those who call themselves "indigenous" or "first people" were migrants. Some of those migrants were refugees in other parts of the world who took the opportunity to migrate on invitation.Much of the world had been built on migration. Obviously it can be a good thing but migration is not the same as seeking refuge. We need to recognise and acknowledge that refugees are not simply healthy young men who are able to work. Refugees may be very old or very young.  They may also be disabled, too traumatised to cope with life, angry and not always "grateful". They are simply human beings.
Refugees want somewhere "safe". They may have ideas that they would like to go to a specific country if the opportunity presents itself but their first desire is for a "safe" place. Refugees I know would have been prepared to go "anywhere safe" - or they will have been sent by their parents in a desperate attempt to save their lives and give them a future. It is sheer and utter desperation which makes you put your young child on a train or, even worse, an overcrowded boat and watch them go without you. It is why others will carry sleeping children for hours and why they will give their children the precious limited water to drink and go without themselves.
And yes, refugees are often homesick. They want to be surrounded by their language in a place where the laws and way of life is familiar, where they had a job and food on the table, where they had a home in which they could sleep at night without fear and where their children could go to school without risk of being attacked for doing so. Given the chance many of them would return to their countries of origin and work to rebuild the places from which they come.
We should all be doing more to support refugees. We need to give them food and shelter and the skills with which to support themselves. And we should also give them  hope that they can one day go "home". 

Sunday 30 August 2015

There was a small disaster on the pedalling

front on Friday. 
I had to go back to the show-grounds. We had struck some problems putting the display up - missing items (found) and things that had been wrongly labelled (re-labelled) and not enough space to display things properly (massive re-arrangements necessary).
All that necessitated me prowling back to help. I had not planned on that.
On the way there a small disaster struck. No, not a puncture. (I live in fear of those as my paws are not able to change the inner tubes.)
I went over a bump - and the left hand rear mudguard went "bang, clatter, screech" and then there was an ominous scraping along the tyre wall. I stopped. I investigated.  Oh. There must have been a weak point in one of the stays that  hold the mudguard to the axle. It had snapped. 
I don't get far without my pedals so I straightened it cautiously and, very slowly, pedalled in to the show grounds. 
"What's wrong Cat?" the Convenor of the area asked when I moaned disaster had struck to someone else.
I told her. 
"Oh H will be in later. I'll get him to have a look."
H is her husband. He is one of those practical, sensible, able humans. I knew he would be able to take the mudguard off so I got on with the task ahead of me. We had struck a few more problems - nothing to do with what we had done the day before but were due to the incompetence of someone who had been there before that.
But H turned up in time for the mid-morning cup of tea and said,
"Don't worry. I'll give you and the trike a lift  home if necessary."
I showed him where I had "parked" and went back to work.
About ten minutes later he came in carrying the mudguard.
"It can be fixed - needs a little welding, that's all."
He showed me.
My brother-in-law can do that. He taught himself to weld years ago and is better than many professionals - simply because, as an engineer, he likes things to be "just right". 
"But let me know if there's a problem getting it back on,"H told me, "And I'll come down and fix it for you."
And then he gave me a brief, one armed hug. It was just a warm, friendly gesture and one with which I felt perfectly comfortable . As he did it his wife gave me a discreet "thumbs up".
"I wouldn't have let him do that," someone else said as he went off.
I looked at her and said nothing but I thought it was a sad commentary that she felt it was wrong for someone I know and trust to give me a brief, one armed hug in front of his wife in a public place. It told me something quite different. It told me that he and his wife have a rock steady relationship (and have had for more than forty years) and that they don't mind showing it. 
It also showed me that he cared.  

Saturday 29 August 2015

Reading with comprehension

appears to be a dying art. 
 I would have thought a writer with several published novels would have been able to read and understand a press release.  It seems not.
I admit the press release was not particularly well written. Many press releases are not well written. They are designed to get maximum (mis)information out in a minimum number of words. Sometimes they are designed to stir up public opinion.
Yesterday there was an outcry because a poorly worded press release from the "Australian Border Force" appeared, to some, to suggest that migrants/refugees/people-from-different-backgrounds were going to be targetted in an operation in the CBD of Melbourne. People were going to be "asked for their papers" and they would have to produce them!
I read the press release carefully. It says no such thing. It would never have said anything like that.
Let's be quite clear about something. Australians are not required to carry any form of identity with them. They do not have "identity cards". If someone is driving a motor vehicle they must have a licence - with a photo but if they are walking down the street they don't need that. 
If the police (and this includes the ABF) stop someone then they can ask for their name and address - and nothing more until they make an arrest. Even if they make an arrest people have the right to refuse to answer questions. (That may have implications later but the right is there.) Police can only search someone if they have "reasonable cause".
So, what was the outcry about? The police were going to "target anti-social behaviour and outstanding warrants".  Nothing was said about anything else apart from the fact that if someone was committing visa fraud then it would only be a matter of time before they were caught. That is a perfectly reasonable statement but it doesn't mean the police are going to stop someone in the street and ask them to prove they have the right to be there. They cannot do that. All they can ask for is a name and address - and no law abiding citizen should be concerned about providing that.
Personally I would not have a problem with that providing police were not deliberately targetting law abiding citizens of a particular social group or ethnicity. And why should they? 
If the ABF or the police wanted to conduct an operation of the nature being suggested they would not have announced it. It simply would not have worked. People who believed themselves liable to be stopped  or in the country illegally would simply have avoided the areas announced.
The outcry in the media that "refugees" were being targetted was nonsense. There was no such intention. 
Many refugees come from countries where the police are viewed with suspicion, great suspicion. Many refugees are genuinely afraid of the police. The outcry in the media and social media over this operation was simply wrong because it will just have caused people who view the police in this way to believe that the situation is the same here. They will believe they are targets for brutality and corruption and more. There will be instances of it in any police force but it is not the norm. 
I wonder  if those who went charging in making unfounded accusations about what was about to happen gave any thought to trying to understand what might really be the purpose of the operation and how much damage they have done to the people they believed they were "protecting"?

Friday 28 August 2015

"She doesn't think this is good enough

to put in," the middle aged man told me with a questioning look. He also looked rather anxious. 
We were collecting the entries for the knitting, crochet and lace work for the state's annual show. There were the usual, "This is the first time I've done this" and "I've forgotten my form but I did put the card on" and "is this the right place" and... well, I am sure you can imagine the rest.
But the middle aged man produced four pieces of knitting carefully wrapped and sealed in plastic bags.
I took one look and, even without unfolding them, told him,
"They will be good enough."
"It's my wife's mother. The kids didn't want anything so she tried something new. We thought it was okay."
A little later I unfolded them carefully for judging. I am not allowed to photograph them or I might even try putting a picture up. The closest examination could find no obvious faults. I left them ready for the official judge to see. Everyone else who was there to help came to have a look as word spread.
What had been entered were four pieces of exquisitely fine lace knitting in the Estonian style. There were two shawls and two scarves. They were made of very, very fine single ply yarn. They had been "blocked" (stretched to "iron" them without actually using an iron) and they had been blocked to perfection.
The judge came in and we worked through the first classes. There were some nice things but nothing outstanding and then we reached the little pile of shawls. I  had, as I always do, piled them in order of arrival. The pieces were near the bottom.
There was silence and then I heard the judge breathe out,
She spread the first piece out and then the second and then shook her head slowly in disbelief.
"Well, they are no-brainers," she said, "The only problem is which is first and which is second."
We made a decision between us - by agreeing that one pattern was slightly more complex than another. 
We went on to the scarves and the judge repeated the process.
But it did not end there. There is also a prize for the best piece of knitting in the show. The judge has all the first prize pieces left in a line. We had several really interesting and very well done pieces this year but she barely glanced at them again. Her hand went out to the pale, pale creamy-golden coloured shawl with tiny nupps no bigger than a grain of wheat. 
"It has to be this one," she told us. 
One elderly, housebound woman who thought her work would "not be good enough" will have two first prizes, two second prizes and "best in show". 
I hope she uses her prize money for more yarn. 

Thursday 27 August 2015

I still have mixed feelings

about zoos. I have been pondering my response to our visit on Monday.
It was interesting. The local zoo has changed greatly since I last saw it but I think I would  be just as happy not to go again. 
The kittens enjoyed themselves. Even the twelve months and two weeks old kitten was interested. She would have patted everything in sight. She had a long "conversation" with a frilly feathered hen in the children's section and, after staring intently at the meerkats eating their lunchtime chicken wings asked, "More?" We assumed she wanted to know if one raw chicken wing was all they got. 
We watched the hippopotami eating their lunch and the otters cleaning themselves after having had their lunch.
But the two giraffes worried me. They are big animals and they need a LOT of space. The same could be said of the two lions. One of those was pacing restlessly. We made brief eye contact. I suspect she was considering whether I was friend or food.
I wish one of the local vets was still alive. She had a small collection of native animals which could not, for one reason or another, be returned to the wild. She also had space for them. They roamed. They knew her of course because they were hand fed. For years we took visitors up to see her and she would patiently answer endless questions from the children. She would encourage them to be hands on, to help with the feeding and more. We grew masses of greens to help her feed them. The local shops gave her bread and vegetables they could not sell. What she couldn't use she would pass on to others who also kept injured animals. 
The Kittens won't get the experience of "going to see P's animals" so the zoo was the alternative.
I know that zoos have breeding programmes and that this may be the only way there will be a preservation of a diversity of species but it still bothers me to see animals, particularly large animals, in confined spaces they are not naturally intended to inhabit.
But, the meerkats and I got along very well together. They are intelligent and funny and Middle Cat was very naughty and gave them a teaspoon size piece of apple each. I really must find out why they roll all their food in the dirt before they eat it though!

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Should someone stand trial

three times for the same murder?
There is a long running legal saga in this state which has recently been under review - yet again.
It has been a case of interest to my family. My mother knew the father of the alleged victim. I have to say alleged here because, although she died, there is some doubt about how she died. My mother did not know the father well but she liked what she saw.
The man who is alleged to have murdered his daughter was put on trial in 1995. The first trial resulted in a hung jury. The second one found him guilty and he was sentenced to a minimum of twenty years. He served almost the entire twenty years before being released - on bail. He had appealed his conviction under new legislation - something which would not previously been possible.
The DPP now wants a third trial.
I know more than I might about this case because my nephew was the one who had to read the transcripts and the evidence and provide the material which the barrister used to get  this man released on bail. And yes, there is much more to the case than the media ever reported. I can't say more than that.
What I can say is that I wonder why the DPP is so keen to have a third trial. What is it they want from it? If this man is found guilty again then there will be the question of whether he is returned to prison to serve yet more time but it seems unlikely. If he is found not guilty then there will be other and even more complex issues raised. 
Murder trials are expensive, very expensive. There will be particular difficulties in this one. There were evidentiary issues right from the start. 
In all the media coverage of the case something else went unnoticed. There is another man in prison in this state. He could have been released some years ago - if he admits his guilt. He has apparently steadfastly refused to admit his guilt. I don't know who he is or what the circumstances of his case are but I wonder why anyone would remain in prison if they could leave. I am aware there are people who return there again and again. I am aware that there are people who feel "more secure" there. They get fed and housed and other people tell them what to do and, for sad and tiny minority of people life "inside" is better than life "outside". 
But if someone really was innocent and could leave only by saying "Yes, I am guilty" then what would the choice be? Lie and lose any chance of being found innocent - or risk never getting parole?
"There's a book in all that," a friend told me.
Yes, the plot has been used before - more than once. Real life is another story.

Tuesday 25 August 2015

The media is trying hard

to be even more anti-the-present-g0vernment. The Prime Minister is now behind the Opposition Leader in the polls - hardly surprising given the careful undermining which has been going on.
I have my arguments with the present PM  but I also have them with the present OL. He does not come over as a "nice" person at all. He would have condoned the recent vile machinations.
There is a to be a by-election in another state. It follows the sudden death of a well respected and popular member of parliament. Immediately following his death nice things were said on both sides of politics - and rightly so  because he was serving his electorate well.
Now the gloves are off. The choice is between a union oriented young lawyer or a former soldier, also young, who has served  his country with particular courage and distinction. The former soldier is getting a hard time of it. He is everything the electorate should want, committed, courageous, able to lead, loyal and principled. He has put his life on the line more than once. I wish we didn't need armed services but, if we do, then let them be filled with people like him.
And then the media comes along. They came along with a "story" which was not a story at all. In the soldier's absence part of the unit he led was "investigated" for "cutting off the hands" of enemy combatants. As I understand it this is standard and accepted as a means of taking the hands so that finger prints can identify those involved so that they can, where possible, be returned for a decent burial. It is done for the best of reasons rather than for the purpose of deliberate mutilation. I still think it is a vile thing to do but when you know that the "story" takes on a different meaning.
It was however written and repeated in such a way as to deliberately give a completely different impression. 
First impressions count. People often go no further. They will not listen to explanations. The media knows that. It was a deliberate and partisan attempt by the media to destroy someone's reputation. It was done in such a way that there was no chance of bringing a libel action. 
It was wrong. I hope there are enough fair-minded people out there who will recognise what has happened and replace a committed man with a courageous man. The other candidate's team is just cowardly.

Monday 24 August 2015

"We're all going to the zoo

today - I think the song actually says "tomorrow" but it will be today.
I haven't been to a zoo of any sort for a very long time. I don't like zoos. I would much prefer that animals remained in their natural environment even while I recognise that zoos actually help to preserve  different species.
But, the smallest kittens are here for a "long weekend" - the sort of thing they have to do before school takes over and holidays are only possible in school holidays. Only one of the smallest kittens goes to school and she was given "special days" to come and see her great-grandfather, the Senior Cat. 
So yesterday we headed off for "fish and chips at the beach". There is a very good playground at that particular section of beach. The Senior Cat watched in alarm as Kitten Two, aged four, raced up a rope like climbing frame and waved from around ten metres up. I tried to point out that, if she fell, the thing was designed to trap her at the next level. He was not convinced.
They went on the ancient carousel that has been there since the Senior Cat was a child - a first for all of them. Four adults had to go with them because they are not yet old enough or tall enough to go on it alone. There was another young girl looking longingly at those brightly coloured horses too. Given the money for a ticket she looked shyly at the Brother Cat's partner and then, with a huge smile of relief, at the "Yes of course you can sit on the horse next to  us", she handed over her ticket and climbed on. The music started again and they were off into that magical world of make-believe. 
"It was like a real horse!" Kitten Three, aged three, informed me as he went off to hug his great-grandfather for the umpteenth time that day.
They ate more fish and chips than the adults and then consumed ice cream in cones on top of that. I am sure the owner of the stall added extra large scoops to each cone. There were more "please" and "thank you" words at that! Even Kitten Five, just a  year old, helped herself to a large  quantity of fish and chips and topped it off with a smaller amount of ice cream and an approximation of "thank you".
And, despite all that and all the energy they had already expended, we went back to the cabin park where they are staying and they raced into the enclosure which has a "bouncy pillow" - an inflatable mounded mat you can actually bounce on. It was getting cold by then. The wind was icy but they didn't seem to notice - until they stopped.
We left them to eat the pasties I had made (with prodigious amounts of tomato sauce of course) and Brother Cat yawned as he drove us back.
What, I inquired, did the Senior Cat want for his tea? He settled for a mug of soup. Adrenalin has kept him going. It should keep him going for the zoo today. They leave tomorrow morning. 
I have "knitting at the bookshop" tomorrow afternoon. I suspect that all the Senior Cat will have on the agenda is an extended cat-nap! 

Sunday 23 August 2015

Commissioner Dyson Heydon

has gone off for the weekend to consider his situation. (For those of you in Upover there is a furore at present over whether there is "bias" or "an apprehension of bias" over his conduct in respect of accepting an invitation to give a lecture allegedly affiliated with a political party when he is conducting a Royal Commission into the conduct of the union movement.)
The Commissioner is in a no-win situation on this one. If he recuses himself then people won't say there was an apprehension of bias. They will claim "see, we told you he was biased. We knew the Royal Commission was a witch hunt.) If he does not recuse himself then they will continue to scream "bias".
If  he does not recuse himself then the union movement will take the matter further. It will eventually go to the High Court. The judges there will have to sit in judgment on a former member of their own ranks. If they find against him then his career will be in tatters. If they find for him the unions will still claim "bias". They will have to accept the umpire's decision but they will criticise it. It will, they claim, damage the High Court.
And of course this is precisely what the union movement is hoping for. They are hoping that, in all the legal wrangling people will forget why the Royal Commission was established and what it has already uncovered. They are hoping the criminal investigations will be forgotten. They are hoping that the media will side with them and that nobody will ask the question, "What have you got to hide that it is so important to feel a need to close the Commission down?"
There have also been demands for the Prime Minister to sack the Commissioner. He can't. The Commissioner is appointed by the Governor-General (in his role as the Queen's representative) and only he can sack the Commissioner. He would go to the Prime Minister (and perhaps the High Court) for advice. If he went against that advice then there would be a constitutional crisis in line with the one in 1975.
Equally it is not a simple matter to appoint another Commissioner in his stead. I do not know if it is possible to appoint a second Commissioner to work with him at this late stage. If it is that may be a solution - but not one the union movement would be happy with. 
A staunch unionist told me a couple of days ago, "We've got him. There's no way he can continue now."
If they succeed then it will be a serious blow to the rule of law. It will immeasurably strengthen the hand of the trade union movement. There are some people who believe this would be a good thing. 
My own personal belief is that there is no bias and no "reasonable person" - that "man on the Clapham omnibus" - would believe that accepting an invitation to speak at a lecture given annually which anyone is free to attend (and many from all sides of politics do) should be seen as bias. The Commissioner may, of course, decide otherwise.
I will admit to my own bias here. I think I once mentioned elsewhere on this blog that one sunny Sunday morning there was a knock at our front door. Two men wearing stood there and "advised" me that my letters to the editor in respect of a certain union related matter were "unacceptable". I was not even a member of the union movement. Perhaps I should have felt flattered that they apparently believed my letters would have so much influence that they felt the need to offer the "advice".
But if they feel the need to do that to someone who merely writes a mildly critical letter or two on an irregular basis,  they must be desperate to shut the Commission down.
I hope they don't succeed but they will certainly keep on trying.

Saturday 22 August 2015

"Are we ready to be invaded?"

the Senior Cat has been prowling around the house "putting things away".
We are not tidy. Things tend to get left around. A friend who came earlier in the week said cheerfully, "It looks like my place."
It doesn't. There is only one person in her house. She is much tidier - apart from her work space. 
Unless you are a person who needs "everything in the right place" then people probably feel quite comfortable in our place. There are books and papers lying around. There is my knitting and all the yarn which goes with it. There might be the Senior Cat's gardening hat on a door knob. There is a box of tins and packets of food next to the bookshelf - ready for the Senior Cat to take to his church's food bank. In winter there will be washing on the "clothes horses" and a jumper or two hanging over the back of a chair.
But, we have small children coming - one of them is very small. Things need to be "put away". 
I suspect the mother of the smallest kitten will be less worried than the Senior Cat. Motherhood is something she has taken in her stride. Her children are active, independent and always doing something. 
I have "busy bags" for them because I know there will be times when they need "something to do" and there is a limit to the number of toys you can bring on a plane for just a long weekend. 
There is my library and the building blocks and the bears will be sitting on chairs waiting to greet them.
I think we are ready to be invaded. 

Friday 21 August 2015

The latest rubbish collection

idea is rubbish. My paw landed on the paper this morning and, as I prowled back inside, I was greeted with words about a "sin bin fee". It turned out that this was a proposal to make people pay according to the amount of rubbish they put out for collection. 
One suggestion was that rubbish bins would get weighed and people would be billed accordingly.
I have heard of some ridiculous ideas but this is going a little too far. 
The Cat household is pretty good about recycling. Our local council provides three bins. 
There is the "green bin" for all garden waste. That can go out once a fortnight. Ours is sometimes empty so we don't put it out. 
There is the "yellow bin" (a yellow lid) for anything that can be recycled - paper, cardboard, bottles and more. That can also go out once a fortnight.
And there is the "blue bin" (a blue lid) that can go out each week. This bin is smaller than the other two. 
Our blue bin is usually less than half full when a neighbour takes it out into the street after adding her single bag of rubbish. She offered to do it as it saves her putting her own bin out at all.
By the time the compactor rubbish truck arrives in mid-morning our bin is often full - of other people's rubbish. Their own bins are over-flowing so they add their rubbish to ours or any bin which has space. Most of the additional rubbish comes from people who live in "the court"  - a group of units down a little lane opposite us.
If the bins were weighed we would be paying for their rubbish to be collected. If the bins were weighed people would sneak their heaviest items into other people's bins. Nothing would stop that here.
But, recycling? Our council used to have what was known as a "hard rubbish" collection. It was an annual affair. A date would be set and people could put out anything which would not normally be collected by the weekly collections. There was a size limit but it allowed people to put out old mattresses, fridges, microwaves, television sets, furniture, old fencing, bicycles and more. The streets would look untidy for a couple of weeks as things piled up. But, there was an advantage, other people would go along and pick up things they could use. 
The Senior Cat was a horror. Furniture meant timber. Timber is precious stuff. One year he brought home six solid dining room chairs. They were perfectly good apart from the fact that the seating cushions were vinyl and the vinyl had cracked. The chairs ended up as toys for children in need. There are still some drawers in the carport that "might be useful one day".  
A rather strange man who lived in the next street made his living from the hard rubbish collection. He would collect all the metal he could find, sort it and take it to the metal recycling place some distance away. 
Other people took other things. The grandfather across the road rescued and repaired two small bicycles for his granddaughters. 
But, they stopped that. It had nothing to do with the short-term hazards and everything to do with the fact that those collecting the waste were complaining there was nothing left worth collecting. That was surely as it should have been but they, quite naturally, wanted to make some money on the side. They got their way. People don't recycle in the same way. You can now book a  collection from the council under much stricter conditions.
I imagine that waste is piling up in some places. People won't comply with that.
And the same thing would happen if waste was weighed. What doesn't go in someone else's bin will end up in the back garden in most cases. 
We will left to weigh the consequences instead. 

Thursday 20 August 2015

Do you write letters?

There is a renewed discussion about letter delivery by Australia Post. Apparently there are so few letters now that it does not pay them to deliver the letter mail. People don't write letters any more.
Australia Post would like to cease letter delivery. They will, at  very least, look to cutting it back and sending people to communal letter boxes. I doubt that such a proposal will work but  that may not stop them from trying.
But letters?
Letters have been a large part of my life. I remember letters coming from my earliest childhood. 
They were only delivered once in the small rural community in which I was born but in the city they were delivered twice a day. The postman did his round on a bicycle and he used a whistle to let householders know if something had been delivered to their box. Many households got at least one letter a day and some would get several. It was not at all unusual for my grandparents on both sides to get four or five letters in the morning and several more in the afternoon. When we moved to the city the same thing happened to us.
My mother wrote letters. Her handwriting was excellent. She enjoyed the physical act of writing. Her letters tended to be short and statements of fact but she wrote them. She wrote to her mother every week without fail. Her mother responded. Her father never wrote. He considered it to be between them.
My father wrote letters. His handwriting is appalling. He wrote to his parents every week too - long letters filled with funny things that my paternal grandmother would read not once but several times. Both his parents wrote to him. 
When I left home I was expected to write home and I did. I wrote home once a week. I wrote to friends. There was no e-mail back then. My mother wrote a weekly letter to me - statements of fact so that I knew what was going on. She wrote a weekly letter to my brother until a month or so before her death. She expected him to respond by letter. These days he phones our father once a week and they might talk for forty minutes  - you can do that long distance now if  you use the computer link.
On my father's side letters were extremely important to all the family. His grandmother kept her many children informed by very regular letters. They wrote to her and to each other. There was no other way to keep in touch. I wish they had kept those letters because they were apparently well worth reading.  I also have no doubt that the close clan ties we still feel are partly the result of those letters.
I was taught to write a letter at school of course. We were taught how to "set out" a letter with the address, the form of salutation and the closing phrases. Somewhere there is a stiff, formal letter my brother wrote to his "mother". It begins "Dear Mother...." and is filled with the most  unlikely phrases. I suppose he was learning something from writing it. 
I have written thousands of letters in my lifetime. Most of mine were, of necessity, typed. My letters to strangers were more formal but my letters to friends were casual affairs. I used to write to a brilliant mathematician friend now deceased. He was severely disabled but he still wrote letters to me, picking out each letter on a typewriter with a stick held in his fist. Our letters to each other would be filled with trying to find new ways of expressing mathematical symbols. I wish I had kept his because they were often very funny indeed. I had letters from friends filled with poetry and funny little drawings. I wish I had kept them too. None of us realised that e-mail was going to change the art of letter writing.
Like anyone else I will also use e-mail. I send "letters" to the editor by e-mail these days. I respond to e-mails from officials by e-mail. I do most of my work by e-mail. It is supposed to save paper. It is supposed to be "instant" if necessary. Oh yes, the "advantages" are said to be many.
I still write letters but I do it far less than I once did. I had to explain to a three year old what a letter is. 
I find it all rather sad. 

Wednesday 19 August 2015

We are about to waste $2.5 billion

on broadcasting yet more football over the next six years. This is just one type of football of course, "Aussie Rules". 
The "deal" has been announced as headline news in the state newspaper - along with news about the resignation of a football coach. Apparently all this is "important".
I was sufficiently infuriated to hurl myself at the keyboard and stroke it none too gently in order to send a letter to the editor. They may not print it but I needed to relieve the stress of seeing yet more sports indulgence.
There is far too much attention paid to sport in Downunder. Yes, sport is important. It is important when it involves people actively playing it for the purpose of taking physical exercise and mixing with others while doing it. It ceases to become important when it involves being a couch potato - sitting or lying on the furniture or the floor, snacks and drink at hand. At that point it is not important it is dangerous, especially if you make a habit of it. If you make a habit of doing that alone then it is even more dangerous.
In the past week I have heard of three once thriving groups which have closed their doors. They no longer had enough members to keep going.
One was a music group but apparently people have simply stopped playing the instrument involved. Their numbers have dwindled from over a hundred to just eight - all of them older players. 
Another was a gardening group - for a local beauty site. They worked for years to produce a beautiful area but the numbers have dwindled from around eighty to just five.  The council is taking it over but they won't do it the same way.
And the last was a tennis club. Yes, a tennis club. This was a sports group. It should have thrived. They did what seemed to be all the right things. They invited younger people in. They offered classes to "juniors". But the facilities had, by law, to be upgraded. They had to comply with a raft of new rules and regulations. 
In the end a club with almost three hundred members just thirteen years ago had dwindled to thirty-four.
"It was just too difficult for us to comply with everything," said the person who was telling me about it, "We can't afford to do everything we would need to do."
Perhaps if some of the $2.5 billion was spent on even just that tennis club we would be better off? 

Tuesday 18 August 2015

"I didn't realise it was that complicated,"

the Senior Cat said.
He was sitting there drinking tea and trying to understand the meaning of the term "tension" or, as North American knitters would say, "gauge". 
My friend R had turned up with "the jumper" (sweater to you North Americans). It has been unravelled and the wool has been rewound and then put into hanks. The knitting kinks have been taken out. The hanks have been rewound. She is ready to start again.
Oh yes my otherwise highly intelligent friend forgot to check the tension. She thought she had it sorted. I warned her. I told her it wouldn't work but she went on anyway.
"You were right," she told me earlier when she phoned to see if I would offer comfort, tea and advice. 
I didn't laugh. I gave her a virtual hug over the phone and a real one when she got here.
We talked about tension. I tried the yarn and the needles she had used because, she told me, "I think it's 8ply" and I thought to myself, "It isn't." It wasn't. 
She needs to be knitting this at around 16.5 stitches to 10cms. This means using a pattern which says 16.5 stitches to 10cms not 22 stitches to 10cms. It makes a difference, a big difference to the number of stitches you need to cast on.  If you wanted something to be 100cms in width you would cast on 165 stitches - not 220 stitches.
I do that sort of maths in my head and R is perfectly capable of doing it too. The Senior Cat is also more than capable of doing the maths. It was the concept he had a problem with. R explained. I explained. Oh.
I gave R a couple of ideas as to what might work. We talked some more. The Senior Cat drank tea and showed R a puzzle  he had made for someone. He told her he would make her one as well. There was a mischievous look in his eye as he said it. I knew he was getting his own back after being given a knitting lesson of sorts.
Later though he sat down to his evening meal and said,
"I didn't realise it was that complicated. I really thought you just sat down and knitted."
If only.... 

Monday 17 August 2015

Children at play?

"I got out the 'busy box' and she didn't have any idea what to do with it," a neighbour told me yesterday. 
I say "neighbour" but she actually lives in the next street over. I saw her out walking with a small girl yesterday afternoon. She was doing an "emergency" child mind while the child's mother had rushed off to one of the hospitals where her own mother had been taken to emergency. 
So, neighbour was doing a good deed. She is a former teacher, long retired. She keeps a 'busy box' for visiting children. There are all sorts of craft materials in it. "Anything to get them away from the screen for a bit."
Her own grandchildren use it constantly. She is forever topping it up with more paper, glue, paint, pencils, crayons, stamps, stencils, cardboard and cardboard rolls, plastic bottle tops. There are blunt nosed scissors for younger children. If older children are using it they get sharper scissors from "the bottom drawer".  There are several books of ideas too - and an album of pictures she has taken of things that have previously been made. 
My mother also did something like that. I have a similar box - although not quite as exciting as the one belonging to the neighbour. (She only has one row of books though and I have many rows.)
And this child had no idea what to do with all that treasure. She seemed bright enough. She swung around the tree on the footpath in front of our house.  She climbed on the low wall and walked along it. There was nothing wrong with her motor skills.
I raised my eyebrows at the neighbour who said, 
"Oh I think I know what the problem is. She is never, and I mean never, left alone. When she's home she is always within sight of her mother and at day care there is always something being organised. She doesn't know how to play on her own. She is one of those who isn't allowed to play in her own back garden unless an adult is watching."
"Oh. Helicopter parent," I said.
"Yes. I'm taking a bit of a risk but I know they do something like this at day care. Her mother wouldn't let her walk along the wall unless she was standing there right next to her."
Small girl came running back along the footpath.
"Can I do it again?" she asked me.
"Yes, of course you can," I told her and, under my breath, I muttered, "As many times as you want to."
She did it twice more and then the neighbour suggested that they could go to the park and she could go on the slide and the swing, "all by yourself".
Then she added,
"And after that you can draw me a picture of all the things you have done - and you can do it all by yourself."
And the small girl looked up at her with a smile,
"Oh goody. I like it with you."
I would too.

Sunday 16 August 2015

"Did you get your safety

vest back Cat?" the guild treasurer asked me  yesterday. She is one of those "utterly reliable" people. She is also extremely honest. If she is a cent out with the books it worries her  until she has found the problem. When she borrows something you know it will be returned. She is that sort of person. 
Recently the knitting guild did a display at a much larger event and, when setting up, people had to wear those bright coloured safety vests. The treasurer had borrowed it and, with me knowing about it, had passed it on to another guild member to wear.
I have one. It was cheap. I bought it some years ago at the local "cheap/reject" shop. I use it for setting up when I help my friend at a craft fair and for my annual stewarding duties at the showgrounds. I will need it again next week for that purpose. 
And no, I didn't get it back. The person who had borrowed it was supposed to give it to me, had been given strict instructions to return it to me. She didn't.
It was apparently left on the table after a committee meeting. She did get it that far but taking a little extra time to give it to me or even give it back to the treasurer to give to me was apparently too much. 
It annoys me. I am the sort of person who returns things. If someone loans me something then I am not happy until they have it back. The Senior Cat is the same. He is currently worried because he was given a book to read. He read it. He cannot get to the person who loaned it to him but he let her know he had finished it. She has not been to pick it up as she said she would. He is worried that she will think he has forgotten to return it. 
And that safety vest is important in more ways than one. It not only belongs to me but I need it in order to enter a building to do a job. The safety regulations require me to wear it. I have given an undertaking that I will be there to do a job at a certain time and I don't want to let people down.
I had an e-mail late yesterday afternoon. It came from the treasurer. The man who opens the building and sees to it that everything is in order before it is locked again had found the vest "lying around". He had, quite rightly, put it away. 
It means that the treasurer will now have to make a detour on her way home one day this week and drop it in to me. She shouldn't need to do that.
It seems like a little thing, something that "doesn't really matter" but it does matter. 
It has reminded me all over again of the importance of returning things when I borrow them. After all, those things are not my property. 

Saturday 15 August 2015

I was directed to some

research yesterday. It is research about a controversial issue and it was used as supporting evidence in a case in a court of law. The research was not only about a  controversial issue but it was also controversial in itself. 
I suspect the research was deliberately designed in order to support a point of view. It was not done to discover what people thought or believed. 
Of course it does not say that. It is very carefully designed. It has been through all the right academic review processes. It is said to be moral, ethical, and "robust". There are statistics which "prove" all this. Naturally they "prove" what people believe or want to believe. They are intended to manipulate. 
I read a fair bit of "social science" type research and this approach is not uncommon. "We want to find out if..." is actually, "We are going to show you...because it is what we already know or believe."
I started work on my doctoral thesis having read a great many pieces of research which all said the same thing. They said it in different ways and for different reasons but they all said it. I went along with it. After all I was a mere student and the people who were doing all this work were respected senior academics who were the writers of the text books and the papers. Some of them had spent their entire academic lives working in the area. Teachers of some students with special needs were taught to work with this "fact".
I had to change my methodological approach out of necessity. The children I was working with could not physically do the tasks that had previously been set to "prove" there was a problem. And, suddenly, I had another problem. The results were not the results everyone expected. There was a problem but it was not the problem I expected. 
I was told I must be doing something "wrong". I was sent back to my subjects to "try again" in a slightly different way - but still with their physical limitations in mind. I came back with the same results. My supervisor was not happy.
I wrote my thesis and submitted it. My examiners were not happy either but they accepted what I had written. They got around it in their own minds by deciding there was "an exception" to their research. Nothing changed. 
For other reasons, beyond the control of any of us, my thesis was never lodged in the university library. I imagine that was a great relief to those who had spent their lives researching "the problem". It didn't bother me because the work I did was used in a positive way - in just the way I intended in fact.
But I was reminded of all this yet again when the other research was passed to me as "proof". It isn't proof. I pointed out some flaws in the methodology. It made no difference. This is what they want to believe. It was accepted in a court of law. It must be right and it won't be going on appeal because people have the outcome they want.
This morning I read the editorial in our state newspaper. It takes, as it often does, a certain line of thought. "Bias" is not a word those writing the editorials would like used of themselves, particularly when talking about bias. But it is there. Facts are missing. A time line has been ignored. It is either sloppy research or it is because they want to "prove" something.
"Research" can be dangerous.

Friday 14 August 2015

Former High Court Judge Dyson Heydon

was asked to head a Royal Commission into some apparent problems in the union movement Downunder.
The Royal Commission itself has been called a "witch hunt" by the union movement and Labor. A former Prime Minister has appeared in front of it and the current leader of the Opposition has also appeared. The latter may yet be recalled  if the Commission continues.
The RC is  unpopular. It has cost millions. It is said it is not getting anywhere. It may not get anywhere. Taking an oath to tell the truth is no guarantee people will tell the truth. There is a great deal that many people would like to remain hidden - and, before you accuse me of bias, let me say that they come from right across the political spectrum.
Commissioner Heydon has been doing an unpopular job well. Even his almost certain fury did not show in his calm and measured response to the way in which the Opposition Leader behaved.
As I just said Heydon was a member of the High Court. He has spent years of his life on the bench. He knows how to behave. When he goes into court he leaves his personal views behind. It is what judges have to do. They have no choice. They have to apply the law, not their personal view of the law. 
There is now a row because Heydon initially accepted an invitation to give the Sir Garfield Barwick lecture to the NSW Law Society. Someone there apparently decided it would also be used a fundraiser for the Liberal Party. On learning that Heydon, rightly, withdrew. Labor and the unions however are baying for his removal. They claim he is biased. They want the RC closed down - something they have wanted all along and this merely being another opportunity to do it. They want this despite the RC being open to public scrutiny - or perhaps because of it.
I wonder whether they realise what they are really doing. No, they don't like the RC but, if they have nothing to hide, it would be better for it to run its course. In calling for it to be closed down now because of an invitation declined they are calling into question the probity of the Commissioner and the legal system. 
If they succeed in removing the Commissioner and getting the RC closed down they will have done immense harm to our legal system.  Is that what they want?

Thursday 13 August 2015

The Little Drummer Boy

and the Little Drummer Boy's Brother, both from "next door" have been taken off to Hungary for eight weeks. Their mother is Hungarian and they disappear for an extended period every so often. It's been about eighteen months since the last time they went. 
Their mother appeared at our door yesterday and asked if I would like the remaining contents of their freezer before she turned it off for the time they are away. She was obviously desperate to hand it on to someone so I agreed.
A little later  she brought in a bag of things and rushed off again. Then she rushed back with "some things from the 'fridge" and said,
"Use if you want."
I looked. It is interesting to discover what other people eat. I have always suspected our neighbours eat quite differently from us - and they do. 
We don't eat things like fish with the "batter" already around it.  We don't actually eat fish in batter. The Senior Cat prefers his fish steamed or grilled. We don't eat other "packaged" meals either. I make ours from scratch. It really doesn't take that long if you plan ahead and, at least sometimes, cook enough for two meals.
I have seen our neighbours in the supermarket. They don't eat nearly as much in the way of fruit and vegetables as we do - and they are not the only young families I know like that. I talked to our greengrocer about this once and he agreed that, at least in the shop, he tends to see older people during the week. Younger people rush in over the weekend or on Thursday nights when there is "late-night" shopping in the suburbs. According to our greengrocer they buy differently too - they buy the things which are faster to prepare and cook. 
They prowl along the frozen food and refrigerator sections of the supermarket and take out the meal packets. I am not above using the frozen food section but I don't buy the meals. I buy the things to make meals. I don't buy packets of square, white, sliced, "bread". "They won't eat wholemeal bread" and "they only like bananas" and "they only eat X (sugar coated) cereal".
I suppose I am lucky. I make the time to make meals. The Senior Cat likes good food (forget the Napoleon cake blip from the other day) and I can budget to buy good food. It must be different for many "working mums"  - although our neighbour is a stay at home mother.
I rescued an unopened packet of pastry squares (one of the few things I don't bother to make). They are still well within date and still frozen. I'll make them some pasties for the day they get back. The Little Drummer Boy and his brother will eat those - even if they do drown them in tomato sauce.

Wednesday 12 August 2015

The "gay marriage" issue

issue went to a special meeting of the government party room yesterday. 
"Party" seems an odd word to use in that context. There was no party. The coalition partners were brought in. There were presumably earnest, and undoubtedly heated, consultations. People spoke up for and against.
My own local federal MP is opposed to the idea. He trained as a doctor before he entered politics. He is not the only doctor I know opposed to same sex marriage and their right or otherwise to have children.
In the end the vote to change the party's stance on same sex marriage failed. The official line is that they are still opposed to it.
I personally know two more members of parliament who are opposed to it. They both come from the current opposition and are angry that the issue is still being debated. One of them complained bitterly to me that the issue was taking up far too much time and attention and they were being pushed by the media and small but powerful lobby groups to go against "the natural order of things". 
The Prime Minister is, in his opposition, said to be out of tune with contemporary values. His stance is being used to portray him as being out of touch with modern life, modern values, what people really want and so on. The media is having a field day.
His sister is in a same sex relationship. His daughters support the idea. The media is making much of these things. Some have predicted it will be the issue which brings him down. Others say it won't. 
A wonderful man I know in a same sex relationship told me not so long ago, "A marriage certificate is just a piece of paper. Some people want it because it is something they think they can't have. We've already got what matters. It's the relationship which matters."
Is he right? I don't know. I am not in a relationship of any sort but I know it matters to some people. One of our Senators who is in a same sex relationship got quite emotional about it the other day.
We could go the same way as Ireland and vote in a referendum on the issue. If asked simply whether same sex couples should be allowed to marry it would, I believe, win. It may not happen if people were given a second option - to give same sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as other couples in the context of a legal civil ceremony. I doubt the latter option would satisfy some but it may be welcomed by others.
But there is something I think that does matter. The Prime Minister is being criticised for his stance. It may well be that he should be criticised for it but it is an issue on which his stance has not changed. He knows it is electorally damaging for him because it is a weapon the media is using against him.
He is a devout Christian who once considered the priesthood. He believes in the sanctity of marriage as taught by his religion. He believes in the traditional family unit. He believes in loyalty to his partner and I don't doubt he loves his lesbian sister. 
Questions are being raised about his leadership but the fact that he has, to date, retained it suggest that his colleagues respect him. That he almost certainly won't retain the leadership and will be blamed for the loss of government at the next election is, for the moment, beside the point.
While acknowledging his stance may not be in keeping with community views isn't it time we at least acknowledged that he has not given in to the politics of convenience? He has had the courage to stand by his beliefs, beliefs that most people once shared. Shouldn't we respect him for that even if we disagree?

Tuesday 11 August 2015

"I got bored so I

walked out," he told me.
I saw one of the local high school boys in the library yesterday. He had his maths work out in front of him and was staring at the ceiling when I prowled past.
We know one another slightly. He once took up a book recommendation from me and pronounced the choice "cool" and "know any more like that?"
"Yeah, you have like no idea. He's like killing this stuff and it's so great. Maths should be exciting. I mean like it is exciting and he makes it..." He shrugged.
"Aren't you worried  you might miss something important?" I asked. 
"Nah. It was revision stuff. I decided to do some extra down here instead. Take a look at this. It's so good."
He produced some figures and showed me a proof he had worked.
I didn't dare tell him that I barely understood the problem, let alone the way it had been solved. 
I don't doubt he was right. He topped his class last year. He is expected to do very well this year. He went to a maths competition  in the summer and came away with a medal. 
I don't doubt he is bored too. His teacher probably knows that - and equally probably has no idea what to do about it. 
I wonder what you do with students like that?
I spent most of my time in school feeling bored. I can think of just one teacher who made me feel excited. He was a history teacher who told us, "Put your books away I am going to tell you what is about to happen."
He then proceeded to tell us about what was going on in what was then Rhodesia and what the consequences would be. I wish he was still alive so that he could know he was right. It was a lesson that made history come alive.
I had other good teachers of course. I must have had good teachers. They were people who got the information across. They made me read things and remember them. They taught me that two plus two was four - but never that it might be something else. I doubt they knew that either. It was just that, unlike that history teacher, they never excited me. 
I taught myself most of what I knew in school. I did it by reading and remembering because what I chose to read interested me. My brother was much the same. If we wanted to know something we would find a book and read about it. I suspect the maths student in the library would "look it up on the internet". He has access to far more information than we had. 
I don't think he was really bored. He just wasn't interested in what the teacher had to offer. He wasn't excited by it but he was, thankfully, still interested in the subject. 
I wonder though about the rest of the class. What were they thinking?

Monday 10 August 2015

It isn't exactly a contest

but my friend H and I have been considering who has the most books.
Unlike me H is nobly doing a clear out. She is getting rid of things. I know I should do the same. Well I did do a little recently - but not nearly enough.
But, back to the books. There were books in piles by the front door. I finally managed to be rid of those. I had cleared out the shelves of a great many knitting related things. There were filled with patterns. I don't use other people's patterns so why was I keeping them. They were proper books too - not the little pamphlet/booklet type things that other people often refer to as books. Most of these have gone to the W....household because the teen knitting gang meets there and they still use those things. Where those things would be duplicated the duplicates have gone to the Guild. Right.
But what about all the other books?
I have books for work. I have a good many dictionaries. Someone asked about this recently. Why didn't I  use an on-line dictionary? It is not that simple. I might actually be using as many as four or five dictionaries at the same time. They will look like hedgehogs with little pieces of paper sprouting between the leaves. You can't do that sort of thing on line - well, I can't.
There are standard linguistic texts. There are also other language related books - everything from a work about Maori grammar to one about teaching Gaelic. (Yes, I have read and used those.)
There is half a row of baby-name books. I know that sounds odd but those baby name books are actually essential references for me.
There are cook books. I cleared a lot of those out some time ago. They belonged to my mother. I had not as much as opened them in a decade. I left the ones I consult.
There are the serious knitting reference books - a surprising number of those - and knitting books I want to keep because they contain information or inspiration or...well, something. You do understand this don't you?
There are essential travel texts, maps, street directories, books about art, science, history, music, psychology, medicine and more.
There are all the books for children. Almost all of these are out of print books. They are essential reference material and they are still essential reading for local children who no longer have access to them. I worry every time I loan one out that I may not get it back - but books must be read.
There are books both the Senior Cat and I have read but we don't want to be parted from. I sometimes refer back to them.
The Senior Cat has a library of conjuring, gardening, woodwork, religion, philosophy and psychology. His shelves are  in danger of collapsing under the weight. 
We buy more books. I pounced gleefully on a book in the charity shop. It is out of print and it goes into a series for children. Mmmm.
I suspect H and I might be about even in the numbers stakes.
What I am fairly certain of is that a certain literary agent of my acquaintance has far more than either of us. I suspect C needs another room or two to hold her collection.
Books make excellent insulation.

Sunday 9 August 2015

Cricket? Dare I even

mention the word?
The Senior Cat has a number of cricket crazy cousins. They are not happy. One of them in particular may still be pounding the walls in frustration.
"We can't b...... play!" "Another one gone!" "What's wrong with them?!" and (I suspect) worse. 
If there is cricket or Aussie Rules football on when he comes to visit he dashes for the remote control for the television set. 
"Why aren't you watching?" he demands.
The Senior Cat smiles and says, "Yes, I know. It's important."  The word "not" is never said but it is thought.
The Senior Cat was never a sports tragic. He didn't really play sport. He could never see well enough to see the ball coming at him. He dislocated his right shoulder twice trying to bowl the ball - not just painful but awkward when you are right-pawed.  
The Senior Cat sees no point in an activity which does not produce something useful at the other end. If you want physical activity then go and dig the garden or chop wood or saw timber in the shed. If you want to walk then, as he did, go for a walk with your partner. He is, at best, only mildly interested in cricket - and every other form of sport leaves him cold. 
Brother Cat played cricket at school. He didn't mind. He preferred to field, "because you can stand there and think about something else". He was never very good at any form of sport. 
Middle Cat played everything that was ever played with a ball  - including cricket. It was not her favourite ball game. She preferred faster moving games. 
But there is something about cricket I suppose. The psychology of the game interests me. The idea that you have to be an outstandingly good individual at so many things and still be able to play as a member of a team interests me - up to a point.
I can remember Cousin Cat's partner telling me, "We're going to the cricket."
This was in the summer of course. It was going to be a very warm day - hot perhaps? I looked at her. She shrugged.
     "He wants to go."
He likes her to go too.
     "What are you taking to do?" I asked her.
She grinned.
     "I have a book to read, a sketch pad and some new pencils. It might be a bit warm for knitting but I'll put it in just in case."
Now that is the way to watch cricket - but I am not sure it will help the team win.

Saturday 8 August 2015

I am getting just a little tired of

"sexual abuse" stories. The claims about sexual abuse have now reached epidemic proportions. 
Sexual abuse is vile. It is the ultimate act of betrayal of innocence. It is not to be condoned in any way, shape or form.
But - and yes there is a "but" -  allegations of sexual abuse are also being used to harm others. The allegations against the late British Prime Minister Edward Heath are the latest in a string of allegations against high profile figures. In this instance the man is long dead and cannot defend himself. So far none of the allegations have been proven. One person who was said to have made the allegations denies doing so. Another is apparently making claims that have proven to be false. There is the question of how so many allegations could possibly be true of a man who was constantly being shadowed by a security detail. If they are true then there has been a cover up of unbelievably massive proportions over many years. He may have been as bad as he is being painted or he may be innocent. Whatever the outcome of inquiries, the reputation of a former Prime Minister has been forever tainted.
I think I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog that the Senior Cat knows a music teacher and fellow magician who was accused of sexual assault. The two girls who accused him did not retract their allegations until it reached the point where the police were about to charge him. Told he would probably go to gaol for a lengthy period they suddenly got frightened and admitted that there was no truth at all in the allegations. They had chosen that as a way to try and stop learning music at school after their parents had told them they could not give up lessons.
But the allegations damaged his reputation and his career. The rules mean that the black mark against him was always on his record. The reputation of a man who had done nothing wrong has been harmed for the rest of his life.
A few days ago I discovered that a similar thing had happened to a man I knew in this district. He lived with his dog. He had never married. He was not gay. He was just a quiet, rather shy man who spent his spare daylight hours in his lovely garden - or rather, he did. Some boys damaged some of his garden and threw stones and bottles at his dog. He, rightly, was angry and reported them to their parents further down the street. The boys retaliated  by accusing him of sexual abuse. His life was living hell. Again it was not until he was on the point of being charged with serious sexual abuse that one of the boys became frightened and admitted that they had damaged his garden and made up the allegations to cover their tracks.  He had been on leave (without pay) from his job and he had to pay thousands of dollars for legal assistance. 
The police were not sympathetic. They took the attitude that he should not have reacted to the damage the boys did and that he had brought the situation on himself. Despite the retractions there were other consequences for him at work and in the community. People avoided him. His garden no longer gave him the same pleasure.  His dog died from injuries it received at an unknown hand. The note left with it was vile.
At present he is in a psychiatric unit because he tried to commit suicide. He left a note protesting his innocence and saying people still did not believe him.
The boys were let off with a warning because of their age. 
It is all too easy to make the most damaging allegations. Simply retracting them will not reverse the damage. 
Making false allegations to harm someone also makes it much harder for those who have genuinely been abused too. The media needs to stop sensationalising the issue of sexual abuse. Reporting proven facts not "alleged" facts might be a start.

Friday 7 August 2015


are a part of Downunder life. We have the world's most venomous snakes on our territory. They  do not merely hide in the scrub or "the bush" but infiltrate suburbia. They love undergrowth. They can climb too.
I am writing this because I have just seen a picture of someone I "know" holding a boa constrictor. The boa constrictor may be fine but I still wouldn't be happy to be near it. I do not like snakes.
When I was a kitten, a very small kitten, I was taught about snakes. My siblings were too. We were told they were dangerous from the time we were old enough to understand. We were taught never to pick up a stick - just in case that "stick" turned out to be something much more sinister. Even a small "stick" can administer a fatal bite. 
We roamed the countryside despite the snakes. We knew to tell adults if we saw one and we saw fewer than one might expect but we did see them. 
I can remember being warned about them before I went to school but I don't remember what precautions were taken then. 
I do remember what happened when we moved to a tiny rural community. I was ten at the time and we were being shown the two teacher school my parents were going to be responsible for. There was a school bell on a post outside the senior classroom. Next to it there was a long piece of wire with a special loop at one end.
"That's for the snakes," the chairman of the school committee told the Senior Cat, "Don't try and catch them yourself. Ask..... (he named some boys) to do it for you."
I remember too the day Brother Cat had taken the Senior Cat's cup and saucer to be washed at the school water trough. (No such thing as a tap in the school building.) Suddenly there was a clatter and then a scream, "Snake!" The boys who had been named caught a snake almost as long as they were tall. It was a deadly "brown snake". If my brother had been bitten he would not be here today. The boys calmly caught the snake and killed it. They cut the head off and gave the rest of us a lesson in just how dangerous it was by showing us where the venom was. I still shudder when I think of it. My brother was sent back to pick up the pieces of what had once been a cup and saucer.
We occasionally gets snakes here. They will travel considerable distances from the  hills behind us. 
In the city you are expected to call the snake catcher if you notice a resting one. You alert the neighbours. Children and other animals are kept indoors if it is seen outside.  Snakes will enter buildings. They can get into the most extraordinary places. There is a myth that snakes will not attack if you leave them alone. The reality is otherwise.
Stay well away.

Thursday 6 August 2015

Being a volunteer is

is apparently getting more and more difficult. I was talking to a member of my knitting guild yesterday and she mentioned that another member was no longer going to teach a class at a local council. 
It's one of those  useful "craft groups" set up to provide social support for vulnerable people. The person who has been running it was charging a very small fee for people to attend. I doubt it covered the expenses of running the group - some of the materials, getting there, tea and biscuits, and the other support provided.
Apparently the new rules imposed on the council mean that this person is now "self-employed". She has to have personal indemnity insurance and they are not permitted to pay for it even if they had the money. I doubt any council is going to consider the outlay for such a thing essential. 
If she "volunteered" she would be covered by their indemnity insurance. It also means there could be no charge for those attending that particular class.
Her view is that, however small the cost, paying something means that people will not only be more appreciative of what they are getting but they are more likely to attend. 
But, the group will cease. Other groups of a similar nature run by other councils will also cease. 
To date our council has not found an impediment towards the running of the monthly knitting group at the library. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog that group is also a social support network. I run a similar group at the local bookshop. I don't get paid for teaching at either group. It's just volunteering. 
But, I am waiting for someone somewhere to decided that there is a problem with these things. I have known other groups which have had to stop because there were potential problems. Are there any woodworking groups of that nature left? I wonder if there are any gardening groups?
Litigation is an issue but it has become the overriding issue in many instances. The failure to do things for fear of litigation is causing more harm than litigation might. By doing all this we tell people they no longer need to take responsibility for themselves.
It means we all miss out in the end.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

There was a $79bn

announcement yesterday. It should have been good news. The government was offering to invest money in the state with the highest unemployment rate - a lot of money. 
I wish we didn't need any sort of navy - indeed armed forces of any sort. The world would probably be a nicer place without such things -  but the reality is we do have such things and money is spent on them. So, we build things like submarines and frigates and there is a history of doing it in the state with high unemployment.
The Downunder Prime Minister arrived and announced money would be spent - but not before the state newspaper had "leaked" it.
That was yesterday. 
This morning the negative comments rolled in. Some of them were along the lines that the present government has a record of broken promises so it won't happen. Let's ignore the fact that the present government is having a hard time getting the Senate to agree to anything. (Oh yes, both sides of politics can play that game.)
The unions were saying, "So what? This is what we deserve." (Let's ignore the problems with building the submarines.) The Premier of the state was claiming it was all the work of his government and that the federal one hadn't wanted to do it in the state at all. (Let's ignore the fact that the state Minister responsible actually made it much more difficult by betraying his electorate.) The Premier of a neighbouring state was complaining about the way they have been treated because jobs will be lost there. (Let's ignore the problems with industrial action there.)  An "independent" politician who gets plenty of press coverage was sounding off too. (Let's ignore the fact that he never has to put his promises into action.)
And of course everyone but the government is saying "It's political. The government is only doing it to prop up three seats in the state for the next election." 
Mmm...expensive way of maybe winning three seats. Isn't politics lovely?
PS  I forgot to add that one of the candidates for position of Speaker is also in a marginal seat in the same state. If he was given the role then it will be to "prop  up his chances of re-election". 

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Oh right, that thing called "cake"

has appeared on the menu in the Clan Cat house. 
I rarely make cake. We eat very little of it. I did not make this cake. 
I went out with Middle Cat yesterday. I needed something from a place inaccessible by tricycle and she was going that way. Offered the opportunity I, unwisely, agreed. I say "unwisely" because travelling with Middle Cat always involves more time than I have to spare and, on this occasion,  it also involved money I should not have spent - the cake.
We did the essential shopping for me. Middle Cat did some essential shopping for the go-kart repairs for my BIL and the Nephew Cats. Then she decided we needed to find a place which was selling macaroons. It was not open. That did not deter her. She wanted a salted-caramel macaroon. Oh, she also needed milk. Right. We headed on to the supermarket. "They have macaroons there - smaller and you have to buy the box but I really, really want one." Yes dear.
And so we go hunting in the supermarket  in the section I usually ignore completely - the cake and biscuit and bun bit. She found the macaroons. 
And there was the cake. "The Senior Cat loves that," she tells me. I eye it off. Yes, I do remember him reminiscing about "Napoleon Cake" - the version of a state wide bakery. I eye it off again. 
It consists of a layer of pastry. This is followed by a thin smear of "jam". (I am not sure whether it is supposed to be strawberry or raspberry.) After that comes a layer of "cake" - of super sweet sponge like taste and consistency. Then there is another layer of "jam", another layer of pastry. The "piece de resistance" is a layer of pink icing topped with coconut.
I am not  sure what all this really is but it does not fit the definition of "cake" in my book. Against my better judgment we buy it. We take it back and present it to the Senior Cat. 
"Ooh Napoleon cake. I haven't had that for years." (This is true.)
No, Middle Cat did not want any. She has her salted caramel macaroon. 
So, we left it until "teatime" and I cut two slices then. It was, as I suspected, overly sweet. It was edible but I did not care for it. The Senior Cat ate his slice even more slowly. He had a far away look on his face. I knew he was remembering other things - things he associated with eating that particular sort of cake. No, he didn't want a second slice right then.
I wrapped the cake up tightly to keep it fresh.
"It was nice of you both to get it but it was rather sweet," the Senior Cat told me, "I think I prefer the sort you make."
Is it any wonder I love the Senior Cat?

Monday 3 August 2015

The Speaker of the Downunder

Federal Parliament's House of Representatives has just resigned. As there are people who have asked, "Why didn't the Prime Minister just sack her?" I will try and explain.
The Speaker's position is the most important in the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives cannot operate without a Speaker. It is a constitutional requirement for the Speaker (or his or her deputy) to be present. Effectively the Speaker "runs the meeting". The Speaker is answerable to the house rather than the Prime Minister. 
There are only two ways to be rid of the Speaker. One is by a vote in the House for his or her removal. The other is for the Speaker to tender their resignation to the Governor-General. (The question of whether the Governor-General can sack the Speaker would lead to a constitutional crisis similar to that of the sacking of the Whitlam  government because the Governor-General would effectively be sacking the parliament of the day. Nevertheless the Governor-General would have the "right to warn" - and that may even have happened but we will never know about it.)
The Prime Minister of the day cannot sack the Speaker. They can of course pull the Speaker to one side and say, "Go!" but the Speaker does not have to obey that command if he or she believes they still have the confidence of the House.
The Speaker who has just resigned had lost the confidence of the  House and it was a matter of resign or be sacked by the House.  Her resignation however had to go to the Governor-General - not the Prime Minister. 
If we think about it this is the way it should be. It means that the Prime Minister of the day cannot simply decide that the Speaker is not doing the job the way he or she would like and sack the person who is supposed to be running the meetings in an impartial fashion.
The Speaker just gone was considered to be biased - and there is perhaps some evidence of this. She was prone to ejecting members of the opposition far too often. (That said, members of the opposition were also baiting her deliberately as they never liked the choice of her as Speaker.)
One of the Speaker's most difficult tasks is to ensure that everyone is heard, not just those on the front bench and the opposition's front bench. 
And, if the numbers are evenly divided, the Speaker has a casting vote.
The Speaker is also the only person able to continue functioning in some roles once an election is called. Again, that is a necessity.
Normally the Speaker will come from the party in power. The Speaker can continue to be a member of that party and attend party meetings if they so choose. They won't hold any other party office.
The previous government of Downunder had such a slender majority that they asked someone outside the party to act as Speaker. That gave the government one of the extra votes they needed to remain in office.  (They also relied on "independents".)
But in all this the Prime Minister has no power apart from powers of persuasion. He or she cannot simply sack a Speaker. He or she can call in a Minister and sack them but not the Speaker. He can of course express an opinion to the Speaker but nothing more than that. 
The present controversy is said to have damaged the Prime Minister's leadership - and yes it has. The Speaker was the choice of the party in power. She is (or was) a friend of the Prime Minister in the way that any member of the party is. She has let the party down by abusing travel expenses in the most ridiculous way. 
But I have yet to see the media explain the role of the Speaker and the way in which, once someone is elected to that role, the Prime Minister has no control over it except as a member of parliament.  It is of course convenient for the media to fail to explain this. It makes for a much better "story". It is of course convenient fiction that the Prime Minister can be rid of the Speaker. Fiction is more interesting than fact in this instance.