January 2016 over already!

And here the blog has lifted a bit over the past month, averaging 42 views a day compared with 37 in December.

Most viewed in January:

  1. Home page / Archives 675 views in January 2016
  2. Ziggy’s House of Nomms 70
  3. All my posts 24
  4. Random Friday memory: 1 – John Mystery, my brother, Illawong 19
  5. My best photos of 2015 18
  6. Wollongong’s new hospital opens 14
  7. Some great stories, and some of them new to me… 14
  8. Family history–some news on the Whitfield front 14
  9. Tom Thumb Lagoon 13
  10. Reclaiming Australia Persian-style in Wollongong 13
  11. About 12
  12. Outnumbered, Merlin, and other recently seen TV 12
  13. SBS still serving up good things 10
  14. The state of Australian culture 10
  15. Random Friday memory 17 – Caringbah 1965 9
  16. What a treasury of family history! 8
  17. More “Neil’s Decades” — 1 8
  18. Steelers: Wollongong’s best Chinese restaurant gone west 8
  19. Connecting present and past posts… 7
  20. More “Neil’s Decades” — 3: 1976 7

From February 2009


Connecting present and past posts…

One odd aspect of having blogged for so long is that I find my memory jogged by something I read today and then chase this down via my own past blogs. It can go in unforeseen directions. Take the latest instance.

In the run-up to Australia Day this year one of my posts celebrated Deng Thiak Adut’s NSW Australia Day Address.

In today’s Fairfax papers there is article by Mark Dapin: True grit: Deng Thiak Adut, the Blacktown lawyer inspiring a generation of new Australians. It is a brilliant, moving article, but it is just one thread in it that started my chasing through my old blog posts.

He came to Australia as a refugee aged 14, taught himself to read, write and speak English, and won a scholarship to study law in 2005.

Adut had also applied to Macquarie University but, in July 2005, Drew Fraser, a Canadian-born law professor at Macquarie, made headlines when he wrote that Australian was courting disaster by admitting Sudanese refugees, who would bring with them crime, violence and social problems. He later added that sub-Saharan Africans had an average IQ of 70-75. Apparently, they were not only incorrigibly criminal, but bordering on stupid…

“It did hurt me a lot,” he says. “People forget that if you have such attitudes, such negative ideas, it will actually affect the way people think, the way they react, and eventually people will give up and assume that person is quite right. But I know that is wrong. I speak my dialect, I write my dialect, and I speak a bit of Suri, Shilluk, Nuer. He can only speak English. If I gave him a good test in some of my dialects, he would get zero. What does he know about my language? I speak Arabic. Does he? Can he write Arabic?” …

“A lot of people thank me,” he says. “Most say, ‘You changed my life. The stupid little things I used to think about, I’ve now changed my attitude to.’ They’ve stopped drinking alcohol, or taking drugs, or they’re actually going back to school or going to university and doing a degree.”

Adut has shown others what is possible. And, although he speaks with great sadness about the deaths in his family and his lost childhood in the army, Adut’s anger is most evident when he talks about Drew Fraser, the academic who implied success for a Sudanese might be impossible.

“One day I’ll be able to get my PhD,” says Adut, “and tell him that I’m a doctor, just to prove to him that I’m now a doctor because of what he told me. I will do that, just to make sure that we’re square. I’m quite happy to take a test with him, in English, Arabic, Nuer and Dinka, and see whether he’ll be able to match me.”…

Believe it or not there are jerks (self-styled patriots) in this country who still praise the egregious Drew F. I won’t link, but will quote an example from 2011:

It is a great privilege to announce Professor Drew Fraser will be the guest speaker at the [Dickhead Club] in Sydney on Saturday, 19th November 2011 (at 4pm). Professor Fraser will launch his new book, The WASP Question. This new book is of immense importance; totaling 422 pages, The WASP Question has attracted international attention with rave reviews.

Many would remember the brave and truthful comments Drew has made over the years. Back in 2005 Drew warned politicians and the public that bringing in black African refugees threatened to turn Australia into a Third World colony with increased crime, violence and welfare abuse. Drew was vilified by the multiculturalist intelligentsia at Macquarie University and also by the media. Fortunately, Drew’s comments on black African refugees found widespread support throughout the wider Australian community….

I thought I had devoted a few lines to DF – and I had, it turns out:

Helen Pringle argues multiculturalism is deeply rooted in Australia. – On Line Opinion – 3/10/2005

19 Oct 2005

Andrew Fraser the NSW Member of Parliament (see previous item) must not be confused with the lunatic at Macquarie University referred to in the item above.

Andrew Fraser is now notorious for his denigration of the civil standing of persons of African descent, whom he labels “Bantus”. What has been less noted is that Fraser also targets the standing of those of Chinese descent in Australia. Fraser asserts in his recent article, “Rethinking the White Australia Policy”, (an edited version can be read in On Line Opinion) that what he calls “the Chinese colonies in Australia” are marked by “rampant xenophobia and ethnocentrism”. These characteristics are the alleged result of an “evolutionary path” taken thousands of years ago.

Fraser’s wild claims about the Chinese are supported by no evidence, not even by a quotation from his own letter to a suburban newspaper that is used elsewhere in the article. Fraser simply asserts that “historic cultures of servility” mark Chinese communities. Paradoxically, this servility will not, in his view, prevent white Australians from being “outgunned” by East Asians. Fraser claims, “Within two to three decades, it is not unreasonable to expect that Australia will have a heavily Asian managerial-professional, ruling class that will not hesitate to promote the interests of co-ethnics at the expense of white Australians”.

If even for a moment you think there is anything even faintly reasonable in Andrew Barking Mad Prof Fraser’s brain seizure, read the rest of Pringle’s excellent piece.

One of the most chilling lines in last week’s episode of Auschwitz was an old SS man ruminating, sixty years later, on the OK-ness of gassing children despite their innocence because the problem was “in their blood.” And to think last Sunday I sat with someone who SERIOUSLY proposed that “we” (I think he included me despite my part-Aboriginal ancestry) are the “master race” after all… Christ, let’s all vomit when we hear such evil crap.

One more leads on to other things and back to Mark Dapin.

Dumbing down religion

05 Aug 2005

One thing Vladimir said last Sunday [at South Sydney Uniting Church] struck me as very true: the conservative religious person tends to dumb down religion. The bracing effects of postmodernism appal all those who yearn for simplistic answers to complex questions, and this is true whether the simplistic answers are Southern Baptist, Marxist, Catholic, right-wing reactionary or Muslim, or whatever else. So Drew Fraser. So George Bush far too often for a man of such power in the world. And so this most recent deluded sod, “Abdul Nacer Ben Brika (phonetic), also known as Abu Bakr.”

ABU BAKR: I am not only against the Jew. I am against anyone who try to harm my religion.

NICK MCKENZIE: But isn’t it important in Australia, where we have freedom of expression, freedom of religion – the freedom that allows you to speak freely – that we accept other religions?

ABU BAKR: According to my religion, here, I don’t accept all other religions except the religion of Islam.

NICK MCKENZIE: Isn’t there a danger in you pushing that view, you will encourage people to attack Jews, to attack Christians here in Australia?

ABU BAKR: No. This is your understanding. This is your understanding.

NICK MCKENZIE: What is your understanding?

ABU BAKR: I am telling you that my religion doesn’t tolerate other religion. It doesn’t tolerate. The only one law which needs to spread, it can be here or anywhere else, has to be Islam.

John Howard is correct to say that the majority of Australian Muslims do not support such views, just as I from an Anglo/Christian perspective do not support the views of Drew Fraser, or of many another crackpot, religious or otherwise, from my own background and tradition. It is hard though to see this perspective when it involves “the other” rather than “us.” It is too easy for outsiders to attribute the most extreme versions of a world-view or religion we are not so familiar with to all who practise, however devoutly or however loosely, that world-view or religion.

It can’t be doubted though that Abu Bakr suffers from “deadly identity”, to use Aamin Maalouf’s seminal phrase. But we are not immune either, a point Maalouf also makes.

See also “The Islamic Sickness of Fundamentalism: On Abdelwahab Meddeb: The Malady of Islam“ by Nausikaa Schirilla, Polylog 5 2004. The 21st century needs such voices for complexity, people too such as Karen Armstrong and almost anyone you would like to name on Radical Faith.

God save us from the simplifiers, the bigots, the paranoid, the xenophobic, and the snake-oil merchants of every stamp!

Now that leads me to a July 2015 piece by Mark Dapin, Making sense of terrorism and IS.

“Terrorism expert” Greg Barton might well be the most interviewed person in the Australian media this year, and is almost certainly the most cited academic in the press. He says he gets at least a couple of dozen media requests a week but “some weeks, it’s many dozens”. A quiet day for Barton would be “a couple of radio or print interviews, TV maybe four times a week. But it depends,” he says. “Some weeks it’s just relentless.” …

Barton’s over-arching point is that the problem does not lie within Islam itself. He and his wife are practicing Christians and, he says, “There’s no more a problem with Islam than there is with Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism. When these religions turn toxic, they’re truly awful: most of what’s positioned as being religious conflict is actually ethno-nationalist conflict.” If Islamic State truly represented mainstream Islamic thought, “You’d have 1.6 billion angry people,” he says. “It would be a different world.”

At the moment, he is most often asked to talk about the radicalisation of local Muslim youth, and how they might possibly be tempted to join the Islamic State…

Islamic State’s recruitment propaganda is “really clever”, he says. “Dabiq, their monthly e-magazine, is fascinating. The production values are very high – the layout, the use of imagery, the prose also: the fanboy stuff is full of annoying schoolboy errors. I’ve not seen a typo or a grammatical mistake in Dabiq magazine. They’ve taken this British journalist John Cantlie and got him to write a column every month, and his column reads like something John Pilger would write.

“I’m too old – or too cynical – to believe in John Pilger anymore, but if you’re younger and idealistic, you read John Pilger and think, ‘Yeah, that’s right.’ And you read the John Cantlie stuff and think, ‘That actually makes sense.'”

Terrorist sympathisers rarely abuse Barton. “The largest number of unsolicited correspondence I get comes from right-wing nutters,” he says. “A lot of people are angry with me because they think I’m soft or stupid when it comes to Islam. They think I don’t understand. The message to me is always, ‘Haven’t you read the Koran? It’s got these angry verses. Clearly, that’s the problem.’ On the Islamist side, I’ve had very little experience of direct antagonism. They probably don’t see any point in bothering.”…

Barton believes the answer to radicalisation is to work with Muslim communities, rather than alienate them with asinine campaigns against halal sausages. He set out to become an expert on Muslim democratic thought, not Islamist terrorism but he no longer sees himself as a disinterested observer but an actor in the battle against Islamic State….

Do read it all.

More “Neil’s Decades” – 5: 50 years ago this week

As I noted in the first of this set:

1966: Began my appointment to Cronulla High School.

From the Facebook Album:


I noted that it is fifty years when school resumed this week. Unbelievable! See also Random Friday memory 27: my first election 1966 – and now…

And then just over a week ago here I recycled a 27 January 2007 post:

The next year or two will see a massive generational change in the teaching service as the Boomers retire or fall off the twig. I began my career way back in 1966, forty-one years ago. Not many teachers with that length of record were still in the service when I started, and once I moved to the Wollongong area in 1970 just about everyone seemed to be a twenty-something. Those days may be about to come round again.

I thought of this today as I was negotiating with a Year 11 boy, just back from the familial holiday visit to China, who wishes to start coaching next week. He is the cousin of Jessie, who was a Year 12 coachee last year. (God, now these coachees have lived their entire lives during the period I have known M!)

The Rabbit begins his teaching career proper on Monday in one of these schools. Good heavens, their Multicultural/ESL Consultant, Carol Marshman, is stationed in Wollongong! These people have been cut back severely in recent years. Where once maybe four consultants in this field covered from just north of Wollongong (The Shire) to the Harbour and west to around Ashfield, now one does that job. I can tell you from experience these consultants were mighty useful, but these days it must be hard for them to have an effect…

Said Rabbit, I see, is this week commencing his second appointment as a Head of  Department at a school in the Liverpool region: a comprehensive coeducational high school with an enrolment of 1206 students (Year 7 to Year 12), including 81% of students who are from a non-English speaking background.

Now I do feel old!

Lost Wollongong on Tumblr

As I mentioned yesterday, I have just discovered this version of Lost Wollongong. First, some earlier posts:

Lost Wollongong

Posted on August 30, 2013 by Neil

It is amazing how the Facebook Lost Wollongong group has taken off in the past few months. There are 7,804 members at the moment – the older Lost Sydney has 5,727, Old Sydney Album has 506, and Lost Gay Sydney has 5,684. Mind you Lost Wollongong could almost be badged “lost childhood” as a large proportion is given to school memories and items from members’ childhood years. Not that I object to that, especially as one who was a teacher in the area and whose father grew up down at Shellharbour.

But there are also some rather amazing bits of history surfacing through the group…

Mainly inspirational

Posted on September 12, 2014 by Neil

…On Monday I posted to Facebook: “What are the chances? I’m in City Diggers Wollongong today and chatting to Bruce who was at Keira Boys HIgh class of 1972. I have brought Baby HP to the club so we are on Lost Wollongong looking at a photo of Keira Staff in 1969. Bruce identifies one of his Maths teachers, also a sports coach. I recognise the name from my time at Wollongong High. And in that moment, literally, the guy himself walks past — that very same Maths teacher from 1969!”…

Now a few samples with nostalgic appeal from the Tumblr.


“A Rutty’s bus slowly makes its way along a perilous Mount Keira road in the 1930’s.” I now live in Mount Keira Road.


Many a time I saw sights like this! “A Thirroul-bound suburban passenger train at Unanderra in the early 1960s.” That’s a C30T by the way.


“North Wollongong Beach in the early 1980’s. Photo thanks to Lost Wollongong member Michael Schurr.” I was living not far away in Church Street at that time – well, at least from late 1978 to the beginning of 1981.

Australia Day at Mount Kembla

About Mount Kembla see Wollongong City Library:

Kembla is an aboriginal word meaning “wild game abundant” or “plenty of game”. The aborigines called the area “jum-bullah” or “Djembla” which means a wallaby. Mount Kembla has been described as a “sub-tropical belt of rainforest ” which “housed a variety of game life which provided an abundant food supply”. The first grant in the Parish of Kembla was made to George Molle in 1817. It was for 300 acres. In 1818 W. F. Weston received a promise of 500 acres. Both these grants were on the northern side of Mullet Creek. In 1843 four grants were obtained by Henry Gordon which had frontages to American Creek. Another grant on American Creek, 24 acres, was issued to Patrick Lehaey. A settlement developed in this locality and in March 1859 a National School was completed here.

First record of the name Mount Kembla appeared on H.F. White’s map of the Illawarra in 1834…

I was there yesterday with Jim and Helen (nee Christison) Langridge – Helen is my cousin – and a delightful lady born in France whose childhood around Brittany in the latter years of World War 2 was to say the least eventful. There was much reminiscing about schools and family.

Now of course I took pictures of my grandfather Tom Whitfield as a child in the 1860s and as an old man in the late 1940s. Why? Because we were lunching in the Mount Kembla Village Hotel. You may recall this post: Neil’s personal decades: 18 – 1890s – T D Whitfield.

I had noted the work my grandfather T D Whitfield did repairing Tory’s Hotel, which still stands. What escaped my notice is that it seems my grandfather built the Mount Kembla Hotel – now the oldest weatherboard hotel in the Illawarra (1898).



2010 – with Sirdan

See Sunday lunch–Mount Kembla Hotel (2010) and First Sunday out of cardiac ward: Mount Kembla Pub (2011). I then had no idea of my grandfather’s connection with the place. UPDATE: Built 1887, opened 1898. T D is ambiguous: he may have built it, or he may (presumably later) have “painted and repaired” as he did the Freemasons, which used to be on the corner of Crown and Keira Streets.

Now remarkably I have found an amazing photo, thanks to the Lost Wollongong Tumblr – which I plan to explore again:


Yes, that is the actual building of the Mount Kembla Hotel! See also tag “Mount Kembla” A note there says “The Mount Kembla Village Hotel is one of the few original timber hotels remaining in the Illawarra today, seen here during construction in 1870.”  I doubt that date; Wollongong Library has: “This two storey building was built in 1887. It is constructed of weatherboard with a corrugated iron roof, and a timber front upstairs verandah. It was a meeting place for the miners of Mount Kembla for many years. In 1924 the Tooth’s company purchased the hotel from its original owner, Mr O’Halloran, the village’s first publican. Over recent years the interior has been extensively refurbished.”


There are peculiarities about the dates for the Mount Kembla Hotel. The pub itself has 1898 on its site and on the building. Yet the University of Wollongong list of local pubs says “Mount Kembla Hotel Cordeaux Rd, Mount Kembla, 1907-Present”. It does seem strange that a pub built, it seems, in 1887 would wait until 1898 or even less likely 1907 to open, though that last date is “years of operation”. Maybe the issue is when it was actually licensed under its present name.

Just as a framework, here are dates from the Wollongong Library page, and a strong clue there:

1865 Pioneer Kerosene Works opened at Mt Kembla

1878 Mount Kembla Coal and Oil Co. established to work coal seams.  E. Vickery principal shareholder

1882 Railway constructed by the Mt Kembla Coal & Oil Co from Mt Kembla Colliery to the Port Kembla jetty

1883 Post Office established at Mt Kembla on 1 October 1883

1883 Mt Kembla Colliery opened

1884 Name of school changed from Violet Hill to Mt Kembla

1887 A second coal mine was opened directly below the summit of Mt Kembla

1887 Mt Kembla signal box was built at Unanderra on the main southern line

1889 Mt Kembla Gun Club established

1894 First Roman Catholic Church at Mt Kembla opened by Dr Higgins, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney

1896 Workmen’s Club formed at Windy Gully

1896 New two storey school building and teachers residence opened on 18 April

1898 Mt Kembla Hotel receives confirmation of its licence

1899 Mt. Lyell Co. establishes coke ovens alongside Mount Kembla Colliery jetty – operated until 1925

1901 336 men employed at the Mt Kembla mine

1902 Mount Kembla Colliery disaster 31 July 1902.  96 men and boys die