Tuesday 30 April 2019

Les Murray, poet, friend and mentor

-  I will miss him, his poetry, his unique outlook on life.
There will be others who will write about his life and poetry in highly academic style. They will pull his poetry apart. They will ask whether he was worthy of the TS Eliot prize, the Queen's Gold Medal for poetry and how he felt about those things. (The answer is that he never thought much about them. They weren't the poems and it was poetry that was important.) There will be doctoral theses on aspects of his work and papers written to ensure some poor academic has published something - anything - that year. Some of it will be useful perhaps. Most of it won't.  It is the poetry that matters. 
I know that because Les and I have a history. To understand that you need to go back a long way. 
I am in my mid-teens. I am with that other poet I knew so well, Judith Wright.  In age Les comes between us. He's getting a little known then - and, Judith tells me, rightly so. She's taking great pleasure in his early achievements. We are at Writers' Week. He has wandered over from another state and is not yet the literary giant he will one day be.
    "Cat, there's someone you need to meet," Judith tells me. She has been saying this on and off for the last couple of days. My head is reeling with the people she has said I need to meet. There have been the literary greats, names I knew but never expected to meet. There are people with a little writing under their belts that Judith thinks might get there one day. And there is Les. She knows he is going to get there.
     "Now this is Cat," Judith tells him. I don't expect him to be very interested - which is completely wrong of me.
     "You're Cat? I wanted to meet you. Judith gave me some of your work to read. I like it."
And that is how it started. It wasn't his writing he wanted to talk about - it was mine.
He was like that. He had no time for people who ignored those coming up behind him. That I was being mentored by Judith told him, or so he said, that I had something to say too. 
And we hit it off. I am not sure why. Our writing was very different and he achieved things I could only dream of. We sat on the steps of the tiny lecture theatre of the State Library and talked about all manner of things. At that time he wasn't important enough for us to be constantly interrupted.We parted with mutual addresses - long before email. I didn't expect to hear from him but he did send something once. I replied but briefly. There were no more letters that time. 
He went off to Europe with his family. I went off to do my teacher training and didn't see him for several years. He was back again just before I went off to London. We picked up where we had left off.
It was like that over the years.
He was a religious man and his politics didn't suit everyone. More than once I observed a heated discussion as others tried to impose their beliefs on what they thought he was saying. No, you didn't do that. Judith understood that even while she disagreed with him and, many years later, she told me, "You needed to meet each other back then. I think you still understand one another in a way I don't."
And yes, perhaps she was right. I think I know where he was coming from and where he was trying to go. Most people would have thought we had nothing in common but that first time, sitting on the steps, we shared a whole library of experience of the way  the world was for us.
He's gone but he's still there in the words - it isn't goodbye it is saying the last hello. I'll leave you with this -
  https://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/murray-les/the-last-hellos-0617132

Monday 29 April 2019

Child care, day care,

before school care, after school care, long day care, out of school hours care... what else can you think of?
The Opposition Leader announced that "(his) government will  increase...." both the number of places available and the amount the staff are paid to work with children outside school ages and outside the school day.
It's a growing industry. Now there is a call for all children to be in this sort of care from age three.  Mum - or perhaps Dad - needs to go back to work. Children need to have "learning experiences" that apparently they can only get away from home.
When I was a kitten we had something called "kindergarten". I hated it. Fortunately it was not a full time experience. I hated being made to sing action songs, sit on a scratchy hessian mat to be told a story, being told I could only use three colours for painting and much more. Yes I admit that part of the problem was that I was often hopeless at doing the sort of actions required, I could read the stories to myself and I knew that mixing red and blue would make purple and I wanted to put "salvation jane" (a pretty purple flowered but noxious weed) into my picture.
I hate to think what it would be like for me now.
It seems wrong to me that small children are herded off to some sort of babysitting/childminding service every working day. There are children who are left there at eight in the morning and picked up at six in the evening - five days a week. They scarcely know their parents. 
And it costs a lot of money to have a child in care that long. Have more than one child and the cost is of course even greater. It isn't just the money though it is the other cost. It is often the child care staff who hear the first word, see the first steps, find out the child is left or right handed, see the first attempts to draw or paint or race a car around the sand pit and much more. 
They are also the people who teach the child about the world  around them, how to react to it and behave in it. It's the child's birthday? No, I'm sorry we can't have cake here - or any other food brought in. We can't do anything to celebrate it either because someone else might feel left out. We don't celebrate  Christmas because it might be offensive to those who don't. We will teach your child about climate change, racial discrimination, and same sex marriage. We don't want "princess" dolls here or Thomas the Tank Engine  either. 
And no, I am not exaggerating. I know three local child minding units that follow all that. If the parents aren't happy about it then they can try, if possible, to find somewhere else for their child to go.
There are parents, particularly mothers, who don't want to go back to work but believe they must. They believe they will "regret" it later and that returning to work is about a career and job satisfaction. They believe that staying home with their children is wrong, that the children need to be in some sort of child care so that they will have "experiences"  which will set  them up for success school.
Day care or kindergarten or whatever you want to call it isn't a bad thing. It can be a good thing. Some  children like it - or have at least grown used to it.  Having a career is not a bad thing either, especially if you feel you want  the challenge and the adult company. 
But I think we need to find ways of being much more flexible about these things. We need ways for parents to work part time, to job-share so that they can spend more time with their own children. We need to look on parenting as a worthy activity.
And that  is not the only thing wrong. The twins in the next street can't go dressed the same today - the day care centre staff have told their mother that is unacceptable because "it doesn't acknowledge them as individuals". 
Who is bringing up the children?

Sunday 28 April 2019

Our local library is also

the home of our local toy library. 
That means we have small children going in and out clutching  not just books but toys they have borrowed. 
Years ago the Senior Cat made a lot of toys for the early toy libraries. It was one of the things he did in his retirement. The staff would come to him with a design they wanted and he would make up something.  
You can't do that any more. All toys have to be bought from approved sellers. Only certain things can be bought. Even getting things repaired is a problem. You can't ask the local man to do it any more unless he is approved and, because he might need to walk into the toy library area itself, he probably needs a police check certificate as well. (I am not sure about the last but it is the sort of thing they are up against.)  
The staff also need someone who can mend the soft toys and the dress up materials that are used in the library. That has to be done "on-site". The materials cannot leave the premises. It could mean someone needing to take a sewing machine in.
Yesterday the knitting and crochet group met at the library. They had changed the room we meet in. That was fine. It is actually a slightly larger room. It still looks out over the park. But, they changed it so that we were in the room where there is a tap which provides boiling water for tea and coffee. 
Now we didn't object to that at all. Some people like a cuppa as they knit. The reason for doing it though was that having to go next door for the boiling water was a hazard. Well yes it would be for me but I am a sensible cat and I get someone else to carry cups of tea.
Our Japanese male member of the group turned up. He's a very nice person. He likes to drink tea. He couldn't get the "smart tap" to work.  We assumed it wasn't working at all. He disappeared after a bit - and came back with a cup of tea. Of course we all wanted to know where he had managed to get it.
He had got it from the other outlet in the library - the one where people not in the group  have to pay. He hadn't paid for it. One of the staff had simply by passed the system there and given him the hot water.  
Mmm....did we all go and do that?
We didn't have to go and do that. One of the staff came in and showed me where to switch the "smart tap" on. A few minutes later we had boiling water available. 
At the end of the afternoon I went into the borrowing area to pick up an inter-library loan. E..., who had shown me where to turn the tap on, gave me a grin and we both agreed that  there might have been a succession of knitters making the hazardous trip across the library and the passage for a cup of tea. It would have meant negotiating small children at the toy library area and people borrowing books and not looking where they were going. It would have perhaps meant spills on the carpet inside - and they must occur anyway.
That would have been far more dangerous than going next door for a cup of tea and wiping up any spill on the hard surface in the passage outside.
And all this was a safety issue?
 

Saturday 27 April 2019

The greengrocery shop

is in the centre of our small shopping complex.
When I first saw it the shop was to one side. That was before the fire.  It was good then. It is better now.
Yes, we had a fire in our shopping centre. It was some  years ago now. It caused a lot of damage to one half of the complex before it was brought under control. 
The greengrocery was not burnt out but in the aftermath many shops were relocated and now it is there in that central location. It bursts with colour. There are seats nearby and more than once I have seen older people just sitting there. One told me once, "I just like to sit and look at all that. Isn't it marvellous?"
And yes, it is.
It is hard work to keep a place like that clean and tidy and attractive - but they do it.
I know the staff in there. I get greeted with "Hello Cat" from some and "Gidday Cat" from others.  Even if I am out and about and the big van or the small van, both with bananas on the side, passes me the boys driving the van will wave to me. In the centre if they pass me outside the shop they will greet me by name.
They greet a lot of the customers by name. You don't get that in the supermarket - unless it is a student wanting help with an essay.
And sometimes I get a hug. 
You see I made them biscuits once. It was a long time ago now. It was just before Christmas one year. That year, ahead of me in the queue, there was someone I knew by sight. We knew one another on a "hello as we pass" basis. I said something about having a nice Christmas and she said, "It's going to be a bloody lousy Christmas" and burst into tears. 
It turned out that her daughter had recently committed suicide - a case of undiagnosed post-natal depression.
As I held her the owner of the greengrocery quietly moved everyone else away and gave us space. The staff just went quietly about their business, alert to the situation but not making an unwanted fuss. The bereaved woman was in no shape to thank him but I was. I made a batch of Christmas gingerbread shapes and took it in. 
Somehow that keeps happening. I make them biscuits a couple of times a year. They give me hugs in return.
I think I do pretty well out of it.
 

Friday 26 April 2019

Knitting...

you asked about knitting?
It was ANZAC Day yesterday and I always remember the elderly man who came back from the war with a pair of socks.  He told me the story of the socks and it appears in the book KnitLit. Briefly though, the socks belonged to his friend. His friend died in the trenches but first gave the socks to this elderly man. They had been made by his sister and he wanted this elderly man to have them to keep his feet warm.
He survived the war and brought the socks back. They were still in good condition. So, instead of wearing them, he set out to walk the long distance between two state capitals carrying the socks with him. He eventually found the girl and married her. She went on knitting socks for him.
I thought of this even more than usual when someone asked whether ANZAC Day is still relevant to the young. My response was it should be - if they can't see the relevance then they are bound to repeat what is behind it. Nobody needs war.
The story of the socks is a romantic one - and yes perhaps I should write it up properly. I often look at plain, hand knitted socks and think of all the socks that were made as plain khaki socks for soldiers, the heavy navy socks made for seamen and more. During the war my paternal great aunts knitted hundreds of seamen's scarves, socks, gloves, and caps. They collected yarn wherever they could get it. They undid old garments and the knitted them again from yarn they had then dyed. My paternal grandmother, their sister-in-law, did the same.  
My great-grandmother supervised all this. We have a photograph of her wearing an apron over her long black dress (this is in the early 1940's) and her knitting is there in the big front pocket. She was never without it. 
Someone said to me the other day, "You're always knitting. You can't keep from fidgeting with it."
No, he was wrong. I don't knit as much as my great-grandmother and my great-aunts did. And no, it isn't fidgeting. There is a purpose to what I am doing.
But, however much I do, it isn't the same as those socks and scarves, gloves and caps. They mattered more than anything I will ever knit. They were made to try and keep those risking their lives warm not just in body but in mind.

Thursday 25 April 2019

GetUp's anti-Abbott ad

has not "backfired". It has done precisely what GetUp intended. It has made fun, in the nastiest possible way, of the former Prime Minister and achieved massive coverage GetUp did not need to pay for.
Yes, it is defamatory in that it ridicules Mr Abbott and is therefore like to bring further ridicule upon him. However in the context of an election campaign they are going to get away with it - even while the AEC has said they are not a political entity and therefore should be treated like any other non-political entity.
It was a calculated move by GetUp. They almost certainly sought legal advice before they made the video. They almost certainly knew they would have to pull it almost immediately. It cost them a little to make but when you have a war chest the size of GetUp's war chest it doesn't really matter. 
They have done the damage they intended to do. I imagine that at GetUp HQ there is an air of celebration not commiseration. 
GetUp has "apologised" to the surf life savers, indeed Abbott demanded it but they have not apologised to Abbott.
When Abbott was PM he was (and still is) a member of volunteer rural fire team. He was rostered on duty when an emergency was called. He was allegedly the one who drove the fire truck to the location and he spent some hours there fighting the fire. Instead of acknowledging it in the media he was made fun of, accused of only being there for the photo opportunity and more. Like the surf life saving situation that was wrong. It reflected badly on the men he was working with and on volunteers everywhere.
Fire fighters and surf life savers risk their lives to save others. It is something you train for over many hours. It is not something you do for a photo opportunity.  
Election tactics are getting nastier. We had some material appear in our letter box yesterday. It criticised our local Federal MP. I happen to know our local Federal MP. She has actually worked extremely  hard for the electorate. She has worked far more than the 37.5 hours a week that many of her detractors have worked an she has achieved a lot. But of course the electoral material from her main opponent only concentrated on the negatives (as they see them) and  yes - it outright lies about her, especially by the clever ruse of not giving people all the available information. Unfortunately this is a marginal seat. She will almost certainly lose to the liars and we will have someone who must, under party rules, do exactly as she is told. I don't like that. 
Politicians are there to represent us - not a political party. People like Abbott represent not simply his electorate but the wider community. He represents volunteers - knock him for volunteering and make fun of it and you knock all volunteers. We need volunteers. The country simply couldn't run without them. 
My local MP? She's the one who sent flowers to a member of her electorate when her husband died and then invited her to lunch. No, the family isn't a big donor. They aren't influential. They just happen to have a child with a disability who needs constant care and the MP wanted to be sure that care was happening now that the mother is on her own.  It's the sort of "little thing" that means something big but most people will never know about. 
I know, and have known, members of parliament at both state and federal level and across all parties. I have liked some more than others and there are a few I have no time for.
And I have no time at all for an organisation which claims not to be political knocking the long term volunteering of a former Prime Minister.
How many members of Get Up have decades of volunteering under their belts? How many members of Get Up care about the care needs of individuals on a long term basis?  Yes, there will be a few. But unless you are prepared to do that as an individual don't knock those who do.

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Cuts to penalty rates

were made by the Fair Work Commission. If you listen to the man who would be Prime Minister you wouldn't know that. You would think the government was responsible. 
Penalty rates come from a time when shops closed on Saturday afternoons and didn't open on Sunday. Other services were restricted. People went to church on Sundays.
They were intended for people who had to work then. Medical staff, the emergency services and the like were the people for whom penalty rates were intended.
The world has changed - and changed dramatically. 
I recently ordered a particular sort of glue for the Senior Cat. I did it on a Sunday and I did it on an on-line site. I didn't expect to hear anything until the Monday but an hour or so later I had a message saying my order had been received - and it had been posted. No, I didn't expect it. Yes, I could have waited. I just happened to do it on line and didn't even think it might  be dealt with almost immediately. The person doing it was almost certainly not being paid any sort of penalty rate for working on a Sunday. It's a family business. When I apologised he replied it was a family business and, in order to keep their heads above water, they had to work seven days a week.
Should we being paying people more to work on a Sunday - more than they would on a Saturday?
The Fair Work Commission said no. The man who would be Prime Minister disagrees with the FWC. He complained that the government had not backed his efforts to increase Sunday rates and that he would increase them when he became Prime Minister.
Now there are a number of things wrong with this. The FWC was set up under his side of politics. He supported the idea. He supported the idea that there should be an "independent" umpire so strongly that he helped to set it up. He staffed it with people from his side of politics. He said they would be in the best position to know what was best for the country, for the workers he claims to represent. 
Now he claims not to agree with the independent umpire. He says he knows best. 
Of course it's a smart move. He knows that many of the people who get the penalty rates are young people who work part time at weekends. He's aiming to grab them with the bribe of a few extra dollars - and turn them into voters for his party for life. He understands the psychology very well.  If they should happen to lose their jobs because a small employer goes out of business  he will simply say that the business was not well run. He will never admit that wages were perhaps too high.
And now, in this morning's paper, there is a piece about the same man saying he will make it much easier for "casual" employees to become "permanent". I sympathise with people who are casual. I know more than most people about an uneven work flow and never knowing what will come next. I know what it is like to live on a very limited income. But I doubt that the proposed policy will work. It may well do much more harm than good. It may even result in fewer people being employed and less certainty than before. Still, it sounds good and people may vote for it - and that will really be the only concern of the man who would be Prime Minister. His record as a union boss showed little concern for the workers as long as money was flowing into the union coffers.
Am I worried? Yes. I think we all need to rethink our standard of living.  We need to rethink our tax system too.
Neither is likely to happen.

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Apparently one of the magistrates

in a neighbouring state wants to ban the Bible and the Koran from courtrooms. He has allegedly said they are relics that belong in museums.
I am appalled. 
I know that a majority of people no longer go to church on a regular basis. There are people who go to church at Christmas and Easter and no other time. I know Muslims who don't go to the mosque any more regularly than that. 
I also know people who don't go to church at all.
All of these people are basically good, decent people. They try to live their lives in ways that I would consider Christian. They try to keep that massive and essential commandment which appears in one form or another in many places that is to "love one another".
An understanding of that commandment whether it comes from the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas, or something else is essential to our very existence. 
We can try and teach it to children through example and other stories about people doing good to one another but for some people this will not be enough. They need more than that. 
Yes, religion has caused and still causes many problems. Those problems though are caused by a minority. A majority of followers seem to find some comfort in their faith. It is where so much great art, music, literature, architecture has come from to enrich our lives.  It is also where the seeds of things like medicine and mathematics have come from and which now make our lives so much easier. I couldn't write this now without the maths and engineering which came about through religion dating back thousands of years.
The idea that all this can simply be discarded as some sort of ancient history is wrong. We need to understand the past in order to handle the present and look to the future.
I don't believe in talking snakes or arks or water turning to wine but I do believe in that commandment to love one another. If we don't we can't progress. 
It is why we need to keep religious books in court rooms. They still serve a purpose - even for non-believers. 

Monday 22 April 2019

The media is a strange animal

which largely feeds off the misfortune of others.
Bad news sells. Ridiculous news sells. Silly news sells. Sensational news sells.
Part of my job involves needing to know what is going on in the world. I read a lot of news from a wide variety of sources.  I need to read most of it in English simply because my ability to read other languages is limited and it takes time, more time than I have.  I get news directly from people who are "on the ground" in a situation and I get it from journalists  who will often appear to be in the middle of a situation as well. 
And yes, some journalists are doing a very dangerous job. They get killed doing it, even in places which should now be safe. Last week Lyra McKee was killed in Northern Ireland. She was simply doing her job. Nobody has yet been charged but there is a new and far more dangerous breed of "terrorist" now.  
Technology has made all the difference to the way those committed to murder and mayhem can communicate with one another. It is possible to direct terrorist operations from the opposite  side of the world. 
That terrifies me. It astounds me that people like Orla Guerin are still alive. They are prime candidates for assassination.
And there is something else that worries me. It is the way that even reputable journalists will peddle "fake" news. Yesterday a senior journalist at the national newspaper did just that. I suspect it was one of those moments when something that appeared to support his point of view seemed too useful to ignore.  There is a report in this morning's paper by a columnist known for stirring the pot (with a good dose of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda added) about a journalist who has allegedly deliberately misreported a private conversation and the timing of it - a conversation that was almost certainly obtained  by illegally tapping someone's phone. 
All this is dangerous, very dangerous. It is what we first see, hear, read and feel that tends to stay with us. It is why the Jesuits wanted their students young.  It is why the young Swedish climate activist is getting so much attention. Those pulling the strings behind her - and yes, they are - understand the psychology very well.
Media, even social media, is an essential part of my job but I am worried at the increasing amount of false information being peddled by those with ulterior motives. 
So SATBYR - Stop And Think Before You Retweet?

Sunday 21 April 2019

Dyeing eggs red

is not something I would normally contemplate but it is Easter and T... and H... across the road need something. They are still young enough to think of Easter as "fun". 
Their mother is not keen on them getting a lot of chocolate - some yes, but not a lot. I discussed this with her and we both thought that red dyed eggs would be interesting. They won't have seen one before. They can eat the egg later in the day.
Middle Cat's MIL P..... used to do these. She was Greek Orthodox and the dyed eggs are a traditional part of the culture and traditions surrounding Easter.  P.... would make them for us as well as her family.  It was one of those things she insisted on Middle Cat learning to do - and me too. 
P....taught me about Greek Cypriot style cooking. I am not as good as Middle Cat but my BIL reckons my pastitsio is as good as his mother's. I am not sure about that. P.... was a very good cook. 
And  yes, there were the eggs.
"Computer S..." as we call the man who helps me out with computer issues is also Greek by descent although not from Cyprus. He sent me the instructions for his mother's Easter eggs. They are much fancier  because you decorate them by dyeing them with leaves and other objects and leave the pattern on the egg. 
I sent a message back saying I was interested but I thought I might stick to doing what I know this time at least.
I know the significance of the eggs (new life) and I know the significance of the red (the blood of Christ) but I wonder how many people who go out and buy chocolate eggs think of that.
I took some tiny eggs to a meeting yesterday. They were left over from something else. I just put them on the table where afternoon tea is served without saying anything. There is nobody in the group who is Muslim or Jewish. I suspect most people don't go to church.
The eggs disappeared gradually through the afternoon. Did anyone think about the significance of them? I'll never know.
We are going to Middle Cat's home for the evening meal. I'll take some eggs. We will share them. We know the significance of them but they are also a reminder of P... and other people who are no longer with us. They are reminder of the way P.... brought up her children to help make them what they are today.
Chocolate eggs may be very nice but it is the real eggs dyed with red that matter. 

Saturday 20 April 2019

Being rejected

hurts. I know that. We all know that. We all forget it when things seem to be going along all right.
Yesterday I had an appalling reminder of how much being rejected can hurt. A mother phoned me and said,
    "Cat, I know it's Good Friday and I shouldn't be interrupting but I'm desperate. S....has finally told me what happened."
S.... is her just teenage daughter. She's a lovely, lovely kid who started high school this year. She also happens to have a disability. 
And things are not going well at school. She's had a fair bit of time off because of her disability. At primary school she was keeping up, indeed doing very well. Her teacher there kept in close touch. She worked hard at home.
At high school she has a variety of teachers, some more interested than others. Her form room teacher is one of the less interested, indeed has made it clear she doesn't really want S... in the class. There is a similar problem with another student M.
There was a school fete towards the end of the term. Each year had their own stall and the students were encouraged to make things to put on it.  S... and M... made cards and gift tags over several weekends. It was a joint effort and they put a lot of work into it.
S.... did not want to go to the fete. Her parents were concerned because, if well enough, she usually wants to join in. 
Yesterday her mother found the cards and the gift tags. S.... had put them, still wrapped up, in the bin. On being questioned S.... finally admitted that yes she and M.... had taken them to school. They had given them to the teacher - and the teacher had said they were not good enough to go on the stall. S.... is, rightly, devastated.
She was still in tears when I arrived. She has been bottling this up for several weeks now. She was feeling ashamed and frightened.
M...'s father arrived as I did and unloaded M... so the girls could be together. M... was in tears too. They had said nothing to their parents because they did not want to upset them.
Now if the cards and tags had not been good enough there might have been another way of handling it but that was not an issue anyway. They are not perfect but they are good enough. 
I have the cards and tags here now. I am going to take them to a group today. I won't insult the girls by trying to sell them. I have told them I will give them to people who will appreciate the work that has gone into them.
And I am angry and upset too - because I know how hard it was for them to make those things. They know I know. 
I told Ms W what had happened. She goes to a different school and said, "If it happened in our school - but it wouldn't - all the girls would be angry."
And then, a few minutes later, she said, "Do you suppose that S... and M... would like to do some origami? I could show them. They could help with the finger puppets."
She has met the girls so I suggested contacting them and asking them herself.  
That will do more good than I can.

Friday 19 April 2019

Diversity in children's literature

https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-47883118?ocid=socialflow_twitter&n
Author Sharna Jackson: Bringing diversity into children's books - BBC News


 Diversity in children's literature is essential and there is an increasing awareness of this so it was good to be sent the link from the BBC news in which Sharna Jackson talks about this. I don't know if the above link will work but that's the article on the BBC website.
And of course it made me think about diversity in children's literature here.  I went looking for BAME (black and minority ethnic) background books here. I know there are some because I have occasionally managed to buy suitable picture books for younger children...occasionally. 
When I was a mere kitten we lived for a while in a very remote area. The school house was on the edge of the "town". (The "town" was a big place by local standards. There were seventeen houses in it.) We were surrounded by "the bush". Out there it is mostly low, sparse scrub. The trees are spindly and never grow to more than about four metres in height. It is dry country, very dry. The ochre to red dust which blows in from the desert covers everything. It is as if the very earth itself is on fire.
My siblings and I spent most of our time out of doors. Somehow we avoided being bitten by the highly poisonous black snakes and the equally poisonous spiders. We built "cubbies" in the bush and we were shown how to make the local indigenous equivalent.
We were shown because there was a very old indigenous man who lived alone not far from the school. Even looking back I genuinely remember him as very old. He moved slowly, very slowly. He lived in what is called a "wurlie" in the local indigenous language. It was a construction of bark and wattle and daub, a single room which was nothing more than a shelter from the weather.  He cooked outside. Once a week he went to the hotel and had a shower. The rest of the time he made do with water from the tap at the "oval" on which football and cricket were played.
Of course we children were not supposed to go anywhere near him. Our mother was horrified by the idea.
But we did. He was absolutely harmless. We loved to visit him - at the right times. We knew to wait until he had finished what he needed to do for the day. If he was just sitting there outside the wurlie - on the log that served as his seat - we could approach him. He would chat for a bit and then shoo us off. And sometimes, just sometimes, he would tell us a story.
    "You be quiet now and I'll tell you about the Big Goanna Man..."
or, "You be quiet now and I'll tell you about how that little bird there came to be..."
I don't remember the stories now.  I wish I did. I wish desperately that I'd had the capacity to record them in some way. At the same time I know that this old man would not have welcomed the idea. We were told the stories because we were children. He was teaching us another way of seeing the world, of how the world came to be. He was teaching  us about his version of creation, of fire and wind, sky and earth. He taught all of us to look at the world so that I still see the different patterns of bark on the trees and the way that  the leaves hang as stories. I look on red feathers as drops of blood and quandongs (a sort of tiny wild peach) will always be sour even if they are covered in honey from the wild bees. 
Diversity, and acceptance of diversity, can grow out of that sort of experience. 
I am much less sure about books like Sally Morgan's "My Place". It is a book which has been much lauded. It is a book which has been required reading in many schools but it is a deeply flawed book. Much of what has been written there and has been accepted as fact is not fact but a convenient fiction. The verifiable facts simply don't support it. Morgan has avoided responding to requests to produce evidence to support her story. 
Perhaps that is part of the problem. If people are to write about diversity and the experience of diversity it needs to be the actual experience, not the politically correct experience. I am reminded of a child I once taught. The school had simply shortened his very long Greek surname to something which felt it could be managed - a mere four letters instead of  twenty-four. I used his full name and years later he told me, "I knew then that you were going to treat me as a person, not just part of a person." 
There's a story in that. Morgan has given people something to think about but I think the real experience may lie in small acts of respect and disrespect.  It's time to write about that too.


Thursday 18 April 2019

Election promises

are sending me insane.
   "If elected we will do this..."
   "If elected my government will..."
   "If elected I will..."
The two men who would likely be Prime Minister are very different. They need to be. 
Unfortunately the one most likely to get the job is someone I have no time for at all. The other still seems somewhat bemused by the fact that he is the one fighting the election as leader of the party.
What really worries me however is that the one most likely to get the job is a man who
(a) cheated on his first wife and
(b) made another married woman pregnant. (He later married her.)
(c) has unresolved sexual allegations against him
(d) when head of the AWU  he was involved in some dealings that left vulnerable workers worse off - but the union better off.
(e) the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption raised some questions about his behaviour which were never satisfactorily answered but only because the terms of the commission did not allow it. 
Now it is always possible that some nasty surprises could be found in the bemused candidate's background but, so far, there have been no  hint of them in the media. There have been complaints yes but no hint corruption. The media likes to poke fun at him and make much of his lack of campaigning experience.
The media is also making much of the changes of leadership within his party. At the same time they are ignoring the fact that the same thing happened on the other side - and that the man who would be Prime Minister was one of those who was doing the agitating, switched his allegiance more than once and whom nobody could regard as "loyal".
So why is the man most likely to get the job getting such a good press? The answer came in a list I was sent and passed over to the Senior Cat. He read it.