Monday 31 July 2023

No, you are not "reviving" a language

or even "saving" a "dormant" one. 

I was told yesterday that a good reason to vote "yes" in the upcoming referendum was "because it will save Aboriginal languages". The person telling me this went on, with great enthusiasm, to tell me how they are "reviving Aboriginal languages and saving dormant ones".


I know something about languages and I venture to suggest that this is not how it works. This is in fact something I have known for many years, long before I knew much about languages themselves. My last high school history teacher told us something about this. 

My last year at school was spent at a Lutheran boarding school. It just happened to be the boarding school with a vacancy and I needed to do my final year away from home. I was very unhappy there for a number of reasons but I had an outstandingly good English teacher and another very good history teacher.  

It was the history teacher who told us something about "aboriginal languages". Up to that point the students had been told how much the early Lutheran pastors had done in their attempts to teach the "natives" about Christianity. The students had been told about efforts to "translate the Bible" and teach people in their first languages. 

"You think that's a good thing don't you?" our history teacher asked. There were dutiful nods around the class before he went on, "Well I am going to shock you. What those pastors were told they often got wrong and sometimes they were deliberately told the wrong thing. They were thinking like people who spoke German or English. They were asking the men, not the women. Sometimes the men did not want them to know so they were deliberately telling them something else."

I remember that very, very clearly. I can still see that man standing in front of the class and telling us this. I remember the shocked silence and then one of the boys saying, "That can't be right sir. They wouldn't do that."

Wouldn't they? 

Some of those students came from places on the far west coast of the state. I had lived in one of those places for two years. I remembered even then that we were given different meanings for some of the names we came across. The old Aboriginal man who lived alone not far from the school would shake his head when we asked him for the meanings of some of the names. He spoke an Aboriginal language. I heard him talking to groups who passed through from time to time. He told us we couldn't know because we were not Aboriginal. 

If I sat down to talk to him now I am sure he would tell me that the pastors who went out so determined to spread Christianity had often been misinformed. The pastors were not there to "preserve" a language. They were there to proselytise and using Aboriginal languages were part of the process. 

And, as I have said elsewhere, languages are living things. They have to change and adapt in order to survive the surroundings in which they are found. The idea that we have somehow "revived" the "local indigenous language" is nonsense. We know it was "Kaurna" and there are some words which have survived. Some people claim to be able to speak it but, while they may be speaking something, they are not speaking a language which would have any meaning for the people who were here at white settlement. That language simply does not exist. It cannot be "revived". Even if it could be revived it would not be suitable for use in 2023. It was not a "primitive" language, just a language which was right for the people who used it.  

Still there are people, like the pastors at Lutheran school I attended, who insist that they know about these languages and that they can somehow revive them if they are gone or wake them if they are dormant. They may find out much about them but they can do neither.  It just isn't possible. All we can do is retain a version of a few people do use on an every day basis. We also need to recognise that we may only retain them at the expense of those who use them. If they wish to participate fully in the current or future world then they will need to know English. 

I wish we could revive those languages, that they could survive. We lose so much when they go but please don't tell me that voting "yes" in the upcoming referendum will save those languages. It won't. 

Sunday 30 July 2023

Button making

is an art I have yet to master. I will keep trying because, not so long ago, I stood looking at the buttons in the "untidy" shop which sells haberdashery and there was nothing there that was even remotely suitable for the intended purpose. 

Having stood and stared for some time I went off to another place, a place which sells just fabric - mostly for quilts - and the sort of haberdashery which is used for that or costumes. There was one possible choice there but it wasn't really right. The buttons would be the right colour but they were the wrong size. Sigh....

And then I saw the "cover your own" cards of buttons on the wall behind the other buttons. Could I use those? No. They would not work with what I had knitted. I bought some of the cover your own sort anyway and came home to think. Eventually, in a distant charity shop, a friend found some for me. I had told her of my problem and she had one of those "these might do" moments. They will do. There is no "spare" but said friend also sat there and sewed them on what I had made - sewed them on very tightly indeed. I passed the little jacket on to the little friend for whom I had made it. He lives in a rather chilly part of the state and loves to be outside.

But I thought more about buttons. I have a little heart shaped dangle on the inside of the linen cupboard. It may seem an odd thing to have there. It may seem particularly odd when you realise that what decorates are the buttons that were once put on the fly of men's trousers. Look closely. Look very closely. Yes, that is my grandfather's name on those buttons. He had them made for his tailoring business. The dangle was made by a friend who realised the significance of those buttons.

I have a collection of buttons, mostly useful buttons. Middle Cat knows she can ask for something that "might do for S....'s shirt" and we will look and find something that is a "near enough" match or she will take a button from the bottom and put it higher up before putting the other button at the bottom.  

There are buttons I am saving for specific projects. They are gradually being used. I kept some buttons shaped like pansies for years knowing the right project would come along. The buttons came from a women's collective in South Africa.  I had two sets. One set went on a cardigan for my late friend E... When she died her sister asked if she could take over the cardigan "because I love the buttons".  I wonder what has happened to that now but I put the second set on a vest for me. I have some buttons shaped like sheep from the same place and the wool to go with them. They will go on something for my SIL and we will remember the occasion on which we bought them.

There are buttons which will be reused too. I eventually took the buttons off a cardigan which had been patched and darned until I could no longer justify doing anything but throw it away. The buttons were pewter and I bought them on a brief visit to schools in Norway. They were on the counter in a shop the woman showing me around had stopped to visit. "Come and look," she told me. I looked and found a small reminder that has lasted so many years. I will make another cardigan much like the previous one but this time I will make it in the traditional way. Over the years the buttons have encouraged me to do that. 

But there are buttons that cannot be replaced by anything else either in value or my memory. This morning I am writing this while wearing a cardigan I made from many odds and ends. I can look at the many different coloured stripes and think, "Yes, I made that for... and that one for...and I remember those two I made for..." I brought them altogether with the only wool I bought for it - a charity shop find. Down the front there are ten wooden buttons.They are made from "blackwood" but are actually a rich brown colour. People who see them often comment on them. I love those buttons. They were made by the Senior Cat.


Saturday 29 July 2023

Street libraries

came into being around here during the lock downs associated with the Covid19 pandemic. I have been looking at them ever since. 

Our local library, the most used service in our community, was closed for weeks. (There was a rather complicated process by which you could borrow a book if you knew what you wanted.)The local bookshop was closed. (You could phone in or send an email and, if they happened to have what you wanted, you could go through another rather complicated process to get it.)

What you could not do was browse the shelves in either place. People could not go to church or to any sort of social outing so exchanging books that way was not possible. Occasionally people would leave books in letter boxes for their friends or neighbours when out on the limited amount of physical exercise allowed on the streets. Life was very different.

And, suddenly, we had "street libraries". Some of them were nothing more than a cardboard box of books saying, "Help yourself". Most of them disappeared when the lock downs were over but some have remained.

There is one which has been fitted into the corner of an old "corner shop". There are several shelves and a seat underneath. The usual pleas to keep the place tidy get renewed from time to time. If I happen to be passing (it is not on my normal route) I will stop and look and tidy it. I have put books we no longer want down there. They have always gone when I next look. 

There is another which is an old cupboard. Someone, presumably in the house behind it, opens it each morning. Two local churches have similar arrangements. I also like the one in the next suburb which is shaped like a bird house...I hope it doesn't confuse the birds!

And yes, I have found treasures there. At the beginning of winter I found a manuscript copy of Handel's Messiah. It was well marked, as if someone had used it more than once to go to a "sing it yourself" performance. I have my own copy but I knew someone who wanted another one so I "borrowed" it and put five paperbacks there instead. They had gone before I made return journey about an hour later. 

None of this is bringing in money for authors via "public lending rights" but it is helping people read. I know people who scour these sites before they go on holiday. They then pass the books along to others in caravan parks or leave them in other street libraries or even charity shops. 

And now my good friend H... has told me something else that I might add to one of our local street libraries. I will need to be careful they don't get broken but if I put some unused coffee/tea mugs there perhaps people will use those too? They might. I sorted out some of the excess here. It isn't quite the 82 I helped someone get rid of recently. (They went to a charity shop.) I put them there early this morning.

It's still foggy later this morning but someone might be out walking their dog and stop to look. I'll go and check later.

Friday 28 July 2023

Abolishing our "national day"

out of "respect for the culture and values of our First Nations people" is yet another move by our local council.

It seems our local council is now more about politics than it is about people. It is less about "roads, rates and rubbish" than it is about telling us how we must think and how we must vote.

I have complained elsewhere in this blog about council flying multiple flags that have nothing to do with state or federal government. It is my genuine belief that "rainbow" flags have no place on government buildings. If you want to fly a rainbow flag yourself that's fine. It's up to you but it just isn't appropriate to demand that everyone else supports the flying of it. The same goes for any other flag that is not a state or federal flag and that includes the "indigenous" and "islander" flags. 

Going a step further and abolishing our national day without consulting the rate payers is a step too far. This is not being done out of any genuine respect for "culture and values". It is a political gesture, just as flying the rainbow flag is a political gesture. It is a political gesture in just the same way as this same council is only allowing the "yes" side of the referendum to use council space or council resources. There is no question of any sort of balanced debate being allowed, indeed questions are not being allowed. No, we must all think, believe and act in the same way.

Yes, there are other organisations acting in the same way. It was disappointing to discover that one of the local church groups had refused to allow a debate on the referendum question. Instead the members were, according to my informant, told there was only one acceptable way to vote.

But, our national holiday? I don't have much time for the 26th January. It wouldn't actually matter which date was chosen. I have little time for national holidays of that nature. For too many people it is simply an excuse for a "barbecue and a booze up". It has nothing to do with national pride. 

The idea that it is "insulting" to some people however is a new one. It is an idea that has only become popular as activists have gained greater capacity to make themselves heard. It ranks along with the "Acknowledgment" statements and the "Welcome to Country ceremonies" which didn't even exist when I was at school and are no more traditional than damper was for the original inhabitants. What is more many of those making the loudest noise about all this are the very people who have ancestors who are responsible for the "invasion".

I asked someone who "identifies as Aboriginal" recently about her family.  She has one great-great grandparent who "might" have been but she still "identifies". I know that and she knows that. Her parents don't identify as Aboriginals. Her siblings don't but she does. This is less exceptional than people are led to believe. There are others like her out there. Her entire focus is on "being Aboriginal". She fights against any celebration of nationhood and for the proposed "Voice to Parliament". This is about her politics. It isn't about people. Right now it gives her some power, power to be heard. The idea that she is a member of some sort of repressed minority gives her that sense of power. 

Local councils who are abolishing our national day without reference to rate payers are trying to do the same sort of thing. They want to appear relevant and politically correct rather than do the dull jobs they were elected to do. Perhaps it is time to be rid of that tier of government altogether?


Thursday 27 July 2023

Which language do you speak?

Many regular readers of this blog know that my "day job" is about languages and communicating with each other. I also like to think languages are being preserved and used where it is realistic to do so. I am proud of the fact my ancestors spoke Gaelic. It's a minority language. Preserving it is difficult and costly. There are many people who think no effort should be made to retain it. 

I was thinking about this yesterday as I read a piece about the problem with finding interpreters for some of the aboriginal people in the more remote parts of this country. The person trying to explain this was saying there are more than a hundred languages spoken in one state alone.  

These languages vary wildly in grammatical structure and vocabulary. There are concepts which simply do not exist in those languages. We are also told there are all sorts of "cultural considerations" which need to be taken into account when any communication is taking place. 

It makes the people who speak these languages sound primitive but their communities have (satellite) television and cars. They live in government supplied housing.

Why aren't these people speaking English as well? What has stopped them from being bilingual? What if I suggest it is government policy which has prevented people from learning English? 

"We need to preserve their culture. They have a right to speak their language of choice, their first language." We are told this without any respect for the fact that languages need to change and grow in order to survive. Unless they do people cannot change and grow too. 

Those intent on preserving the languages and cultures of indigenous people are all too often people who want to preserve them for their own purposes. That it might be holding back full participation in the wider community is of no interest to them. Preservation is everything. We are told it is "disrespectful" and that we are "destroying their culture" if we don't allow them to speak their own language. The preservation of their culture is seen as more important than education and employment even while claims are made to the contrary.

We don't want to see those things lost but languages which have no ability to express modern concepts are going to die out. If they have no written form it is going to be impossible to retain them. Those speaking them will remain isolated from the wider community and they won't have the same ability to be employed -and employment for financial gain is a concept that is lacking in many of those languages. Access to and understanding of health care is much more difficult for people whose languages do not have words for many internal functions. 

Gaelic can be retained. It has changed and grown to accommodate the modern world. It may seem "quaint" to some but it has a written form. There are very few Gaelic speakers, if any, people who speak no English.

Too many indigenous languages have no written form and will never have one. Where attempts are made the language inevitably changes. Claiming to be educating children in these languages is not actually preserving the language or the culture. It is creating something quite different and allowing others an unacceptable degree of control over their lives. It is isolating people.  

If "yes" wins in the upcoming referendum there will be more of this. Some people will still maintain this is a good thing. I am not sure it will work.  

Wednesday 26 July 2023

When did you last see a film

in the cinema itself?

I ask because people around me are talking about "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" and, more often than not, saying they hope they can avoid seeing either of them. 

Those of them who have granddaughters may find it difficult to avoid "Barbie". Several of the women have said "the men can go on their own" with respect to Oppenheimer.  

If I had to choose between the two I would choose Oppenheimer. The "Barbie" trailer I saw between the two segments of news I watch made me squirm.

It also took me back years. My maternal grandmother bought a Barbie doll. She loved it. She thought it was wonderful. She made clothes for it, clothes she thought were modern and fashionable. "Nana", as we were expected to call her, was older than I am now. I remember her excitement as she showed us this thing. Middle Cat and I were expected to share in this excitement and her enthusiasm. 

"Real people don't look like that," was Middle Cat's comment. She was absolutely and devastatingly correct. I was behind Nana. I grinned and nodded. When Nana turned to me looking for support I could not give it. "I don't like dolls much."

Nana said we were "ungrateful" and we didn't love her. This was so close to the truth I felt uncomfortable. We tried to love her but she was not a lovable person. The world had to revolve around her, around her and what she wanted. 

We would go and visit after that and Nana always had more Barbie accessories, just smaller and (presumably) cheaper accessories. It is unlikely she could have afforded too much of that bright pink. She bought Barbie a boyfriend.  She told us his name was Ken and "they are so happy together. They are going to get married." Of course they never did. 

When Nana died it was her SIL who helped our mother clear out Nana's clothes and give the better things to charity. They found the Barbie doll and a "wardrobe" made from two shoe boxes. There were apparently rows of tiny dresses, many of them evening dresses. There were all sorts of handbags and hats as well, all in a round box. 

My great-aunt described these to me later, "I wondered if you girls might want them but your mother said no. She threw the whole lot in the bin."

Looking back of course I can see that Nana, a bitter woman with a weight problem and nobody she could call a friend, wanted to be like the glamorous and popular doll. What she didn't realise is that if she had bought a normal doll and tried to teach us to make clothes for that we would have loved her for doing it. 

The film doesn't appeal at all. The last one I saw in a cinema was many years ago. I might go back sometime but I am just as happy to wait and see them on a DVD - but not Barbie or Oppenheimer.

Tuesday 25 July 2023

"We can't afford to pay the rent"

is the subject of yet another "human interest" story in our state newspaper today.  

Someone on the editorial staff obviously decided the paper (which I read online) needs to provide a sort of social service. We get almost daily stories of people in need of "help", often financial help and requests to go to "Go Fund Me" sites.  

No doubt many of them are worthy causes but I have never contributed to one. I prefer to help people I know or go through registered charities I know enough about to know they don't spend most of the money collected on "administration". 

This morning's story was about a family who cannot afford to pay the rent now that the landlord has increased it. The rent has apparently gone from $480 to $600 in one jump. That is a lot, far too much in the normal way. 

It is the increase, twenty-five percent of the previous amount, which has me wondering. It seems particularly disturbing when we are also told that the family recently lost a child. Having seen the devastating effect the loss of a child can have on a family I would not wish it on anyone. Why is a grieving family being asked to move?

Reading on I found out more. The family has recently moved here - from a country area where there would be work. The father had work here - but I know the location and it would have been a very temporary position and possibly quite hard physical work. He has apparently given up the job to "care for his partner" who is pregnant again.

I would be interested to know more. Is the man's partner (they do not appear to be married) so ill he needs to be her carer? Does he have any qualifications? What made them move from an area where there was work to the city?

There was a photograph with the story. There are four more children in the photograph. The father is heavily tattooed. The mother has a tattoo just above her cleavage.  Tattoos are expensive to get done. Perhaps they had them done when money was not an issue but it does suggest some interesting priorities.

 I feel sorry for the children - and the baby yet to come.

Monday 24 July 2023

This referendum is dividing families

and dividing the nation. There has been physical violence. It is sending more than one person to the brink of suicide - and may yet result in that.

There was an article in yesterday's paper about one of the "no" camp and the way he has been referred to as a "coconut" - a very derogatory term meaning "brown on the outside and white on the inside".  That disgusts me - disgusts me far more than references to the Greens as being "watermelons" - green on the outside and red on the inside. 

There are differing opinions within my own family. This does not surprise me but we have not come to blows over it and there are even indications we may all come to the same view in the end.

Outside my own family I know others where the arguments have been so serious that people are no longer speaking to one another.  Views differ radically but the claim "you're racist" is being made too often.  Last week I listened to someone in tears as she said her daughter no longer speaks to her and refuses to let her see her grandchildren any more. "I was told, "you're racist Mum and I don't want the kids to have anything to do with you". I haven't seen them since Christmas and she just slams the phone down." 

Perhaps that is a more extreme reaction than many but it is just one of the many problems which have arisen.

Why, oh why, oh why couldn't the government have done the sensible thing? Why couldn't they have divided the question into two parts?  

If we had been asked to give recognition to the fact there were people here before white settlement I am certain there would have been an overwhelming "yes". It would have been obvious, so obvious. It would have been such a simple thing to do.

It is not that to which people are objecting. People should be able to speak up without fear of being ostracised and cut off from family and friends. They should not be treated with contempt in the media simply because they hold a different view from those who are leading a divisive campaign supported by the government of the day. 

I don't always agree with all my friends on all the issues they raise - but I do try to listen. That way I might learn something.  

Sunday 23 July 2023

There was a power outage yesterday

and, unusually for this area, it was a long one. The power was out for several hours.

We have three phase power coming in to the property (two for the house and one for the workshop-shed where the Senior Cat had things like a circular saw). Some things seemed to be working but others were not. 

Power supplies are not something I know much about. I stay away from such things. I am not the sort of individual who will try and jump across a live power line. I prefer to be a good twenty metres away from such things.  

As I don't know much I used the mobile and asked Middle Cat if my BIL was home. I knew he would come and check things out if he was. She was at the supermarket and said, "I'll come and have a look. It will take two of us to find the fault if there is one." I had known that much.

Then, a few minutes later, there was a message on the mobile. It was from the power company telling me that the power was out across the area and it should be back on about six in the evening. There had been some damage to their "equipment". That must have been at the sub-station a little distance away. It is the sub-station which serves a local hospital and any outage there is of course a serious matter. I called Middle Cat again and said, "Thanks but don't bother coming. It's an external problem." We both took a deep breath and let it out very slowly. 

I did what I could in the growing darkness. A neighbour came in and used this gas cook top to heat some food for her young children. They were getting "scratchy" but soon sat at the kitchen table devouring their evening meal. Their mother and I stood there and watched and talked about all the things we have which depend on electricity. 

"Thank heavens we have that set of blocks your father made. I told them to get those out and build a race track," she told me. 

I smiled at that. The Senior Cat made so many sets of blocks. They are good, solid timber. They don't require anything else. There are no batteries attached. There are no pieces which can be broken.

Brother Cat has the set the Senior Cat made for us. He made sets for his children and they are now used by his grandchildren who, although growing up rapidly, still find uses for them. Middle Cat's boys have not had children but visiting children use that set.

It seems that, all over the place, children are building things with simple wooden blocks. They are the perfect toy - especially when there is a power outage.   

Saturday 22 July 2023

Has "going green" gone too far?

Several things have happened in the past two weeks, several things that I am concerned about. 

The first  was reading a report, apparently correct, that a group of people planning to replant native vegetation along a river bank were told they could not do it without permission from the traditional owners of the area. The traditional owners were demanding a hefty sum in "compensation" under new laws passed by a government in another state.  There are other demands being made by "traditional owners" in the same state. They seem to be more of a money making exercise than a way of preserving indigenous culture and heritage or caring for the environment. I might be wrong but it certainly is starting to read that way.

In this state we also had a group of "traditional owners" claim victory when the Federal Court came down on their side and said a nuclear waste dump could not be built on "their" land. The actual site was on farm land in a geologically stable area. The waste itself is the medium to low level waste currently stored in inner city areas - yes, the waste left by nuclear medical procedures. It was fairly obvious that the "traditional owners" were making some rather ridiculous claims about "secret women's business", something others had never heard of and knew nothing about. The group however was being backed by "the Greens". The Greens are vehemently publicly opposed to anything which might have a whisper of nuclear energy  about it. (I note however that, in their private lives things are rather different - and they certainly wouldn't deny themselves the benefits of nuclear medicine if they needed it.) 

And now there are reports that this state may go back to the dark ages of no international flights as airlines attempt to "go green".  Yes, I know that air travel is one of the chief offenders when it comes to the emission of greenhouse gases.  The problem is that a lack of international flights would have a massive economic impact. It took years for this state to get any such flights at all.

While I was living in London I had to travel back here several times. (I would have been more than happy not to travel back at all but circumstances demanded it.)  On each occasion many hours were added to an already very long journey because we would fly over this state...and then I would catch other flight back here. It was a ridiculous situation. In terms of emissions the amount was probably even greater than it would otherwise have been. Tourism was down in this state. It was struggling even more than it now does with exports. Imports were taking much longer and were more expensive.  We really were not particularly green either. We were simply more isolated.

We could go back to all of that and "save" the environment - perhaps. Suggestions that we could increase the rail network and get thousands of heavy goods vehicles off the roads don't seem to get heard. The Greens have very little to say about that. 

I am beginning to wonder if "going green" isn't going too far. Considering all the other measures we are told need to be taken and the likely economic impact but dubious environmental impact is it time to start rethinking how we do this? 

I'd start here by saying that if a tree planting project is going to have a positive impact on an area then it must be allowed to go ahead without hindrance. I would say that if a nuclear waste facility is needed and the area is considered safe then it must be allowed to go ahead.  I would say we need to greatly expand the rail network if two engines can do the work of a hundred or more heavy goods vehicles.

And those planes? Well we need to work on fuel efficiency because it will take more fuel to fly over this state and come back again... unless of course you don't want us to travel anywhere ever again.  

Friday 21 July 2023

So you don't want to give evidence?

There is a piece in this morning's paper about a court case involving an alleged sex abuse offender and the way in which some Jehovah's Witnesses do not want to give evidence about him in court. 

I have no doubt that someone will soon ask me what I think about this. It doesn't make me happy.

Quite a few years ago now I remember a late friend and his wife were here for the evening meal. I had been in court that day as "amicus curiae" in the broader sense. I was there to help someone who was not likely to understand the proceedings or be able to respond without someone there to help.  It was my role to do just that, help - nothing more and nothing less. At one point the opposing party tried to get me into the witness box to state my own opinion. I refused and the judge backed me as I had known he would. I was not there as a witness. I had no knowledge of the matter that could be used as evidence. 

That conversation with our friends continued. B... had just done jury service. He told us how one of the witnesses had been questioned about his own driving record. Apparently years before he had been driving a milk float at a low speed when a child had run out on to the road without looking and this witness had hit him. The child suffered some minor injury. 

I remember B...saying, "You would think this poor man had committed a hanging offence. They really had a shot at him and he was only a witness."

I knew why of course. In this case, if found guilty, the driver would lose his licence and, because the ability to drive was essential, his business as well. The defence would do all they could to prevent that happening. I explained this and B... was not impressed. The jury, not impressed by the defence tactics, had found the driver guilty.

Now I wonder what B... would make of the refusal to give evidence in an entirely different set of circumstances. I was well within my rights not to go into the witness box and state an opinion. No judge would have asked me to do it and nobody should even have considered asking but these circumstances are different.

The alleged offender is accused of very serious offences which will lead to a term of imprisonment if he is found guilty. Members of his church, high ranking members, are trying to shield him from that. They appear to believe their "internal" investigation is sufficient and that the courts have no role to play in this.  They claim not to recognise the authority of the courts. They may try to refuse - in which case they are likely to be held in contempt of the court. If they do appear then they may try to avoid answering questions - which could also lead to a charge of contempt. 

The case is being heard by judge alone - and I don't envy the judge.  

Thursday 20 July 2023

"We're getting a divorce"

Those words surely have to be some of the most difficult to utter to your friends. It must be even worse if the person saying them doesn't realise what they are saying.

A friend called in unexpectedly yesterday. "I know you are probably busy but I really need to talk." I put the kettle on. She sat there saying nothing while I made her a pot of tea. I put everything in front of her. Then I sat down and gave her my full attention.

She didn't know whether to laugh or cry or feel something else. Her husband has an "early onset" form of dementia. He is not yet sixty but the family made a recent decision to place him in residential care. There was a good reason for this. He has become increasingly angry and violent. The last really serious episode left her in hospital for several days and she has more than one scar as a result of previous episodes.  

In residential care there are similar problems but various mixes of medication are being tried. He won't be going home but they hope they can find a way of calming him down enough for him to function at some level while not being a danger to anyone else. 

My friend goes to see him most days. Sometimes he knows who she is and sometimes he doesn't. Yesterday she wasn't sure how much he understood but he had told her, "We're getting a divorce." 

"I think he thought he meant it too. When he is lucid he tells me he hates me and he wants to get out of there. Then he will tell me he still loves me. I don't know what to believe any more. Things have been so difficult for so long."

I just let her talk on and on. I didn't offer any advice. I couldn't. I know absolutely nothing about such things. It was her words, "Things have been so difficult for so long" that really set me thinking.  

Their marriage is one I would have thought was stable. They seemed happy enough until the dementia issue. The family and everyone around them expected some problems then but had there been problems before that? I don't know. I saw them out together occasionally but I cannot remember how close they seemed to be. There won't be a divorce of course. He won't be considered competent to make such a decision even if wished to do so.  As a deeply religious and church going Catholic she has no intention of divorcing him. 

She talked on and on. Occasionally I would slip in a question if she was talking about the good times, a question to try and encourage her to think about the good things. I don't know if it helped or not.

After she had gone I sat staring at the computer screen for a while. It had gone blank and dark while she was there. I thought it was a bit like his brain which is going blank and dark too. I wondered what my late fiancĂ© would have been like if he was alive now, if we had been able to marry and perhaps have children. What would he, one of the most gentle and thoughtful of people, have been like if he had been diagnosed with dementia at that age? I like to think he might not have changed that much, that he would still have been loving and caring. 

Dementia is a bastard of a condition. I watched my friend walk off to her own home. She is going to walk in the door and be surrounded by all the memories. They might be good memories but there are some dreadful memories now mixed in. He is still there in her life but not there either. She still has a responsibility but is getting nothing in return. All I can do is go on making her pots of tea. 

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Cancelling the Commonwealth Games

was a mistake. It was a big mistake.

Anyone who knows me also knows I have no interest in "sport" of any sort apart from a minimal interest in the psychology of the game of cricket. There will be plenty of people who will assume I couldn't care less about something like the Commonwealth Games. 

If the Games had taken place that would be correct. I would not have watched any of the events. I would not have any idea what the medal tallies were. My only concerns would have been nobody was injured  and that the inevitable drugs-in-sport thing was found to be minimal. 

But cancelling the Games is something that does concern me, as it will concern many other people. Premier Andrews has done the wrong thing. It is wrong on more than one level.

The Games were a contract. It was a contract made for a political purpose - to win an election. There was always going to be a "cost blow-out". Such events always cost more than it is stated they will. Governments actually factor that sort of thing into their considerations. Their bottom line is not "how much will this cost the taxpayer" but "will this win us another term in office?" Andrews was banking on that...and won.

The Games were going to be held all over the state. The regions, where support might have been slipping, were suddenly well and truly on side again. It was going to mean new sports facilities and plenty of visitors who would inject large quantities of much needed cash into the regions. 

Andrews had already lost another big contract for the state, this one with China. The Federal government had, quite rightly, put a stop to that one. The proposed project might have employed many people for a number of years but the cost far outweighed the perceived value. Whether Andrews will now try and renegotiate that given the other side of politics, a side very sympathetic to Beijing, is now in power is something we will have wait and see.

But the Games are a different story. They are a twelve day event held every four years. Some people say "the Commonwealth" is "outdated" and needs to be scrapped as an organisation altogether. A former Senator I knew well was strongly opposed to the idea of the Commonwealth. She wanted rid of it and would have campaigned against it. When I suggested that any group of nations, particularly such a diverse one as the Commonwealth, which could meet and work together on anything was surely something to use she simply shrugged. I say the Commonwealth has changed but it still has a function. It is every bit as valuable as the United Nations, perhaps more so in some ways. 

And the athletes competing would have come from all those places. They could, would and should have been able to meet other athletes, mingle and make friends. Yes, you might fiercely compete on field and in the pool but there are friendships made outside competition. 

All those athletes have been preparing for months. It gives athletes from less well off countries a chance to compete and propels some of them into the Olympics. Those things might not matter to me but they do matter to a lot of other people.

And out there in the regions people were preparing to host visitors, a lot of visitors. They were preparing accommodation and welcoming  events. They were upgrading facilities and even building them using money they hoped to get from the influx of visitors.  

There are other people who had arranged holidays to fit in with those dates, even booked flights and accommodation. There are governments and other organisations who had spent money preparing for an event in that location.

There will be a financial cost to the cancellation of course but it won't cover the losses of many of those involved. In all likelihood it won't even cover the losses incurred by the organisation itself. It has also done immense harm to the reputation of the state in question, perhaps to us as a country. 

I am not interested in the Games as such but I am interested in those things. It is a breach of contract.  

Tuesday 18 July 2023

"In loco parentis" or "loco"?

There has been an interesting exchange on Twitter between someone who correctly used the term "in loco parentis" and someone who thought that the same person meant that parents were "loco", mad or crazy.

I was asked to act "in loco parentis" for a young child and I was her alternative parent for more than ten years. Yes, I acted "in loco parentis" if her father was away and not immediately available to make a decision. Fortunately for me she was a well behaved child, too well behaved perhaps. She never asked or demanded to do anything that was outside the boundaries. I wonder if I would have been considered "loco" if she had asked and I had needed to make what she considered to be adverse decisions. 

But yesterday I wondered about the use of such Latin phrases. Should we do away with them? Is it time to ditch such terms from our "cultural literacy"? Do we also try and expunge all those sayings which have roots in authors like Donne, "Ask not for whom the bell tolls..." and Shakespeare, "To be or not to be..." or Austen, "It isn't what we say or think that defines us, but what we do"? 

There does seem to be some sort of move away from these things in school. Latin is only taught at two schools in this state. Once it was a prerequisite for studying Medicine and Law.  It was no longer compulsory when I went to Law school and the staff had the unenviable task of having to explain where the Latin phrases which form part of legal language came from. Even with those explanations it seems that students were struggling. I was tutoring students in legal language, students whose second language was English. They often had more idea about Latin phrases than local students. We needed to understand those terms in order to understand what we were being asked to read. The law depends on what has gone before, on the meaning given to things in context and their relationship with each other, as much as it does on the legislation which is being applied. 

Could we just do away with all this? Would it just be easier to say "I have been appointed to act as a parent would while her father is away?" I don't really think it would. The meaning might be clear or it might not be clear. The term "in loco parentis" actually means more than that in law. It has roots which go back hundreds if years. I would not have made "life or death" decisions. Her father had to make that one and, had he been away at the time, the decision would have been made on his return. Schools are "in loco parentis" when the student is there but the primary role is still, or so we suppose, with the parent. The nature of the responsibility changes with the circumstances.

It has nothing to do with "loco". It is not the insult someone thought it was. Rather than do away with these things perhaps it is time to spend a short time teaching students about such things. It might be more useful than looking at that film poster.  

Monday 17 July 2023

There was an armed siege

 here yesterday. No, not in this house or this street or even this suburb - but it sounds "exciting" or, much more likely, terrifying doesn't it?

The actual siege took place on the other side of the city. It is being reported as a domestic violence incident. A woman has lost her life and another is in hospital with serious injuries - allegedly both shot their husband and father.  I don't want to know any more, indeed did not want to know that much. It is not the sort of "news" that I want to see dramatised still further in the media. I am trying not to imagine how the alleged shooter, now in custody, must be faring this morning.

The story however came out at an interesting time. My Twitter time line had turned up an article by one of the more respected journalists in Downunder. It dealt with another long running saga concerning the alleged rape of a young woman in the office of a Senator in our Federal Parliament. 

I use the word "alleged" here too because the case which went before the courts was never finished. The alleged victim received a rather curious and very fast "compensation" payment. There is currently an inquiry into the conduct of the case and there is clearly much more to it all than we have been told. 

What interested me about the article however does appear to be factual. The alleged rape is said to have taken place after hours in the office of a Senator. The media followed this up by reporting that a cleaner had been sent in the following morning to "steam clean" the sofa and clear up a mess in the bathroom. This has been reported over and over again and used, at least by the media, as evidence that the alleged rape must have taken place. 

It has always puzzled me. Why? Because nothing was said about this on the day when this "steam cleaning" was supposed to have taken place. I know enough about what goes on in the corridors of power to know that, had such cleaning taken place, the fact of it would have been around the building in no time at all. You couldn't hide something like that. It would have taken not just a few but many people to maintain silence, absolute silence.

No, it seems that the trial for the alleged rape was halted at a point where the cleaner sent in to "clear up the mess" allegedly found a tidy office. It is being reported he actually phoned his employer to tell him this. The bathroom where the alleged victim supposedly had a shower also allegedly showed no signs of use. 

Yes, I keep using that word "alleged". I wasn't there. I don't know what happened. I haven't spoken to anyone involved. There is one thing I do know however and I know it from personal experience. Anything of interest, no matter how trivial, gets around very quickly in a place like that. If there had been an incident of any sort then it is, at least in my view, impossible that it could have been so well hidden. It just could not have happened.

So, what happened? We may never know. The alleged victim has received a compensation payout from the public purse. We have not been told how much. We were told this was because she would never be able to work again even if she was able to find another job. It is interesting to note she does have another job, a job with the United Nations. In other words she has been employed by the present government. What is more she has been employed in a role which concerns the status and well being of women.

The story helped to bring down the previous government. The present government is still using it to make claims that, unless the matter is resolved in a court of law, should not be made. I doubt it worries them very much. They will simply be hoping that the inquiry into the handling of the case will produce results they can use to do further harm. 

And the "steam cleaning" story, a story which apparently would have been debunked by the evidence of the cleaner, is still on websites and there as a "fact". I remain puzzled by the fact, and it is a fact, that it was not reported on at the time of the alleged incident. Do you still want me to believe everything I read in my Twitter timeline - and elsewhere?

Sunday 16 July 2023

Working from where?

I was wittering on about "working from home" on this blog just a few days ago. Since then something else has arisen - no, not just the expected reference to research about the harm it is doing but the "right" to do it.

Right? There is a right to work from home? Apparently there is and employers now need to take any request to do so into sympathetic consideration. Really? 

Obviously nurses and police and teachers and shop assistants and... well, you get the idea don't you? None of them can work from home. So why should some people in some roles be allowed to do it when others cannot do it? Isn't it treating people differently? Is it fair? Is it reasonable? 

Apparently "productivity has fallen off a cliff" and "the pundits are baffled" by this. I am not baffled at all. People working from home may have started out by doing more. They may have started doing so with the best of intentions. They may well believe that they are still doing as much as they once did. The reality is that they won't be. Even I, a long time work from home person, have to watch myself. I find I have to keep a constant list of what must be done. While I add things to it and cross things off as they are done I am also watching how much I have done. No, I am not a particularly organised person but I do know that others are relying on me in order to be able to do their jobs. That matters.

If you are one of our Commonwealth Public Servants I doubt very much you think about your work in the same way. It wouldn't be the same sort of work in your mind. Perhaps it isn't but unless you fill in that form and check those receipts it might mean someone does not get paid and that they in turn cannot pay their employees. Still these "public servants" now have the right to work from home if they so wish. I wonder how many more "the file is at the office" type excuses I am going to come across. They certainly increased during the pandemic - so much so in some cases I began to wonder if they had ever heard of computers.

And now there is yet another thing that needs to be taken into account, special consideration must be given to "indigenous" people who want days off for "cultural" and "connection to country" reasons. One of our aboriginal senators has found that ridiculous. I think she is right. There are so very few people this would genuinely impact they would be given a sympathetic hearing. By making an issue however there will be many more of  very limited aboriginal heritage who, wanting an extra day off, will take advantage of the ruling. No, I am not being "racist" in suggesting this. It is something the Fair Work Commission is conscious of but is powerless to prevent.  It simply flows on from the other decision. 

I sometimes go past the local coffee areas in our local shopping centre and observe the number of people who, instead of chatting quietly, are staring at the screen of their fancy phone - the one that does just about everything for them. Once the idea of having coffee with a friend or family member would have met the chance to talk with each other. Problems would be solved. Support would be given. I really do believe there is less of this than there once was. Humans need one another to survive and that means being connected with one another in many ways. People need to go back to the office for the sake of their mental health and the survival of us all.

Saturday 15 July 2023

I have now read Bruce Pascoe's book

"Dark Emu" and the critique of it by Peter O'Brien, "Bitter Harvest".

For those of you who do not live in Downunder I will again explain that Pascoe is the "Enterprise Professor in Indigenous Agriculture" at the University of Melbourne. He claims to have a Bachelor of Education. He does not appear to have any other qualifications and it seems very unlikely that he actually has the Bachelor of Education he claims to have. No record of it can be found. The University of Melbourne does not offer such a course. The institute he claims he attended, a secondary teachers' college, did not grant degrees.

Pascoe also claims to be "aboriginal". The aboriginal tribes he claims to be descended from do not recognise his claims. Genealogical studies have also failed to find any ancestors who might be even remotely connected with any aboriginal tribes. 

Despite all this Pascoe is employed by the university and appears in the staff directory as "Professor". 

Peter O'Brien is a graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon. He has a verifiable BSc and two other diplomas - also verifiable. After twenty years in the army (where he attained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel) he worked in computing sales and related areas. All these things have been been investigated and found to be accurate. He is not aboriginal and makes no claim to be aboriginal. He has written for "Quadrant" and it is Quadrant which published the critique.

As I say at the beginning, I have now read both Pascoe's book and O'Brien's but it is the first edition of O'Brien's book, not the second, which I have read. That is relevant here.

I was asked what I would do if I was given them as material submitted for the purposes of examination at a university. The person who asked me has a doctorate in science. He is a committed "Yes" person who is campaigning heavily for the upcoming referendum on the "Voice" to parliament. He gave me Pascoe's book to read and told, "It's absolutely marvellous Cat! They knew so much and we have done so much harm." I sought the other book out for myself.

I would fail Pascoe's book outright. I would fail it even if it was presented by a student still at school. It is, to put it bluntly, as dishonest as Pascoe himself appears to be. Anything which does not fit with Pascoe's ridiculous claims (and there is no other word) about indigenous "agriculture" has simply been removed from his "sources". By selectively quoting he attempts to twist the narrative to suit his claims. There are other claims and suggestions made that cannot be drawn from the material he quotes. He also quotes many unnamed sources and fails to provide any information as to where these might be found. Yes, he quotes extensively from sources like the explorer Sturt's diaries but he omits anything that might not support his case. He draws conclusions that simply cannot be drawn and errors of fact in order to support his thesis - that those here before white settlement had a flourishing agricultural culture which has been destroyed by those settlers.

I would return O'Brien's work for revision and it was interesting to discover that the book was indeed revised. The first edition appears to have been chiefly written while O'Brien and his wife were on holiday. O'Brien admits in places that he has been unable to obtain all the primary resources he wished to consult. Even without that he had enough material to show the inadequacy of Pascoe's work. In the first edition O'Brien is also at least being very careful to show what he has and has not been able to verify. He has apparently updated and sourced much more of it in the second edition. I will endeavour to look at it when I can access it.

Interestingly however there are seventy-eight copies of Dark Emu available over the state in our public library system. There are just three of Bitter Harvest. 

This worries me. It would appear people are either asking for or being encouraged to read the former but not the latter. If well educated people (like the man who gave me Dark Emu to read) are being led to believe what Pascoe has written then further harm will be done. The question needs to be asked, "Why is Pascoe being permitted, indeed encouraged, to continue making such claims?"

Friday 14 July 2023

Your tax return

may be a disappointment this year, a big disappointment for some of you.

During the pandemic the federal government put a number of measures in place. Among them were certain temporary tax measures which meant that some people were getting as much as $1500 extra on their returns.  They have now ceased. This was always intended to be what would happen. 

So why are people screeching and screaming? There was plenty of warning. They were told and they were told again, more than once.

One of my neighbours works in the Taxation Office. He works in the "fraud" area. I suspect it is the big fraud area not the little fiddles that so many people try to get away with because they resent paying tax. 

The Senior Cat did not resent paying tax but he did resent paying such a lot of tax. He was one of the people required to be on the "old" superannuation scheme. It was in many ways a very generous scheme. You paid in a set portion of your salary. The government paid in an equal amount. You were taxed on your entire salary, not just the portion you had left after paying superannuation. It still worked to your advantage if you stayed in the system long enough. At the end of it you had a guaranteed, index linked pension for life. When you died your partner (if you were married) was eligible for two-thirds of what you were getting. It was, for most people, a very good deal. It represented security. That system has long since gone. It could not be sustained.

But the Senior Cat had spent most of his teaching career in places, some of them very remote, where there were problems. He was sent as a "trouble shooter". He would sort out issues and set up a program or two and then be sent on to yet another location to do the same. Unlike most teachers who came back to the city after some years he stayed in these more remote locations. There was no chance to buy a house or develop social contacts and activities. His children had to board in the city simply because it was the only way they could finish their education. He accepted all that.

Come tax return time however he would worry himself almost sick that he might make a mistake on his return. Eventually he was persuaded to use a specialist tax accountant. He was fortunate in being directed to someone who was both able and honest. He discovered there were things he could have claimed for many years but had been wrongly informed about - wrongly informed by Tax Office employees who simply didn't know how to do the job. Of course he never received a return for all that extra tax he paid.

There is a reason for that. Our taxation legislation is perhaps the most complex in the world. It is printed in two large volumes. The government of the day simply adds something to it when someone finds a loophole or how to exploit the subsection of a subsection of a subsection. When I was at law school it was a major area of study and the lecturers concerned admitted that "something needs to be done" but, all these years later, nothing has been done. 

The last tax return the Senior Cat worried about was the one Middle Cat and I did for him. We went to see the accountant instead of him. The Senior Cat paid all his tax as he had done all his life but he still muttered furiously for him, "Blood sucking leeches. I wouldn't mind if they didn't waste so much of it." I imagine a lot of people feel the same way.

Thursday 13 July 2023

Working from home

is now a "right" for many of our "public servants" - but is it something to be recommended? 

A former Premier of a neighbouring state had a piece in yesterday's paper saying that people who work from home should be paid less. His argument was that the cost and stress of getting to and from work was so high people who worked from home were at a financial advantage. 

I suspect he is right about the stress and the financial advantage. Of course other people immediately came back with the "he's wrong" argument. They tried to suggest that people who work from home work longer hours and they are more efficient. Really?

I have "worked from home" since 1989. It is not something I have done by choice. I did it out of necessity and I would not recommend it.

In the early years of working from home - before the widespread use of the internet I would go into the city once or twice a week. I went first to our "state library" and read the newspapers I needed to read - or the articles in them. I then went on to the university (just down the same road) and did any library research which needed to be done. I sometimes talked to staff in two relevant departments. Sometimes I took a tutorial group. I saw students for supervision if necessary. The rest of the time I worked from home using a fax machine to send off materials and receive them from around the world.  

I did all this while trying to keep my parents safe and well in a highly stressful situation. There were also many of the usual household tasks to contend with because my mother was so stressed she sometimes made basic errors...putting vegetables on to cook with no water in the saucepan happened more times than I care to count. I didn't really have a social life but the internet was coming. Brother Cat knew, and still knows, about these things. I had one of the first internet connections available...a short dial up connection each morning and another in the evening. It was good, very good.

A problem soon became evident. I did not need to go into the library to newspaper articles. People just sent them to me. I downloaded them to read during the day - every day of the week. There was more work, not less. I no longer needed to use the university library as much, people simply sent me what they thought I should be looking at. I still had tutorials to run and students to supervise but, if I was well organised, that could be done in an efficient time-flow.  I was becoming more and more isolated and the demands on the home front were increasing.

When my mother died in 2000 I knew things had to change. The Senior Cat and I had known this was coming. We had discussed it quietly, out of my mother's hearing. 

I don't drive. The Senior Cat was still driving but I did not want him acting as a taxi service so I found a group which met two Saturday afternoons a month. For a number of reasons I no longer belong to the group but it was good at first. I needed it. I could pedal off for a few hours and think about something entirely different. I made some good friends with people who have a common interest. It wasn't something I found easy to do but I don't regret having done it.

I thought of all this when I read the article about working from home and then the news that union which represents our federal public servants had "won the right" for people to work from home. They are suggesting it is a good thing, that it will result in a more efficient work force. I doubt this. 

Unless people are very aware the workforce will stagnate. There won't be the same flow of ideas that comes from face to face interaction. The office dynamics will change. Some people will find they are taken advantage of, others will manage to skive off at times. The "working from home and I don't have the relevant document" excuse will get used more often. (I am so tired of that one.)

There will be a higher incidence of anxiety and depression too - unless people really become aware that so called "social interaction" on a screen is not the same as social interaction on a face to face basis. 

After reading today's editorial I have sent a letter off to the state newspaper saying "The boss needs to know you and you need to know the boss." You can't do that even via Zoom meetings. I suggest getting out of your bunny slippers and going to work in the office at least once a week.


Wednesday 12 July 2023

The cost of saving a life

in hospital varies enormously but I had reason to do some rough calculations yesterday.

"Computer S...." phoned me yesterday. He is the morbidly obese man I mentioned some days ago. 

He had already spoken to Middle Cat. Middle Cat had moved things along a little. She had spoken at length to a member of the medical team. (Whether this should have happened or not is dubious. She has been his physiotherapist in the past and she told them this but she has no actual role in his current treatment. I suspect it was desperation which made them talk to her and try to find out more.)

S... called me after that and I have sought his permission to say something here. He has been in hospital for too long now. He is taking up a very rare private room in a public hospital. The reason for this is that he is so obese he cannot fit into a normal hospital bed in a normal ward. The little cubicles on wards are simply too small. He weighed 198kg when he went in. Over the last three weeks he has managed to lose 14kg. It is not nearly enough. 

S....has multiple medical issues. He is now on fourteen different medications. (I wonder how these are interacting.) He still cannot go to the bathroom unaided as he has a stress fracture in one foot - brought on by his obesity.  Despite that they suggested he might go home today...and then on Friday. 

Yes, they could send him home but he will need help. Middle Cat and I are not offering right now. There are several reasons for this. One is that we don't really have the ability or time to do what is needed. Another is that we think he needs to really have to face his issues. A third is that we believe it is the role of the medical and allied professions to work on this. It will be all too easy to send him home with some sort of minimal "care package" and just hope things sort themselves out.

They won't. While I was talking to him the afternoon tea trolley arrived. I know, having seen it many times, you can get a cup of tea or coffee or something we call "Milo" - a sort of chocolate milk drink. You can also have biscuits or fruit.  I could hear what S... was asking for of course. It was the Milo and a banana because there were no biscuits left. He could have had tea or coffee (he drinks both) and an apple or a mandarin - both of which were also offered. The Milo is sugar laden. Bananas are good food of course - but not if he supposed to be losing weight. I doubt he has really lost any actual body fat, just some of the excess fluid which has accumulated due to his poor kidney function. 

I wonder what the hospital has been doing about all this if anything. Perhaps they have just given up? 

When he goes home he can eat whatever he likes of course. His diet is not good. If he manages to get himself to the supermarket he will continue with old habits even when he knows he should not. It is very hard to change those things. If someone else does the shopping for him he is going to crave those things he should not have and he knows he should not have.

Somehow I don't think all our suggestions like having Meals on Wheels (for which he would be eligible in the short term) are going to work. His current hospital stay has cost the taxpayer close on $200,000 minimum but it will be wasted if there is no long term follow up and his cooperation. I don't think it is going to happen and I am wondering what it would cost to save a life in these circumstances.

Tuesday 11 July 2023

Political advertising

appeared in my Facebook timeline yesterday. Apparently the government is permitted to bypass my ad-blocker and tell me how I must vote in the upcoming referendum.

I am becoming increasingly concerned about the pressure which is being placed on people to vote "yes" and the attempts to block out anything which supports "no" or any sort of balanced discussion. People have strong opinions about the issue but it seems that only one answer is considered "acceptable". Anyone who dares to disagree with the "yes" camp is being told they are "racist" - and that is perhaps the least pejorative word being used. 

I am also becoming increasingly concerned about the millions of dollars being spent on the "yes" campaign and the very real efforts to prevent the "no" campaign from obtaining funding. "Big business" is pouring millions of dollars into the "yes" campaign. "It's the right thing to do". There are all sorts of sports people, people in entertainment and others being hauled in to support the "yes" campaign. They are all telling us that "voting yes is the right thing to do". 

When my very definitely indigenous friend M... told a group of people he would not be voting "yes" because he believes it is a racist, divisive move no better than South African apartheid he was asked to leave - and not come back. It is a group he has been a member of for many years. He has been President and Secretary of the group but feelings are so strong about this "need to vote yes" that he has now been ostracised.

So what in the heck is going on here? I have read arguments for both sides. I will continue to do so. If I am asked I try to engage in a balanced way but I am more and more concerned. The present government is telling us that there is only one answer but look more closely at some of those who are pushing for this answer and I am alarmed by some of the things they are saying. Is "yes" the answer or just a first step? Will "yes" lead to unintended consequences? What will "yes" actually change? More importantly, what will "yes" change that could not be done now?

There are so many people I know who want the referendum question to be divided into two - recognition and then "the Voice". The first would pass without the need for all this divisive talk. The second might but that is much less certain because so much of it can be done without adding it to our Constitution.  It would not suit those who have a much bigger agenda but it would have been a very positive step. 

It is the bigger agenda which worries me. I doubt it is going to benefit many of those it is claimed will benefit.  

Monday 10 July 2023

There are too many migrants

coming into Downunder this year. The present government plans on bringing in 400,000 more people - and that does not include people who try to get here illegally. 

Our present population of around 26.5m people simply cannot absorb that number in one year. We don't have the ability to do it. We already have a severe shortage of housing. That alone should be enough to make any government stop and think, "How do we house all these extra people?" Apparently it isn't something they feel they need to think about.

But it isn't just that which worries me. There are other things we don't have and that we need to do much more about before we bring in large numbers of people. Housing is an issue which something can be done about. We can do something about all the other infrastructure needed to support that number of people - the transport, the health services, the education facilities can all be dealt with but we will also need the jobs which support these things. Yes, perhaps we can even manage a great deal of that, especially if we lower our current standard of living.

The present government believes it can absorb this year's 400,000 people by spreading them "out across the regions". This is not where migrants want to live. They want to live in cities where all the services are available, where there is all the support they need. They want to live where there are people from the country they will go on calling "home" even when they become citizens of another country. Unless we have done it ourselves it is impossible to understand how hard it is to move to another country. Even when we want to do it there are many difficulties and many adjustments to be made. When people feel compelled to do it for reasons of security it can be even more difficult. 

We all know these things. Our lives are much more interesting than they might be because of all this cultural diversity. I don't want to see it halted but I think we are taking in too many people too quickly. It seems to me that there is a very big problem we are just not giving enough attention to. We cannot supply an essential. 

What we cannot supply is something which is absolutely vital to life - and that is water. There is a reason why our population is concentrated around the coastline - and just some of the coastline at that. It is because water is scarce on this continent. There are vast areas of desert. If we had water in those areas then we might be able to sustain a much greater population. We need to think about water before we continue to bring in so many people. It can be done but it is going to take work which is not yet being done. If we really want to help then we need to start working on water resources now.  

Sunday 9 July 2023

A rescue at sea

appeared in my time line yesterday. There were some very anxious hours for many people as they waited to see if a young man endeavouring to sail alone around the coastline could be rescued. He was out in the "Bight" in some extremely rough weather. I am not exaggerating when I say "extremely". 

The "Bight" is known for high seas but these were extraordinary. The weather had come up far more quickly than anyone had apparently reckoned on. 

He might have been able to cope even then but it seems he was flung backwards and hit his head. Having recently hit the back of my own head I was more than ready to sympathise. He then did the sensible thing and set off his emergency procedure.

Rescuing him was not simple. A huge container ship, some 228m long, was diverted to see if they could do the job. Two other ships were also called in. The container ship managed to do the rescue after three attempts. It is surprisingly difficult to rescue someone in those circumstances. Do the wrong thing and you could end up killing someone very easily. (No, he could not be winched to the safety of a helicopter. He was too far out to sea and the weather was too rough.)

It was also a very expensive exercise. There have been the usual complaints today about the cost of the exercise and the usual demands that people be stopped from doing "that sort of thing" in the same way in which they objected to the search for the ill-fated Titan.

I thought of all this and thought of how I would not be here if it had not been for an incident which had a much more tragic outcome. It involved my paternal great-grandparents. Great-grandpa was first a sailor who became a ship's pilot and a marine-cartographer. In his early sailing days he went in and around the ports of northern Scotland. Then he ventured further afield to see something of the world. He met and became friendly with another young sailor doing the same thing.  They went into the navy together during the first world war.

During a massive storm at sea the other young man went overboard and was lost. My paternal great grandfather returned to Scotland at the end of the voyage and went to find the young man's relatives in Caithness. There is a family record of his visit of condolence to the family. And yes, it was there he met my great-grandmother in a crofter's cottage which is lived in to this day.

We don't know much about their courtship but it must have been very satisfactory because, some time later, my great-grandmother came out here alone to marry him. It was apparently a happy marriage and certainly a productive one. (There were eleven children.) If there had not been that storm and a man overboard I would likely not be here today.

Saturday 8 July 2023

Going to hospital

is something we all want to avoid if we can. Going to hospital and going into "intensive care", or "ICU" as we call it here, is something we all really don't want to do.

It is where my friend Computer S.... has apparently been. I am not surprised. He is morbidly obese and I mean obese. 

Middle Cat called me yesterday. He normally lives diagonally opposite her. The neighbour who lives directly opposite and mows S...'s patch of lawn came in to see her and told her S... was in hospital. He has apparently been there for over two weeks. Nobody was too concerned when the old Volvo was not out during the day. S... is a "night owl". I suspect it is because, that way, he doesn't need to see too many people. Yes, he is that obese.

When it comes to computers there is very little S... does not know. He has fixed problems for me over the years. He tried to teach the Senior Cat how to do things too. They liked one another.  S.... was in tears when the Senior Cat died. His own parents are no longer alive. He has a brother here. His brother is terminally ill with cancer. His sister lives in the United States. S... doesn't have a lot of contact with either sibling. He seems more concerned for them than they are for him. He was the one who cared for both their parents. 

Middle Cat and I have both tried to help S.... but, by the time we tried, his weight had reached that level where only serious medical intervention could help. He didn't want anything to do with that. Occasionally he would lose a few kilos and then he would put it on again and put on even more. It did not surprise Middle Cat or me. We were concerned but it seemed there was nothing we could do about it.

We like him in many ways. He is the sort of person who will do what he can to help someone else. When he was here several months back and I needed to go to an appointment his response was, "If your sister can't take you then let me know. I will." He would have done it too. He made a special trip to get a spare part the Senior Cat needed to repair something. Then the two of them did it together. He likes to feel needed and wanted.

So, we are concerned. Middle Cat made seven attempts to speak to someone in the ward he has now been sent to but nobody was answering the phone. They are almost certainly understaffed and overworked. We would go for a quick five minute visit if allowed - just to reassure him we are still there for him and ask if there is anything we can do.  But we don't know what his actual condition is. I suspect he is still extremely ill and may not even be allowed visitors apart from family. That's all very well but we might be best placed to help. 

Middle Cat, being Middle Cat, will clear his letter box and see if any  of his plants need watering. It's all we can do. If he survives I am going to insist he signs the Power of Attorney I helped him prepare the last time he was here. I think he may need it but the friend he was proposing to use was away. I just hope he needs it and we won't be going to his funeral. 

Friday 7 July 2023

Learning to cook

can be simple or complicated.  It seems to err on the side of "complicated" for many people.

My cousin's partner sent me a recipe for a cake yesterday. He is an extremely intelligent man who has taught himself to cook and bake. He approaches the whole business of food and eating in the same intelligent way he once approached his work. (He had a very high powered legal role in finance until he retired.) 

R...wrote the recipe himself and gave me all the information I need if I decide to make the cake. (I don't do much baking.)

I mentioned this to a visitor and she asked, "How did you learn to cook?"  The answer to that is both simple and complicated. My paternal grandmother taught me the basics. Grandma was a basic, no nonsense sort of cook.  She grew up on a farm where they made their own bread and their own butter. Her father or, later, one of her older brothers killed the sheep they used for meat. They grew their own fruit and vegetables. 

Grandma didn't know about pizza or spaghetti bolognaise or hamburgers. Chicken was something you had as a very special treat and sausages were what you had on the barbecue cooked by my grandfather if we went on a winter picnic. Grandma could make pastry and thus pasties. She made oatcakes but Grandpa made the porridge. There were sometimes puddings for a second course but most often it was fresh fruit in summer and stewed fruit in winter. There were scones and cakes to feed hungry children and then grandchildren.

Grandma taught me all these things along with soup and stews and the weekly roast. There was "shepherd's pie" and fish on Fridays. The fish on Fridays was not because she was Catholic but because that was the day local people could buy directly from the small boats that came into the port.

Grandma took me with her when she went shopping along the road which led to the jetty. There was a butcher who knew she knew about meat. There was a greengrocer who knew she knew about quality as well as quantity. There was a bakery where Grandma talked about the quality of yeast with the baker's wife. All of them treated her with respect.  

I don't know how they treated other women or how much other women knew. It was almost certainly far more than it is now.  They all did far more cooking than anyone I now know. There are some who still cook "from scratch" but by no means all of them do. 

I was teaching the Whirlwind to cook and to bake. She actually wanted to learn. Food generally just appeared on the table at her boarding school.  It was good but it did not have that "extra" that is home cooking. Her father was deeply appreciative of being able to take out a home cooked frozen meal. Yes, he could cook but it was "basic" and he knew she could do far more than he could. 

The two boys across the road are growing up and their mother, a busy doctor, has found time to teach them some early basics. They wouldn't starve. Next summer, if I am still in this house, we have agreed they will come and learn to make pasties. 

But, I have to confess, if we make those pasties then I will succumb to buying the frozen pastry sheets....I still can't make pastry the way Grandma did.  

Thursday 6 July 2023

Truanting, skiving off, wagging

or just plain "not going" to school?

I never deliberately stayed away from school for a day and my siblings didn't either. We would not have dared to "take a day off". On the very, very rare occasions we were ill we knew we would still be expected to do school work. I was quite knowingly sent to school with "German measles" or rubella because it was thought that it was actually a good thing to infect as many little girls as possible and "get it out of the way".  

And of course we had the added problem that our mother "did not believe in illness" of any sort. Her "Christian Science" beliefs did not allow for that. Until we moved back to the bush it was my paternal grandmother who would care for us if we were too ill to be at school. She would appear with such comforts as hot water bottles and "beef tea". Mum simply withdrew after making sure we had school work to occupy us. She didn't want to know. It is just as well we were very rarely ill enough to need to miss school.

When I was teaching I never had a child deliberately miss a day or a parent who would have condoned such a thing. My problem was the reverse. I had children who did not want to miss a day. I know I had one child who had insisted on coming to school although he was obviously not well enough. His mother sent a message. "He is not contagious. Let me know if he falls asleep." (It was a Friday and he didn't want to miss the next chapter of "The Silver Sword". I was reading it to them in the last period while they got on with knitting their football beanies. He admitted this to me the following week. "You could have read it for yourself," I told him. He grinned at me, "That wouldn't be the same!")

But apparently there are now an increasing number of parents who are much less concerned about whether their children are actually attending school. Some parents are even being threatened with court action. This puzzles me. School is all too often seen as not just school but a sort of free child minding service. There is also a much higher number of "school refusals" - children who do not want to go to school. 

"He tells us he hates school," one mother told me some time ago in the library. He had been failing to attend school and I had noticed him more than once. He found places where he could read without too many people taking notice. Yes, he should have been at school. When I talked to him he just shrugged and said, "It's so boring and it's noisy all the time." It was clear the learning environment did not suit him. He now goes right into the classroom under parental control and I suspect that is even worse.  

I know he is an exception though. He is a child who is happy to learn but not in the way he is being told he must learn. He is not a child from some of the outer suburbs of this city, a child who simply wanders the streets and gets into serious strife out of boredom. Even in the unlikely event their parents took them right into the classroom would they stay? At secondary level they might simply leave at a lesson changeover. It would be almost impossible to stop them.

When I think about it perhaps the remarkable thing is that so few students do actually deliberately truant. This morning when it is not just cold but wet and windy a warm classroom seems inviting. 

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Economics or education?

I have a rather long letter in the state newspaper this morning. I was not sure it would get in or, if it did get in, they would use it without "editing" it. There is always a danger that the point you wish to make can get edited out and you then appear to be saying something entirely different.

But no, this one was printed in full. I was commenting on the proposed merger of two universities in this state. We have three universities at present. One is of course the oldest and first of them. It is the university the Senior Cat and Brother Cat attended. (I first went to university in another country.)  It was a traditional university back then. It produced more than one Nobel Prize winner and has had others on the staff. I worked there for a while.

Over the years it has become more conscious of what can only be called "economics". Some of the traditional courses have been cut back to a minimum. Almost all of them have been in "the arts". While "aboriginal languages" have been given a boost in funding the teaching of other modern languages has declined. English is also on steady decline. Psychology has moved to focus on "workplace" issues. Linguistics demands work in the aboriginal languages of this state. Philosophy is all too often demanding the agreement with woke ideas. There is more demand to agree in Economics, Business and Marketing. Even Law has not escaped entirely with woke ideas being presented and demands they be argued.

And we have the science side, physics and astrophysics

"Students don't want to do those. There's no work in those areas," I am told of arts subjects. They are also being told this. Students are being shunted into science. 

I wonder how the Whirlwind would cope if she was still alive. At school she was under pressure to "choose science". She was not interested. She studied the science which was compulsory. She didn't "hate" it but she didn't enjoy it. Words were of far greater interest. From the time she was small and I was reading stories to her she had wanted to know the meaning of words and where they had come from. Unlike so many young people I know she actually used her dictionary. By that I mean she did not simply look at the definition of a word but also at the origin. 

Despite all this she was still under pressure to "choose science because that is where the jobs are".  It did not seem to occur to anyone other than her father or myself that she might not be happy "doing science". There are still roles for our arts students. She had thought of things like translating and interpreting, librarianship and law. I think she would have been very good at any of those things. I doubt she would have made a good scientist. She would tell me, "I do not like science pracs" - laboratory sessions in science. That she was doing well in them was beside the point. She did not like doing the work. 

I wonder how many other young students are like this. How many of them are being told, both directly and indirectly, that they "must" do science? If they do add an arts subject to the mix it is the sort of English where they "study" film posters and make short films. (Yes, that's fine in a way but there is more to English than that.) If they choose to do a language it will be one that is considered "useful" rather than a language they can actually use with their own relatives.

I may be wrong but I can't help feeling education is becoming about the economic interests of society rather than the actual education of all of us.