Saturday 30 September 2023

"More needs to be demanded of us"

Today I am handing over the post to my friend M... Those of you who are regular readers here will already know something about him.

M... is Aboriginal. We have tried to explore his family tree and we think he may have one great-grandparent who was an Afghan cameleer but his other ancestors are Aboriginal.

This is M....

"First, I want to thank Cat for the opportunity to say something here. Those of you who live in what Cat lovingly calls Downunder will know we are about to have a referendum. The question being put to us is whether "To alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice".

I will be voting "No".  Why?

I will be voting that way because we already have a voice. We have many voices. My great-grandparents had the right to vote in this state. I do not know if they did but they had the right to do so. My grandparents did vote. My parents voted. I enrolled to vote the day I turned twenty-one, that being the age at the time. My sister did the same. We have children and grandchildren who now vote. We have a voice when we vote.

It took a while but we now have the same right to a voice in every other area of life as any other person in this country. My mother taught us we had to "stick up for ourselves". She also taught us,"You don't get things by asking for them. You get things by working for them. You can earn respect."

Mum was respected. Dad was too. Dad held down a good job in the railways. He never missed a day of work. He was promoted more than once. Mum held him up as an example to us. She was an example too. She cleaned houses while we were at school. Our house was clean too. We went to school clean and with good things in our lunch boxes. At night Mum supervised our homework and read bedtime stories to us. Dad taught both of us to do things around home and how to care for the bikes we rode to high school. It was years before we had a car. Dad got free transport on the railways. What did we need a car for?

We didn't know it then but Cat's grandfather was the guarantor for the loan Dad got to buy our house. Not having a car saved money that could be used to pay off the mortgage. Yes, Dad got a mortgage. He needed a guarantor but he had a steady job and a reputation for reliability. My parents owned their own home by the time I was forty. They expected me to own mine too. 

I got an apprenticeship on leaving school. It wasn't much to my liking but I finished it and went on to be employed by the local council. The work was not much to my liking. I was involved with a youth group and I did like that. When a position came up which involved working with young teenagers I applied. I didn't get the job but the person who was interviewing offered me another pathway. 

"You need to do some study," he told me. He gave me the information I needed and helped me make the application. I did the required study while I was working. Was it easy? No. There were times when I wanted to give up. I am not a natural student. 

I did finish that course and I applied for eleven positions before I managed to get employment in what became a demanding but very satisfying career in youth work. In order to progress I needed to do more study. Mum and Dad encouraged me and Cat's father helped me learn those all important study skills. They all did the same for my sister. She completed a nursing course.

Have my sister and I faced discrimination because of the colour of our skin? Yes, sometimes we have but we have also pushed past it. We have always been employed. I was promoted more than once. In retirement I still get called on occasionally. I own my own home and a good car. I have travelled widely for work and, with my late wife, for pleasure. My life, except for losing Lindy too soon, has been good.

I believe this is possible for any Aboriginal person. Yes, I was "fortunate" in my parents and their attitude towards work but I also had to work. My sister and I were never allowed to accept anything "because you're Aboriginal". We were told we had to earn what we got or not have it.

So, why will I vote "No"? I will vote no because it would give us something we do not need. It will be something we have not earned. I believe more needs to be demanded of us, much more. Being Aboriginal is not an excuse for anything. We need to work like everyone else.


Friday 29 September 2023

No, it is NOT April Fool's Day

but apparently some people really do believe there is a tunnel between the mainland and the little island I once lived on. (If you want to know where the island is then get out a map of Downunder and have a look for the bit that looks rather like Italy. The island is at the bottom of that.) 

It seems that some way posted a picture of what looks like a tunnel and some pipes (in not very good condition) and suggested it was the start of a tunnel to the island. A tunnel? 

A tunnel would solve a great many problems for the island. It would also create others. When we lived there our family was very conscious of it. We were not "islanders". 

To get there meant flying in on "the big plane" (the twenty-three seat one) or an overnight journey on the boat which transported the cars and everything else. We went by boat the first time because of course we needed the car. We were going to live in the centre of the island, right away from the things we might have enjoyed about island living.   

While we were living on the island there were a number of medical emergencies which involved flying people off the island. Planes could not always land at the "airport" - nothing more than a landing strip and a tin shed at the time. When, on one occasion, the Royal Flying Doctor Service plane could not land a "crop duster" pilot (someone who flies small planes to spray crops from the air) took over. He landed on the dirt strip outside the school house in the middle of the night aided by the headlights of multiple vehicles.  He did it not once but twice in wild weather to save the lives of young fools who had been involved in a head on collision not far out of the small town we lived in. A tunnel would have been very useful then.

It would have been very useful on other occasions too. It might have brought down the cost of living over there. Mum, made aware of such things, had even packed some extra dry and tinned food into boxes to put into the removal van which brought our household belongings. 

The farmers over there would have welcomed a tunnel to transport their goods back to the city. Transport costs were a major issue, especially if "the boat" was out of action. 

Half a century later things have changed of course. There is a much better airport. A lot of goods come and go by air. There is, despite it being one of the roughest sea crossings in the world, a much faster ferry service between "the Cape" and the island. It is there the tunnel is supposed to be. 

Despite all this the island is still relatively isolated. Although the island is now a tourist destination the islanders generally want to keep it that way. It has an enormously important role to play in saving the world's agriculture. The bees on the island are still free of the disease which is causing so much concern to the rest of the world. If that can be maintained the bee population there may yet be able to be used to renew the populations elsewhere.

Thinking about that I think a tunnel would be a very bad idea. 

Thursday 28 September 2023

Death duties are back

on the agenda it seems. The newly appointed head of the inaptly named "Productivity Commission" apparently believes we should reintroduce them. 

They were abolished in Downunder during the eighties. One state abolished them and the other states, fearing an exodus to the state in question, soon abolished them as well. It made sense.

Death duties are hated, loathed and feared. Reintroducing them would be highly unpopular but a government desperate for money might well consider it.

It is all very well to argue "there are no pockets in a shroud" but as a child I remember a woman who had worked very hard helping her husband build up a family business losing it to death duties. Quite how that happened I do not know but I do know the local MP came to see the Senior Cat about the situation. There was even a possibility the family would have nowhere to live. I know the Senior Cat wrote a reference for the woman in question. Like the MP, who worked hard to get the state legislation repealed, he was angry a grieving woman with children should be left in that situation. 

It was always an issue for many farmers too. They would work hard building up the productivity of the farm but knew that much of it would end up in hands of the tax man. Their assets were not able to be passed on to the next generation in the way that some city dwellers passed theirs on. 

I remember the "assessors" coming to look at the equipment in the workshop of my maternal grandfather. The workshop, a very large structure, was on the same site as the house. My maternal grandmother, a difficult woman at the best of times, was hysterical. My mother was trying to calm her as Mum's brother showed them around. It had to be done but it was cruel. There was no money in the bank at the end of it even after all but one of the small metal lathes was sold.  My brother and I witnessed all this. Later we realised, if relations within the family had been better, much of the equipment could have been put in our uncle's name and death duties would have been much lower. My grandmother would not have spent the next two (and last) years of her life on a tiny pension. 

You had to know how to work the system of course. Wealthy people were often much better off. Assets were passed on at appropriate times or family trusts were set up and death duties were minimised by people who knew what to do. The system simply did not work in a fair and equitable manner.

There are any number of people now who cheerfully say they are "spending the kids' inheritance". Yes, they often are spending money which might otherwise be passed on to their children. If their children are independent why not? Spending the money undoubtedly helps the economy. At the same time they can do so knowing that what they do have left will, if that is what they wish, go to their children. They won't leave their children struggling to sell what assets they have left in order to give the government money. 

And they won't leave a woman who has worked hard to build up a family business destitute.


Wednesday 27 September 2023

So there is a "wild feud"

on an area of the APY lands?

No doubt the journalist writing the story has exaggerated the situation somewhat but if there is a problem in one of those "remote indigenous communities" then it is scarcely surprising. The proposed "Voice" is not going to change that either.

The children at Mimili are not going to school. The school has not even been open for the past week. Those teaching at it have left because they fear for their safety. 

This is not the only "remote" indigenous school with these sort of problems. I had three indigenous women here recently. One of them came because her child actually wants to try and continue his education but they have obstacles to overcome before he can. The other two women were just tagging along for the afternoon, not sure what else to do in the unfamiliar surroundings of the city. All of them were deeply concerned about their communities. 

They are lovely women. They are good, caring mothers but they are struggling. The reasons for this are complex but much of it comes down to policies which they fear will only become even harder to dismantle in the future. They don't want the Voice. 

"The government isn't listening now. It will be more like that. All these people saying our kids have to get the wrong education to save our stories is wrong,"one of them told me.

We talked about it. They are proud of some aspects of their culture but not all of it. They know, despite claims to the contrary, domestic violence was common before white settlement. They know the elderly, despite claims to the contrary, were not cared for once they became a liability. Life was not the peaceful, happy, carefree life it is often pictured as being. It was violent and uncertain. Like all oral cultures and traditions it often changed rapidly, changed to suit those who had control of the group. 

These three women, and I suspect there are others like them, want their children educated in English. They are not concerned about preserving traditions or any sort of "culture". Their view, as expressed to me, is they would prefer to be sure their children can live and work in the modern world.   Current policies are not working. They rely on segregation, not integration. The answers to this may not be the answers some of the current voices want to hear.

Tuesday 26 September 2023

It was one of those curious experiences

that perhaps happen more often in a city the size of this one. It is a small city by world standards, perhaps only a city because it does have a cathedral - two in fact.

I mention cathedrals simply because the man sitting in the room was making notes from a well thumbed Bible and I was about to eject him. It was the room the library knitting group has booked on a regular basis. We sometimes find other people using it. Not all of them want to move out so I am cautious about the way in which I tell them, "I'm sorry but unless you want to know about knits and purls and more then you will need to find somewhere else." 

This man was not a problem. He agreed readily that of course he would move. He looked at me though in a puzzled sort of way and I wondered what was wrong. I couldn't have my lunch down the front of me. I had not yet eaten it. 

He shook his head. "I've seen you somewhere before but I can't think where...." That is not so surprising either but then he asked, "Teacher...library?"

"Once...a long time ago," I told him. I told him where I had worked as a school librarian. 

"Oh I was at E... at the time."

"Then you would know my father," I told him.

His face lit up,

"You're (the Senior Cat's) daughter of course?"

I nodded.  For once being "someone's daughter" was not an issue. He was obviously delighted at the thought. 

We chatted for a moment about this and other people we both knew. Only where we had a common profession in a city of this size would we both have known so many people.

He packed his things together, hesitated and then touched me briefly, almost imperceptibly, on the arm and said, "He was the best head of school I worked under. He taught me so much. Thanks for talking to me." 

I watched him leave. Apart from shaking hands it is rare for us to touch one another now. Another member of our group had seen him do it and looked at me as he went off. I smiled and told her, "That was all right. He needed to do it." 

I think he was touching the past. 

Monday 25 September 2023

Invasion of privacy for political purposes

is apparently allowed. It is not considered "spam" or "advertising" or "trespass".

I suppose the upcoming referendum counts as politics. It has been divided on political lines to a greater rather than a lesser degree.

Still, it annoys me to answer the phone and find it is political advertising of a sort. It annoys me to open an envelope and find it is political advertising of a sort.

And it infuriates me when the ardent campaigners arrive at the door with their message and refuse to take "no, go away" for an answer. No, you do not have the right to harass me or call me names because my (informed) opinion is not the same as yours. I could not even slam the door in your face because you got to the door first. I was filling the water jug from the tank. You actually tried to prevent me from going inside my own home. Yes, it is my home. It not yours. I do not have to listen to you. You are trespassing. I asked you to leave. I was polite. I actually said, "Would you please leave this property? I do not wish to discuss the issue with you." That made no difference to you. Your behaviour is not going to induce me into voting the way you would like me to vote - to the contrary.

This referendum is dividing the country. It is dividing families. It is causing life long friendships to fail. Wherever I look there is division on an issue which should have brought people together. 

The idea that, if the referendum fails, we will wake up as a nation to the rest of the world calling us "racist" is ridiculous. The vast majority of people in the rest of the world are not going to know. The vast majority of people who do know are not going to care one way or another. The small number of people who do care however are likely to be the people who will choose to make sure we know exactly what they think. They will endeavour to influence global policies against us.

All this becomes more interesting now when Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has now repeated the much criticised words of a former Prime Minister of this country. She has stated that the EU will decide who comes to Europe and stays there. It has not gone down well among some but it is interesting that it is being said at all. 

Of course it feels good to think we are accepting refugees and economic migrants and giving people a chance at a "better life" but the reality is different. Mass economic migration cannot go on as it is now. Refugees have to be able to return home - something the vast majority of them want to do.  And, like it or not, Aboriginal people cannot have special consideration with no expectations being made of them in return. 

It isn't a popular idea but - perhaps we need to start demanding more of each other.


Sunday 24 September 2023

Choosing when to die

is not something most of us will experience and nor would we want to.

There was a death notice in yesterday's paper. It was for someone I knew although not well. She had been "the sister of the wife of a first cousin once removed" and thus not someone I would even count as related to me. P.... was simply someone I had met on a number of occasions at events involving the Senior Cat's cousin.

I sent a message to the son of the Senior Cat's cousin. We are still in touch on an intermittent basis. P... was his aunt of course and I knew he was fond of her. He lives in another state however and they saw one another only rarely.

P... and the Senior Cat were still in occasional touch with one another. She was much younger, the "baby" of her family. Her father was killed during the war and her mother never remarried but continued to run the little family business. The Senior Cat's father stepped in to help on occasion as did others. P..., at six years of age, was too young to comprehend what it all meant then. 

Like her sister she went to work in an office and worked her way up to a responsible position. She married and had children. They eventually flew from the nest. When her husband died she went back to work for a while and spent hours in her garden. She developed one of those adult relationships with another of the Senior Cat's cousins, the brother of her brother-in-law. Both of them seemed content until his sudden death.

Then came the diagnosis of an adult form of leukemia. She went through rounds of treatment but life was no longer of interest to her. Eleven days ago she entered the hospice at one of the hospitals and asked to be allowed to end her life under the legislation this state passed last year.  P... was eighty-six. She had her affairs in order. She knew exactly what she wanted. Life was too much. It was not something of which she wanted any more. 

There are people who will say she was selfish, that she should have gone on to another uncomfortable round of treatment. They will say she should have continued the fight for the sake of her children and grandchildren. 

But my cousin tells me his last visit to her was a happy one. He says she was "content" and even "happy". 

Almost none of us will get to choose the hour of our death but, for those who do, I wonder at them. I cannot comprehend it but I also know that I have no right at all to question such a decision. I do not know if it is "right" or "wrong" to give people the opportunity to make such a decision. All I can do is respect them for making it. 

Saturday 23 September 2023

Dressing to go to work

is "different" now - or is it?

A young columnist in our state newspaper was criticised heavily yesterday for saying people should dress up to go to work. He even advocated a collar and tie for men in the office  - and more. Shock! Horror! Fancy having to dress nicely to go to work!

I have said elsewhere in this blog that I went to school so long ago that it was an era when girls in the secondary school were expected to wear stockings, gloves and a hat. People laugh at the idea now but we did not laugh at the inspecting prefects at the school gate. Perhaps that school was a little more "old-fashioned" than most but we still did it.

There was a Premier of this state who shorts into parliament. That met with severe criticism - and it was justified. It was the wrong thing to do. Parliament is not a place for casual dress at any time.

The Senior Cat always wore a collar and tie to work. Our mother never wore slacks outside the house - and never owned a pair of jeans. 

When I was working with a group of severely and profoundly disabled students I did wear trousers to school. So did other members of the staff. It was a practical choice. I often sat on the floor nursing a child in the seizure position we had been taught to use. You don't want to wear trousers and try to do that. There were all sorts of hazards from wheelchairs and braces and other things. Stockings would have been ruined almost immediately. Still we all tried to look neat and tidy. There was no way we would have worn t-shirts or jeans with "air conditioning". 

It seems that is no longer the case. Even in a court of law women are wearing trouser suits but I have yet to see any member of the legal profession wearing jeans and t-shirts. Suits are still the most likely form of dress in the magistrate's court. There is still formal dress at higher levels - and so there should be.  People might be amused by wigs and gowns but would you take a judge in jeans and a t-shirt seriously? Would you want to be married by a celebrant who turned up in the clothes s/he was painting the bathroom in? 

The last time I went to court (as amicus curiae) I wore black trousers and a jacket. It was completely acceptable. If I had come in jeans and "sweatshirt" I simply would not have been taken seriously. I can remember going into court once. I never discovered what the case ahead of the one I had gone to assist with was about. The reason? The judge (it was the District Court) refused to hear the case because of the way the female barrister was dressed. That may sound appalling but he was right. She was quite obviously and deliberately provocatively dressed. It did her client no good at all. The barrister was fuming but a revealing and bright red dress was an obvious attempt to distract. It was reported in the media of the day and there were some letters - in support of being appropriately dressed.

I do not approve the idea of "morality police" such as you find in Iran but I do believe in being appropriately addressed for the occasion and the situation in which you find yourself. We once went to the Bar Mitzvah of a boy we were all very fond of and considered it a privilege to be invited. (I actually made B...'s yarmulke, knitting in blue and white and ten sections with a symbol for around it.) The Senior Cat wore a yarmulke too. I covered my arms and borrowed a longish skirt because there were elderly people in the congregation who expected that women would dress that way.  It was the right thing to do on that occasion. I have worn a sari to an Indian wedding, again the right thing to do - even when I was afraid the whole thing would come adrift!

Going to work in grubby jeans and a t-shirt might be fine if you work on a building site but not everyone works on a building site. I still say "dress for the occasion" - not yourself.


Friday 22 September 2023

Keeping your job

seems to be more difficult than it once was. People no longer start in one place and stay there until retirement even while working their way up the ladder.

I thought about this when I read a short piece in this morning's paper. It was talking about making the positions of school principals more permanent again. Instead of five year terms with the possibility of another five year term those roles will be made effectively permanent.

When the Senior Cat and my mother began their teaching careers in this state they were, after probation, taken on as permanent teachers. From the start they could be sent anywhere in the state and that never changed. My teaching career and that of my two siblings started under a similar arrangement. Had we stayed in the profession here we could have been sent anywhere.

Teachers can still be sent anywhere but there are no longer any permanent positions. If you want a teaching position in a "good" school in the city you need to apply for it. You won't simply be sent to that school. You will only get the position for a limited period before you need to apply again. Some fortunate individuals might find themselves teaching in the same school for some years, most will be moved on or out altogether.

It is a system intended to weed out poor teachers and make it possible to remove them. Does it work? No, of course it doesn't.  It just places additional pressure on everyone.

The old system had different pressures of course. The Senior Cat's first school, a one teacher school in a remote community, was designed to "make or break" him as a teacher. They only kept him there a year. He went on to another one teacher school in a rural community but it was not quite as remote. There he was expected to hone his teaching skills - and he did. Next came a "nice" rural appointment. He was able to marry. I and two of my siblings were born. Our parents knew the Senior Cat, barring anything going horribly wrong, had a job for life. Our mother could, if child minders were available, be a relief teacher. 

Mum went on doing that until the Black Cat was old enough for her to go back to full time teaching in another remote school. The Senior Cat was sent there not just to teach but to begin the work of preparing the two teacher school for eventual closure. The children would be taken by bus to a school which even now seems to sit in the middle of nowhere. It is located in such a way that all the students need to attend by bus but nobody has to travel more than an hour and a half to get there. (This is Downunder remember. We expect rural distances to be like this.)

The Senior Cat went up the ladder. Our mother followed him. They both ended their careers in very senior positions. They always knew they would have a job. They also knew they would have an income on retirement because they had put money into the state's superannuation scheme. That scheme has also changed now. The Senior Cat was among the last to still be paid a fortnightly income through it. It stopped the day he died.

Now teachers do not have that security either. There is a superannuation scheme but it works in an entirely different way. There is no permanent employment. There is no guarantee that the school will be able to retain a good teacher with specialist skills. Only yesterday someone was, rightly, complaining to me that the teacher who has successfully set up an excellent Italian language program is being moved on. They have been told the incoming teacher next year "might be able to teach Japanese". The parents do not want this. They want the children to continue with Italian. Many of them have Italian speaking relatives. It is that sort of area. 

The children may not be learning much Italian. They rarely do in junior school language classes but surely it would be better to find someone who could continue this or leave an apparently excellent teacher where she is?

I look at my siblings. Brother Cat was always involved in teaching but not always in the classroom. Middle Cat changed careers and followed her first dream after going back as a more mature age student. The Black Cat never had a career as such. She has gone from one short term low level position to another without ever feeling the need for anything else.

It is my niece and nephews where the real change can be seen. My eldest nephew now owns his own business. It is something very different and it filled a gap he saw in the media market. He is doing well but it has been hard work and he held down three different positions before that, always choosing to move on to something else more challenging. His sister taught for a while and was then asked to do something else. It looked different and challenging so she took the offer up because her contract as a teacher was almost at an end. She tells me it is something she does not regret even though the hours are even longer than before.

Another nephew has had three different positions in the same field. He was offered a position in criminal law but turned it down in favour of something that uses both his legal and business skills.  Middle Cat says he works ridiculous hours and he has worked in three places in the last twenty years. They are trying to head hunt him again.

My other nephew is a doctor. I don't think I need to say anything about that sort of career but he has not stayed in one place. 

It seems you can now remain employed but not keep your job, that you won't leave after fifty years in the same place. Is that a good thing? Perhaps it is. It might also be more stressful.  

Thursday 21 September 2023

Naming your child is

a serious business. It should be taken seriously. 

Do parents have any idea how much power they have been given when they are given the right to name their child? I doubt it even occurs to most parents. They simply choose names because they "like" them or "it sounds nice" or they admire someone.  They spell common names in uncommon ways in an attempt to make a name "different" even when they are unwilling to branch out and give the child a less common but still recognisable name.

There was a story floating around the internet yesterday about a journalist who, just to see if it would slip through the net, named her child "Amphetamine Rules". If it had not slipped through the net there would not have been a story at all - but it did. The child's birth certificate actually shows the child's given names as just that. Now there has been all the fuss and bother of changing the child's name(s) to the intended.  

It should not have happened. The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in that state has "tightened"procedures. Will that stop parents from doing foolish things? Probably not. History is littered with children who have been given names they should not have been given.

The Principal of the teacher training establishment the Senior Cat trained at during WWII was a man called "Adolf Schulz". It was a very unfortunate name at the time of course but it continued to be a name parents did not give their children, even as a second given name. There were families where the name "Adolf" had been in the family for generations but it still wasn't used. I know just one person given that name. It was his second given name and he never used it, not even the initial. The only reason I know what it was is because he needed to show me his full name on a legal document. 

"Please don't tell anyone Cat!" he told me anxiously. 

I suggested he could legally change his second name. He looked at me in stunned disbelief and I sent him off to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages to find out if it could be done.  (Yes, it was.) 

I once knew a man who was called Sean at birth. It is a perfectly good Irish name. In Ireland people would call him "Shane" but in Downunder it is usually pronounced "shorn". That's fine - unless your surname happens to be Lamb. The problem was pointed out to his parents but they insisted. He went through school being teased unmercifully. On the day he reached legal adulthood he changed his name. His parents, who had hoped for a considerable inheritance from the maternal uncle they named him after, did not receive anything. They lost a son instead. It's an extreme case but it happens. 

The names in our family are common enough. I don't use them here. I try not to identify anyone here. I can say my brother was given a third name that has run in the family for generations. It is obviously a surname and he is pleased it was passed on to him but he would not have wanted it as a given name. 

I have worked with people from all over the world. Naming practices in other countries can be very different but there is always thought to be given to names. Think about it "Justin Case" you do something which embarrasses the child. (And yes, Mr Case was given his name!) 

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Sneaking out to get food

is apparently what you do if you don't like the food at a school camp.

There has been an interesting reaction to the story in this morning's paper - you know, that story about those "entitled private school kids" who went out looking for something to eat at midnight. The school hit them with two day suspensions.

School camps are a nightmare to run now. I wouldn't want to get involved. The closest I came to ever getting involved was going to the camp for disabled children as a Guide. I did that for quite a number of years. There were sixty Guides, sixty children and six adults at those camps. Nobody even considered a midnight jaunt anywhere. Nothing would have been open anyway. 

Apparently the students here didn't like the food. They claim they wanted "meat". You don't find "meat" at the twenty-four hour "convenience" store attached to a petrol outlet. You might get a pie or a sausage roll - and they won't be that good because those places don't stock the best sort.

I thought back to my time at boarding school. I never had a hot meal at school. The girls' boarding house was a long way from the actual school. (The boys were housed at the school.) They were route marched to and from school by the prefects. There was no way I was going to keep up so I was sent to school with a sandwich and a piece of fruit. I had to eat that with the day students. 

Why I was not allowed to eat in the boys' dining room is beyond me. I nearly didn't get any lunch at all. I was considered a "nuisance" (an "absolute nuisance" to be exact).  As it was I would have made my own lunch if I had been permitted to do so but that would have meant allowing a student into the kitchen. We only went in there to do the washing up or the cleaning. 

I was given exactly the same lunch every day. It consisted of two slices of stale white bread filled with a smear of margarine and some baked beans. The fruit was often an over ripe banana or a bruised apple. Once a small bunch of grapes appeared. A parent must have brought a box down from their property and donated them because everyone had grapes.

Would I have considered sneaking out at night to get food? No, I would have been too cowardly to do that. One of the girls did go out on a regular basis. Her older cousin was a very young police constable at the time. If he was on shift in the area he would wait for her and she would spend a couple of hours riding in the police car with him and his mate. How they never got caught is a mystery. 

Even at that age however I think I was much more aware of the responsibility adults had for our welfare. "In loco parentis" actually meant something to me. I knew my parents, particularly the Senior Cat, to be responsible for the students in their care. That standard of care is actually held to be higher than it is for parents. 

I never said a word about the miscreant student. I just pretended to sleep right through. "You sleep like the dead!" the others would tell me. Little did they know I was curled up there terrified of what might happen if she got caught. 

Sometimes she would bring sweets back and share them around. I never accepted any. I pretended I didn't like sweets. In reality I could not have eaten one. It would have made me even more complicit in her wrongdoing.

Looking back I almost wish she had been caught. Almost, but not quite. My concern even now is that she might have been expelled and that her cousin would also have been dismissed from the force. That would have been a punishment too far but a two day suspension is not. 

As the head of a school I might have found a different punishment. I doubt suspension has much value. I would not have given extra work either. It is much more likely I would have suspended their involvement in sport or some other school activity after I had explained the possible legal consequences if one of them had come to some harm.   

But why did the media make such a thing of the story. Were they really "entitled private school students" or was it simply just the thoughtless sort of group behaviour teenagers do indulge in occasionally? I know any number of state school students who not only have more pocket money but would do exactly the same thing on a school camp. 

The one thing perhaps to be said for these students is that they were apparently so well behaved while they were out the school did not find out until another student snitched on them a couple of days after they returned to school. I am not sure the same would have been said of the students who recently hurled abuse at a transit officer who tried to stop them "painting" the railway station.  They were from a local high school.  

Tuesday 19 September 2023

If one great-great grandparent

was Aboriginal it is apparently enough to claim that you too are Aboriginal and therefore have the knowledge to run an "Aboriginal" organisation. What is more you will be paid handsomely to do it.

I was sent a link yesterday, a link from one of the more mainstream media outlets. It was about a man who runs an Aboriginal organisation in another state. The person who sent it to me asked, "Is he really Aboriginal or is he just another Bruce Pascoe?"

Bruce Pascoe is, as I have said elsewhere, the man who claims to be Aboriginal. Pascoe also holds down a job teaching "indigenous agriculture" at one of our top-rated universities. Well respected and very able genealogists have shown he has no Aboriginal ancestors.

I did a bit of searching on line because I suspected that other people had asked the same question about this man. Apparently this second person does have an Aboriginal ancestor - one great-great grandfather. It is apparently enough to claim you are Aboriginal.

If you look at a "family tree" then it becomes apparent that we all have sixteen great-great grandparents. We may not know much about them. Many people may know nothing at all. Nevertheless we have them. They are part of our heritage.

Or are they? It seems that in the case of the right to call yourself "Aboriginal" you can ignore fifteen of the sixteen great-great-grandparents and just acknowledge one.  Does this mean that the children of the man in question can also say they are Aboriginal? He is married to a "white" woman. His children would have thirty-two great-great-great grandparents and just one of them would be the Aboriginal he acknowledges in order to be Aboriginal. Is that enough? 

People have been castigated for even daring to ask this question but it is becoming more and more apparent that it not only needs to be asked but answered. Where do you draw the line?

My BIL's parents came from Cyprus. S... does not call himself Cypriot. "Why would I?" he asks, "I was born here." 

S...grew up in a Cypriot-Greek speaking family. Now that his parents are no longer alive he rarely uses it except with surviving members of his parents' generation. The younger members all speak English together. They know some Greek. Middle Cat made the effort to learn some Greek. I made the effort to learn enough to be polite to S...'s grandparents as they spoke no English. (They came here when they were in their 70's - sponsored and financially cared for by S...'s father.) Their children know almost no Greek.

The two men I first mentioned above speak nothing but English. The great-great grandparent in question was brought up in the English speaking world. He may not even be a "full-blood" Aboriginal. It has simply been assumed he is. It is convenient to do this. It seems it would open up too many questions.   

Perhaps people might be more ready to support the proposed change to the Constitution if this sort of question had first been asked and then answered.  

Monday 18 September 2023

If your team loses the finals

then, if you happen to be their coach, it is apparently your fault. It has nothing to do with the fact that your team did not play well enough, that they were not skilled enough, that their minds were not on the game, that someone on the team let everyone down... 

No, none of that matters. You are the coach. You were the one who caused the loss. 

Apparently that is now how it is. The coach has to take responsibility. Losing the final is a major blow to fragile egos. It causes mental distress to team supporters. "Sponsors" threaten to withdraw their support. "You were paid to do a job and you didn't do it," they tell the coach.

There is plenty said about this at the highest levels of "sport". Coaching styles get criticised and even ridiculed. There are "inquiries" and "fines" and all sorts of slurs are hurled.

I was foolish enough to believe that this did not happen at local level and that, at school level, it was not an issue at all. Apparently I am wrong. 

Someone I know well enough to loan a book to called in yesterday to pick it up. Her husband was waiting in the car.

"He can sit and go on fuming for a bit longer," she told me.

I raised my eyebrows.

"His team lost."

Yes, his local football team lost. It isn't even a "league" team but it lost and he was not happy.

"J...'s team lost at the school too. You would think it was the end of the world. They are blaming everyone except themselves."

J... is their son. He's a nice kid who plays mostly because the school requires it and his father wants him to play. He is one of those who will cease to play when he is of an age he can suit himself. 

But it was the "they are blaming everyone except themselves" which really got to me. It's the "victim" culture again. "It's not my fault" seems to be the way so many people think.

I put some things in the Handicraft section in the State show. Something I thought was good (and yes, it was good or I would not have entered it) was beaten by something else for a first prize. The judge was absolutely right. The prizewinning garment was better than mine. I came second, not first.

I accepted that. It is the judge's decision. It won't stop me from trying again. I am responsible. I am not the "victim" here at all. 

Other people feel differently. There was one woman who had a great deal to say about the fact her "prize winning" item had not won a prize in the Show. It had been shown elsewhere and won a prize why had it not won a prize, indeed the first prize, here?  We were left in no doubt that she was a victim here. She left saying she would never put in anything again. I rather hope she doesn't. Her work is not that good. It may be good enough for a small rural Show where there are no other entries in that class but it will be up against some competition at a state wide event.

Winning should not be everything. You can learn from losing as well. My profoundly deaf friend M... put a crochet hat in last year. It came second. I told her what my friend W... (who judges at another show) said about it. M... took it on board. She made another hat using the same technique but different colours and with the suggested improvement.  It came first.  If I tried to explain what I have written here to M... I am sure she would agree she was not a victim last year. She used the experience to turn herself into a winner instead.  

Sunday 17 September 2023

The riddle of "the two brothers"

was asked of me yesterday.  I was actually asked by a complete stranger in the supermarket queue. 

"Yes, I know the riddle and I know the answer which is generally given," I told him, "Why do you want to know?"

"My son asked me. I can't follow his logic."

  Most, if not all, of you will know the riddle. 

You are walking down a road towards your future. You come to a fork in the road and don't know which one to take. One will lead to happiness and a long life. The other will lead to unhappiness and an early death. There are twin brothers standing there to direct you. They are identical in every respect but one. One brother always tells the truth and the other brother never does.

You can ask just one question of one brother. What question do you ask?

In case there is someone reading this who wants to try and work it out for themselves I will not give you the answer.

I could also see why the man who asked me was confused. I was not the first person he had asked. He was getting confusing answers. Some people were saying it was not possible to answer the riddle. Others were telling him "it's simple".

It is not "simple" at all. It does require some thought. The answer can be reasonably straight forward but it can be more complex than that.

I wondered why it was bothering him so much. Did he simply not like to be puzzled by something his son had asked him? (In the course of the discussion we had once we passed through the queue his son turns out to be thirteen.)

No, it was not that. It turned out that one of his son's teachers had given the class a highly politically charged lesson on voting "yes" at the upcoming referendum. They were to go home and try to persuade their parents to vote yes by using the riddle as an example of what would happen if they voted no. 

I didn't follow the logic of this. It sounded illogical to me in fact. Like the father however I was much more concerned that the matter had even been raised in the classroom. Thirteen year old students are not old enough to vote. They may well be interested in politics, far more so than my generation was at their age, but they do not vote. Under no circumstances should their teachers be trying to indoctrinate them to influence their parents.


Saturday 16 September 2023

If the Voice referendum fails,

what then?

There is an article this morning in the state's newspaper by James Campbell which questions this. It is something also being questioned by others. 

Much is being said about the "bitterness and division" which will prevail if the proposal fails. Others say that a "No" vote will "simply mean more of the same". I do not believe either thing is true.

I do believe that our present Prime Minister has not handled the situation well. I do believe the wrong question is being asked. More than once I have said I believe there should have been two questions. 

There should have been a question which allowed us to "acknowledge" there were other people here before white settlement. I am not a betting person but I would have been prepared to bet on that passing and passing by an overwhelming majority.

The other question which could have been put is the idea of a "voice" in the Constitution. While I believe the first would have passed I also believe the second idea would still fail. It would fail because it is wrong.

I hope "yes" fails now. It is wrong. The psychology is wrong. I know others disagree but I see it as an insult to true indigenous people. It is telling them "you will always be in need of special consideration because you can't compete with the rest of us. We need to put this permanently into the Constitution and keep it that way." It is an absolutely humiliating idea.

I don't know what will happen after the referendum. If "Yes" wins then I have little doubt there will be unprecedented demands made. Some of those advocating for it have made it very clear they intend that. The Uluru Statement makes that clear. Whatever they have to say now they will be little concerned with health, housing, education and other welfare matters. They will believe they now have the power to demand much more and they will endeavour to use it. It is simply the way such things work.

If "No" wins then I think there might be some positive changes. There might well be an attempt to "listen" but some of those now demanding to be heard might be disappointed. There are others who also wish to be heard. They are people like the three women who, a little while back, came here to afternoon tea. They want to be heard but the very people who are now asking us to vote "Yes" are not listening to them. It does not suit their agenda of separation to have children educated in English. It does not suit their agenda to have work requirements enforced and much more.

I believe we need an inquiry, one with the powers of a Royal Commission, into where the money being spent each year has gone and is going. One part of that inquiry has to be into who is being held to be disadvantaged - the very awkward question of who is permitted to identify as "aboriginal" when additional benefits are available. It is an important question. We seem afraid to face it for fear of being called "racist" but is descent from just one great-great grandparent really sufficient? Other countries have different ways of looking at this issue. It is one we must address.

The other really important issue for an inquiry is "what is the money now being provided really being spent on?" There is obvious wastage but how much is being wasted? There have been serious issues of corruption too. I do not doubt there are more to be found. They need to be dealt with but I fear they won't be. A " Voice" won't change that. It is more likely to protect the wrong doers.

The referendum is wrong. It should never have reached this point. We need to start again.   

Friday 15 September 2023

"Nineteen members of one family

and that is just one family." 

My friend Z.... is in Libya. He got called late in the evening. They picked him just before midnight from his home in Belgium and flew him out to look at the disaster the collapse of the dams had wrought. He is an hydraulic engineer on a massive scale. He should be retired, long since retired. He is still being called on to look. 

The colleague who called him was just overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster there. He had apparently been warning the authorities for years that there could be a disaster. They took no notice and now that disaster has occurred. They were apparently too busy fighting to gain power. They had no time to bother themselves with such basic, everyday needs as water supply.

Z.... has seen more than a few disasters in his lifetime. He has been in some very dangerous situations. His wife M... told me, "He should be home with his feet up at least at weekends. Instead of that I am worrying about his safety again."

And then Z... sent a message asking me to see if I could contact someone. He couldn't get hold of them directly. "I am sitting here next to S.... He is trying to do what he can but he has lost nineteen members of his family." He doesn't need to tell me that the poor man is in a state of shock. There are stories like that coming in from other people as well, eleven members of one family here and sixteen of another there, new born twins and their mother, a teenage boy trying to keep his younger siblings together after the death of both parents and so much more.

I made some calls. The person he wants is on holiday and quite possibly has not seen the news I am told. Where is he working? Right. I make another call. Yes, he is on holiday. There is an emergency contact for him. Do we really need him? Yes I say and explain the situation again. The person at the other end makes a call to someone who contacts someone in authority there. A message goes out. Contact is made after some hours. The holiday is over. He is at the small airport in that country by the time they let me know. They are flying him out free of charge to help. He is leaving his family behind on holiday. His company has told him that it will be considered "work" time while he is there, not holiday time. I am glad he is not giving up holiday time because he still has a young family. He would have gone anyway because he was born in Libya. 

It is one tiny, tiny thing being done in a disaster which is hard to comprehend. The last estimate I have been given is too high to contemplate. So much of it was unnecessary. If money had been spent on building dams properly instead of fighting this would not have occurred.  I feel emotionally exhausted. Why can't people simply get along with each other? Is is that damn hard? 

Thursday 14 September 2023

School uniforms are a

contentious issue, of course they are. I can remember an American friend being surprised, perhaps even shocked, by the fact we still expect students in their final years of school to wear them.

They are no bad thing however. There is much less clothing competition among our students . You can't be ostracised for wearing the wrong designer top or not being able to afford the latest style in ragged jeans. It is also possible to tell which school they attend. More than one misbehaving, stone-throwing boy has been caught out like that.

When T.... posted a picture of her son's new school shirt looking decidedly worse for wear after tripping over though I was reminded of our school uniforms. I really must write S... another letter and tell him about these. 

Some of you will be old enough to remember the dreaded box pleated tunic? Yes? You know the sort of thing I mean. They had three pleats at the back and three at the front. The neckline was square. You wore it over the top of your school blouse and a tie. They were first designed well before WWII and we were still wearing them in the sixties of last century.  They made us look fat and awkward.

Looking back I shudder. We just accepted them at the time but now I shudder. This was the standard winter school uniform for girls all over the country. Boys wore short trousers until the later years of secondary school.

In summer we wore "shirt-waist" dresses. They would be checked or striped in the school colours. They made us look fat and awkward too. We had hats and gloves and 60denier stockings to contend with all year round. 

I haven't seen gloves or stockings for many years. Hats feature - but for the purpose of sun protection, not because girls are supposed to be "young ladies".  

In one school I attended, a school in a very remote community, we girls had nylon uniforms. The boys had nylon shirts. They might not have required ironing (and I have to assume that is why they were chosen) but they were very hot and uncomfortable in the summer. The Senior Cat also had nylon shirts and wore the obligatory "collar and tie" to school. I am sure that if the same school still existed (and it doesn't) the teacher would be wearing an open-neck shirt in summer.  It was my job to rinse all these things out at the end of the day and hang them on the line. In the morning they would be bone dry and we would simply put them on again.  

I had box pleat tunics in brown, in grey, in navy and then in grey and then in brown and then in grey again. I had different colour checked summer uniforms. I had blazers (always secondhand ) in brown, grey, navy, maroon, green in various schools. My siblings wore much the same. 

We grew up without much interest in clothes but I cannot blame school uniforms for that. Our mother simply had no interest in such things. Our "good" things "for best" were dealt with by our grandmothers. I wish my paternal grandmother was still here. She was very practical, perhaps she had to be when she had seven brothers and two sons. Her husband might have been a very well regarded tailor but boys are still boys and the girls of this family were not much better. 

I am sitting here in jeans, a long sleeve t-shirt and a striped cardigan vest I made from scraps...and I am comfortable. I think that matters. 

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Taking photos and posting

them on social media and elsewhere is something many, perhaps even most, people do without thinking. They give no thought to whether they have the right to do it, whether they have been granted permission to use the image, whether they are breaching someone's privacy or a copyright or how it might make someone else feel.

The issue came up yesterday. I won't go into detail but I was asked to tell the administrators of a FB group they might not post pictures of items without permission of the owners of those items. It would have been much easier to do this if I was a member of the group but I am not. Fortunately I had contact details and I am told the photograph in question has been removed - reluctantly.

It's a shame because it would have been of interest but I can understand the reluctance to have it there.  If you are not a member of the group and cannot perhaps defend yourself or correct a false impression then reluctance is understandable. 

As I was sending off the email to the administrators I thought of all those photographs parents take of their children and grandchildren. This is almost always done without asking the consent of the child. I very much doubt my parents would have done this. Photos of us as kittens would not have appeared on social media if social media had existed back then. There are almost no family photos of us. 

I don't want my photo on social media either. On rare occasions I have not been able to avoid this but I try not to let it happen.  My brother and Middle Cat are the same. Their own children are old enough now to be of that generation just before social media became a thing. Their grandchildren might be there but in ways that do not make them instantly recognisable. It is possible to see a back view of them doing something rather than a grinning face. 

There are children who are going to be very embarrassed later by the images their parents have posted.  It's a gross invasion of their right to privacy. You can't own a child in that way.


Tuesday 12 September 2023

The Country Women's Association

have done an extraordinary job again. They run the CWA canteen so efficiently.  

They were not there to give us morning tea today. The Show is officially over. No doubt they were wearily clearing up at the other end of the Showground.

As a kitten I was vaguely aware that, while the Show was on, some people lived in rough accommodation on the Showground. They were there to do things like mild the cows on display, feed the sheep and the cattle and other like tasks. I doubt it ever occurred to me the humans needed to be fed as well.

However in my teens I did become aware of this because our late friend B... took over the running of the canteen for what became many years. She was there very, very early in the mornings and she left late at night. It was not just for the then ten days of the Show. It was for part of the time beforehand as well.

Now the women who run the canteen are there for the fortnight before the Show. Three weeks ago I went off to do my volunteer bit. The CWA women were there. They provided us with morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. They provided those living on site with more than that.  I don't know what it was like but, if it was as good as ours, it was very good indeed.

We got freshly made scones. We had a choice of cake. We had mini-muffins, savoury ones. I don't normally eat any sort of morning tea but I make an exception for the Show. It is simply too good to miss. At lunch time they make me a cheese-salad sandwich...I could have other fillings if I wanted them or I could have a pie, pasty or sausage roll. There is soup and they turn out an amazing array of desserts that I have, so far, been strong minded enough to ignore but they look good too.

I wonder whether these women are really appreciated though. It's the little extras that really do it. In the queue to pick up my lunch order I was told, "You go and sit down and I'll bring you your mug of tea." That was so good from a very busy person. I didn't have to worry about spilling a mess on the floor. The day I didn't walk down to the canteen (it is a fair distance) they sent my sandwich up all neatly done up in a disposable cardboard box - with a paper serviette inserted. They are thoughtful and caring. 

They left the urn there today so we could make tea or coffee after we had sorted out the items in the cabinet. (People will pick things up tomorrow.) It was good to sit down for a moment and it gave everyone a chance to sign the get well card for V... who has damaged a knee and had to miss the past week.  I thought about cards as I put my paw print on it and I know I really need to send the CWA canteen women a card to say "thank you". They need to be appreciated.


Monday 11 September 2023

The "right to switch off" is

being sought by teachers in this state. What they are saying is they want to be able to ignore calls from parents and their workplace when they go home.  Other employees in other places are also saying the same thing.

I know one employer who has banned his small workforce from doing any work from home after the end of the day. If they absolutely feel they must they can stay and finish something but they cannot take work home.  He feels he can afford to do this and that he gets more from his staff this way.

I wonder whether it might be the same for teachers? I was always happy to talk to a parent before or after school but they never had my phone number in order to phone me at night. On very rare occasions I might tell a child I would call a parent in the evening. Of course I could phone them without the need to share my phone number. I never used it to make a complaint about a child. It would always be something positive. It would usually be about something like a book a child wanted to buy from the book club which provided cheap paperback copies of good books. A parent might want to know more about the book. I occasionally spoke to a parent to reassure them. 

I also gave the children very little "homework". When I did I tried to make it something they would enjoy and finish quickly. "Work hard in school and you won't need to do school work at home" I would tell them. Not everyone agreed with my stance but I believe it was the right one for young children. They would get more than enough homework in high school.

But teachers do take work home. It is at night teachers mark papers, prepare lessons, right reports, keep records and more. From a young age I watched my parents do all this. It often took several hours each evening. There were even times when my brother and I were expected to help by doing things like "printing" from the "jelly duplicator" or cutting card to size on the old guillotine. 

Now it seems parents expect to be able to contact a child's teachers by phone at any time. Some parents, such as a neighbour across the way, are conscious of this and don't do it. "I might if it was really urgent but, like me, they have had a heavy day. They don't need it." 

I wonder how many parents think like that. Despite attempts to tell them otherwise there are still many who believe teachers only "work" when they are actually facing children. They believe teaching is "easy" and "they get eleven weeks holiday a year". Perhaps it is like that for some but I know teachers who put in sixty hour weeks on a regular basis. They turn out for sports on Saturdays and Sundays too.

If we want the best of teachers then I think they should be able to "switch off" at the end of the school day. Unless they are paid more they should not be expected to turn out for sports at weekends. I am not suggesting their responsibilities start and end with the school day but they need "down time" as well.  They do have a right to "switch off". 

Granting that right is not going to cost millions extra in pay. It might actually save something. 

Sunday 10 September 2023

I have another orchid

to care for and the responsibility is a little concerning. Orchids need to be cared for in more than a "give it a bit of water every day" sort of way. Indeed, you do not water an orchid every day.

Middle Cat has given it to me. There are actually five beautiful flowers on it. They are the colour of good milk with a delicate yellow centre. 

I know very little about orchids. I know very little about flowers. I can name some, but not all. I know what I like.

Our mother grew orchids. The Senior Cat covered an area of the side garden for her to have the right sort of environment in which to grow them. Many of them grew in great pots. They would be nothing more than dull looking leaves for long periods of time and then they would flower. There would be sprays of them. I remember some of them as being as long as thirty centimetres. 

Mum would stand there with the very old man who lived "over the back fence" and they would discuss them at length. He grew orchids at the side of his gladioli beds. The gladioli were his first love and the garden beds were filled with colour each summer. He would bring our mother great sheaves of gladioli. They would be the "imperfect" ones he was not showing. In return she would give orchids she had repotted as they broke out of their containers. The two of them got on well. They both had green thumbs. The Senior Cat would simply go back to his tomatoes and peas and leave them to it.

I thought of all this as I looked at the new orchid this morning. I am no gardener. If S...., who comes to help, can give me a hand to keep the weeds under control that is all I ask. I don't have the time or the physical capacity to grow the vegetables I might otherwise grow. If the bluebells come up of their own accord each year (and they do) then I am happy enough. Middle Cat is much more interested. She went off to a gardening club with the Senior Cat. They went to look at gardens for gardening purposes. I would go to look at gardens for their appearance, for their colours.

And this is what frustrates me. I see those colours. I want those colours in knitting yarn. They don't make it the way I want it and I don't know enough about dyeing my own to do it. I need more than twenty-four hours in each day to even contemplate starting on this.

But I will appreciate the orchid. Yesterday was a low point. I went to look at a possible future home. There was a queue waiting to inspect it...a queue that stretched down the street. I had promised Middle Cat I would look. I joined the queue. I looked. 

It would be an ideal places in many ways but I know that others will offer far more than I can afford. One of those offers will be accepted. Middle Cat has arranged to see it tomorrow but we both know that someone will have offered a hundred thousand more than it is worth. That is how desperate people have become. 

But, as Middle Cat said when she gave me the orchid, it doesn't have a garden. I think I need some greenery even if I do not have a green thumb. 

Saturday 9 September 2023

Judging at a show

is not a simple task. I do a little of it - and a little is enough. The little section I judge for our state Show is a rather special one and those who enter it are often less competitive and more caring. The number of entries can vary greatly from one year to the next.

The much larger sections I am involved in, knitting and crochet, are much more complex. The judging takes time and skill. It is not a simple task. 

The quality of the work entered can vary widely. It has to be judged according to criteria which can seem arcane to those who are not involved.

I have just been involved in trying to get this message across to someone who commented on a Facebook page. She could not understand why an apparently much more complex pair of socks did not win the first prize.  The pair of socks which won first prize were plain, very plain. They are simply stocking stitch but they are exceptionally well knitted.

In judging socks many people fail at one or more of many points. The first is the grafting at the toe. There are not many people who can graft well enough to satisfy a judge. I am certain I will never manage it no matter how many pairs I knit. 

The second is the sock top. Many people fail to make this elastic enough to satisfy the judge. We have had many beautiful pairs over the years that fail at this point. 

The third is the heel. Is it going to sit well on someone's foot? This is not merely about length but the way the heel fits in relation to the rest of the foot and the ankle. I remember a lovely looking pair of socks which were discarded because the judge said, "Those heels would be so uncomfortable to wear." The judge was right.

The fourth is the sole. Is it comfortable to walk on? Judges will discard patterned soles as uncomfortable to walk on but people will still make them in the belief that a fancy sole will give them extra points.

The fifth is the fabric. Yes, you can knit socks with fancy lace, cables, fair isle and just about anything else but how practical is this? Socks are a lot of work. Why waste time on something that is not practical? Judges want to see something that can be worn. They will query the lack of flexibility in cables and fair isle.

The sixth is the yarn which is used. It needs to be suitable for socks. Of course you can make socks out of fluffy angora if you want to but they won't win prizes in a show because they are not practical.

Those six things come in no particular order and they are not the only things considered but they are considered. Judging is not an easy task and to suggest that simply because something is fancy it is worth more is wrong.  

Friday 8 September 2023

House sitting has become a

way of life for a friend of mine.

At the age of seventy-two she had the courage to leave her abusive husband. He was mentally rather than physically abusive but it was still abuse and it affected her very badly indeed.

Quite what happened to finally make her leave is something she has not shared with anyone, not even her children. They live elsewhere. She left one day when he had gone to play golf. Normally his golf partner's wife would have been there in the house but there was nobody there so she packed her clothes into some garbage bags brought them around to me to store in our shed, took a taxi to the airport and a flight to her son interstate. 

"I can't live with them. They have three children. There is no room,"she told me as she was leaving, "They can have me for a couple of weeks. I am going to try and get some house sitting work. Will you back me up?"

I thought of her immaculate house, her genuine love of animals and gardening and said "Yes" without hesitation. She signed up with an agency and provided them with some references. Would it work? 

It has worked extremely well. It has been a far greater success than anyone thought possible. While she goes through the process of divorce from someone who still wants to control every part of her life she has somewhere to live. She has not even had to go back to her son for more than two nights here and one night there. The agency she signed with knows her situation. They also know she is absolutely reliable. 

With her son's help she bought a reliable car and she is travelling across the eastern states. Her last "house sit" was quite remote. She had cats, dogs, a horse, sheep and an alpaca to care for while she was there. The house was lovely and there was a swimming pool she could use. "It was a five week holiday," she told me, "And they have asked if I could do it again at the same time next year. Even if I have my own place by then I will. They were such nice people."

There have been a couple of not quite so good short stays but she has just shrugged when she told me about the dog who refused to go for walks and the cat who disappeared (but came back before his owners did). She can handle those things. 

It isn't something she wants to do for too much longer but it has let her see something of the country and her "about to be ex-husband" has not been able to harass her in quite the same way. He doesn't know where she is.

House sitting won't suit everyone and she knows she has been lucky. The agency has been good to her - but then they have a good person on their books. 

I had an email from her yesterday. They want to know if she would take on a six week position in another country. It's an unusual situation and involves being a companion to a very elderly woman. There will be "house staff" to do everything else. She just needs to be company for a set number of hours a day. Is she going to do it?

"Why not? If I hate it then it is only for six weeks but they sound as if they care about their mother so I think it will be nice."

Life has become an adventure for her. I wonder how soon she will get her own little place - and whether the "adventure" might continue.  

Thursday 7 September 2023

Tea pot cosies, greyhounds and cats

all featured in my visit yesterday.

Yes, Middle Cat and I went off to the Show, the annual agricultural and horticultural Show. I had something to do there but Middle Cat tagged along and when I had finished we did a little sightseeing. 

I am not keen on the crowds or the noise but it is most definitely one of the most interesting "people watching" situations to be in. That being the case I did as I needed to do and was free to do as Middle Cat wanted. 

We sat and ate our sandwich with my good friend W... W... is the handicrafts judge for another Show in the state, a smaller rural one. She had come along to look at our display and talk it over with me. It was good to see things through her eyes. After we had been around the display together and she had met our Convenor we had a quick look at the flowers in the adjacent area. I would like to have taken that display of delphiniums home with me...that blue!

Then W... who is in her eighties decided she was ready to leave and went off to catch a bus. I found Middle Cat talking to her friend F... F... takes time away from his regular job each year and tries to sell CD's of pan pipe music at the Show. He wasn't doing very well this year. The organisers had changed his location and (naturally) the price had gone up. He greeted me in Spanish and I replied in same. His English not good. I waited while they chatted and just watched the passing parade of people. 

All sorts of people go to the Show and I wonder what sort of home life some of them have. What sort of household does that enormously fat and tattooed woman come from? She is wearing cut off shorts and a t-shirt that reveals more than it hides. What about the other one, almost as big? She is also wearing shorts, fishnet stockings and a blouse tied so that I can see her "belly button". I try not to stare. I also wonder at the young boy, perhaps twelve or thirteen who is so very, very thin. Under his t-shirts (he is wearing two) there is the unmistakable outline of a back brace. He needs help to stand up but, as they walk away from where they were sitting, he turns to the adult with him. His face is alight with enthusiasm for something. 

Middle Cat wants to see some cats which were judged today. We find our way to the far end of the grounds. It is quieter there. The cats are mostly asleep. One is being given a bit of grooming. Middle Cat being Middle Cat is soon deep in conversation with the owner. I talk to the cat, a female Russian Blue. She is a "rescue" cat. People come along and look at her and talk baby talk to her. I talk to her in a more adult manner and, on a nod from her owner, I let her sniff my hand. She gives me a gentle butt and we are "friends". She ignores her other admirers and "talks" to me. 

There are rescue greyhounds on the other side of the pavilion we are in. Middle Cat again engages in conversation and discovers the man holding the leads of the two dozing greyhounds has parents who came from the same villages in Cyprus as her in-laws. We all agree that retired greyhounds are couch potatoes. How do they manage to stay so thin.

Middle Cat and I buy the obligatory ice-cream and eat it watching other people. The weather is perfect, sunny and  23'C at the time. We start to return slowly to the main pedestrian gate. There is time to visit the Country Women's Association display so I can tell the woman in charge about the winning tea pot cosy. "That's so good. Practically be blowed," she tells me, "It should be a bit of fun."

I am glad she feels that way because the CWA sponsors the prize. 

We look briefly at the schools' display of work on electric vehicles and Middle Cat meets someone she knows who races go-karts. I watch more tattooed people and then a smartly dressed group, obviously important visitors...yes, I recognise one of them. He recognises me too and breaks away from the group long enough to stop and shake hands and inquire after a mutual friend. 

This is a small city. It is a small state in population terms. Perhaps all this meeting and greeting is not so surprising.

We did not get as far wheat or sheep or wool classing or the area where cows were being milked. I saw children with the bright yellow bags they use to follow the "yellow brick road" to see all these things. If their parents guide them along that they will learn a great deal. They expressions on their faces suggested that many of them were having an experience to remember. 

Wednesday 6 September 2023

"Our economic future lies with

south-east Asia" - or so the Prime Minister would have us believe.

Successive governments have been trying to tell us this since 1973 - the year Downunder's then Prime Minister made a trip to China. They are still trying to tell us our future is in Asia.

Yes, Asia is important to us. It is very important to us. We need to have good trading relations with Asia and we can do a lot of business with them.

But...the world does not end in south-east Asia or even Asia itself. While we have been focussing on building up trade with these regions they are moving on. They are building up trade ties with the Americas, with the middle-East, with Africa and with all of Europe. We are being left behind. The markets we might have entered are all but closed to us. 

We have been telling students they must learn Chinese and Japanese or, less often, offering them Vietnamese and Malay-Indonesian or (even more rarely Thai). French and German are still taught but the "smart" student does an Asian language - and generally does it very badly.  

People in business are told to focus on Asian markets, even when their products might be better suited to other places.  There is government support for this because it is government policy. 

In all this we forget that we are not seen as an Asian nation. We just happen to be geographically located adjacent to a large and diverse Asian nation. One of the most popular overseas holiday destinations just happens to be located there. Youngest Nephew went to visit. He passed through the tourist site on his way to his chosen destination. He was not impressed. His trip there was to a much more remote location, one almost entirely unknown to tourists. The tourist area may seem exotically foreign but it really is just a tourist destination.

Youngest Nephew does not want to go back but we both know people who have been many times. The Senior Cat's brother went many times but he too avoided the tourist area. His purpose in going was to visit a village with a number of traditional potters working in it. They taught him some of their techniques. He taught them other things in return. When he left they were friendly - but not friends. There was little in common between them apart from the pottering. 

I know many other people who have gone to do the sort of "micro aid" tasks for which I have provided communication assistance. They have had much the same experience. Asia is there and south-east Asia is there. There are sometimes disaster areas where help is needed. They will accept that help politely, even ask for it on occasion. The people will be friendly, even welcoming for a time. It is when we believe that this somehow means we are part of the Asian family or that they will choose to do business with them first that we make a mistake.  It is time to acknowledge this. It is long past time to stop being so lazy and look further afield as well. Unless we do then we will continue to lose trade.


Tuesday 5 September 2023

The "Uluru Statement in full"

has been published in our state newspaper this morning. I don't know where else it is being published but it is interesting that it should be published here - or anywhere else. 

This is the document the present government has committed to implementing "in full". It is the document which forms the basis for "the Voice to Parliament" we are being asked to vote on in a referendum on October 14th. It is the document which forms the basis for a proposed change to our Constitution.

There has been an argument over whether it was just one page or whether it is many. There was difficulty in actually obtaining it. I did actually manage to download a copy from a site which obtained it through a Freedom of Information request. I read it some time ago. 

Unless it is a very, very long page indeed then it is many pages long. It should not have taken any FoI request to obtain it. It is a document which should have been freely available and in the public arena from the start. 

We have a Prime Minister who tells us it is a single page, that it is a "simple request" and who, when asked whether he had read the entire document, said, "No, why would I?" Even the authors of the document admit it is longer and more complex than he makes out.

If people take the trouble to read it then it should send "undecided" people into the "No" camp. It may send some "Yes" voters there too. There will be "Yes" voters who will try to argue that the document means something else but they will be the rusted on Yes voters, the hardcore left wing voters who cannot afford to have doubts. They are those who believe the government can control the demands being made. 

Most people will not trouble to read it. It is a long document. It is in a Tuesday paper, not a weekend paper. They will not understand statements about "the law" being "violated" by the arrival of white settlers - and neither they should because the statement itself is nonsense. It is an attempt to suggest that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people believe the same things in the same way, that a Voice can somehow speak for groups which are as diverse in language and culture as they are across Europe or Africa or Asia. 

If you live in this country and you have a duty to attend the ballot box on October 14th then is it too much to ask you to read the entire document? Ask yourself, is this what the people which it is claimed to represent really want?  

Monday 4 September 2023

"They did not want me"

my friend M... told me. I had already known this but I was not aware she knew it in quite such a stark way.

M.... is profoundly deaf. English is her third language - after Canadian sign language and French.  Communicating with her is difficult but I have done the best I can. I have done it because she is very, very lonely here.

A few people have had the best of intentions. They will write things down for her to read.  Even that has problems. They will use words in ways she does not understand or put things in ways that cause problems. When things go wrong they think she is "stupid" rather than realising that something does not make sense to her.

M... tries to lip read but lip movements here are different enough that there is a problem with that as well.

And yes, I have problems too. Even finger-spelling something has issues. M... is used to using a one-handed alphabet. I use a two handed one. Rather than get me to use her one-handed one M... uses a two-handed one for me. M... knows that my manual dexterity issues make it hard for me to sign to her. She is very patient with me. Our conversations are very slow and stilted.

She came late yesterday with her husband C... He is not deaf but he grew up in a community where many people are deaf. Talking to his wife in signs comes naturally to him. M... was excited. They are going back for a wedding this coming week but have a three day stopover in Japan on the way.

They had been to look at the Handicrafts at our annual Show. M... had put three items in the competition - and won two first prizes and a second. She was delighted at first but that delight was almost lost in the realisation that one prize was donated by a group which had told her she was not welcome to join them. C... tells me she has decided to return the prize money to them. That is how much it hurt.

Yes, there would have been problems. I cannot go to that group. She would have needed to go only on the occasions that C.... could go with her and help with communication. It was something she was willing to try but when a member of their small home church group inquired the response was rather odd. When M... sent an email asking about joining she received no reply at all. No, they did not want her. It was better to ignore her and all the potential embarrassment.

I am ashamed at the way a visitor to this country has been made to feel so unwelcome.  It was made even worse by M... hugging me and telling me I have been such a good friend. I haven't been such a good friend. I should have made a much bigger effort. I know M... laughs and tells me we cannot knit or crochet and talk as well but is that really the reason I have not insisted she came to our little group? O should have done more. 

C... tells me M... might not come back with him for a while. They are obviously deeply in love with one another but she is also very lonely here. We could have done so much more to help her feel welcome. I am ashamed of myself and the group which did not make her welcome.  

Sunday 3 September 2023

There is a photograph of ColinThiele

in among the family photographs in the albums Middle Cat and I are now going through. 

I did not know it was there. He is sitting there with the Senior Cat. I think it was taken at a national conference the Senior Cat once organised.  They are both wearing name tags. 

It was not that which caught my eye however. What caught my eye was the closeness of their relationship. It comes out in that photograph. Colin must have had his photograph taken hundreds of times. He was a "big" name, not just as an author but also as an educator. 

He could easily have ended up as one of those people who fame spoils. I have known a few of those. They change... or perhaps their true personality comes through. 

Colin was not like that. He remained someone who was genuinely interested in other people to the end. He somehow, through all the severe pain of his increasing lack of mobility due to arthritis, managed to retain his sense of humour. People liked him for that. 

Colin retained his closest friends too - the Senior Cat was one of them. They did not see one another often but, when they did, they picked up their friendship where they had left off. They inquired with genuine interest about each other's families, about mutual friends and the work each was doing.  Colin once wanted to know how a particular conjuring trick was done. It was not so he could give the game away but because he thought he needed to understand before using the idea of it in another setting.  I remember him sitting there with the Senior Cat and having all the enthusiasm of a young boy being taught his first conjuring trick. Like the Senior Cat he could remember what it was like to be a child - and still revel in it.

Perhaps that is what brought the two of them so close together.  It's a good photograph. Middle Cat put it into the "keep" pile.