Sunday 30 April 2023

Limiting the booze

available seems like a good idea to me.

I will have of course to say at the outset that I do not drink alcohol. I am allergic to alcohol. No, I am not an alcoholic. If I ingest alcohol I get a very nasty reaction. I have tried to explain it to other people as a bit like touching a stinging nettle but inside rather than out. It won't kill me but it is excruciatingly uncomfortable for a time and I am very careful about avoiding it. 

There have been rare occasions on which people have tried to force it on me, have told me that I must be allergic to something else and have generally not believed that anyone could actually be allergic and not an alcoholic. I am allergic. The medical profession says I am allergic. For the record I cannot tolerate vinegar either...and that is a real nuisance at times. 

I can live without alcohol. It saves a lot of money and I can still have a good time without it. I don't need it but it seems this is not the case for many other people. Downunderites are some of the heaviest drinkers of alcohol in the world. Many of them drink far more than the medical profession says is good for them.  "Going to the pub" for the evening is a common social activity here. During the Covid lock downs the authorities actually decided to keep the liquor outlets open as an "essential" service because of the threats posed by people who could not get their alcohol fix. Liquor outlets have extended hours. The booze shop in our local shopping centre is the biggest one after the two supermarkets. 

The, how shall it put it, "alcohol industry" is a major part of the economy. It means employment for an enormous number of people in the production and distribution of it and in the hospitality industry. It is also a major contributing factor to road accidents, domestic violence, child neglect and other serious social problems as well medical issues.

There seems to be a vague awareness of all this among those who make the alcohol laws. They are talking about limiting the availability of alcohol at least in some places and at some times. I am sure our police force would welcome not having to deal with quite so many alcohol related incidents in and around the city at weekends. 

But why stop there? There is no point in trying to ban alcohol but is there a way of reducing consumption here as well as in Alice Springs? 

The Senior Cat's generation did not drink much alcohol. They could not legally drink until they were twenty-one - although no doubt a few did. They did not have the disposable income so many young people now think they have. They also had to make their own entertainment. Going to a "night club" was not something they even considered - and they would have been denied entry had they tried.  

Perhaps we could start with making more effort to help the next generations to build the skills to entertain themselves. Then the liquor laws could reflect what people might reasonably  "need" rather than what they "want". 

Saturday 29 April 2023

83% of First Nations people support

the Voice @ulurustatement announced on Twitter. It was the result of a "YouGov" poll...or was it?

Remember those advertisements which said something like "Eight out of ten dentists recommend...."? Yes, they may have found eight dentists who would recommend a certain brand of toothpaste but is it eight out of ten of all dentists? Of course it isn't. The "statistic" is meaningless. 

The statement on Twitter was even worse than that. There are no "First Nations" people. First Nations may be the correct term in Canada but it is not the correct term here. There have never been "nations" here. There are tribal areas and tribal groupings but they have never been nations. So why do they use that term? Is it to try and suggest something that is not actually the reality? I don't know and it puzzles aboriginal people I know.

But lets move on to the actual "poll". The very fact that it was "conducted" by YouGov should ring alarm bells. Their methods are far from "scientific". Conducting any sort of social science research is highly problematic and this sort of "on-line research" is only helpful if you can manipulate it in order to get the results you want. And of course this is what was done here. 

We are of course now on Warren Mundine's "Myth number six" - the idea that the proposed Voice will speak for aboriginals. It won't. It can't. The idea that twenty-four people - chosen, not elected - can speak for such a diverse group of people with an even more diverse range of needs is nonsense. Only a tiny minority of aboriginals join the community organisations which supposedly speak for them and the proposed working of the Voice will reduce that still further.

The 83% support comes from a survey of what appears to be one thousand, one hundred and eighty-six people who "identify" as aboriginal. It is difficult to find out much more but they appear to be urban dwellers who are sufficiently well educated people with access to a computer and the political "savvy" to participate in such a poll. Now even if everyone who participated in the survey stated they supported the Voice it is still just 00.00135% of the group for whom the Voice is supposed to speak. (I am being generous and rounding up rather than down.)  

It might be that the results of the survey would be the same or close to the same if every person who identified as aboriginal was asked - but how likely is that? We cannot put figures on that.

Like the old "eight out of ten" dentists advertisement we are being told something is true for everyone when it is only true for those who were chosen to be asked. 

My concern here? That many aboriginal people will have even less opportunity to be heard than before.


Friday 28 April 2023

Public toilet use for transgender,

intersex and gender diverse people is now a topic of legislative review. In this morning's paper the mother of an autistic boy is also arguing that either he or she should be allowed to go into a toilet catering for the opposite sex because he cannot or will not go alone. 

In most instances there is a simple answer to the problem with the autistic boy. They can use the facility for the disabled.

But what about the rest of us? 

Some time ago now I was asked by a Muslim woman if it was safe to use the public toilet in our shopping centre. She had seen a man coming out of the facility and did not want to enter it if there was a man in there. The whole idea of using a facility that a strange man had used was clearly abhorrent to her. Another woman I know slightly came out at that point and I asked her if there was anyone in there. 

"There was a work man in there fixing a tap," she responded. The Muslim woman still looked anxious so I said, "I'll wait by the door and make sure he doesn't go in if he comes back."

The look of relief on her face was immense. I would have stopped the work man too. I would have asked him to wait. What the answer would have been I have no idea but I would have tried because the woman obviously felt so very uncomfortable.

I don't know anyone who actually likes using public facilities even when they are kept clean - and all too often they are not really clean. I certainly avoid using them if at all possible. Do most people avoid using them if they can? I suspect they do.

Men and women do not use public facilities in the same way. Men almost never speak to one another, may not even acknowledge one another but women do. More than one woman has sought help in a public facility. It is a place where women should feel safe. It should not be a place where they now feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. Perhaps we need to add facilities for those of alternate sexual orientation in the way we have facilities for people with disabilities.

The argument that "everyone uses the same toilet at home" is not one which can be readily transferred to the public arena. Perhaps we do - but we still shut the door.

Thursday 27 April 2023

Three parents were arrested yesterday

and charged with manslaughter. 

The cases were not related to one another. The neglect was obvious in every case. Social services were involved in every case. In every case the children were left with their parents in a situation which was very obviously not in the best interests of the child.  

I was talking to a neighbour about this late in the afternoon. We were watching the children in the street speed up and down on their bikes and scooters. Schools are on holiday until next week and I try to help out by watching the children do this on some occasions. The neighbour had just put their evening meal in the oven and we were watching the youngest trying to do a "u-turn" on her scooter.

"If she falls off and breaks her arm I will probably have social services visit and tell me I am a bad mother," her mother said.

She was not joking. The incident would be reported. The idea that a child might be allowed to do something that could lead to such an injury is something now questioned. 

I looked at her daughter. She is obviously well nourished and healthy. By late afternoon she was also, while still well dressed, rather grubby. It had been a busy day playing with big brother and the other children in the street. 

But yes, there would likely be a visit. I don't know whether this is a good thing or not. Perhaps there is a need to check but it seems that the real issues are not being dealt with.

Both my parents had "difficult" schools - schools where there were acknowledged to be high levels of serious social welfare issues. They came to know some social workers very well indeed. There were times when my parents pleaded with children to be removed from households where they were simply not safe. They knew the local police and the doctors all too well. There were too many children who came to school dirty, inadequately clothed and without food. Some of those issues could be dealt with but it was more difficult to deal with violence at home, alcohol and drug issues. There was one child whose mother was a prostitute. He "stole" from his mother's purse in order to eat. He would do it while she slept off the alcohol of the night before.  She would beat him for it. There is no way that child was receiving proper parenting but he was returned to her even after a week in hospital due to her neglect. Social services just visited occasionally.

One of the children who died had a serious medical issue. It required a special diet that the mother was clearly incapable of understanding or providing. The child was neglected in other ways as well. Other children in the family were seen to be neglected too. Was it really in the best interests of the children to be left in that situation? Those of them who do reach adulthood often have the same issues themselves.

We keep persisting with the idea that parent and child must be kept together even when the children are being neglected. Social workers can visit. Social workers can make suggestions. Social workers can do make reports. They can do very little else. Many of them have ridiculous case-loads and no resources. The woke policies they are required to try and apply just make it more difficult and they sometimes end in tragedy.

I hope little L.... never breaks a bone but, if she does, it will not be because her mother has deliberately harmed or neglected her. Social services don't need to be involved. The school can tell them otherwise.

Wednesday 26 April 2023

So you don't have a voice?

 Myth number 5 on Mundine's list is the one which says, "Aboriginals don't have a voice" and he debunks that one very quickly. 

This will be the fifth attempt at a voice at a national level. The others have all failed.  Governments of all persuasions have dismantled them because they did not work.

"If we put it into the Constitution it is there forever," the Prime Minister is telling us. He is telling us that this is a good thing. Why? Does simply putting something into the Constitution mean it will succeed? Does it mean that it will always work the way it is intended for the intended purpose?

This proposal is not like anything else currently in the Constitution. It is completely different.

There are already many, many forms of negotiation and consultation with aboriginal people through hundreds of local, state, national and even international bodies. They already have, through elected representatives who identify as aboriginal, more parliamentary representation than everyone else. 

Is more needed? Do we need something very special that the rest of the population does not have? Are aboriginal people always going to be at such a perceived disadvantage they are going to need additional rights and consideration?

Mundine is arguing that the Voice is already there, that there is plenty of consultation and negotiation. It seems likely he is right, that aboriginal people in fact already have greater rights to be heard because there are so many voices already out there.  Do they need more and will a formal Voice actually give them that? I will deal with Mundine's myth number six next time. 

Tuesday 25 April 2023

The Dawn Service is over

and the Returned Servicemen are going off to breakfast at the local hall where they meet. Their numbers are less now.

My godfather, another returned man, says he is too old to be at such events. He is 97, still living alone after the death of his wife several years ago. I don't know how much longer he can do it but he is still as independent as he can be. 

ANZAC day has never been something to "celebrate" in the eyes of my godfather. When the Senior Cat was alive L.... would come here. He would sit at the kitchen table and I would make another pot of tea. L... would talk about anything but the war. He came back with a quite profound hearing loss. For the rest of his life he has only been able to hear you if it has been quiet and you speak clearly. He has aches and pains from other injuries too. The war, WWII in his case, is not over for him.

The war is long over for the ANZAC men of Gallipoli. The last soldier from the campaign died in 2002.  Is it over for their families? I doubt it.

As a teenager I met far too many men who were deeply traumatised by their service in WWII. There was not just my godfather but all the men in the "soldier settlement" where the Senior Cat was in charge of the big area school. My brother and I were made acutely aware of the trauma these men had been through as we stood with our Scout and Guide troop at the Dawn Service. Grown men do cry. They don't forget. 

There has just been a defence review in this country. We won't be told all the details. Some of it has been deemed "classified". I don't like what I have heard so far. I wish we didn't need "defence" forces at all.  I wish I had never needed to make the poppies that have gone up again on the annual display at the library.

But perhaps there is some hope for the world because T... and H... across the road have been to their first actual Dawn Service this morning and watched their father participate. Can we go on remembering? 

Monday 24 April 2023

Mundine's myth number 4 - the Voice will only be advisory,

 courts won't give it power. 

It was the present Prime Minister himself who has said, "It will be a brave government that goes against the advice of the Voice". 

As Mundine points out the idea the Voice will only be "advisory" is nonsense. There is no point in having a voice inside the Constitution if it really is only going to be "advisory". There are a multitude of voices advising the government already. There are hundreds of organisations advising the government on aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs already.  There have been others in the past.

There have been some serious problems with all these and the Voice won't change that. It may even make matters worse.

First, more than one organisation has failed because of corruption and capacity failures within the organisations themselves. ATSIC - the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission is the most widely known example perhaps. It had a budget of millions of dollars but it was a financial and policy failure. Those at the top have still not faced all the charges against them.  One of the problems was that the organisation was too big, attempted to be all encompassing.

Second, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is extraordinarily diverse. There is no single culture or language or way of thinking. It is as diverse as Iceland is from Egypt or Greece is from China. One Voice cannot speak for all aboriginal people...and yet this is what is essentially being proposed. For all the claims about the size of the Voice and the way it will work it simply will not allow many indigenous people to be heard at all. There won't be the same capacity for much smaller groups of local people to say, "This is what we need" or "We have talked together and this is what we have to tell you."

Third, those in charge at the top are not listening now. Remember those "cashless debit cards"? Many aboriginal people, particularly the women, wanted to retain them. It was not at their request the program was disbanded. It was because others saw it as "demeaning" and "paternalistic" and demanded it be disbanded. The problem is that many of those claiming it was demeaning and paternalistic are the very people the government suggests would be likely to be part of the Voice. 

The government did not listen. It was only media coverage that caused the liquor laws in one state to be changed. It was what those who should have been listened to had demanded in the first place - not what those advising the government were saying should happen. 

The idea that putting a Voice into the Constitution will actually provide the best advice and that it will be just advice and nothing more is a fantasy. It may actually leave many more without an effective means of being heard at all.

Sunday 23 April 2023

Barry Humphries would not

make it to the end of the first show today - or rather Dame Edna and Sir Les wouldn't. And that is sad.

I think we have lost the ability to laugh at anything like those characters now. They are considered "politically incorrect". There will be people who complain about the multi-page coverage given to the late Humphries in today's paper even when they once laughed.

There is another article in the paper which also talks about entertainment - entertainment of a sort. It is by one of our regular columnists and he is expressing concern about the way swear words are used so much more freely here than they once were.

I am old enough to remember when "bloody" was considered to be a swear word. There is an incident I can remember in school when the Senior Cat, also my teacher at the time, told one of the boys to "go and put that bloody handkerchief to soak in cold water". It was of course a perfectly correct use of the word but there was a gasp of shock in the classroom. Had the teacher really used that word? I can remember the careful explanation which followed and a discussion about why swearing was something you did not do.

Back home on the farm the other children probably heard their fathers swear. It is unlikely their mothers swore. Women simply did not do it in that community. They had not done it in and around the port where we had spent the previous five years. Men didn't swear in front of women or children in public - and it is unlikely many of them did at home. On the docks it was likely a different story. It was taken as a matter of course that "wharfies" swore. We knew there were "bad" words but we didn't use them.  

I later taught in a school for children with severe and profound disabilities. One particularly difficult child swore at me one day. I told her it was unacceptable so she swore at me in German. I told her I understood that too. Then she tried swearing in Italian. I told her I understood that too. She looked at me, sighed and said, "I not swear then." She never swore at me again. In the staff room the story was a cause for laughter but we were also concerned other children did not learn those words.

Now though it seems we worry less about swear words than we do about the correct pronoun to use when referring to someone. Somewhere along the line I think we got our priorities mixed. The world was a kinder place when Barry Humphries was being Dame Edna and people were laughing. You will be missed mate. RIP. 

Saturday 22 April 2023

Myth number three about the Voice

in Warren Mundine's article was "other countries have indigenous constitutional recognition and it's fine".

Actually no. He points out that the US Constitution gives Congress the right to "regulate commerce with the Indian tribes". This is a very different thing from consulting them about every aspect that might affect them.  

In Canada they simply recognise already existing aboriginal and treaty rights. Again this is a very different thing from the form of consultation proposed in the Voice.

In New Zealand however there are a number of precedents and principles which allow Maoris to have a say in all manner of things. The chief among these is the Treaty of Waitangi. There are three principles in the treaty, "partnership", "protection" and "participation".  In 1975 there was an act passed by the New Zealand parliament which brought in the Waitangi Tribunal. It is a permanent commission of inquiry that makes recommendations on issues brought up by Maoris. Over time what has happened is that the courts have ruled that the government must address any grievances the Maori have brought through the Tribunal. By the mid 1980's this included grievances going back to white settlement in New Zealand. The Tribunal has ended up being a very powerful body, far more powerful than was intended.  You can't put that genie back in the bottle. 

Could that happen with the Voice? The government is saying "no" of course. The Solicitor-General's advice would seem to suggest it could not happen but that is current advice. There has been previous advice which would seem to contradict the current advice.

The reality is that nobody knows what could happen. It would depend on any number of things. The present Prime Minister has already said it would be a brave government which went against advice given by the Voice. We are told the Voice could not delay legislation but that is clearly nonsensical. Of course it could. All it would take would be an appeal to the High Court and the Governor-General would not sign any legislation into law until a decision was brought down.

The idea that we can add something, anything to the Constitution and know exactly how it will work is foolish. We don't. The use of the External Affairs power to prevent the building of a dam showed that.



Friday 21 April 2023

Aboriginal people aren't in the Constitution is

 myth number two that Warren Mundine addresses. 

He actually says very little about this myth because there is very little to be said. It was the 1967 referendum which removed the last express exclusions. 

That referendum had no difficulty in getting over the "double majority" hurdle - a majority of people in a majority of the states. It was widely and willingly supported.

I was not old enough to vote in that referendum but I can remember it being held. I hope I will always remember the sight of my paternal grandfather and M...'s father actually hugging one another as the results came through. My paternal grandfather was a very Victorian era man. He did not normally show emotion. You had to know him well to know what he was feeling at all. 

Grandpa had spent weeks talking to people about the referendum. He had spoken about the importance of it at church. Grandpa was no public speaker but he was one of two people at church given the task of persuading everyone to vote in favour of equality. I remember him talking about what his mother, my great-grandmother, would have wanted and how she had supported aboriginal people on the dairy farm and then around the docks. Many people in the church would have known my great-grandmother very well indeed. I have no doubt she would have been out there campaigning for "yes".

The other person to speak was M...'s mother R... and I remember there was the sort of stillness there is when something very, very important is being said. The minister of the day knew what he was doing when he asked her to speak. It was almost unheard of to hear clapping in a Presbyterian church but R....'s plea for a "yes" vote brought spontaneous applause. 

The referendum question passed and M...'s father and my grandfather stood on the footpath outside my grandparents' home as they were going their separate ways to work and hugged. Men didn't hug back then. They shook hands - but this was too big for that. They hugged.

So why would we now want to dismantle this? Why would we want to put in a clause which would once again segregate people? Have we given up all hope of equality?

Thursday 20 April 2023

Riding on the footpath

is legal in this state. Yours Truly may even be one of those responsible for making it legal. That said, people need to be just as careful on the footpath as they are on the roads.

I spent four years in the nation's capital. At that time they could boast of 186 kilometres of bicycle track. It was legal to ride on footpaths - but not within ten metres of an open shop. I made the most of it. The university grounds there are extensive. I would have found it almost impossible to go between the hall of residence and the law school without my trusty tricycle. Going anywhere else would have been impossible. I was out and about in everything from summer dust storms to the small flurries of snow.

And I never ran into anyone. I never knocked anyone over. People in the capital were used to bicycles on footpaths. The riders were, at least from my observations, pretty good at looking out for pedestrians. So they should have been. It is a privilege to join them there rather than do battle with cars on the roads.

Back here it was not legal to be on the footpath at the time. I was dutifully keeping to the road not long after my return when I was stopped by the police. I was told, "Get on the footpath." I said something like, "I'd love to but it isn't legal." They told me to break the law and do what they considered to be the safest thing. I remember the older of the two smiling at me in a quite friendly way and saying something about me not being likely to run anyone down. That was a very long time ago. I never had a problem about being on the footpath after that. 

So far I have been fortunate. There have been no major incidents in my pedalling life. I have always tried to be ultra-careful.  The question that came yesterday was therefore rather a shock. 

"Why don't you ring the bell?" someone asked me. I had been pedalling slowly behind him waiting for him to be aware that I was there. That piece of footpath is only just wide enough. Someone has a hedge encroaching on it. This man was elderly, very elderly. He was using what we call a "walker". 

"I didn't want to frighten you and perhaps cause you to fall over," I answered.

He was looking very closely at me and then he really did smile as he said, "You won't remember. I was a copper. I stopped you from riding on the road, a long time ago now. We changed the law after that. Glad to see you are still pedalling."  

I would not have recognised him but he had recognised me. I doubt that one incident alone changed the law but I am grateful for people like him who must have said something and supported the move. Now all we need is for everyone on the footpath to watch out for each other. 

Wednesday 19 April 2023

Myths about the Voice


 are something we need to investigate.

There was a very interesting article in the state newspaper yesterday. It was by aboriginal activist, Warren Mundine. He is opposed to the Voice to Parliament. Those of you who read my witterings will be aware of what the Voice is - a proposed "advisory" group to government which would allow aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be heard.

No, not all aboriginal people are in favour of the Voice. Mundine is one of them. His article yesterday was labelled "Ten myths about the Voice". It needs to be widely read. 

Yes, Mundine is trying to convince people to vote "no" and some will say the article is biased because of that. It does not mean the facts are incorrect. I am going to try and address some of what he says over more than one post at the request of my friend M.... . M... is aboriginal, visibly so. Like Mundine he is opposed to the Voice. He spent some time talking to me last night.

The first "myth" Mundine addresses is the one that "Aboriginal people asked for the Voice in the Uluru statement".  Mundine says this is not correct.  The statement was adopted at Yularu, a four star resort 25km from Uluru. Apparently the Anangu elders are upset that it has been called "the Uluru statement" because Yularu is not even on their land.  

If this is correct then it is a major mistake by those who labelled it "the Uluru statement" and one the Anangu elders would find highly offensive. Yes, Uluru (once known as Ayre's Rock) is a major landmark of great cultural significance but it cannot be used in that way. It doesn't matter if "the Voice" is an issue of national importance. You simply do not use a landmark of great significance in that way. 

"That alone Cat is enough to tell you that this Voice mob don't know what they are talking about," M... told me, "You need to be telling people this. They can't appropriate it like that."

I had wondered but, foolishly, assumed some sort of permission had been granted. 

We have also been given the impression that there was some sort of consensus with respect to the statement. Mundine says there were 250 delegates there. That sounds a good number until you realise that these people were picked rather elected. They were picked from "community dialogues". Those community dialogues were limited too.  People were invited to attend them, a limited number of people.

"I would like to have attended one," M... told me, "But I was never asked and never given the opportunity to even apply to attend one."

M... has spent his life working with aboriginal youths. He would know far more than most. He is the sort of person who should have been there. I would like to know much more about how the attendees at the community dialogues were chosen. Is Mundine correct when he suggests that they were chosen as to ensure consensus? Possibly. Knowing how such things can work it seems quite likely. Certainly it would seem they were chosen for the final convention in a way intended to try and ensure consensus.

That consensus did not happen. Some of the delegates walked out and do not support the Statement.

Yet the present government and many others are trying to tell us that there was consensus, that this is what aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want. There have been a few voices about "treaty first" but there seems to be some doubt even about support for that.

I am deeply concerned about all this. A referendum to simply acknowledge in the constitution that there were people here before white settlement could have done so much. It might also have been passed by an overwhelming majority. This is simply adding to division instead.


Tuesday 18 April 2023

Universal pre-school for three year olds

is the recommendation of the Early Childhood Education and Care Royal Commission. The proposal is that three year olds attend pre-school for fifteen hours a week so they can be taught the skills they need in order to go to school.

I read the newspaper article on line. It is interesting reading some articles on line because there are also some which allow readers to comment. There are also on line "polls". 

I know these things are far from scientific. They may not represent wider public opinion. The questions can be manipulated in order to obtain a particular result. They often irritate me.

It was interesting to note however that more than half of those who responded to the question of whether three year olds should be at pre-school for fifteen hours a week said "no". All the comments raised the possibility of three year old children being "indoctrinated". 

The former Prime Minister who headed the Royal Commission has suggested the proposal would "break the intergenerational cycle of welfare dependency" experienced by some children. Perhaps it would. I rather doubt it but it might. My own view is that it would take more than fifteen hours a week of pre-school to give some very young children everything they need in order to reach a standard the report obviously considers necessary. It may not be a reason not to try but are there better ways of spending the money this would take?

As a three year old I was at home with my "stay-at-home" mother most of the time. I went to "kindy" twice a week for about two hours at a time. The rest of the time I played at home or out in the street with the children of the neighbours. We were fortunate in that we lived in a small rural community. There was very little traffic. There were adults out and about on foot almost all the time. We could do those things. We could observe adults at work and even join in occasionally.  We were all learning an enormous amount about our world and how it worked, about the way things worked, about relationships. 

It isn't like that for most children now. Pre-school won't teach them those things. It is organised. Children are told what to do and when to do it. Yes, it might be "fun" to learn some "action" songs, "listen" to a (politically correct) story while "sitting still", "paint", cut and paste. You might learn some new words, to recognise your name and perhaps a few written words, the "correct" way to interact. It is all good for when you go to school. 

I watched a group of pre-school children in the memorial park yesterday. They were all involved in what I supposed was a "fun" activity. All of them were doing the same thing. It was a tightly controlled exercise designed to teach them something about the sun and shadows. I have seen them and other groups in the park on numerous occasions and there has always been the same degree of control. There has always been the intention to teach them something.

Are they having fun? Perhaps. Are they learning? Almost certainly. They are learning something someone has considered necessary.

It seems to me though that there is something they are not learning. They are not learning self-motivation. They are not learning to discover any number of things through self-initiated play. Their imagination may be stimulated but it is being stimulated in a controlled way. 

It is all very well saying children need to learn "the basics" and of course they do but progress depends not on everyone having the basics. It also depends on children having the independence, curiosity and creative mind that comes from uncontrolled play.  It might be good to simply let them loose occasionally.


Monday 17 April 2023

House hunting

or, in my case, something smaller.

I have been hunting for somewhere to live - no, I have not found anywhere yet. At present I am living in the house I shared with the Senior Cat. It was his home and the only reason I lived there was to care for him and my mother when she was alive.  Had it not been for the Black Cat the Senior Cat would have been able to leave me a life interest in the property but that has not been possible. I need to move.

I also contributed my fair share to the household expenses but, as I don't have the major expense of a car, I have managed to save something. Middle Cat and I have been hunting. There are two major websites which provide "property alerts" for places within my price range that might also cover the other issues I need to address. Middle Cat knows a real estate agent who is also watching the market for us.

We went and looked at a place yesterday. In terms of location it would be excellent. It is close to local shops, doctor, library and train. Those things are important if you are not a very mobile sort of cat. I could pedal to all those places. 

There are two bedrooms, one of which could easily be turned into a study/workroom. There were some minor issues, such as the lighting, which could be fixed. (The lights would have been very dim at night which is not a good idea for an aging cat.) 

Middle Cat and I explored. We opened doors and drawers, knocked on walls, tried windows and looked around the two metre square garden.

And then we had a look at the kitchen. Not big but we did not expect big. It looked good - except for one thing. There was no cook top. We looked at each other and burst out laughing.

The place currently belongs to a professional man who is about to retire to somewhere on the south coast. He has been living there for almost forty years. He has managed without anything to cook on all these years. He apparently took the stove out when he moved in and has managed on a small microwave and a sort of tiny bench top oven.  Somehow he has survived.

Would it be very "sexist" of me to suggest that a woman might have done something more after all these years? 

Sunday 16 April 2023

The disappearance of the Beaumont children

has never been solved. 

Those of you in other parts of the world probably won't be aware of the disappearance of three young siblings in 1966. They had gone to the beach - alone - and they never returned.

Now for three children to go to the beach alone at that time was not unusual. There would almost certainly have been people around who knew them.  Of course it would be considered highly irresponsible now. Any parent allowing three young children to do that would be up before the authorities for abuse and neglect but this was almost sixty years ago and things really were different then. There were a great many more people out walking. Not as many people owned cars. Many other parents did the same thing. We children roamed the streets alone. Children went home when they felt hungry or someone else's mother told them the time.

So, how did three children disappear? It is one of the great unsolved mysteries in this state. It is not the only unsolved mystery but it is one which has haunted anyone who cares at all. 

I mention it now because the media has just made the death of their father public. Their mother died several years ago. The couple had separated before then. It is hardly surprising. Neither parent married again. That is hardly surprising either. According to the press they lived "quietly". The father was said to be particularly quiet and retiring. I have sometimes wondered what his life must have been like.

They endured weeks of publicity, often negative publicity for allowing the children to do what children did back then. Their lives were investigated and dissected, allegations were made and then retracted as new allegations were made. It was front page news for weeks as the police made exhaustive inquiries. 

I cannot comprehend how they managed at all. Over the years interest in the case would be reignited from time to time. Each time it must have increased the sheer horror of it all. There was the Dutch clairvoyant who claimed to have some sort of knowledge. Nothing came of it. There were others who claimed similar things. At one time we were told the children were thought to be alive and in another state. That seemed unbelievably cruel to me. A few short years ago there was another dig on a factory site - nothing came of it.

And all that time the parents were enduring the unimaginable horror of losing not just one but three children and not knowing what had become of them. They must have wondered every time there was a knock on the door or the phone rang. Christmas and the birthdays of the children would never have been the same. Seeing other families celebrate these things must have been almost unbearably hard.

Losing a child, any child, would be hard enough but losing three is beyond my comprehension. It would be far, far worse when you did not know what had happened to them.

Both parents lived long lives. That seems strange and yet not so strange. It was almost certainly because they had never quite given up hope that the three children might walk in the door. It might have been because they silently believed that, if they lived long enough, they would find out what had happened.

How can three children just disappear like that? Even now someone must know something even if they are not aware of knowing what they do. Will we ever know? It does not seem likely. I just wish we had been able to do something for their parents.  

Saturday 15 April 2023

Remember the mini-skirt?

I am old enough to remember the mini-skirt but I never wore one. I never wore a maxi-skirt either. The closest I came to "psychedelic" colours was a second hand t-shirt my mother "tie-dyed" in an attempt to cover the stains.

There was a "dress code" at the teacher training college I attended.  Any girl wearing trousers of any sort or a mini-skirt or anything else considered "inappropriate" would be reprimanded and advised and there would be a (black) mark on her record. That was not what stopped me. 

I had two dresses in which to go to college. They were both made from "remnants" of fabric found in the "bargain basement" of a major department store. One remnant had cost 95c and the other $1.20. There was just enough fabric to make plain "a-line" garments which, very daringly, ended the regulation "two inches above the knee". Most of the other girls had more clothes than I did but, like mine, they were mostly made at home. We had the cheap chain store mass produced garments by then but they were not considered good enough for college. People still sewed as a matter of course.

Looking back on this now I wonder at the way we just accepted the dress regulations - especially when the "Dean of Women", who was also in charge of "Physical Education" got around most of the time in a comfortable track suit.

So Mary Quant was someone most of my fellow female students found fascinating and quite, quite daring. The girls doing Home Economics would try designing similar things. If they made them they made them at home. The rest of us saw the sketches.

I confess I was not terribly interested in any of this. Given the choice I would have worn trousers. Skirts are a nuisance if you rely on pedal power.  I did observe however. One of my fellow students was "caught" one weekend wearing a mini-mini skirt. It barely covered the essential parts. She might have been at a social event not in any way related to the college but she was "informed" it was "unacceptable". I often wonder what happened to her. I somehow doubt she went on to a career in teaching. She was there because, like so many others, she wasn't quite sure what to do with her life. 

And then one of the girls came to college one day in a patchwork skirt. She had made it herself, probably with some help from her grandmother. Her grandmother, a dressmaker by profession, helped her make her other clothes and the rest of us were envious. The patchwork skirt was different, very different. It was absolutely in keeping with the regulations but it was eye-catching. Mary Quant designs had nothing on that skirt. 

It fitted perfectly.T... wore it with style. "That must have cost a bit," I remember someone saying as T.... walked off to a lecture.

I smiled to myself. In it were two small pieces of fabric left over from my two dresses. T... had collected pieces from all over the place and made the skirt. It had cost her 30c for the piece of fabric she had used as a backing. The zip was one I had found in my grandmother's old sewing box, the button from her button box. I had given them to T... to use.  We never said a word to the other girls.

I saw T... recently. She still makes her own clothes, still dresses with style. People think she spends a lot on her clothes but she doesn't. She never cared for the mini-skirt though. "It doesn't use enough fabric to be useful," she used to say.

Perhaps she was right. It was daring at the time but it went out. It never looked comfortable.

I think I will stick to trousers. 

Friday 14 April 2023

Road rage seems to be

"part of life" now.

I encountered some yesterday - in a lopsided sort of way. At least, I suppose it was "road rage".

Now let it be said here, I usually ride on the footpath. It is legal to ride on footpaths here and, providing you watch out for vehicles coming out of driveways, it is as safe as anything else. Naturally one also watches out for pedestrians. You do not try to run down the elderly and slow moving, the disabled, the adults with young or anyone else using the footpaths as they should be used.

No, I was on the road. I was on the road because the footpath was not passable. There was "work" going least there were three men peering into a hole, piles of dirt, a yellow safety fence, orange witch hats and a few tools. 

I had detoured onto the road but had to go some distance past the work lorry, a van and several cars. Before I reached the point where I could even consider returning to the footpath a car pulled in ahead of me - just where I meant to return to said footpath. 

A head came out and yelled at me. I was told to get off the road. I had no business to be there. I wasn't registered. There was a good deal more along the same lines. The head produced a mobile phone. He was going to call the police.

There was more in that vein. I couldn't safely move back into the traffic flow because I was concerned  he might try to run me down if I tried to pass him. I couldn't go back either.  He appeared to take a photograph. There was not much I could do about that either. Then he said for the second time he was calling the police.

"Okay, go ahead. I'll wait for them," I said as calmly as I could. I was not breaking any law and I knew the police were not going to do any sort of search for me. If they happened to come across us he was going to be the one in trouble, quite serious trouble. 

He drove off. He was using one hand. His other hand was holding his phone as he spoke. 

"You handled that okay," a voice behind me said. It was one of the workmen. He had come up behind me. They must have heard the shouting and one of them had come to check. It was nice of them.

"Thanks. It was a bit..." I shrugged and pedalled back on to the footpath. 

Much further down the long straight road I could see the car which had stopped. Did I go around the corner and avoid it or did I pedal on the way I had intended? I pedalled on. No, I was not feeling in the least bit brave but I tried to tell myself nothing was going to happen. I had every right to be where I was.

The car was illegally parked. The driver was sitting in it talking on the phone. I pedalled past. He shouted at me again.

If I was good at that sort of thing I might have been tempted to take a photograph myself and send it to the police. However it would not have been a wise move. 

I just hope he goes on using his phone while driving, gets caught and catches a fine. That would give me some satisfaction.  

Thursday 13 April 2023

We need to "diversify" our trade?

I was surprised to read our Foreign Minister is saying that. Why on earth would we want to diversify. We have a major trading partner. We really don't need to concentrate on anything else. Oh, we can throw a few crumbs in other directions perhaps but we really don't need to trade with anyone else.

No, of course I don't believe that. I have been saying for years that we really do need to diversify. The Senior Cat said it and so did others. The idea that you would put all your trading eggs in one basket alarmed us. 

Trade with China looked as if it was going to be easy. They were eager to get what we had to offer. We could get things cheaply from them. There were sneaky Communist leanings in the government of the day. Nothing was said too loudly because Communism was not considered acceptable by many but the leanings were there. They were used. 

We would "become part of the Asian region". We would concentrate business in Asia. It was a growing market. It would mean making sure the items we exported were what they wanted, that we imported their more cheaply made items and that we taught Asian languages in schools - mostly Japanese and Chinese. 

And we almost forgot the rest of the world existed. Yes, there were a few hardy souls who were trying to do business with Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas. Those hardy souls were few and far between. They were not particularly successful. Government grants were not available for the likes of them.

My nephews here went to a school where Chinese was compulsory. That they came from a family where most adults spoke Cypriot-Greek and there was a mix of other European languages thrown in was beside the point. The government wanted people who could speak Chinese.  My nephew and niece in another state were informed they would, like it or not, be doing Japanese. None of them speak Chinese or Japanese. One of them can remember enough Chinese to be polite but not because he trades with China. 

We all talked about it once. The two descended from Cypriots can speak a minimal amount of Greek - probably a little more than their cousins but not much. One of them can remember some polite phrases in Chinese - and he was usually second placed in his form. The other two say they can remember nothing. They come to me if they need help with anything. "Who do we ask?" They don't need Chinese or Japanese but they have asked about French because they were going on holiday in a French speaking location in the Pacific.

They don't need Chinese or Japanese because business is conducted largely in English - or, sometimes, French. A few polite phrases will go a long way towards initial pleasant relations but business relations will often involve more than one country. Even inside China not everyone uses the same form of Chinese. It might have been "simplified" but China is a vast country and there are equally vast language variations.

All this has been happening while we have been ignoring Hindi, Spanish, Arabic and Portuguese - all of which have well over 200m speakers. Even Indonesian - which might be considered an "Asian" language - has not had the consideration Chinese and Japanese have had.

Of course we can't teach everything in schools. Students cannot learn everything.  We might get away with not teaching Hindi because English is a second language in India. We cannot get away any longer without teaching Spanish and Arabic and the potential for trade with Brazil is so great we cannot ignore Portuguese either. But we don't have the resources to teach those things. Unless the government changes the Asia-centric approach and accepts the need to diversify what is taught in schools any attempt to diversify trade may be doomed to failure.

Our Foreign Minister is of Chinese-Malay heritage. She may speak Bahasa Melayu and Hakka Chinese but she apparently does not speak French. I wonder how she gets on at all those international meetings where, if English is not being spoken, then French is being spoken.  

Yes, we need to diversify - and we need to start with language.

Wednesday 12 April 2023

The Port Arthur massacre

is trending on Twitter and I see some of the usual conspiracy nuts have come out saying that Martin Bryant is innocent. They are also saying that it was all done in order to introduce gun control laws into this country.

I do not know where those conspiracy nuts come from but I would first like you to imagine this. It is a busy Saturday morning in central London. Yours truly and another student are about to walk into the local post office. The other student actually has her hand on the door when it is thrust open from the other side. Two men rush out....both of them are brandishing guns. One of those guns points right at me. I can still see the dark hole as he knocks me down.

Yes, the local post office had been held up. B... and I were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was also terrifying at the time even though we were probably never in any real danger. Had we been a few minutes earlier and inside when the men arrived it may have been a very different story. It would certainly have been a far more dangerous situation.  As it was we spent weeks not sleeping well and being startled by any loud noises. My coordination, never very good, was even worse for a time. We gradually recovered but I have never forgotten.

Years later and I am back here in a meeting. Reports of a shooting are coming in on the news feed of one of the journalists present. He excuses himself. A little later he comes back. He is looking rather pale.

Someone asks him if he is okay and he shakes his head. "There's been a big shooting in cousin....he's okay but...." This is a hardened journalist speaking. 

Thirty-five people were killed by Martin Bryant and twenty-three more were injured. He shot as many people as he could and quickly as he could. There are people alive today who bear the inner and outer scars of what he did. They will never fully recover. 

Our Prime Minister at the time acted swiftly. He risked his life to speak at a rally where he announced the legislation which banned the use of the sort of weapons Martin Bryant used. There were people who were strongly opposed to those measures. They threatened him. He faced other threats, the likely loss of the next election and much more. The Prime Minister stayed firm. The legislation passed. Ever since there have been people agitating for the return of those weapons.

Why? We have had two mass shootings since that appalling event in 1996. Horrifying though they are it also has to be said they were related to families, not strangers. Of course we could have another but the gun laws will make it difficult for someone to get the sort of weapon which makes it more likely. We don't need guns. 

Last night our SBS news service reported another mass shooting in America - the 134th this year.  I am thankful I do not live there. 

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Parliament has gone "gender neutral"

or so we are told. Apparently "his" and "her", "she" and "he" are out. These will be replaced by "they" and "them". 

Time and money are being wasted on yet another woke idea in state parliament.

It makes me angry. To my way of thinking "gender" is not a "debate" at all. It is a fashionable issue at present and there are some who are using it to make themselves feel important. They want to be seen as "different" and want the rest of us to use the language they choose in order to have some measure of control over us. 

I was talking to a neighbour yesterday. We were putting out the bins that get collected very early. He mentioned the debate to me and we were discussing it when his older child came out to put something else in. He looked from his father to me and then back again as he realised  what we had been discussing and I asked, "What are you T..., a boy or a girl."

He gave me a look of disgust, "A boy of course." Then he realised I had absolutely no doubts about his gender and he said, "I think there are just males and females. Mum explained about gametes and stuff." (His mother is a doctor.)

"And what about people who are male or female and want to be the other thing?" I asked.

"I don't think they do want to be. They just think they do. Most of them just need to grow up. I mean there might be someone who really, really needs not to be what they are but I don't think there are heaps of them."

He went off and his father said, "Well, that's sorted."

T... is fortunate he has a parent who can explain such things to him. I wonder about all those who do not have parents who can explain in the plain English T...'s mother undoubtedly used. 

To me "they" and "them" are plurals. They are not a means to get around distinguishing people by gender. I grew up at a time when men were still expected to open doors for women and show them what amounts to common courtesies. That might be considered to be old fashioned now. Of course I will open the door for someone less able whatever their sex but I like the idea that people were perhaps more aware the needs of those around them. 

Trying to stamp out "gender" is not it seems just about trying to get around saying words which identify as male or female. It is trying to make us less aware of ourselves and those around us unless we conform to their point of view.


Monday 10 April 2023

"Where are the bees?"

one of the elderly residents asked. She is confused. We tried to explain but she was still worried about getting stung.

I was in the "lounge" area of one of the local nursing homes. There had been the all important phone call earlier in the morning to say that J... was feeling up to doing the even more important job of drawing the raffle tickets out of the "hat". "one hundred and one and two months and eleven days" - well make that twelve days now. He was born on the island where the bees are. It was quite by chance I found him and learned his history. He is still alert. He certainly knew about the bees. His father occasionally helped to care for them and young J.... went along to watch.  They left the island when J... was about to start school. 

"Long time ago. It's all different now," he told me. He went back several times in the course of his work. "But I haven't been there for years...I'm too old to be doing anything like that."

Perhaps he is. I wonder if he would even recognise the place. I am not sure I would. Brother Cat took his children once. They did all the tourist things and probably managed to learn a good deal but it was different even when they went - and that is some time ago now.

But the bees are still there and they are more important than ever. We were prepared to have J... draw the raffle. Their simple "church" service over the residents sat around in a circle and listened with varying degrees of interest as I explained what we had done and why I had asked J... to do the job. Then the staff member in charge produced the paper bag "hat" and J....managed to get one ticket out. I could see it was an effort but he gave me a smile. I made a call to the mobile number on the ticket and told the voice at the other end.

"It's not my ticket. It's I....'s. He will be thrilled. Do you remember? You said something to him in his language... I didn't understand."

I do remember. He was a very shy African refugee who gave me $2 from his very limited funds because, he told me very softly, "bees are important". I asked him where he had come from and then thanked him in Swahili - his first language. It is one of the few words I know and can remember and being able to say "thank you"  never seemed more important.

J... managed to get another ticket out but the winner was not answering the phone so I left a message. No doubt she will be in touch later. I really don't care very much at this point because I... came with the woman who answered the first call I made. He was obviously feeling overwhelmed. 

"Jambo. Furaha?" I asked. ("Hello. Happy?") His eyes lit up at that. They left a little later with I... clutching his prize blanket tightly. As he went to get into the car he called out softly again, "Asante."

Asante sana I.... I know you will value that blanket more than most.  

Sunday 9 April 2023

Drawing a raffle prize

is on the agenda this morning. I am pedalling over to an aged care complex not too far from here to get it done.

One of the staff there has just contacted me to inform me that J...., my one hundred and one year old celebrity, is "still keen to do it". It makes me a very happy cat. I am purring gently as I write this. 

It has been a long road to this point. We started the project before the pandemic. It was the year they had the bushfires, not the pandemic. Somehow it seems a very long time ago indeed.

What happened? Well there was a major bushfire on an island we lived on a long time ago. The Senior Cat was in charge of the biggest school there, a school with many problems. The island had many problems. It was not the tourist destination it is now. Getting there was much more difficult too. Parts of it were very remote indeed, perhaps still are.

But the island also had the bees, those all important Ligurian bees. Those bees are now very, very important indeed. When the fires wiped out so much of the vegetation the bees use and many of the hives it could have been catastrophic. Something needed to be done. The islanders do not give up easily and their Wildlife Network has been working steadily to restore the flora as well as the fauna ever since. 

There is not much urban dwellers can do to help in a practical sense so Handicrafts people at our state show decided to try and raise some money instead. It would not be much but we wanted to alert people to the problem so they would be more willing to help in other ways when asked. 

And then of course there were two years with no Show for the state - all because of the pandemic. We went on making blanket squares and putting them together. There was one special blanket, designed by yours truly, with themed squares. There was another beautifully embroidered with wild flowers. There were more plainer blankets. Last year we  raffled off the embroidered blanket. We saved the themed blanket and took it to the Fibrefeast event two weeks ago. In between S....,who did the embroidery, has sold more tickets and made sure both the themed one and the second prize (also put together by her) were packaged nicely. They are ready to go to their new owners. I will know who they are a little later this morning.

We have raised another $402. From a one-day event plus a little here and there that's almost as much as we raised over a week at the Showground last year. (I think we might have raised much more if last year's had been displayed differently.) Am I pleased? I think so. If the truth is told I am relieved. We did what we set out to do. It was a lot of work. I am grateful for the support we had from the people who run the Fibrefeast. I am grateful to everyone involved, especially S.... for her work in putting together and embroidering the squares which needed "something".

It is the end of a big project but.... I have ideas. I hate, loathe and detest pattern writing but I might just make my patterns into a proper booklet and then.... 

I think I will go and see J.... and get this finished. 

Saturday 8 April 2023

"I wonder how Scoey is...."

was something the Senior Cat would say every so often. I would wonder too.

"Scoey" was not his actual name of course but it was how he was known.  He was a "first cousin once removed" to the Senior Cat - my second cousin. He was some years younger than I am. 

His death notice is in this morning's paper. It comes as no surprise as he had dementia. The medical profession said it was brought on by more than one knock to the head in an adventurous childhood and then the playing of contact sports. It changed him of course. We lost contact and only knew of the dementia because we saw him at the funeral of another cousin several years ago. He was there, knew who the Senior Cat was but could no longer hold a conversation. 

Dementia is a horrible thing. The people around the person with dementia are losing the person slowly.  The Senior Cat's closest friend is in a nursing home and doesn't recognise his wife or his children. I have seen other people I know go the same way. It is like a slow, lingering death.

Scoey really didn't need to have it happen to him. He had a rough start in life as it was. His mother died of TB contracted during her war service years.  Somehow she managed to survive, marry and then bear a child almost a decade later. It was not really diagnosed until she fell ill again with the same symptoms as before in the first year of young Scoey's life. Mother and son were living on the dairy farm with Scoey's grandparents. His mother died when he had just turned one. His father was away at sea at the time. Scoey lived with his grandparents for the first eight years of his life. Then his father came home from sea. He remarried and took Scoey away from the farm. I don't think Scoey ever recovered from that. His father died when Scoey was in his teens and I think that made it even harder.

Scoey was a fiercely loyal supporter of the clan. When we had the first big clan gathering or reunion - largely held to get the Senior Cat's generation together - Scoey was there to help. He wanted those he considered to be his real family right around him. Knowing his history he got plenty of support - after all, what are clans for? He became part of our lives in an "in and out" sort of way. 

His job was working those massive cranes - the really big cranes they have on multi-storey building sites - and other dinosaur like pieces of equipment. The generation down from me were in awe of his skill. It was skill too. He could a giant slab of building material exactly into place first time around. He was in huge demand for that and went all over the country when there was something particularly difficult to be done. In between he played a lot of sport.

Scoey married and had two girls. His wife was a teacher. We liked her too. She understood how much he needed his "family", his clan. C....supported him in all matters relating to the clan. 

Then tragedy struck again. C... was diagnosed with cancer and died before she was sixty.  Despite the support from his girls it was clear Scoey was not coping well. They put it down to grief at first but then there were other incidents and the diagnosis of dementia was made. Yes, he may have developed dementia anyway. Anyone can develop dementia but this was said to be hastened by all the physical knocks Scoey took while playing on the farm and playing sport. 

I think it was also brought on by his childhood. He loved his grandparents dearly and being taken from them at age eight to live with the father he had barely seen and didn't really know unsettled him. He needed his family.

Perhaps that is why, for as long as he was driving, he would sometimes call in to see the Senior Cat. He would sometimes arrive around lunchtime on his way from one job to another. He never expected me to give him something to eat. He would just bring in his own food and I would put the kettle on and bring out the "other large mug" for him. Scoey and the Senior Cat would sit there and talk about all manner of things. A lot of it was the "remember when" sort of conversation. Scoey needed that. We missed him when he could no longer get here and we could no longer go to him.


Friday 7 April 2023

"Proving I am aboriginal"

would be easy. All I need to do is tick the box on the form which says I am. My complaint would probably be dealt with almost immediately. I would not have to wait.

I am not "aboriginal" of course. My ancestors came from Scotland. The box which now appears on almost every form I come across is something I find offensive. There is usually an alternative between "aboriginal", something else (sometimes more than one thing) and "prefer not to say". I tick the latter if I am not permitted to ignore the question altogether. I do that because I do not believe I should be treated any differently due to the colour (or the supposed colour) of my skin.

One of the leading proponents of the "Voice to Parliament" was on the news complaining that questions had been raised about how aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would be identified for the purposes of the Voice. He wanted to know whether people were supposed to get tattoos. It was an appalling thought. I felt cold at the very idea.

But, we do have a problem. If the referendum results in a change to the Constitution so that there is a Voice who will be eligible to be on the proposed Committee? I don't think it is enough for people to simply say they "identify".  Where do you draw the line? There has to be some means of identifying those who will be eligible. If there isn't then why should other aboriginal people accept them as their representatives?

It is a question the government is refusing to address. To address it would bring into question the entire proposal and everything which has led to the point where we are now. It would raise serious questions about why and how a man like Bruce Pascoe can claim to be "aboriginal" and how the claims he makes in "Dark Emu" can be verified. We would need to ask questions about how others have come to be involved and why just one ancestor is of greater importance than more than one other. Who are they really representing? What is their purpose in being involved?

The proposal for change is not, as the PM likes to maintain, "modest". If it succeeds there will be a seismic shift in the way we are governed. At very least we need to know who is going to have some sort of special right to be involved in the decisions which affect all of us.

Thursday 6 April 2023

The Voice to Parliament finally

has a slim chance of being actually debated. It is only a slim chance and much of it will depend on the media deciding to actually allow it now that the Opposition has decided to oppose it.

The "Yes" campaign has had a dream run so far. Anyone daring to even suggest there might be reasons to vote "No" has been heavily criticised as "racist" and much more.  Even the serious concerns of constitutional lawyers have been met with ridicule and criticism. 

And the Opposition is not saying "No" to recognition. They are saying "No" to placing an unnecessary, racist and divisive set of words into the Constitution. 

Let me say two things here. First, if the government had decided to split the question into two parts we may have got somewhere. I believe that adding a preamble to the Constitution acknowledging there were people here before white settlement would have got overwhelming support. It would have done a great deal. 

Second, if that fails it will be because the "No" campaign has at least managed to explain the consequences of introducing a racial element into the Constitution.  I don't know anyone who is opposed to our aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people having ways to make themselves heard about the issues which directly affect them. Those opposed to the Voice are just concerned about putting those ways into the Constitution where they could have unexpected and unintended consequences. Some are even concerned it could actually hold back the very people the words are intended to help.

So far the media has allowed almost no debate. Even today the news the Opposition would be opposing the Voice was relegated to page three. The antics of a former President of another country and the sale of part of a large business empire were on the front page. There is one paragraph in the editorial - a paragraph criticising the decision. We need much more debate. If it results in a "No" vote then it will not be because people in this country are "racist". Splitting the vote into two parts would have shown otherwise.

Unless something unexpected happens in parliament over the next few weeks then we will have missed an opportunity to do good and may yet find we have done more harm. 

Wednesday 5 April 2023

The anniversary of a death

is something I am acutely aware of this morning. At almost this exact moment this time last year I was pedalling over to see Middle Cat and give her the news we had been expecting. I had already phoned Brother Cat and, because we knew she would not answer the phone, left a message for the Black Cat. I had said "goodbye" to the Senior Cat the day before. He had told me to go home. He said he was tired. I knew all that but it did not help at all.

I could barely see the road because I had to keep blinking. It was very quiet, too early for the heavy traffic to have started. I saw one person I knew out walking his dog. He had lost his wife some weeks beforehand. D... stopped me and asked if I was all right. I didn't need to tell him what had happened and I knew he meant was I all right to get where I was going without some help. If I had said no he would have walked with me the rest of the way. D... is that sort of person.

I think I somehow managed to shake my head but nod at the same time and I let out a sort of strangled "thank you". Then I pedalled on. I was over the railway line. The pedestrian lights on the main road turned almost immediately in my favour.  I didn't know whether to be grateful I did not need to wait or resent it because it would get me there sooner. Then it was pedal up the road which veers left. Middle Cat lives towards the top of that road. I was taking deep breaths, trying to stay calm. 

I have a key to Middle Cat's house - as she has one to this house. I was going to let myself in and wait if they were not up but the back door was not locked. I let myself in. Silence. I went up to the bedroom thinking my BIL had gone to work early. No, they were both in bed. It was a curious thing but they had not locked the back door that night, something they never leave unlocked at night.

What followed is a blur. It always will be. I know I managed to say what I needed to say but I cannot remember the rest clearly. I do know a little later I heard my BIL phoning his boss and saying he would be late into work - and his boss telling him not to worry if he did not get there at all. 

We were immensely fortunate we had planned for this day. The Senior Cat was extraordinarily practical about it all. Months before he had sat there one afternoon and told me what he wanted as a funeral service. It was typical he should have thought of all this. "It won't be for me," he told me, "It's for other people. I don't want them sitting there staring at my coffin." We had his ashes instead. We had it in the church he had attended for forty-one years. There have been several priests in that time. The current one was a regular visitor and knew full well that the Senior Cat's beliefs were heavily influenced by his paternal grandmother's views about "practical Christianity" rather than the ritual. They spent most of the time talking about woodwork, a hobby the Senior Cat had encouraged him to take up, saying often, "It's a very suitable hobby for a priest."

I phoned D.... and told him. It would have been his regular visiting day. "Do you want me to come now?" was his immediate offer. I told him no because there were other people expecting him and he knew we already had plans. I had written the eulogy and then passed it on to Brother Cat to do work on. It was the hardest thing I have ever written, far harder than the one for our mother. We were not close to her in the same way. She never discussed those things. This was so different. How do you tell others about the essence of the man who helped to bring you into the world, whose genuinely unconditional love and support had always been there? It never wavered. 

His funeral had to encompass more than one faith and many people.  We had to delay it for some days. Brother Cat had to come from another state, the Black Cat from yet another. Other people had to be accommodated. Some had already been asked to participate and others asked to be included. We had Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other faiths and lack of faiths in the church. I know what happened that day too but I remember very little of it. 

Perhaps it is a way of my memory protecting me. Today I am conscious, very conscious, that the Senior Cat has not been part of my life for a year - and yet is still part of it every day. I miss him but I try to tell myself he would not want to be here in that fragile state. We were just so fortunate to have him at all.

Tuesday 4 April 2023

So they can't get teachers in country schools?

 I was "taught" physics by someone who was, by his own description, "one chapter ahead of (me) in the book". He admitted this to me one day when I had asked a question in class.

Now I need to explain here that I was a student in what is known as an "area" school. These all-age schools are rural schools where most children come in by bus each day. Some of those buses travel long distances with children being picked up on the roadside at the point closest to their homes on remote farms.

There are not as many students in these schools. At the secondary level it means that teachers need to teach in more than one subject area and often take on duties in other subject areas as well.

The Senior Cat was given the task of setting one such area school up before he was moved on to sort out some very serious problems in another. In neither school had the secondary staff been trained to teach the most basic subjects such as maths, sciences or English. They did not even have degrees. They were there because that is where the Education Department sent them - you agreed to teach anywhere in the state back then - and these teachers were considered to be "good enough" for rural schools. 

It infuriated the Senior Cat. Brother Cat and I were old enough to understand some of the problems he faced trying to run these schools. Looking back it surprises me how we never said anything about any of the teachers who went in and out of his office and our house with their problems. I went into the staff room one afternoon and found one sobbing teacher being consoled by another. "Cat won't say anything." I never said a word, not even to my parents. I knew they had problems.

And thus it was with the physics teacher. He had "done" physics at school - to the year ahead of where I was then. He was in no way qualified to teach it. He had not done particularly well in the exam at the end of his year. Here he was trying to teach us. 

I didn't like physics or chemistry or maths. I was no science student. There was no subject choice. The PEB stream (public examination) was aimed at boys and it was assumed they would study science. I might have felt differently if there had been good teachers but I think I would still have enjoyed history more than physics.

And now they are saying they still cannot get well-qualified teachers for these rural schools. They are saying they cannot get them even when they offer "incentives" like an extra $10,000 a year. As most of that would be swallowed up in tax and the extra expenses of teaching in a remote area I am not surprised. There is so much more expected of them "out in the bush".  The Senior Cat was expected to be not just the person who ran the school but one of the teachers (he taught us English) and the local minister of religion, the marriage guidance counsellor, the financial adviser, the justice of the peace and much more. All the additional roles were never there in the job description. They just happened.

While urban teachers were getting mortgages and buying their own homes rural teachers were renting and even living in caravans. In one place we had no running water or electricity until the Senior Cat helped to bring the tiny pipe which ran across the surface of the ground into the house for water and put in a 32v power plant which was barely enough to provide lighting so he and our mother could prepare lessons at night. Teachers went because they had no choice. Now the union is strong enough that there is more choice - although perhaps not enough or too much depending on how you see it.

If they really want good teachers in rural schools - and yes there should be good teachers in rural schools - then they are going to have to do a great deal more than offer some extra money. They are going to want outstanding facilities and, at very least, the same level of support their city counterparts are getting.

It won't happen. Journalists will continue to write small pieces for the media and students won't get the same facilities. 

The odd thing is that some of us have ended up as doctors, teachers, solicitors, researchers and more....I might even have done more science.

Monday 3 April 2023

Suppression orders or the right to know?

Our court system is back in the spotlight with plans to review the system under which "suppression orders" are granted. For anyone unfamiliar with the idea a "suppression order" can be requested and may be granted in order to prevent information becoming public knowledge. It can be in place for a short period or it can be permanent. There are almost always very good reasons for such orders.

Years ago, before the advent of social media as we have it today, the son of a very senior public servant committed suicide. He was alleged to have raped a girl and it was thought this allegation was what caused him to commit suicide. 

The word was all over the tiny section I was working in at the time but nobody else seemed to know about it. We all kept our mouths shut. We knew there was a suppression order was in place. It never reached the pages of newspaper. Nothing was said on air.

Nor should it have been. There was no truth in the allegation at all. It was made out of jealousy, something the girl admitted. Without a suppression order the boy's parents would have found the situation even harder to handle. I saw his mother recently. She is in a nursing home near here. We chat occasionally.  Only once has she mentioned her son and then it was to say, "We were so grateful to all of you for saying nothing."

It was none of our business. What goes on in court often is none of our business. We are all supposed to be equal under the law but the reality is that we are not. If you have money you can pay for the best legal assistance around. It can make an immense difference to the outcome. If you are a public figure though it is likely that any misdeed or alleged misdeed will become known very rapidly. Many people will say that is the price you have to be prepared to pay if you are a public figure. But what if you are not the one responsible? What if you are the son or daughter or brother or sister? What if, as has happened, you are a cousin? Where does the negative publicity stop? Why are we somehow seen as involved or, even worse, responsible? 

Isn't this why we need suppression orders...and don't those suppression orders need to be ongoing?

It is said that courts should be open. That is the way we can be as certain as we can that justice is served. I agree with that. Unless there is a need for protection then courts should, for the most part, be open. Anyone should be able to go and listen to proceedings. If there is something wrong they should be able to speak about it. 

There is however a vast difference between that and what is often called "trial by media". It can lead to the wrong outcome. Juries are not immune to public opinion. They won't always understand expert evidence. It has nothing to do with intelligence or lack of it rather a lack of knowledge and a natural human desire to sympathise with someone who has been labelled "victim".  If suppression orders also suppress public opinion then it may well be that the accused person will get a fairer hearing.

Whatever the outcome of the inquiry into the use of suppression orders we cannot afford to do without them entirely. That would lead to trial by the court of public opinion.


Sunday 2 April 2023

Daylight saving has ended

at last. The mornings have been getting darker and darker. They will of course be almost dark even now.

There is something wrong with daylight saving at this latitude. All sorts of excuses were made for it but I wonder whether any of them were really as good as they kept telling us.

There was the "well now the volunteer firefighters can train in daylight" one that really interested me. Apparently there are no fires at night. Really? The crew I knew then trained in the early evenings and at weekends - plenty of daylight even without daylight saving.

No the reality is that daylight saving is there for sport and a few cultural events during the Festival. Sport of course takes priority over every other form of entertainment. The Senior Cat's cousin phoned me "remind (me) that the footy is on Channel 7 tonight". He knows full well that I am not in the least bit interested.  And yes, they do play football at night under lights because the most important (in their eyes) games are played during winter. 

For a short time however I will make the most of the fact that I can uncurl from my sleeping mat, stretch, yawn and start the day in something close to daylight. It won't feel quite so much like the middle of the night if someone wants to talk to me at six in the morning. 

I wonder if daylight saving makes people more aware of the seasons? Here the changes are less noticeable and less dramatic than they are in some parts of the world. We do get some autumnal colours in the trees but there are plenty of others which do not change in any particularly noticeable way. Some gardens barely change - particularly those which have gone "native". I don't much care for "native". It isn't right for the urban environment. It looks dry and dusty in the summer. We need some green in our lives.

I have thought of all these things this morning because I need to find some green wool. We don't see colour the same way here as people do somewhere like England. Our hot and dry climate produces hot and dry colours. I don't find them very attractive but the softer and cooler colours of the English climate would also look wrong here. I know the green wool would be wrong for this climate, wrong if I made an entire garment of it. It will be fine to pass on to a friend who needs to mend a sock. She was the one who said, "The socks look wrong here but they are so nice and warm." 

I might help her make red socks this year.  

Saturday 1 April 2023

"Psychic healing" on the NDIS?

Add in "tarot cards", "crystal wand making", "runes", "chakra" and other alternative therapies - all apparently available - and you might be adding quite a bit to the $35.8bn bill for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. 

Does it pass the pub test? Almost certainly not. There was just one thing on the list of alternatives that I thought might have some real value for a very limited number of people. It was something that would also need to be very carefully handled by an expert - meditation.

Anyone who has tried, especially anyone who has tried and persisted and does meditate on a regular basis, will tell you that genuine meditation is not something that comes easily. I have no doubt at all there are people who find meditation helpful. Whether  guidance about it should be paid for through the NDIS is something else entirely. 

I do know one person who suffers from excruciatingly painful muscle spasms. He did get genuine help from a medically qualified person who teaches meditation techniques. It hasn't cured his condition, nothing will do that. What it has done is taught him how to handle the spasms and overcome them more quickly. He didn't get NDIS support for that. He sought it out for himself so he could go on working from home in his role as an accountant. 

All the other alternative therapies listed in the article in this morning's paper are not things I would want to access. I don't want to go to a "reading" of the tarot cards or surround myself with crystals. If other people want to do that it is entirely up to them but I do not believe the NDIS should be paying for it. 

The NDIS was supposed to be there to pay for the essentials of daily living. It is supposed to be for things which are "reasonable and necessary". They are supposed to relate to the person's disability and be of value for the money spent. They should be effective and enhance someone's life. 

Long before we had the NDIS there was a child in a school I worked in who was still living at home. Her mother had stopped trying to get her in and out of the bath alone. Discussions were had and a "bath seat" was designed. It was quite expensive. It seemed like a good idea and it was tried. It didn't work in the way which was intended. Fortunately it was not wasted. Further alterations were made and it was used by another family. Under the NDIS they might still be waiting for a bath seat that didn't work because it takes so long to get something like this approved and then made. It is also unlikely that it would have been passed on to someone else. 

The NDIS is simply not working the way it should be. Money is running out in places where it is genuinely needed for day-to-day care. It is why a mother well into her 80's is called up to say, "There is nobody here tonight qualified to feed your daughter. Can you come? We aren't allowed to do it." That happened to H... twice last week. Surely that is more important than "crystal wand making"? 

I want to believe in the NDIS but seeing people access "alternative therapies" makes that difficult.