What was I up to in January 2012?

Since the last of this series dealt with January 2002, you might expect by my usual pattern that this one should be 2007 – except that I have already done that year on 10-11 January. So leap another five years!

No comment: linked to source

Posted on January 28, 2012 by Neil


Piers Akerman versus the 1933 edition of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary

Posted on January 27, 2012 by Neil

It’s ages since I bothered with Mr Akerman, the self-styled conservative who poses as a reasonable commentator in the Sydney Daily Telegraph. Today, given my own little dummy spit on Facebook, I thought I would attempt to out-pedant him.

My dummy spit? Here:

I was not impressed by yesterday’s circus in Canberra. If that puts off some of my friends here, so be it. I am sick of crap both left and right on these matters, totally over it, totally!

Akerman’s crap is as follows:

EVER ready to cry “racist”, Labor is now backing proposed changes to the Australian Constitution which would enshrine a two-tier citizenship based on claims of race.

That’s what used to be called apartheid when South Africa had such evil laws.

Labor has promised to hold a referendum on the constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians on or before the next federal election, due next year.

Like the word “gay”, “indigenous” no longer means what it used to – originating and living or occurring naturally in an area or environment.

That would mean that every person born in Australia is indigenous.

But in the Orwellian newspeak of the politically correct “indigenous” does not mean born in Australia. It means Aborigine as in Australian Aborigine, a definition that is also becoming increasingly fluid…

I could be really annoying and point out that so far as I can tell “gay” has never meant “originating and living or occurring naturally in an area or environment” – but that would just be mean of me! However, to “indigenous”.  It would have surprised Sir Thomas Browne writing in the 17th century to hear he was being “politically correct” when he insisted that Africans are not “indigenous or proper natives of America.”


Kangaroos are indigenous to Australia, Piers; rabbits, dogs, cats and Akermans are not.  Even when born here. Which you were not. I suppose that makes you an Indigenous Papuan?

Oh and do note what a true conservative I am in the matter of dictionaries… Winking smile

At the Diggers Club

Posted on January 24, 2012 by Neil

Love this place, and even more since Baby Toshiba is here trying out the free Internet. 🙂

Very fitting for Australia Day

Posted on January 24, 2012 by Neil

This arrived in the mail this morning.


Thanks, Peter Knox (aka Izzy Foreal) and Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite.

The wonton soup–Chinese New Year at Steelers

Posted on January 22, 2012 by Neil



And I’ve been reading…

Posted on January 13, 2012 by Neil

…quite a few books.


I did finish My Dog Gave Me The Clap (2011) yesterday. And I do recommend it. The author doesn’t look quite as one might expect: that’s him top left. But we are warned:

The author swears this isn’t one of those semi-autobiographical first novels. Although we once heard him say it was, he’s adamant that was a joke. Maybe it’s just as well he clarified that point for us. Adam’s dog has already said he ‘resents the implication’ and we can only speculate as to what the chickens will say if, and when, they read chapter nine.

That said, this is a wonderfully grungy novel about Saul, a part-time muso and part-time teacher. Saul is the kind of guy who hangs out in his mate’s backyard planning the best way to acquit his unemployment benefit on booze. He’s trying to resolve the big questions in life – like what thoughts he should put in his negative thought diary, how to avoid the compulsory office teabreak and what the hell happened at last night’s drunken Akubra photoshoot.

One thing Saul knows already is that there are some gigs you simply don’t want to get. My Dog Gave Me The Clap is a discomforting, in your face, compelling and funny book about masculine identity and missed epiphanies.

It really is very funny and very sharp in portraying some of our societal foibles and blind spots…

Here are the other reads:

smiley-happy005smiley-happy005[3]smiley-happy005[5]smiley-happy005[8] Kate Grenville, The Lieutenant (2008) – a very satisfying imaginative reworking of First Fleeter William Dawes (Rooke) and his relations with the Cadigal.

smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[14]smiley-happy005[16] Jessica Au, Cargo (2011).

Fiona Hardy chats to Melbourne writer, and former Deputy Editor for Meanjin Jessica Au about her debut novel Cargo.

In Cargo, we follow Frankie, Gillian and Jacob as they navigate their way through first loves, the dissolving of family lines, and the loss of youthful naïveté. Despite the characters being teenagers, this is very much a book for adults. Do you think the appeal lies in the fact that adults today are still presented with similar issues to those in your novel?

Well I wonder: do we ever really ‘grow up’ in a way? Of course we learn and shift and change, but somehow I think a lot of the things we go through in adolescence continue to reverberate throughout later life. When you’re growing up, adulthood can seem like a bit of a holy grail – a place of knowing and certainty and control – when of course that’s not the case (at least not for me anyway). There’s always going to be a bit of rawness, of wanting… that old ‘if only’ vein.

Also, even though Cargo is set very much in the ‘now’ (the voice is all present tense, for example, and the story spans over one summer), I feel that the writing itself has a strong inflection of nostalgia. There’s a real difference I think between living those years and looking back on them with new self-awareness or regret. It was the latter that I was trying to hone in on here. The ‘cargo’ of the title is a small nod to this – idea that these characters will carry the weight of what happens to them in the book for a long while after…

See also Jessica Au’s Cargo reviewed by Bel Woods.

smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12] John Tesarsch, The Philanthropist (2010).  This was a complete unknown. I found myself really enjoying the writing and admiring the wisdom.

John Tesarsch’s accomplished first novel The Philanthropist is a book about parents and children. It is about what we pass on, and what we inherit in turn. ‘The best thing a father can do, of course, is be there for his children. I wasn’t, because I was following false gods’ declares Charles Bradshaw, protagonist. He is speaking uninvited at the wedding of his mortified daughter, in the penultimate scenes of both the novel and his life. Here, Charles addresses the book’s underpinning theme, forThe Philanthropist is also about money – the most imposing and controlling of the false gods Charles refers to.  Money inherited and endowed, the novel tells us, corrupts, controls, defiles, destroys – for generations. What Charles receives from his father he gives in turn to his son, with ever more cancerous consequences; each generation in the Bradshaw family more reliant on – and more deformed by – what their money can buy. We are exposed to other examples of this genealogical decay, for almost all of Tesarsch’s finely drawn characters bare the scars of their parental relationships – or lack thereof. Perhaps this is the way of the world, as Philip Larkin would surely agree.  In any case, The Philanthropist presents a deep and quietly sad exploration of the inevitably disastrous ways in which one’s parents might, without meaning to, ‘fuck you up’. It is a compelling read. – Alice Robinson in review linked at the title.

smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12] Michele Giuttari, Death in Tuscany.

I don’t know of another crime series written by as senior a detective as Michele Guittari, former head of the “squadra mobile” in Florence. His novels are based in part on his experience as a detective, and give insights into investigative procedure, but he also has a tendency to gravitate toward big conspiracies and standard plot devices. I have to mention as well that he evidently persecuted a pair of journalists with an alternate view of a real case that is part of his plot in his first novel, A Florentine Death, jailing one and kicking the other out of the country for the crime of contradicting the cop’s theory of the Monster of Florence case in both his police work and his own book on the case. In A Florentine Death, Giuttari offers a serial killer (an unavoidable cliche, it seems, in crime fiction) as well as an overarching conspiracy that’s not (quite) as grandiose as that of the Da Vinci Code. In the newly translated A Death in Tuscany, the crime is more ordinary, the murder of a young girl who is possibly an illegal immigrant, and the conspiracies that are offered are less grand (one involving the Mafia, naturally, and the other a group of Freemasons…

I found this an interesting read, though the Masonic bit is weird: they turn out not to be quite what one might expect and do seem rather unlikely. The mafia-style corruption, on the other hand, is very well presented.

Also reading Peter Firstbrook, The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family, which I am finding quite fascinating on colonial and precolonial East African history, but not all that relevant really to understanding Barack Obama.

… Firstbrook traveled to the African nation of Kenya, where he visited the towns and countryside around the shore of Lake Victoria still dominated by the Obama clan and other families that constitute the Luo tribe.

The Luo tribe originally resided in what today is the Sudan. Tribal members gradually migrated south and east through about 600 miles of swamp and jungle and desert before settling in what today is Kenya, a territory colonized by the British until a grant of independence during 1963.

The Luo people believe that blood is thicker than water. So they are proud of Obama, although he knows little about their culture. “The Luo will never consider Obama to be a white man,” Firstbrook comments. “Regardless of where he was raised or what he might say or do, they will always see him as an African – a true Luo with an ancestry that can be traced back two dozen generations.”

The genealogical aspect of Firstbrook’s book is important, given Obama’s world prominence. Yet for me and possibly many other readers, the book is more fulfilling when read as a contemporary family detective story, with Firstbrook as the guide and eventually the answer man to questions directly related to the Obama family.

In fact, Firstbrook may now know more about Obama’s roots than does the president himself. In the book’s prologue, Firstbrook says Obama has never heard from his Kenyan family tales such as “the extraordinary story of how his grandfather fell in love with his grandmother, nor the tragic circumstances of their separation.” Neither has Obama heard suspicions about how his father really died in 1982. Firstbrook’s research has yielded plausible narratives. I will not become the spoiler in this review…

I am now on a biggie in both Ozlit and Indigenous Lit: Alexis Wright, Carpentaria (2006). It won the Miles Franklin on 2007. I know Nicholas Jose is a great admirer, and I am so far most impressed. See what this left-wing blogger said in 2007: Review: Alexis Wright, Carpentaria:

I have this strange feeling when I drive through Port Augusta. I feel like I’m about to finally leave the bland, suburban world in which I live (Adelaide) behind, and enter Australia.

It had never occurred to me that if I drove far enough north east of Port Augusta I might finally reach a place where Australia stopped and some strange, surreal other world began – the mud flats of the coastal Gulf of Carpentaria.

Actually, I didn’t find that out by driving there at all.

Instead, comfortably ensconced in my Adelaide house, I’ve just read Alexis Wright’s superb new novel Carpentaria.

It is another world about which she writes, a world where highways of the sea are as familiar to those who know them as roads on dry land, and where an Aboriginal activist can emerge from communities of despair to challenge the murderous might of a big mining company…

Capricornia is set in a fictional Gulf township called Desperance. “Desperance is Australia really at the moment,” Wright explained to ABC radio journalist Phillip Adams on July 3, “a really desperate place at the moment. We see it every day as indigenous Australians.”

Desperance is divided into its white Uptown community and two mobs of pricklebush dwellers, Norm Phantom’s Westside mob and Joseph Midnight’s Eastside mob. The pricklebush communities are at war with each other, and Uptown wants to put the bulldozers through the lot of them. Outside of town is the mine, inflaming and dividing the community so as to pursue its commercial venture without opposition.

Wright has dedicated Capricornia to two indigenous men, Doomadgee’s recently sacked Mayor Clarence Walden and Gulf country activist Murrandoo Yanner…

Wright told the ABC’s Kerry O’Brien recently that Yanner is a “hero, he’s our hero in the Gulf of Carpentaria. He’s one of the strongest young men I’ve come across. He’s fighting for land rights, for people’s rights every single day…he’s just growing stronger every day.”

Yanner inspired the character Will Phantom in Capricornia.

This is a great novel and a major addition to the storehouse of progressive Australian literature.

It is clearly an extraordinary novel. A top read of 2012. smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]

Sirdan and Missie the Jack Russell are off to Gympie

Posted on January 11, 2012 by Neil

Yes, the day has come.

That’s the destination…

Gympie, a rural city of about 16,000 people in the Mary River Valley, is 150 km north of central Brisbane. A gold rush from the late 1860s brought rapid growth and grand buildings in what soon proved to be a flood-prone main street. Fine mansions sprouted on the flood-free hill tops, but the lower part of the main street is still inundated from time to time. Gympie was the administrative seat of the Cooloola Shire and continues that role with the Gympie Regional Council.


The Gympie district was part of the large Widgee pastoral area. In 1867 James Nash, who had mined in New South Wales, carried out some casual prospecting while journeying from Nanango to Gladstone. Trying Yabba Creek (Imbil) and Six Mile Creek, he found a few colours; then at Caledonian Hill and a nearby gully (Nash’s Gully) he discovered rich deposits. A few weeks later he found more gold in a small watercourse known by pastoral employees and cedar cutters as Gympie Creek…

By 1901 Gympie’s population was about 12,000, nearly triple the figure of 20 years before. There were two more private schools, a stock exchange (1884), another newspaper, over 20 lodges and friendly societies, more churches (Baptist and Salvation Army), a water service and a theatre. The running total of gold taken from Gympie was 2.49 million ounces, compared with about 0.82 million ounces up to 1881. It was as well that the strong gold production kept up, as Gympie suffered heavy losses when the Mary River flooded in 1893, putting Mary Street 30 feet below flood level at its lowest point. Water pressure fractured gas mains and damaged mines.


Along with much of Queensland, Gympie and its central business area were flooded in January 2011. The Mary River peaked at 19.24 metres, the twelfth highest since records were kept. The three highest recorded levels were 25.5 m (1893), 22 m (1898) and 22 m (1999). Gympie has had many more moderate floods, particularly during the 1920s, 1950s and 1970s…

Sirdan’s new place is well away from the flood areas, apparently.


So wise, so true

Posted on January 6, 2012 by Neil

Thanks to Winton Bates for drawing attention to something that I had posted in passing back in November: “Thanks also for posting Brene Brown’s video “The power of vulnerability” (November 2: New Blog). Her ideas are challenging but her presentation of them is magnificent.”  See 2 November 2011: new blog!

I have selected from the transcript a section that truly resonates with me.


Quite wonderful. See also The Curse of Certainty by Terry Newell, and this sad brave story from a Jewish teacher writing in 2002 of events  in 2001. It is worth posting whole.

On Sept. 12, I walked into my eighth-grade English class determined to talk about what had happened the day before. I asked if anyone had anything to say. A boy with contact lenses and gelled hair raised his hand. “Mr. Maksik, now do you see why I said what I did last year?”

I teach at an Orthodox Jewish school, and last year I taught Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” to my seventh-graders. When we came to the trial of Tom Robinson, I saw an opportunity to make a point. I asked the class what they thought of the way Robinson was being treated on the stand. They reacted as I expected they would, calling the treatment racist and cruel. We all agreed that to treat someone poorly because of his race was unfair. What then, I asked, would they think if instead of a black man, there was a Palestinian man on the witness stand? Without missing a beat, the same boy, then with round glasses and wild, curly hair said, “I’d spit on him.”

This year, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, and after being granted permission by the general studies head, I began teaching a novel written by Naomi Shihab Nye titled, “Habibi.” It is the story of a Palestinian American family that moves to the West Bank. The young girl in the story falls in love with a Jewish boy. Israeli soldiers in the novel are portrayed as bullying. In the second week of teaching the book, I was called to my superior’s office, the rabbi in charge of Judaic studies for the middle school. He told me that I would not be permitted to continue with the book until he was able to review it. He’d received letters from parents. He had already read enough of it to be “certain” that it was inappropriate. Furthermore, I wasn’t to teach history or current events. I told him that I didn’t understand how the novel was contrary to the mission of a school committed to the ideal of moral education. I fought the decision and considered resigning.

At the end of the week, I found myself in a meeting with the founder of the school, the director of moral education, the rabbi with whom I’d had the initial discussion and the head of general studies from the high school. During this meeting, I was told by the director of moral education that I had been insensitive in my choice of literature. By way of making his point, he asked whether I would also be willing to teach “Mein Kampf.” Earlier that day, I received an e-mail from a student’s brother that warned me not to spread my “dilusional (sic) lies in the secular classroom.”

Much has been written about cycles of violence, and it is no mystery that in every war-ravaged country there is endless and deeply rooted animosity. Hatred is passed on. I have seen all of this firsthand in students whose parents are abusive. The boy whose father hits him, hits other kids. None of this is news.

What I’ve never seen is such vigorous political passion, such pharisaic certainty in a child whose voice hasn’t changed. I have seen photographs of children from all over the globe carrying guns, but they have been to me cultural curiosities, icons of worlds very far away. After the World Trade Center fell to earth, I heard many people say that the world had finally come to the United States of America. Some said it with anger, some with fear, some with satisfaction.

In the midst of the uproar over “Habibi,” I assigned my students to write an essay explaining why there is so much enmity against the United States. I received a paper ostensibly written by a seventh-grader that read, “Those who believe that the West Bank is occupied Palestinian land are Arabs from nations where there is no freedom of the press; liberal, self-hating Jews and anti-Semites…. People who have a primitive culture do not understand diplomacy.” When I asked the student what he meant by these things, he said he didn’t know how they had ended up in the essay at all. I did know; someone else had written the essay.

As a teacher, it is my job to ask questions. I am not trying to please a defense contractor, be reelected or fulfill a vendetta sworn by my father. Lately, it is difficult to believe that my tirades against intolerance will make a difference in the face of these children’s and their parents’ convictions. But, I speak from a perspective of ideals, with the luxury of detached liberalism. None of my family has been killed by an occupying soldier’s bullet or a militant’s bomb. I am carrying no image of my brother lying dead in an Israeli restaurant. I have never been persecuted for my religion, my ancestry or for my race. Nonetheless, I am a teacher, and as long as I have the opportunity to question the blind certainty of 13-year-old zealots, I will.

Finally, the school allowed me five days to teach “Habibi” under the supervision of a rabbi, and on March 25, I received a letter from the school stating that my contract will not be renewed for next year.

That story resonates in part because I myself taught for a while in an Orthodox Jewish school – not that I had this experience, as my time was 1988-1989 and St Ives not somewhere in the USA. But I observed there, as I have when among Christians, and when among Muslims in more recent times, the same curse of certainty not unconnected to what I recently called on Facebook a belief that God writes emails. I don’t believe that God has ever written anything. I do not make a separation between “divinely inspired texts” – a concept however elegantly defended that ends up founded in the classic circular argument – and any other texts. That is something I have slowly and painfully learned over fifty years – though scholars have known for much much longer. And, sadly, it is an idea even harder, perhaps, to practise or preach in the Islamic world.

The basic thing wrong with the God-written infallible text story is that it is simply untrue.

InspirING? Now there’s a different story. Hence my love for this favourite psalm.

1I am not conceited, LORD,

and I don’t waste my time

on impossible schemes.

2But I have learned to feel safe

and satisfied,

just like a young child

on its mother’s lap.

3People of Israel,

you must trust the LORD

now and forever.

Am I certain about any of what I just said? Of course not…