Burkinis – not worth freaking out over

Of course I understand why people in the south of France especially are hair-trigger on the subject.

The most evil words in the world?

Posted on July 16, 2016 by Neil

… are not those referencing bodily parts or functions or sexual activities. Rather they are those that dehumanise to the point where you think it is a rather good idea to drive a truck through crowds of innocent fellow-humans, or act like that shithead in Norway – not a Muslim—who five years ago ran around shooting 77 teenagers and others because he didn’t care for their politics.

So I lament Nice, and all the other horrors across the world in past weeks and months…

But I do think some French authorities have gone down the wrong track lately. So does Aussie May Fahmy in today’s Herald.

For the uninitiated, burkini are full body swim suits, commonly worn by Muslim women and occasionally by others who generally prefer the extra coverage or who are sun conscious; Nigella Lawson famously wore one once on Bondi Beach to protect her alabaster skin. Recently, cities in France have banned them on their beaches.This ban was introduced in Cannes to ensure beach goers wear clothing “which respects good customs and secularism”, according to Mayor David Lisnar (nuns’ habits are apparently exempt).

See more posts here tagged “terror”.

While some, like this Western progressive feminist, may disagree, I think the burkini is not worth freaking out over.


The burkini is in fact an Australian invention, following the Cronulla riots of 2005.

…The controversy resonates sharply in a country where the female attire has been a flash point between the traditionally secular majority and a Muslim minority, with mostly immigrant backgrounds, for years. Throw in devastating recent attacks linked to Islamist militants and the situation is pretty volatile.

Yet for all the burkini controversy, the backstory of the garment is often overlooked. The burkini didn’t originate in Europe. And, no, it didn’t originate in the Middle East or a Muslim-majority nation, either.

Instead, the burkini was crafted in Australia, designed for the white sandy beaches of Sydney. And though the garment is proving divisive in Europe, its creator says she was inspired by a desire for inclusion — and a healthy entrepreneurial spirit…

At first Zanetti’s garment attracted only a niche following. However in the aftermath of the 2005 Cronulla riots, local organisations began to look for a way to help Muslim Australians integrate and show others that their Muslim peers were part of Australian society. In 2007, Surf Life Saving Australia launched a campaign to find Muslim lifeguards to work on Sydney’s beaches…

An example following on from that is this 2007 entry from Pommygranate:

This year sees the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the first surf club, at Bondi beach, in 1907. This week should see the arrival of the first Muslim surf life savers as part of a wonderful initiative by Surf Life Saving Australia to broaden its membership. It was only in 1980 that women surf life savers were admitted. They now account for 40% of membership.

It is also part of a campaign, called On The Same Wave, assisted by a $600,000 government grant to recruit Australians of Middle Eastern heritage to try to rebuild community relations following the Cronulla riots in December 2005.

Mecca Laalaa, 20, is one of a group of Muslims hoping to become a life saver following completion of a ten week training course in November. She is unable to wear a bikini so a local Lebanese designer came up with a novel idea, the burqini – a full-length lycra suit complete with built-in headscarf. The suit does make swimming more difficult but hopefully not significantly so.


See also last night’s 7.30 on ABC: Australian-designed burkini at centre of national debate in France.

Strange world sometimes! Aussies of a certain age will remember this well:


And this one I conclude with, though it is a touch paradoxical:


What I posted one year ago

You’ll have to go to the original to see what this was about:

Random Friday memory 26: naked in The Shire

Posted on August 28, 2015 by Neil

Oh yes. Well, once at least when I was maybe ten years old…


It was all down to my classmate CT who was a bit of a junior nudist…

And this one:

NSW government stops showing of documentary in schools

Posted on August 27, 2015 by Neil

This began, it appears, with a characteristic fit of righteous wrath from the Sydney Daily Telegraph front page. I saw but did not bother reading it. Life is too short.

But there have been rapid consequences, as reported in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

The NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, has banned every public school in the state from screening a documentary about children with gay parents during school hours…

A bit like this today…

Still dampish in West Wollongong

Posted on August 26, 2015 by Neil

The immediate area was not as badly hit as some; you can see The Illawarra Mercury for that.

Torrential rain has caused havoc in the Illawarra over the past 24 hours with numerous roads closed due to flooding.

Rainfall totals in the 24 hours to 9am Tuesday were Bellambi – 192.0mm, Kiama – 170.4mm,  Albion Park – 159.2mm, Nowra – 181.6mm and Moss Vale – 47.6mm.

Here are some photos on my way back from the Yum Yum Cafe this morning. (Yesterday I stayed at home.)



Bastard hunting banned…

Posted on August 20, 2015 by Neil

Yes, I also wondered.

I have an email update each day from the South Asia Daily, a News Brief from the South Asia Channel/Foreign Policy magazine. The headline Pakistan Bans Houbara Bastard Hunting this morning really made me curious. It led to:

On Wednesday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld a provincial ban on hunting of the Houbara Bastard bird and ordered the cancellation of all hunting permits for it (ET, Dawn). The case derived from the federal government’s issuance of such permits over provincial objections. The panel ruled: “After the passing of the 18th Constitutional amendment, the rights to issue any such licenses rests with the provincial governments.” Justice Qazi Faiz Essa commented: “The federal government has not only violated the federal and the provincial laws but has also breached the international agreements by issuing such licenses.” The Houbara Bastard is listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to its rapid population decline in recent years. However, the bird remains a popular prey of hunters from Arab countries.

It is actually the houbara bustard or North African houbara (Chlamydotis undulata), but I like the spelling in the report above.


houbara bustard

See also from February 2015: Saudi Royal on Houbara bustard hunting spree in Balochistan.

QUETTA: A Saudi prince is on a hunting spree for rare birds in Balochistan despite a court-imposed ban and the government’s insistence that the foreign delegation is only on a diplomatic mission, senior officials said Monday.

The annual hunt has sparked controversy in recent years because of the Houbara bustard’s dwindling numbers, with the issue also shining a spotlight on traditionally close ties between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature includes the bird on its ‘red list’ of threatened species, estimating there are fewer than 97,000 left globally…

The government for its part has denied that the Saudi party is engaged in hunting, saying that they had come to oversee development activities.

“They have other kind of activities like inspecting Arab-funded development schemes and meeting tribal elders of the area as part of good will”, minister for forest and wildlife Obaidullah Babat, told reporters last week.

The issue has stirred controversy on social media and among youth activists in the restive province, where a separatist insurgency has been simmering since 2004 and many are critical of the government’s policies, including its ties to ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia.

Up to 40 youth activists from Chaghi district protested in front of Quetta Press Club against the hunting of Houbara Bastard on Friday.

They chanted slogans against the provincial government and demanded the expulsion of the Arab hunting parties from the province.

The stories we never hear about, eh!

Mind you, I couldn’t help but think of a bit of bastard hunting that we could do with here in Australia. A wicked thought…

Thirty years is a long time and forty even longer

I missed this, unfortunately, as I rarely attend night-time things these days, especially in Sydney. I had been invited:

Its a long time ago, but you taught me for a few years at Sydney High – 1985 and 1986 – for 2 unit English. Memorable times, including the infamous “shit poem” you asked a friend to come in and read for us, and our universal dislike of Dickens’ Great Expectations!

My colleagues and I are having a 30 year reunion on Saturday August 13, 2016 – we’d like to invite you if you’d like to come.

The inviter is on the right, a former teaching colleague on the left:


Apparently a debate on the topic “It is better to live fast and wild in middle age than in high school” was part of the night’s proceedings. They were very good at debating, that class of 1986. Some have gone on to considerable eminence in related fields. I’m told  “over fifty-five ex-students and a small number of teachers calling ‘present, sir’ at the Local Taphouse in Darlinghurst on Saturday 13 August.”  I am sorry I could not be with them, but am having fun guessing, occasionally successfully, who is who in the photos.



Some of these people may recall this:


See More “Neil’s Decades” – 10: 1986 again.


That’s part of a Sydney Boys High staff photo from 1986. I am back row centre. The colleague in the top picture above is also in this group. Can you pick him?

And on Sydney High, especially 1986, I have posted a lot. Just a few examples: Class of 1986 please note: you’re getting old! (2011), More “Neil’s Decades” –8: 1956 — 1, Expedition to Surry Hills – 3 – Sydney Boys HighMore “Neil’s Decades” — 1, I return to teaching — 1985.

Now forty years on: More “Neil’s Decades” — 3: 1976.


That really took me back. You see, at Wollongong High in 1975-1976 I was teaching [Year 8] Photography as well as English. You will observe the two top right copies of “The Gleam”, WHS’s magazine/yearbook. Those covers are my work I do believe. The insides too represented quite a departure from what had gone before. If I recall correctly we were gifted offset printing by Illawarra County Council, the local electricity authority at that time who had a new printery with not enough for it to do. The scope it gave us was marvellous. I do seem to recall playing a bit of a trick on the student editorial committee – the 1976 one, I think – by submitting anonymously some meaningless but trendy-sounding poems, which they published. I no longer have copies of these mags. I’d love to check the insides again!

One of my great mentors in Photography was John Williams. His Obituary was recently in the Sydney Morning Herald.

John Williams was the first head of photography at Sydney College of the Arts and discovered his passion through a photographic catalogue called the Family of Man given to him by his wife in 1958. The Museum of Modern Art exhibition, with its documentary photography vision of universal humanity, toured Australia in 1959 at the height of the Cold War and its forceful images influenced a generation of young photographers…

Film, theatre and visual arts emerged as legitimate places for Australians to make a living and new schools were established. Within five years photography was booming and Williams was at the heart of it.

John was then reviewing for photography magazines and newspapers and running a WEA course on photography. It was here that he met his second wife, Ingeborg Tyssen, a nurse who had arrived in Australia as a child from The Netherlands. A brilliant photographer, she joined him when he moved to Melbourne in 1974 and together they set up The Photographers Gallery with Paul Cox and Rod McNichol.

Tyssen and Williams returned to Sydney in 1976, when he became foundation head of photography and film at the new Sydney College of the Arts…

I gave an account of my part in one of those residential WEA courses in Towns I’ve stayed in 3 — Hill End NSW.

I passed through several times in the late 60s and early 70s, always stopping for a while. It is still quite a hairy drive in, and the pub is most inviting. In 1975 I was at Bathurst doing a photography course with John Williams and Ingeborg Tyssen*. Hill End/Sofala was one of our targets. I asked an old guy in the pub, after buying him a beer, if I could photograph him. “Guess so,” he said. “Snowdon did last week…” (John Williams told me I was a good second-rate photographer, which I found rather pleasing, coming from him.)…

* Sad to note that Ingeborg Tyssen passed away in 2002, not yet 60 years of age.

Do look at John Williams’s work.

Tonga? Where’s that and why should we care?

Obviously the Daily Telegraph is of the opinion (expressed in the editorial as well as this lame article yesterday) that research dollars should not be spent on understanding this Pacific neighbour’s fascinating past.

MILLIONS of taxpayer dollars destined for vital research have been handed to arty academics for social engineering projects ranging from Tibetan philosophy to office gossip and warfare in ancient Tonga.

In a series of government grants branded “absurd and obscure” by critics yesterday, researchers at Monash ­University have been awarded $105,000 to study “a new philosophical vision of what it means to be human”, through the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Australian National University (ANU) academics got $467,997 to “investigate warfare in the ancient Tongan state through a study of earthwork fortifications’’.

“The project would benefit Australia by showing how changes to political systems are associated with phases of conflict and peace,’’ they told the ARC. Another ANU team will get $414,000 to explore “truth, realism and epistemic justification” in Tibetan ­philosophy….

I mean, who cares about any of this pointy-headed egghead crap eh? Now if they could tell me how to crack Keno there might be some sense to it. Who gives a stuff what this might be?


Captain Cook was interested, it seems. I assume the Tele might consider research into his career worth a cent or two of taxpayer dosh… Or would they?

The Lapita people, the ancestors of today’s Polynesians, brought a relatively egalitarian society with them when they colonised Tonga three thousand years ago. Based as it was on fishing and small-scale farming, the Lapita economy was incapable of generating the sort of surplus that could support a privileged and idle class.

Over millennia, though, Tongatapu’s inhabitants developed a sophisticated and highly productive system of agriculture to support their growing population. A chiefly class rose to appropriate the surplus produced by this economy; priests and poets were deployed to justify and beautify the privileges of this new class. When Cook arrived on Tongatapu in 1773 he found a fantastically stratified society. Chiefs regarded the serfs who worked their estates as members of a different race, and denied that they had souls.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century, though, the feudal order was destabilised. New-fangled muskets and cannons upset the balance of power between chiefs and emboldened raiders from northern islands; Christianity undermined old religious apologies for the powerful. The need for firearms and other European goods led chiefs to sell or barter much of their harvests to traders, rather than offer it to the priests, poets, and sacred king who lived in Mu’a. Young serfs could dream of escaping their lot by leaping aboard a passing European ship or enlisting in the army of some enemy of their chief.

In 1839, after taking advice from some missionaries, Tupou had created the ‘Vava’u Code’, Tonga’s first set of written laws….

Seems archaeologists from Canada’s Simon Fraser University are interested too.

The researchers pinpointed the date of first landfall at Tonga to within eight years of 826 B.C.

Because the Lapita scattered such coral files at many sites, the new technique could be used to retrace the steps of the ancient seafarers throughout Oceania with astonishing accuracy, Burley said.

“We can look at this progression across the Pacific in ways we couldn’t before,” he said.


Yeah well who gives a stuff? Not the Tele obviously….

A researcher from the UNSW has responded, not to the Tonga aspect specifically but to the general drift of yesterday’s knee-jerkery in the Tele.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is suffering one of their frequent relapses into frothy-mouthed panic about government wastage on research grants. Poking at layabout academics for ‘wasting’ tax dollars on seemingly frivolous projects reminds me of nothing more than the schoolyard bully who secretly knows he peaked in year 9. Today, the Tele flattered me by holding up one of my own projects for ridicule, ironically illustrating their point that rusted-on ideology, and patronage provide the most direct route possible to mediocrity.

In an ‘Exclusive’ Natasha Bita goes beyond the tried-and-true formula of simply spouting big school words culled from the titles and summaries of grant proposals, and giggling “what does that even mean?”. She pits a handful of phrases from grant summaries against more urgent priorities, quoting Michael Potter of the Centre for Independent Studies:

Would it not be a better investment to fund research into cures for disease, major social problems, and ways to boost the Australian economy?

Quite. Presumably we can leave it to the Tele and the CIS to decide on which research is most beneficial? Without the need for all that grant-writing and peer review?…

Curiosity, it seems, is a limited commodity at Telegraph HQ. As is the capacity to do even the most cursory research. Shonkily researched assertions are okay if you enjoy the safe patronage of a major news organisation. You would never get away with such abject laziness, or such contempt for professional disinterest in a grant proposal to a federal funding body.

Ray Hadley picked up the Telegraph’s baton in an interview with the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, demanding that the ARC justify its funding decision in the front bar of a Western Sydney or North Brisbane pub.

Yes, after the forlorn cries for better funding of research rang out through Science Week last week, and as the ARC sits to decide the outcomes of this year’s biggest schemes in Canberra, the pro-ignorance side of the culture wars has decided to play their favourite game. Their attempts to paint researchers as out-of-touch layabouts draining the public purse are, if you read the comments on Blair’s blog, playing well with the patrons of those very pubs….

Meanwhile, more stuff on Tonga that no Telegraph reader could possibly care about:

Beginning about 800 years ago, a powerful chiefdom arose in Tonga, unique in Oceania — that is, the islands of the South Pacific — in how it successfully united an entire archipelago of islands. However, much remained unknown about how far Tonga’s influence actually reached.

“Beginning about 800 years ago, a powerful chiefdom arose in Tonga, unique in Oceania — that is, the islands of the South Pacific — in how it successfully united an entire archipelago of islands. However, much remained unknown about how far Tonga’s influence actually reached.

To learn more about the extent of Tonga’s empire, scientists chemically analyzed nearly 200 stone tools excavated from the centers of its leaders, especially artifacts from the royal tombs on Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga. They also chemically analyzed more than 300 stone artifacts and rock samples taken from other Pacific islands, such as Samoa.

“All of the work has been done with a large Tongan workforce from the community who are now being funded to conserve many of the monumental tombs,” Clark said….

Wot? ANU? THAT ANU? All good Tele readers and the Treasurer Ray Hadley – sorry, Scott Morrison – sincerely hope no Aussie Tax Payer Dollars were injured in pursuit of this irrelevant crap….

See also Australian Research Council and Australian Research Council Funding.

George Washington’s spy ring comes alive in AMC drama ‘Turn’

I have begun watching Series 1 of Turn (2014), courtesy of Wollongong Library. I see it comes from the same mob who brought us Breaking Bad. Piya Sinha-Roy noted at the time the series premiered:

The world of espionage has been brought to life by characters such as James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer on film and television, but a new AMC drama is going back to spy origins with America’s own founding father, George Washington.

“Turn,” which premieres on Sunday, tells the story of four childhood friends who find themselves pulled together as spies during the height of the American Revolutionary War in 1778 in New York’s Long Island, under the orders of General Washington.

The series is based on Alexander Rose’s 2007 book “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring.”

The Culper Ring was formed by Major Benjamin Tallmadge, who chose an unsuspecting group of his friends, civilians who opposed the British occupation of New York – farmer Abe Woodhull, pub landlady Anna Strong and fisherman Caleb Brewster.

Abe, played by British actor Jamie Bell, is the symbol of the “everyman,” reluctantly drawn into the Culper Ring because he is forced to stand by his beliefs and try and change the country for the sake of his baby son’s future.

“He’s not a hero. He’s not a spy. He’s a farmer, a failed farmer, and he’s a family man. He wants the war to disappear. He doesn’t want to be one of these people who wants to step up,” Bell said of his character.

“Even though they are muted in the show, his politics are that a man should be in his own country and make decisions for himself.”…

And yes, that is the Jamie Bell who was so memorably Billy Elliot in the 2000 movie.


The attention to historical detail in setting and costume is first rate. There is little flinching from what the fighting really was like, meaning my library copy is labelled MA15+.  Very early in Episode 1 you are left in no doubt what bayonets are for.


I did find myself lost at times in early episodes, however, as I am not all that familiar with the details of this part of US history. I might have benefited from a little internet research before watching. Sinha-Roy continues:

…”Turn” goes back to a time when state-of-the-art tradecraft consisted of invisible ink, laundry on washing lines, and dead letter boxes. The true story of the primitive efforts of an underground group of operatives is what both Bell and Silverstein think will surprise audiences.

“What this show gives you is that insight; it’s as close as we could get to what it would have been like. The show isn’t so much a history lesson as it is a glimpse into a different era and time,” Bell said.

“The history of American espionage and spying is such a crucial asset to this country, and this is George Washington trying to figure out how to do it.”

With espionage very much in the headlines these days – with U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning convicted of violating the Espionage Act and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden charged for leaking classified documents to the public – “Turn” resonates in the current debate over spying.

“It definitely shows that this is nothing new, that spying is in America’s DNA,” Silverstein said….

Apparently while striving for an authentic look, the series

…takes considerable liberties with the biographies and activities of the historical personalities. For example, Abraham Woodhull is portrayed as having broken an engagement to Anna Strong, in order to wed his brother’s betrothed and by so doing, satisfy his father, a staunch Loyalist. This plot device is also driven by the fictional claim that the younger Woodhull had felt responsible for the death of his elder brother (a member of the Loyalist militia), due to Abraham’s involvement in the Liberty Pole riots. The show portrays Woodhull and Strong as carrying on an adulterous affair during their involvement in the Spy Ring. In truth, Abraham Woodhull was unmarried during the war years, and there is no evidence that any romantic connection ever existed between him and his fellow spy Anna Strong, who was 10 years his senior and long married to one of his relatives.

For more see Rotten Tomatoes and this List of Episodes. It is ongoing, with a third series current and a fourth due next year. See the program website.


Jamie Bell as Abraham Woodhull