What was I up to in November 2001?

These entries via the Web Archive (my old Angelfire site). Some names have been edited to conform with my later practice.

November 1 2001: The past is another country

Past and to come seem best; things present worst. — William Shakespeare, Henry IV Part 2 II iii 108

A momentous step in my life occurred today…but that’s all on that!

When I was a boy I loved to quiz my grandfather about things that happened in the unimaginable past, way back in the 1890s through to the 1930s, and he would always oblige with a fund of stories. My mother too had the gifts of recall and nostalgia and told me many things; in her case she even wrote many of them down in the 1960s in an exercise book I now treasure, given that she is gone.

Young people, now that I am the old man, ask me to tell stories now. I am distant enough from them to lend a certain exoticism to my memories of that other country, one Sydney suburb, indeed a few streets in that suburb, and the lives of Protestant boys in that suburb (as I would have then had no idea what the Catholics did) in the early 1950s–half a century ago. John Howard’s golden age, one might say.

There were golden things about it too. It is true, unless one was away for very long stretches of time, that houses were never locked. If I came home from school and my mother was at the neighbour’s place, the house would be open even though no-one was home. I do not remember a house being robbed in our neighbourhood at any time during that entire decade.

On the other hand alcoholism was rife and so was domestic violence–the latter almost accepted. Neither happened in my own family. Some husbands were severely disturbed “because of the war”; having seen Changi recently on ABC-TV, I understand that better.

Kids were not taken to and from school. We walked, sometimes quite long distances, unsupervised. The worst that happened was seeing a drunk behaving very oddly. For macabre thrills we might inspect the crashed cars in the grounds of the Police Station for traces of blood; once we saw a tooth.

After school until dusk was our time, as were weekends. It was an outer suburb, so plenty of bush was nearby, where we would play unsupervised. By 5 or 5.30 pm we were all home having dinner and (in my case) listening to the Argonauts’ Club on ABC Radio. After dinner I read, or listened to the radio with the family. There was no TV, no organised play groups or clubs aside from Scouts (to which I did not belong) or Church groups, to which I did not yet go.

It may well be that the reading and radio were greater stimulants to the imagination, but that is debatable. The Argonauts gave valuable introductions to the worlds of literature, history, art and music, but in many ways our horizons were limited. I am sure the present generation knows much more of the outside world than we did.


Some are a little taken aback by my true accounts of what you could call pre-sexual experimentation among the boys, given that I was referring to ages 8 to 10. Yes, this was widespread in my peer group, partly through the “leadership” of one boy, who in retrospect I suspect may have been a victim of sexual abuse, but such things were never mentioned. I actually participated in much less than some of my peers, particularly as I got older. “Self-abuse” became a regular but guilt-ridden habit, however, and laid a foundation for a sense of sin that became a most formative experience. Paradoxically it also became a pleasure, but I will spare you details. Of course the nexus pleasure=bad was to become crippling in time. I still recall a few years later that the first time I ejaculated I thought I had broken something through my nastiness, and was pleased to learn I hadn’t!

Yes, all boys; yet the idea “gay” was simply not there at that time. Perhaps we had a vague notion this was something that “girls” would become part of when we grew older and could do it “properly”. Teenage pregnancies and shotgun marriages were a fact of life. Older kids got up to all sorts of things in the dark of the Saturday movie matinees, unless the dreaded Miss Collins, the usherette, sprung them with her torch, in which event they were unceremoniously ordered out. All of us, the kids, the teens with the hots, would stop eating and/or throwing sweets, smoking, groping (or whatever) at the end, and stand to absolute attention while “God Save the Queen” was played. I neither groped nor threw sweets, as I really was a rather good little boy 😉

Lest you see Sutherland circa 1953 as a seething orgy of prepubescent humping and stroking, I should mention that Meccano sets, Biggles books, cowboys and Indians, toy guns, trains (toy and real), pigeon hunting (never successful), billy-cart racing (often suicidal!) and looking for Russian spies were as important elements of our lives as comparing dicks or discovering their properties 😉

Some of this stuff I would tell only the most trusted of friends–or you, dear reader! I do think it is important in recalling the past to recall it honestly, though; it is instructive to find that the present is in some ways no more (perhaps less) depraved, gross, puzzling, diverse…


In Canberra 1955. I am looking across the path at my Uncle Neil and Aunt Fay.

Idealising the past as a “golden age” can be most misleading. I experienced fear at the end of a bully’s fist. I saw women with black eyes. I knew kids who were beaten regularly. And yet there was an innocence too–those open houses, the absence in our milieu of drugs (except for two, alcohol and tobacco–not to mention the women addicted to painkillers that crystallised their kidneys –phenacatin in Bex and Vincents APC–and, beginning then, “mother’s little helpers”–early generation tranquillisers that were highly addictive.) But we lived more safely in some respects.
Guess I am glad I lived then, really, and glad I can share this with younger people.:-)

November 7: Australian elections on 10th… and I am praying for a change of government

I have had the vote now for 37 years.

For the first half (approximately) of that time, being of mainly Scots/Ulster Protestant background, I voted Liberal, as did my parents and grandparents before me. For most of the second half I have voted Labor, except in the Senate where I have favoured one or other of the minor parties. For the first time ever I will not be voting for either major party in either House.

As Ian McPhee rightly observed today, there are no Liberals left in the Liberal Party. What we have are conservatives (like Costello) and reactionaries (like the Prime Minister). Of course there are precious few Labor politicians in the Labor Party either, and the crunch issue separating me from them, and the government, has been the obscene asylum-seekers “crisis”. I have canvassed that issue before on this diary, so do not propose to do so again tonight.

Further, while not excusing those responsible for the attacks of September 11, I find myself increasingly appalled by the crudeness of the response by the United States and by our government’s alacrity (supported by Labor) to leap into the action. (Of course I also wish our ADF members well.) Our “non-evil” weapons, to paraphrase George Bush, are likely directly and indirectly to exact a human cost far in excess of the 6000 in the twin towers. I just hope the causes of terrorism are addressed by the world community more effectively at some time in the future. I fear the present course will in sum probably increase the appeal of terrorism in those parts of the world that currently feel, for whatever reasons, obliged to take that path.

I hope that liberal and secularist religionists of all faiths will become stronger in their opposition to fundamentalism and fanaticism.

Back home again, I am impressed with much of the argument in Quarterly Essay 3:2001: “The Opportunist: John Howard and the Triumph of Reaction” by Guy Rundle. If you want an image of the kind of prat the Liberal Party throws up (and in this case out, after he fell on his face) look no further than Jonathan Shier. He embodied the mindset beautifully. He was just too nakedly prattish to succeed, but he was their man, very much their man.

You are free to disagree with any of the above.

I do lean more towards the Labor Party in certain policy areas, especially social welfare, health and education. I feel they could form quite a respectable government, if not an adventurous one. I also feel they will be quite conservative in terms of economic management this time around; their options are limited there anyway.

M, who experiences nausea everytime he sees John Howard, asks: “Why does Australia want tough leaders? What Australia needs is wise leaders, compassionate leaders.” Amen to that–but I can’t recall many: John Curtin maybe? Gough Whitlam? Not wise. Paul Keating? Flashes of wisdom but too much folly. Malcolm Fraser? Only since he retired. Who? Menzies? No, too deep a concept to sum him up, but he was much more of a Liberal than the current crop. Bob Hawke? Plenty of compassion, less wisdom. It’s a lot to ask, M. Depressing isn’t it?

If you want some idea of what wisdom looks like, revisit the International Declaration on Human Rights.

November 10: Australia votes…and so does Ninglun

So, I have just recently done my democratic duty. Now we wait. I am not optimistic about the outcome, though I do hope we may achieve the minor change that a Labor victory would bring, including (among other things) a somewhat harder ride for the present government’s rich and powerful friends–though they will continue to do very well I am sure– and a more liberal (in the true sense) approach to issues of multiculturalism, national identity, indigenous issues and social issues generally. I’ll stop boring you now.

On the way back from the polling booth I saw the almost terminally cute recent vice-captain of our school setting off to make his first vote. I urged him to vote the right way, which he said of course he would do. We did not actually discuss what the right way might be. (I do hope he did not misinterpret my words.) Another new voter of my acquaintance is in another electorate, in fact the same electorate, curiously enough, in which I voted Liberal on a number of occasions. (Come to think of it, even before I had the vote I scrutineered for the bastards–sorry!–in a local election; it was interesting, but I am not sure if it was legal, but the candidate wanted bodies on the tally room floor.) He was a local developer–you know the scene–and my father was a real estate agent in Jannali.

Curiouser still is that my old Presbyterian Church is a polling booth in that electorate.

With respect to yesterday’s diary, which may have seemed uncharitable, I should point out that I actually quite like Prof. Flint as a conversation partner and fellow-guest at a dinner. Pompous, indeed, but not without humour. I even agree with him that the Westminster system of government is better than the American model. However, while he seemed yesterday to rejoice in the fact that the American system stymied “elites” (or “pointy-headed intellectuals”/”eggheads” and other delightful American expressions), I actually think that is one of the things wrong with it.

I also do not want Australia to have an elected president; in fact I don’t want Australia to have any kind of president with the powers of an American one. If we become a republic (and there are still good symbolic reasons for that, even practical ones further down the track) I hope it is a minimalist model that gets up. Prime Minister Costello would probably see us right on that one 😉

Imagine what I might have said about Prof. Flint if I didn’t like him!

Finally, I decided to cheer myself and others up by buying a car. It had to be within budget, and although I won’t be driving it myself (though I may be allowed to use it), it had to be something a bit classic, I felt, and expressive of machismo. I think I have succeeded, and got change out of a ten-note too!

It is beside me as I write 🙂

November 11: Howard wins…wish the Melbourne Cup tips had been as good! Oh yes: 1815 Hansard!

Well, you can look forward to me getting back to book reviews rather than political rants now.

It’s over, but life goes on. The Senate could prove interesting with an increased Green presence.

I saw on NineMSN that there was in the New York Times some fairly scandalous reporting of our virtual reassertion of a White Australia Policy; I have looked, but all I get is this. And it isn’t too shocking. I do think we are going to regret the smarty-pants “solution” to the asylum seekers situation. (NB change of terminology, Mr R.) There is the cost, the fact that they will not be able to stay forever in Nauru etc. and will probably end up, many of them, back here, and the fact that we will run out of viable dumping grounds.

Pauline Hanson is down and out at least. Bliss, joy!

Still, a government that brought us some honour over East Timor is not all bad. Let’s hope they respond to some of the serious criticism, especially that from eminent community members of whom many have been members of or supporters of the governing party in the past.

Kim Beazely, the Labor leader, has just conceded and spoke very well.

The car is a success I feel. Sirdan thought it looked nice. (See last entry.)

All examinees–good luck over the next few weeks…

November 14: About books…it’s been a while

I have in fact been reading quite a few lighter things, as well as more poetry than usual–but there has been an excellent reason for the latter.

Lately I have just read an early Sue Grafton, B is for Burglar (1986), and agree with something I read somewhere about the earlier ones being wittier. She is certainly among my favourite writers of detective fiction.

I also read an absolutely hilarious and odd book, Yeats is Dead–a Novel by Fifteen Irish Writers, edited by Joseph O’Connor (2001). It was commissioned by Amnesty International as a fund raiser. Writers include, aside from O’Connor, Roddy Doyle, Marian Keyes, Pauline McLynn (of Father Ted fame) and, the last chapter, Frank McCourt. The extraordinary plot (if it can be called that) involves corrupt police, a female crime boss named Mrs Bloom and her partner Karen Blixen, and a red-headed Irish lad who wants to be black:

Micky McManus’s day turned out badly and got worse.

First off, he woke up to find that he was still Caucasian. Despite the picture of Coolio sellotaped to his bedsit wall, there was no getting away from the stubborn fact that he was still the big-ass ol’ white boy he had always been.

Micky McManus wanted to be black. He knew that eveything in his miserable, inadequate life would be somehow okay if he were big and shiny and graceful and ebony. Instead of short and stubby and freckled and ginger…

Micky’s sex life was unsatisfactory and unsettling. On the rare occasions he persuaded women to sleep with him — and money usually had to change hands — he suspected they did so just to see if he had ginger pubes, or to see if his lad was freckled. (It was.) To be fair, though, Kelly hadn’t taken much interest in the colour of Micky’s pubes. In fact, she couldn’t have cared less. She’d only slept with him because she couldn’t afford the taxi fare home to Bray.

Micky’s appearance and language become more and more bizarre as the story progresses. He ends up in a gay relationship with the very fat son of an old man who was murdered because, among other things, he possessed the manuscript of James Joyce’s previously unknown last novel, Yeats is Dead.

Mad book.

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.

I have revamped and added to my page about the refugees and related matters. I had admittedly thrown the thing together quickly the other day, and have taken the opportunity to revise and add. There is a much more wicked cartoon of John Howard.

November 18: Wettish Sunday..but yesterday was fine

Now when you are reduced to talking about the weather…

But it was quite lovely yesterday, although I spent a bit of it working. At lunch I ran into a colleague, M.S., who was attending a Teachers’ Federation Council Meeting. After work at the Midnight Shift (a venue I am not normally all that fond of) I saw Clive and a few others, and had a very interesting conversation with someone I had seen around for ages but rarely talked to. It concerned family dynamics among other things. It is nice when people talk about their lives with honesty and seriousness.

The warm weather brought out some pleasing sights for such as I. Out in the suburbs they were washing their cars and going swimming, I am told, and I am sure that would be just as pleasing.

November 19: Life changes for some…

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.

Father John rang also with the sad but not unexpected news that his 98 years old mother recently died. I met her years ago when she was holidaying from Bellingen, where she lived until recently, and a very feisty old lady she was. She rather enjoyed the Albury!

November 21: Havens…from the cold

I have been working a little less lately–one day less in theory, since an HSC student I was shepherding has now successfully negotiated the year. So today I taught just one lesson, then went to the Library, then on to a particular coffee shop that has become a favourite in recent times.

Places acquire associations. It is not just that this is an extremely pleasant shop with a charming if dotty owner, but that going there makes me particularly happy, as I associate the place with being happy. I gather I am not alone, as I hear other customers go there perhaps for similar reasons; it can be a haven on cold wet days like today or yesterday, a place to read quietly, or to settle the nerves before some stress.

I should mention that last Sunday I called in there and saw the proprietor’s youngest son, who is red-headed as well as cute, though that is for me an aesthetic and academic judgment I hasten to add.

I am reading two books, as it happens, and will tell you about each in more detail later on. The first is very rich indeed; it won the Booker Prize last year: Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin. The second is angry in places, but also very honest and in places just right: Paul Monette, Becoming a Man (1992), a gay autobiography. Lined up are a number of others, including in my leisure reading field of crime fiction/thriller The Bannerman Affair (1997) by Australian writer Gareth Harvey. Another reason for choosing that last one is that (my God!) thirty years ago I taught Gareth Harvey in Wollongong.

Well, tomorrow is a total work-free day, so I look forward to the coffee shop again 🙂