Why should any school kid have to commute up to 5 hours a day?

Quick fire update: smell of smoke here in Wollongong this morning, but Fires Near Me shows nothing close.  Could be hazard reduction…

A story that got my attention over the weekend was ‘No time to be kids’: The students travelling 100km a day for selective schools.

Data obtained from the NSW Department of Education under freedom of information laws also shows more than 300 students are travelling more than 100 kilometres a day between areas such as Frenchs Forest and Camden, or Moore Park and Wollongong to get to school.

Now of course I have a bit of a stake in this discussion, as a quick read of posts here tagged “Sydney High” will show.

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October 2008: SBHS/SGHS students arriving at Central Station en route home


There was a student I recall a few years after Scott Morrison — and yes, I was working at SBHS from Term 3 1985! — who travelled from Liverpool, 40 km SW of Sydney, but that is nothing compared to a current student at SBHS who travels daily from Wollongong — 86 km! (I myself 1955-1959 as a kid travelled 31 km from Sutherland/Kirrawee/Jannali, and some classmates came from Cronulla, same by road but further by train. So not entirely a new thing.)

However, Wollongong? Ridiculous, in my opinion, especially given there is an excellent selective school right here: Smiths Hill High.

Back to that student from Liverpool last century: a memorable character. He arrived just for Years 11 and 12 and was absolutely determined. His background was far from affluent. In fact — and I am sure this cannot happen now — he told me near the end of Year 12 that he had been covering school expenses by making donations to the sperm bank!

Back in time: posts from November 2000 and November 2001

It is a long time since I looked at that trove of ancient posts; the last entry brought them to mind as I sought to confirm the date of the Christmas Day bushfires in Wollongong and NSW more generally. (I see Jim Belshaw has been drawn back to his own archive for similar reasons. Good to see. But I fear I have become even more intolerant of self-styled “climate change skepticism” in recent times. I cannot even imagine why anyone in the light of so much evidence can even contemplate such an idea! But of course people are entitled to their opinions… Jim, I hasten to add, is very judicious with his.)

So time to board the Tardis. The posts were made here:



Wednesday, November 1

November began nicely, despite not sleeping too well last night because I was up too late fiddling with this! One of my favourite people (one of the highlights of my year 2000) came over for lunch, and I cooked some Chinese food rather successfully: I’m getting more proficient. 🙂 Since my friend was about to face an ordeal, he left better able to handle it I hope. I’ll find out later how he went.

He handled it.

And my flatmate came home later on and served up barbecue duck, rice, and lots of vegetables…

Wednesday, November 8

It’s one of those days when I have felt better—I put it down to an urge to have a frozen meat pie with my veggies last night. Always knew Australian food was dangerous! Fortunately it is my day off anyway.

Comments on the American election will have to wait until it is absolutely clear who has won—unlike yesterday’s Melbourne Cup!

I have been reading a fairly ordinary but diverting (if repetitious) mystery story, J Wallis Martin, A Likeness in Stone. Fairly clumsy structuring of the threads of narrative. Also from the local library and lined up to read are: Brian Masters, The Evil that Men Do, not a feminist work but a perhaps superficial look at notable instances of evil; Lisa Appignanesi, A Good Woman; Russell Banks, Continental Drift . Finally, from the library, is semi-professional reading in the form of Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis, A Place in the Sun: re-creating the Australian Way of Life, Harper Collins, 2000. I have heard Mary Kalantzis speak at a TESOL conference, and read quite a bit of her work; it should be highly relevant. I am still browsing The Battle for God, and probably will be for some time. It adds enormously to my knowledge of the religion and politics of the major faiths, and is far from a superficial rehearsal of cliches about fundamentalism. It is historically rich, well researched, and carefully nuanced; fundamentalists would probably not read it, but maybe they should….

7.30 pm So, it is George W Bush. Let’s hope he gets a good team around him. It strikes me, as an outsider, to be a victory for down-home folksiness and money, an odd combination; certainly the Bible Believers will be happier–more “relaxed and comfortable”, to quote an Australian Prime Minister. Foreign policy could prove interesting, and it is certainly no step forward for social policy. Gays, even though there are gay Republicans, could well be weeping; it will be interesting following the comment on Talk City Chat, Planet Out, Gaywired, and other American gay sites. Gays in the military–and of course there are such, just as here–have suffered a big step backwards. Incarceration rates will be worth watching.

Given the significance of the US for all of us, let’s hope Bush rises to the task. He may well.

8.30 pm Well, that may have been premature! I suggest you click on the ABC link for the latest state of the Union!

Thursday, November 9

So–we still don’t know. Contemplate the following in the meantime, which I published earlier this year in my ESL Newsletter at school:

If George W. Bush gets up as President of the U.S.A. we can look forward to some interesting English. Professor Robert J. Fouser of Gakuen University in Japan gives the following examples as perhaps some consolation to Koreans and Japanese trying to learn English; George W is, after all, a native speaker. (SOURCE: The Korea Herald, 1 March 2000.)

 The question we need to ask: Is our children learning?
 There is madmen in the world and there are terror.
 We also know, and you know if you’ve got a relative who wear the uniform, or you got a friend who does so or a neighbour, the morale is low in the United States military today.
 If terriers and barrifs are torn down, the economy will grow. (i.e., “barriers and tariffs?
 ?a world of madmen and uncertainty and potential mental losses (i.e., “missile launches?.


November 16: An ex-student in UNHCR

I had a delightful lunch yesterday with an ex-student who was recently working in Pakistan with UNHCR among the Afghan refugees. What he said did not change my views on the subject; rather the reverse.

We also talked a lot about school issues and gay issues….

November 17: As time goes by…for us ancient queens

Not that I am a queen really; HRH in London is the only one I really acknowledge, and that as Head of the Commonwealth and a symbol of continuity rather than as for-all-time Head of Australia. Furthermore she is more ancient than I…

That lunch on Thursday (see the previous entry) also showed clearly how time passes. There was this young man across the table from me, with all his experience of the wilder places of the world, and there was I whose world has rarely extended physically beyond the outer suburbs of Sydney and Wollongong. Mind you, the travels of mind and spirit have been considerable.

I suspect that some of my impatience and despair about John Howard (as symbol rather than person) derives from the fact that I am actually of the same generation as he, and from a very similar background. But whereas sometime around the late 1960s and early 70s (perhaps it was seeing the truth about the Vietnam War that did it) I began to feel that morally and spiritually Australia was beginning to progress, to grow up, to be able to cope with diversity, to lift itself out of a regime of dull conformity and mass hypocrisy… So my path and John’s began to diverge.

Of course in real-world terms he is Prime Minister and I’m not 😉

Yes, my lunch guest is now the same age I was in 1975. John Howard, he tells me, is his parents’ hero. He is not my guest’s hero, although he also said that he feels increasingly less connection to Australia as such. In fact, so far from what we tend to see as the centre that he was actually surprised to find he had arrived back in time for an election! It was interesting that he referred to England as “home”.

When I told him a bit about the people in my life now, he said that it was good to hear of someone with the good taste not to really like gay bars. Thought I’d just mention that….

November 19: Life changes for some…and another web page

You may recall my nephew, Warren, who is an “exhibit” at the State Library of NSW as part of the Flinders Exhibition; he is there in virtual form as a lineal descendent of the family of Bungaree, the Guringai Aborigine who sailed with Flinders in his voyages of exploration about 200 years ago. I had a call from Warren at the weekend.

He has moved, with his partner, down to the Sydney region from Queensland and is now living on Guringai traditional land, as his mother’s family has continuously since settlement. Since it is Warren’s historical research that demonstrated the previously unacknowledged continuity of the descendents of the Guringai in that area, he is about to play a rather significant political role. There is a chance you may read about him in next weekend’s Australian. You can certainly see a lot of him now in the Cadigal Room at the Museum of Sydney.

I wonder if he would like yum cha….

November 25: Suddenly it’s summer… and time to free the slave

After a week when it rained a lot of the time and we had record low temperatures for November, suddenly today it has decided to be hot and cloudless. (If you don’t, remember I do live in the Southern Hemisphere.)

I haven’t smoked since last night and yes I am wearing a patch.

Aside from being conscious of the fact that I and the apartment both smell really off, I have felt tired frequently of late. I know that advanced age may account for this, but I am sure constant poisoning with carbon monoxide (among other chemicals) is not helping. And who can afford to pay $8 to $20 a day for a drug habit? I can’t, and I don’t want to join the street people who spend all day wandering up and down asking passers-by for cigarettes or money.

Yes I know I have done it before. Why have I been such a slave to this drug?

My system is quietly screaming at the moment,even with the patches.

I’ll keep you posted, but not too often… Just don’t get into cigarettes yourself; it’s not worth it….

Well, it wasn’t until March 2011 that I finally quit smoking, thanks to a stay in Wollongong Hospital’s cardiac ward. Nice to read in those posts about my nephew Warren, these days back in North Queensland and one of my most diligent Facebook friends! And finally, the mysterious ex-student in the 2000 posts can variously be found in Europe or Hong Kong, but principally in England nowadays. And of course on Facebook. Evan, I wonder if you will read this post?

The million (and more) hectare fires

And that’s just New South Wales. And that’s just so far… Of the many images we have seen, this one from Harringtom NSW stands out:


Fortunately yesterday we here in the Illawarra were spared serious fires, though not the catastrophic weather conditions. Here in West Wollongong it hit 39 C around 3 pm, and the wind at times was strong. The most obvious sign was the haze, a mixture of smoke and dust. When the southerly came at last the temperature soon dropped 10 degrees, but sadly no rain, and in the foreseeable future no sign of rain.

The bush near here is certainly ready to burn. As a neighbour pointed out there hasn’t been a major burn-out since 2001 — and I recalled that one because it was on Christmas Day, and I saw it not from The Gong but from Paddington in Sydney. On the way home from Christmas Lunch at the Dowager Empress’s place to Elizabeth Street Surry Hills I saw, to the south, great clouds of smoke.  And the post is still lurking in cyberspace!

I am just back from Christmas lunch with the Dowager Empress of Hong Kong. His Atlantic salmon was to die for, and the tamarind prawns were–oh my God, I don’t usually eat prawns, but they were wonderful. The Christmas cake was a genuine Mrs Beeton recipe (with a whole bottle of brandy); it was light yet flavoursome. There is no doubt the Empress has a talent. I would have loved to have shared this day with the Crown Prince, I really would, but that could not be. Sirdan was there, and Paul Davis and another friend of DEHK’s.

On DEHK’s new DVD and digital TV we saw several episodes of Queer as Folk, which is not on free-to-air TV here. It is such a shame that SBS did not get it for late night viewing, because it is actually very good indeed. I would like the chance to see it again.

Walking home was an apocalyptic experience. The ground is yellow with smoke as bushfires ring Sydney. It is very hot and there are strong winds. The south and west of the city looked to be totally in flames from the vantage point of the inner city. According to the latest news the Blue Mountains are very bad, and the road north may soon be closed. To the south around Appin seems also to be bad. M. has headed north but would have got through before the problem arose.

Ironically, given the past few days, that Christmas M. (Michael) was heading for Laurieton!

Today our attention is especially on Queensland, but it does need to be said that this is just the beginning of months in which we very likely will see yesterday’s catastrophic conditions return.

Back to the Elephant in the Room again — and I really do commend again Jim Belshaw’s post. Let me also commend a recent (31 October 2019) opinion piece in the New York Times by Katherine Hayhoe, a professor at the Climate Center at Texas Tech University, and an evangelical Christian.

An important and successful part of that framing has been to cast climate change as an alternate religion. This is sometimes subtle, as the church sign that reads, “On Judgment Day, you’ll meet Father God not Mother Earth.” Other times this point is made much more blatantly, like when Senator Ted Cruz of Texas told Glenn Beck in 2015 that “climate change is not a science, it’s a religion…”

…my favorite question is the one I often hear from fellow Christians: “Do you believe in climate change?”….

As I always do now when someone asks this, I explained that climate change is not a belief system. We know that the earth’s climate is changing thanks to observations, facts and data about God’s creation that we can see with our eyes and test with the sound minds that God has given us. And still more fundamentally, I went on to explain why it matters: because real people are being affected today; and we believe that God’s love has been poured in our hearts to share with our brothers and sisters here and around the world who are suffering….

I want to make one rather obvious point: it is not quite correct to say that climate change CAUSES bush fires. Lots of things, including arson, cause fires. What climate change has done however is to magnify the CONDITIONS where bush fires are likely to be worse and more frequent. To me this is hardly controversial!

On the other hand there is finger-pointing on the subject of hazard reduction. Now clearly hazard reduction is a good thing. But I urge you to read Factcheck: Is there really a green conspiracy to stop bushfire hazard reduction? by Graham Readfern.

Large parts of New South Wales have been in the grip of catastrophic fire weather this week as firefighters desperately work to save homes, properties and lives.

But as firefighters try and beat back the bushfires, a familiar blame game began with critics pointing fingers at “greenies”, claiming they get in the way of hazard reduction efforts that might have reduced the size and scale of the disaster.

“These are very tired and very old conspiracy theories that get a run after most major fires,” says Prof Ross Bradstock, the director of the centre for environmental risk management of bushfires at the University of Wollongong, who has been researching bushfires for 40 years.

“They’ve been extensively dealt with in many inquiries.”…

Sadly, silly and unfortunate things have been said on several sides by politicians who really should know better. I quite agree with the Sydney Morning Herald’s David Crowe on this:

The loss of Australians’ homes, and sometimes their lives, should shame politicians who exploit human misery to score points against their enemies. Yet the politicians cannot help themselves….

… For some politicians, everything about you is seen through the prism of partisanship. Even your death.

When [Barnaby] Joyce called in to radio station 2GB later in the day, he sounded under huge stress as he tried to save his parents’ home in country NSW, but the damage from his earlier remark was already done.

This was a dismal but predictable sight for anyone who has watched the decline of Australian politics over the past decade.

I am not going to dignify Barnaby’s remark by quoting it! And Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John was not much better.


What might have been yesterday, or what might be! This photo of Mount Keira — so close to me — was taken I believe during the 1968 fires. Found on Facebook but the source is elusive, but it is a real photo. Scary, eh! Showed it to an old lady here at Diggers who remembered it happening.


Memory and apprehension: what will tomorrow bring?

Usually at this time of the year I focus on 11 November, Remembrance Day, but this year so many memories are being laid down here in Oz, good and bad. Good? Not a fan of Scott Morrison, but I pay my respects to this, which can’t possibly be faked.


And I am going to get the elephant in the room over with quickly by saying simply: YES — THERE IS A BLOODY GREAT ELEPHANT IN THIS ROOM! And we need to deal with it! Unlike Morrison’s deputy who has been banging on about those cliched “pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies.” Shame on you, McCormack! Try this for size: from a former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner: This is not normal: what’s different about the NSW mega fires.

I write this piece reluctantly, because there are still possible fire victims unaccounted for; people have lost loved ones; and hundreds of families have lost their homes. My heart goes out to them. I don’t want to detract in any way from the vital safety messages that our fire commissioners and Premier will be making about Tuesday’s fire potential.

And cool as ever, writing these days from Armidale, Jim Belshaw: Fires, drought and climate change within New England.

So what about tomorrow, Tuesday 12 November? This: note that the term CATASTROPHIC is used for Greater Sydney (Blue Mountains and down to The Shire) and Greater Hunter —  the first time the Sydney region has been rated at that level since the new fire danger ratings were introduced in 2009. The Gong is EXTREME. The NSW Premier has already declared a State of Emergency.


Here is where we have fires right now:


And for those overseas, let me post this so you get an idea of the territory involved:


On October 25 I asked: Wonder what this year’s bushfire season will bring? Could be dramatic….. Well, now we know. So far. AND IT’S NOT SUMMER YET!

I consider my own street. These pics I took eight years ago. Today, despite a cloudburst Sunday before last, it is much drier up there. Imagine that escarpment in flame! It has happened before. See my post 1968 and Illawarra burns.

So fingers crossed, eh!



Update 11/11 1.20 pm — The Gong now CATASTROPHIC!


Wollongong stars on SBS last night

Did you see Ainsley’s Australian Market Menu on SBS? See Eight reasons to eat your way around Wollongong.


That’s “Linda Galea, a first generation Australian with Maltese heritage, has been a stallholder selling vegetables from her family farm at the Wollongong markets for up to 15 years.”

Then there’s Louie Kelbert’s honey.

The Warilla man’s passion for bees arose from his first sting at the age of eight when he was throwing rocks at a swarm, and the bees turned and attacked. For his ninth birthday his parents presented him with his first hive, which he still uses today.

“See they thought I was a strange kid because I never played with toys … always had the interest for beehives and bees,” Mr Kelbert said. “I saw photographs in books and TV documentaries and I thought, ‘wow, I would love to do that’.” 

He now keeps 3.5 million bees in 46 hives in a field … neighbouring the Illawarra Golf Range and a reserve that is rich with flowering bee-friendly plants, such as tea tree, swamp mahogany, banksia and bitou bush.

Every morning he arrives to inspect the hives and spends the day in the field with his swarms of Caucasian, Carniolan and Italian bees, all sub-species of the Western honey bee. 

And here am I this morning with my jar, though mine came courtesy of a TIGS ex-student from the 1970s, Doug Parrish, who often minds the stall.


Over the last nine years I have often posted images of our wonderful Friday markets, for example here and here.