What was I up to in December 2006?

Entries from Monthly Archives: December 2006

New Year Blog Resolutions

31 DEC 2006

1. Write less.

2. Write about what I know. It is a commonplace of writing teaching that one should write about one’s own backyard. An example of that advice:

I have a muse and essentially her name is Oregon. My stories take place there. Fiction grows out of place. Always keep your eyes open, understand where you grew up. Write about your own backyard, the place you know best.

On the other hand, Elizabeth George wrote:

One piece of advice, that neophyte writers are always given is ‘write about your own backyard’. Loosely translated, this means to write about an environment with which you are familiar. Broadly translated, it means to write what you know. To this I say balderdash. If I had believed that, I’d have spent years attempting to write about Huntington Beach, California, a place that could not interest me less as a setting.

I am writing a blog, not fiction, but I do think I should continue to rant less, and focus more on posts where I actually might have some insight, however modest, to share. With so many millions of blogs out there, does it matter if this one omits many things others find important? I think not. We all have something to offer.

3. Do not use the term “political correctness”. Why? Because it has become a shorthand for too many things which strike me as undesirable and lazy. The thing is to argue each instance on its merits, avoiding any such catch-all phrases.

4. Otherwise, go on pretty much as I have. Enough people seem to appreciate it. Just for the record, here’s how it started. A quick quote from a very early entry (May 2000):

Meantime this computer (lent to M and me by G: thanks!) shows definite signs of dying and something will soon have to be done. And my reading goes on. I suspect June may be somewhat less inward-looking in these pages than May. It has been therapy for me, and my justification for putting all this stuff here is that others can benefit from such glimpses into the human condition, because I assume I’m not special. I know reading others’ pages has broadened my thinking.

A display of humanity and warmth…

28 DEC 2006

Updates 28/29 December and an expanded final comment.

…not to mention generosity of spirit, humility, and all that marks this fine example to the rest of the human race. Yes, you read it first on the blog that will reform the universe!

And here was I thinking his blog was back on track. I honestly don’t know why he bothered to expose his meanness of spirit quite so nakedly. After all, I haven’t mentioned him lately, not until now. You need not expect further mentions.

Anyone who will mock an actual dying man who has served this country in several capacities is beneath contempt in my book, and I suspect I would not be alone in making that call, not to mention the gracelessness of trivialising other people dear to me whom he has never met. That dying man is an actual example of “the aids victims, etc, all things I thought were worthy of highlighting” — but some people prefer their compassion to be displayed towards groups and abstractions, the further away the better, don’t they, rather than confront the pain in three dimensions in a hospital ward or a hospice? God forbid if a real person with Stage 4 AIDS ever crossed his path.

Yes, this is an angry post, but the anger is not because the ersatz world saviour has little time for my blog. He may think what he will of that; it doesn’t matter. But to write of serious things, real things of which he has little knowledge, in this way, to score cheap “satirical” points in defence of his oh so narrow view of blogging, as he has done, really gets to me. Not to mention that he thereby cheapens himself.

Something quite important is missing over there, that’s all I can say. I am glad I am here.

Mrs. Jellyby, whose face reflected none of the uneasiness which we could not help showing in our own faces as the dear child’s head recorded its passage with a bump on every stair — Richard afterwards said he counted seven, besides one for the landing — received us with perfect equanimity. She was a pretty, very diminutive, plump woman of from forty to fifty, with handsome eyes, though they had a curious habit of seeming to look a long way off. As if — I am quoting Richard again — they could see nothing nearer than Africa!…

“You find me, my dears,” said Mrs. Jellyby, snuffing the two great office candles in tin candlesticks, which made the room taste strongly of hot tallow (the fire had gone out, and there was nothing in the grate but ashes, a bundle of wood, and a poker), “you find me, my dears, as usual, very busy; but that you will excuse. The African project at present employs my whole time. It involves me in correspondence with public bodies and with private individuals anxious for the welfare of their species all over the country. I am happy to say it is advancing. We hope by this time next year to have from a hundred and fifty to two hundred healthy families cultivating coffee and educating the natives of Borrioboola-Gha, on the left bank of the Niger.”…

Peepy (so self-named) was the unfortunate child who had fallen downstairs, who now interrupted the correspondence by presenting himself, with a strip of plaster on his forehead, to exhibit his wounded knees, in which Ada and I did not know which to pity most — the bruises or the dirt. Mrs. Jellyby merely added, with the serene composure with which she said everything, “Go along, you naughty Peepy!” and fixed her fine eyes on Africa again.

However, as she at once proceeded with her dictation, and as I interrupted nothing by doing it, I ventured quietly to stop poor Peepy as he was going out and to take him up to nurse. He looked very much astonished at it and at Ada’s kissing him, but soon fell fast asleep in my arms, sobbing at longer and longer intervals, until he was quiet. I was so occupied with Peepy that I lost the letter in detail, though I derived such a general impression from it of the momentous importance of Africa, and the utter insignificance of all other places and things, that I felt quite ashamed to have thought so little about it…

— Charles Dickens, Bleak House.

The image on the right is from William Yang’s Sadness. I know William, and I have seen Sadness. After seeing it I couldn’t speak. It is of course brilliant. William doesn’t have a blog. He doesn’t need one.

Now I must go to Malcolm’s place to water his plants.


I took the time while watering those plants to look at Malcolm’s amazing collection of books, many of them heavy works of history and philosophy, right through to the post-moderns. I also looked at some of the various plaques and honours he has had from various groups relating to AIDS care and his passion, flying, and memorabilia of his former — deceased — partner.

He is of course still with us, not quite as bad yet as the man in William Yang’s picture, but not far off. I also must add that my role in helping Malcolm is quite small, merely friendship really. There is the entire team at St Vincents and the Hospice, various agencies, and quite a number of friends: Andy, Sirdan, and The Empress just to name three. So don’t think I am attributing anything special to myself…

See also:

Thinking of Lord Malcolm

04 DEC 2006


Lord Malcolm at work three years ago.


February 2005.

Pathetic Princess Pauline

07 DEC 2006

Publicity-shy dancer and celebrity former fishshop proprietor Pauline Hanson (52) is attempting a comeback, this time targeting the boogeymen de jour rather than “Asians” as in 1996. Had she been around in the 50s she would have been rabbitting on about Greeks, Dagoes and Wops.

Her stupidity remains unchanged, but it is no use saying that to her fans, as they tend to think you are thereby saying they are stupid too. Best not to give her the oxygen, and Bob Brown’s predictable and well-intentioned name-calling is poor strategy, in my view. Better Bruce Baird, one of the great jewels of conservative politics:

Liberal Bruce Baird said Ms Hanson had her facts wrong in suggesting immigrants were bringing disease into the country.

Mr Baird said all immigrants underwent strict health and character checks before being granted visas.
“Ms Hanson will never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” Mr Baird said in a statement.

“There are no immigrants from Africa or any other place in the world coming to Australia with diseases. This is pure fiction, designed to provoke racial intolerance in the community.”

Mr Baird said he welcomed reports Ms Hanson might challenge him in his own seat.

“There are suggestions that Ms Hanson is interested in the seat of Cook for her return to politics,” he said.

“All I can say is: bring it on.”

The other group she is targeting is, of course, Muslims — as if they don’t have enough problems these days. She sure can’t be doing it from any kind of knowledge base, but when did she ever do that with anything? If Baird is right, let’s hope the folk of the Shire will see right through her. I actually believe most of them will.

The interesting thing will be to see whether John Howard will be as gutless (or as calculating) as he was in 1996-7.

Next day

Jim Belshaw and I were in very different environments from 1988 to 1998, to make it a neat ten years starting with the Bicentennial. His thoughtful response to the Pauline Hanson phenomenon and related cultural and political considerations may be seen at Pauline Hanson and the Australian Way. There is much in what he says, but I found myself embracing much of the spirit that emerged during those years, especially in the first part when Hawke then Keating were Prime Ministers. I still do embrace much of that spirit because I see it as having been the way forward, an emerging national maturity. I especially valued the willingness to acknowledge diversity rather than insisting on assimilation, though I also believe in a context of harmony and some core of shared vision. I think we were developing such a balance in those years, and despite years of reaction since have not quite lost it; Bruce Baird is perhaps representative of that. I valued the willingness to ask hard questions about our past dealings with Aboriginal Australia, and to learn from the culture and experience of Aboriginal people. For me this question was not entirely academic. Then from 1990 I found myself in the midst of people from China, many of whom had direct experience of Tiananmen, heard their stories, got to know them, and also found myself sharing my life with one of them. That experience confirmed that such people had much to offer, and we had much to learn from them.

In short, from 1988 through to 1996 I was very, very proud to be an Australian, and communicated that pride, I am sure, to the Chinese and others I had dealings with.

And then along came Pauline Hanson, to me like a dark storm cloud, an atavistic call from some Id that I thought we were just beginning to master. That’s how it seemed to me, and I wrote to everyone from the Prime Minister down, getting a couple of the best responses, I should add, from a couple of National Party figures.

Funnily enough, despite our very different experiences of the Hanson phenomenon in the past, Jim and I have probably arrived in 2006 at a very similar place. I agree with him that John Howard is a populist politician but perhaps give that a stronger negative connotation. I have always suspected, and my Chinese partner’s first hand experience of the man confirmed this, that John Howard may like people, but quite clearly prefers some people to others.

My older brother, by the way, is a country person through and through, never happier than when he is in the bush, whether that is in Tasmania, where he now lives, or around Sapphire and Emerald in Queensland where he used to live. He can’t stand Pauline Hanson either.


Pauline gave up on Cook. Apparently she is starting yet another party (One Nation having been pronounced dead) and is trying for the Senate in Queensland. I doubt she will get anything other that the requisite number of votes to get her costs covered and some little holiday money. Then perhaps she’ll try “Dancing with the Stars” again on Channel Seven, where she was really quite competent and had her mouth shut (politically) most of the time!

2016 UPDATE: See The Revenant of Oz, The Revenant of Oz was on TV last night…, and Swamped by revenants?

We made it to Johnnies Fish Cafe

10 DEC 2006

blair_at_johnnies…knowing it was more than likely for the last time that Lord Malcolm, Sirdan and I would be together there. Though you never know… Seems unlikely though.

Earlier with Sirdan Malcolm went home to finalise various necessary things and to make necessary arrangements. I had gone to church to pick up my bundle of the South Sydney Herald for distribution around my area, though I didn’t stay for the service, despite the fact it was a special one where our Tongan congregation and our regular congregation came together to officially farewell Vlad, who is going to Europe for a year.

My heart is too full to say more.

Migrants to sit English test

11 DEC 2006

The Federal Government will go ahead with a plan to introduce a citizenship test for migrants that will require applicants to have a basic understanding of English. Prospective citizens will have to pass a computerised test that will also test their knowledge of the Australian way of life and history. They will also have to sign a commitment to Australia’s values and way of life. Migrants seeking permanent residency and temporary visa holders planning to stay more than 12 months will also have to give an undertaking to comply with Australian laws and values.

Prime Minister John Howard says the changes are designed to remove divisions in Australian society.

“This is a test that affirms the desirability of more fully integrating newcomers into the mainstream of Australian society,” he said. “This is about cohesion and integration. It’s not about discrimination and exclusion. It’s not designed in anyway to keep some people out and encourage others to come in, that’s not the purpose of it.”
Mr Howard says the new test is a positive move.

“This is not a negative discriminatory test,” he said. “Nothing unites a country more than its common language because from a language comes a history and a culture.” — ABC News.

Kevin Rudd is considering it.

I expressed my reservations vigorously on Rattle of an ignorant man… (corrected). So did someone much more expert than I, Director of the Centre for Immigration Studies and Multicultural Research at the Australian National University, Dr. James Jupp. There’s an “Aussie values” multiple choice as well; the irony of this test being about “mateship” and “having a go” seems to escape John Howard. His colleague Petro Georgiou was quick to see this, on the other hand.

But let’s be positive and consider the possibilities.

1. Perhaps all Australian citizens should be asked to pass the tests before they are allowed to vote. There are some who think this might most affect the Labor Party vote, but given certain Liberal branch-stacking incidents in recent years, this may not be entirely true.

2. Given that “Of ethnic groups, Aborigines [have] the highest proportion of people who do not speak English” this could be a really neat way of disenfranchising certain pesky Aboriginal communities without seeming racist.

3. It will be excellent for private English tutors like me and coaching colleges. As for the citizenship test, you just have to be drilled in the right answers. You certainly don’t have to mean a word of them. Anyway, it’s multiple choice, isn’t it?

4. My English and ESL blog should get more visits. There are some excellent links to tests and quizzes there, and I can always post some handy hints from time to time.

Is this scheme going to address community issues in any significant way? No, it won’t. It is a facile scheme, in my view; but that is of course just my view.

A multicultural Surry Hills morning

26 DEC 2006

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIt’s Boxing Day here in Surry Hills. “Boxing Day is a holiday of peculiarly British origin, but in most years it falls on the same day as the Feast of St. Stephen (St. Stephen’s Day – 26th December).” Well, it always is the day after Christmas, even if the actual public holiday might move a little. For example, if the 26th falls on a Saturday or Sunday, then a long weekend would happen. What Boxing Day means to most Australians is the fourth Test Match in Melbourne and the start of the epic Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race.

juiceandjavaSo I slept in this morning, in this flat where I would not be if it were not for my Shanghainese friend M. I go down to the Indian newsagent and buy the Sydney Morning Herald, then go to the coffee shop on the corner of Belvoir Street and Elizabeth where the Vietnamese owner and the very gay Tamil sidekick ask me if I want the usual. The Lebanese man is already at his table reading his paper. Two other customers of indeterminate Eastern European origin join us. An American says in response to the Vietnamese owner’s “How are you this morning?” “I’m well, by the grace of God.” He and his Anglo-Aussie friend avoid the smokers. I buy cigarettes from the Shanghainese on the corner of Goodlet and Elizabeth.

I open the Herald and take in one of those good news stories one should focus on at this time of year: Gift of faith: a day off at Christmas.

IN THE kitchen a row of six women wearing hijabs dice vegetables and slice fruit. Nearby another group of young Muslim women are tearing open packets of pasta by the dozen and throwing them into a huge pot of boiling water. Across the room, two young men wearing skullcaps are stirring a sizeable pan of beef curry.

Aiming to give their Christian counterparts from the charity Just Enough Faith the day off, the dedicated Muslim volunteers spent most of Christmas Day preparing and distributing homecooked meals to more than 500 homeless men and women at Cook and Phillip Park.

The volunteers come from Al-Ghazzali Centre for Islamic Sciences and Human Development, in Roselands, and see their role as building bridges between the faiths. Christmas has no significance in the Islamic religious calendar.

The founder of the centre, Imam Afroz Ali, said the initiative, called the Crescent Program, was unusual because it involved an Islamic organisation doing charity work for non-Muslims.

“This service is directly for our Australian brothers and sisters,” Mr Ali said. “What has made this successful is that the younger generation, particularly Muslims who were born here, have been dying to do something like this.

“Their parents, the older generation, still have connections back to their places of birth overseas, so a lot of charity goes back there, and there is no hiding from that. But Islam requires us to provide charitable services in our own neighbourhood first. So we have to do this as Muslims, right here in Australia, regardless of gender, race or religion.”


I think of Jelaluddin Rumi:

The garden of
is green without
and yields many
other than sorrow
and joy.
Love is beyond either
without spring,
without autumn,
it is always fresh.

Well, I did just now at least… (See Rumi Poetry Page.)

Last night ABC-TV broadcast An Aussie Irish Christmas.

On Christmas morning Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks will host a unique event: a Mass and an entertainment spectacular beamed live to Ireland celebrating the history of the Irish in Australia.

In the early 1800s more than 25,000 Irish convicts were detained in the Barracks. In the 1840s 4000 young female orphans escaping the “Great Potato Famine” were housed there.

An Aussie Irish Christmas is a one-hour special that will screen on ABC TV Christmas evening, December 25 at 7.30pm. The event will be hosted by Mike Bailey – ABC TV NSW weather presenter and Irish descendant. RTE – the national broadcaster of Ireland – will broadcast the event live to Ireland from Sydney.

Poignant stories of the hardships and triumphs experienced by these early Irish arrivals will be woven into selected highlights of the event to evoke a living, entertaining history of the Irish in Australia. A moving memorial to the orphan girls at the Barracks will also feature in the program and high profile participants include Irish President Mary McAleese, the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Ms Clover Moore MP and Cardinal George Pell…

And Lebanese-Australian NSW Governor Marie Bashir.

She was born in Narrandera in the Riverina district of New South Wales, and attended Narrandera Public School and Sydney Girls High School. She completed the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in 1956 at the University of Sydney.

Bashir later taught at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales, and increased her work with children’s services, psychiatry and mental health services, and indigenous health programs. When she became Governor of New South Wales, she was Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Sydney (which she became in 1993); Area Director of Mental Health Services Central Sydney (from 1994); and Senior Consultant to the Aboriginal Medical Service, Redfern (from 1996) and to the Aboriginal Medical Service, Kempsey… Bashir is the first female Governor of New South Wales and the first governor of any Australian state of Lebanese descent. In 2006 the Queen appointed Professor Bashir a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.

My own Great-great-great-grandfather Jacob came from Ireland involuntarily in 1822 and for a time resided in those same Hyde Park Barracks.

This is my Boxing Day Australia. I am rather proud of it. Let’s not let politics, undue concern for or against so-called “political correctness”, fear of terrorism, or any other distraction, spoil this Australia. Rejoice in it and embrace it. Looking at the faces in the choir at that Aussie Irish Christmas was instructive in itself.

Back to Rumi:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.