I weep like a child for the past…

This is the final post in the poetry and music series memorialising my brother’s death.

D H Lawrence 1885-1930

Piano

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

1918

With Anzac Day coming up I add this song. The lady herself appears near the end She turned 100 recently! A couple of years back I sent a copy to my brother, whose childhood was dominated by World War 2. Also unlike me his earliest memories were of Shellharbour and Wollongong. 

Fascinated by Catherine McKinnon’s “Storyland”

Or rather, by the review I read in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Catherine McKinnon’s Storyland opens with Lieutenant Matthew Flinders and George Bass as they set out on a fair day in March 1796 to explore the white, uncharted  land south of Sydney Cove.

The nine day sea voyage in the Tom Thumb begins ominously with the spoiling of the boat’s water that sets the intrepid explorers off in search of fresh supplies.

On their second shore landing, the explorers are welcomed by two Indigenous men, one of whom is known as Dilba, a man ”born of the earth itself”, who trades them fish and fresh water for two potatoes and a handkerchief.

It’s the first of a series of meetings in which Flinders is trusted enough to cut off the men’s beards with scissors, before confusion reigns and a warning shot is fired and the nascent goodwill between nations evaporates in musket smoke…

See also ‘Fascinating’ Lake Illawarra inspires author’s new book (2013).

The beauty of Lake Illawarra inspired Eugene Von Guerard to paint it in 1860, and now the saltwater lake has inspired Jamberoo author and playwright Catherine McKinnon.

Her second novel, Storyland, is set on the banks of Lake Illawarra and spans four centuries. The web connecting the five storylines is the lake’s natural environment, including the abundant wildlife. McKinnon weaves together her stories up to a climatic event – starting in the present, travelling into the future and skipping back to the past.

Von Guerard’s painting shows much of the lake’s surrounds stripped of their cedar and used for farmland almost 80 years after settlement.

McKinnon’s work stretches back even further, to Matthew Flinders’ exploration of the area in 1796. His account of that journey is the only historical record of the first encounter with the area’s Wadi Wadi people.

In researching the book, McKinnon explores the validity of Flinders’ two accounts of the journey and examines the influences and pressures he may have felt in writing them.

Flinders describes how they struggled to find fresh drinking water, had difficulty landing the boat and traded goods with two Koori men, who guided the explorers to Canoe Rivulet, a stream off Lake Illawarra, where they met with more locals. At some point Flinders believed the Kooris began to act suspiciously. Fearing for his life, he decided to use deceit to retreat back to the boat.

In Storyland, McKinnon challenges Flinders’ accounts by offering an alternative, imaginary perspective, from the point of view of an English servant, taking the reader on the same journey as they sailed up Lake Illawarra in the small boat, the Tom Thumb, through to Canoe Rivulet.

‘‘The book is partly based on real, historical events and part imagination,’’ explains McKinnon….

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Bass And Flinders In The “Tom Thumb”, c1930s. Colour lithograph. Pritchard.

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See my 2013 post Tom Thumb Lagoon. There is also a PDF file of an authoritative local  history available from the University of Wollongong: W.G. McDonald, (1975), The First Footers – Bass and Flinders in Illawarra.

In a moment of aberration Meehan in 1816 identified Tom Thumb’s Lagoon with the lagoon between Throsby’s stockman’s hut (near Brighton Beach at Wollongong) and Red Point, and the name stuck until “ the Thumb” was converted into Port Kembla Inner Harbour. Then, to conform with this, Allan Cunningham identified Hat Hill with Mount Keira, and labelled Mount Kembla Cap Hill or Molle Hill, making a molehill out of a mountain, and confusion worse confounded. These identifications are quite untenable; so are the theories which identify Tom Thumb’s Lagoon with Coomaditchy and with Little Lake at Warilla. Tom Thumb’s Lagoon can only be Lake Illawarra, and Canoe River its entrance; and there is a scintilla of  evidence that the blacks were shorn on the southern rather than on the northern side. Oddly Flinders makes no mention of Windang Island, which is such a striking feature of the entrance – the one piece of solid land in miles of sand. The map shows a hammer-headed peninsula on the south side to the entrance, which presumably represents Windang Island joined to the mainland by a sandspit, as it often is. Whether the channel is to the north or south of the island, or both, depends on the vagaries of wind and tide. Hat Hill is said by Flinders to be five miles W.N.W. from Red Point. He was over a mile short in his estimate of the distance, but the bearing is dead right for Mount K embla. For Mount Keira the bearing is wrong, and the discrepancy in distance even greater. The adventurers spent a third uncomfortable night in the boat, under the lee of the inner of the two northern islands, which they called Martin’s Isles

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Percy Lindsay’s 1925 watercolour of the story While the Powder Dried, which was used to illustrate the story of how Bass and Flinders diverted the attention of Aboriginals at Lake Illawarra by cutting their hair.

What was I up to in March 2012?

Five years on from the post before last.

The Cock House at Fellsgarth

Given this is Mardi Gras weekend you may well wonder, but in fact this is a school story by Talbot Baines Reed which I have just read as an eBook. More years ago than I care to admit to I read his The Fifth Form at St Dominic’s but had never encountered The Cock House before, so naturally I was curious. In brief it is tosh and rubbish, but not entirely a waste of time. Having been a teacher for so long I would have to fail Reed on mere educational grounds. The schools he describes would never cut it in NAPLAN! They really are quite awful places really, seriously…

I see there is a Facebook page for the COOK House at Felsgarth… Hmmm.

Much more worthwhile is Alec Waugh’s The Loom of Youth, which I am currently reading on Baby Toshiba.

My eBook collection of freebies now exceeds 500 titles!

Alas poor Baby Toshiba

My companion in hospital last year, and a faithful little servant in the tail end of my tuition in Chinatown, latterly to be seen in my company in clubs and pubs from Surry Hills to The Gong.

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Oh Baby Toshiba, why won’t you boot up any more? You just turn on and almost instantly turn off again…!

Only on the Internet: back to 1954

Had an email the other day from the son of my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Boys Primary in 1954. He had found 09 — My Teachers in my Ninglun’s Specials archive.

Grade 6 1954

The second principle Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game derive from their corpus of interviews is:

Good teaching recognises the unique potential of each student. This is not the same as an expectation or a prediction; it is seeing students in their wholeness, as they are now. The teacher’s responsibility is to nurture students and draw out their potential by opening them to new worlds. Thus teaching is inherently ethical, allowing students to find their place in and to contribute to the world.


I would like to name Mister O’Neil, my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Public School (or Sutherland Boys Primary as it was then, now a “special” school) in 1954, the year of the Royal Visit. I still vividly remember (among other things) going with my maternal grandfather — another inspiring teacher — through the fence and beside the track to wait for the (then) sheer magic of seeing the Royal Train go through, and Mister O’Neil rehearsed us over and over to perform appropriate songs, including a late Vera Lynn called “She’s the Queen of Everyone’s Hearts”, at the Sutherland School of Arts, where my mother won an electric jug in a raffle.

World War II was after all less than ten years before; indeed I was enrolled at Sutherland in 1949. My father had been in the RAAF.

The thing about Mister O’Neil is that he had a class of fifty or so students, all in a portable class room that baked in summer. Hardly any of the boys had shoes. Cast-off bits of military uniform were fashionable; no such thing as a school uniform, or (I may add indelicately) underpants. There were a few quite talented kids in 6A; I was a bit up myself, I’m afraid, because even though I took every August off to have bronchitis, and also that year had mumps followed by orchitis (nasty) and pancreatitis, I still managed to top the class, despite my rather alarming (and continuing) innumeracy. He let us have our heads, really. We produced school newspapers, in which I wrote and illustrated serials that were rather like Biggles, and also devised crossword puzzles. Every Friday we “broadcast” our plays over the school’s PA system.

When I was selected to go to Sydney Boys High my parents were against it, mainly because of the travelling which, combined with my absent-mindedness that led to my once almost being run over at a pedestrian crossing, they felt would not suit me. I guess they were also worried about my health. My mother at that time, I might add, was invalided with a clot in the leg, so I was also cooking dinner every night, following instructions emanating from my mother’s bedroom. She used to say what I cooked for the dogs smelt more appetising than what I made for the family — chops and three veg usually. Can’t go too wrong with that. Well, Mister O’Neil I found one afternoon when I came in from playing with the Dawson boys down the road sitting by my Mum’s bed in earnest conversation. Result: I went to Sydney Boys High. Apparently I had the highest IQ ever recorded at Sutherland Primary to that point… That may not be saying too much, of course, and I certainly found myself a small fish in a big pond at SBHS the following year.

But hats off to Mr O’Neil. Not only was he just a fascinating teacher, but so dedicated. By his complexion I suspect he may have enjoyed the odd bevvie too… At a time when many schools, especially boys schools, were “houses of swinging bamboo”, I can’t recall seeing him actually cane anyone either. I remember him with gratitude. Mind you, I don’t think I ever have quite fulfilled that potential, and at going on 65 it may be a bit late…

You will see the use Michael O’Neil made of my reminiscence on his family site: Edgar Ronald O’Neill (1918-1994) & Sheila Hudson (1919-1948)

Eddie on playground

There he is: Eddie O’Neil, my Year 6 1954 teacher – in 1957

Gives you a good idea of what school in The Shire was like back then too…

Check the dunnies behind him… Yes, pans!

Only on the Internet, eh! What would the chances have been of making this sort of contact before the Net came along?

Back from Sydney

Sirdan came down from Gympie today, just for part of the day! He, P and I dined at a swank Italian place in the old GPO.

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Sirdan had to be on the 2.30 plane back to Queensland, and P to work I assume. I decided to revisit old haunts.

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Sydney Boys High this afternoon.

I have nothing against a good belly button…

omphalos

Don’t know them, but they are Aussies…

But this guy elevated the belly button to cosmic heights…

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Wikipedia: “Philip Henry Gosse (6 April 1810 – 23 August 1888) was an English naturalist and popularizer of natural science, virtually the inventor of the seawater aquarium, and a painstaking innovator in the study of marine biology. Gosse is perhaps best known today as the author of Omphalos, an attempt to reconcile the immense geological ages presupposed by Charles Lyell with the biblical account of creation.

After his death, Gosse was portrayed as a despotic and fanatically religious father in Father and Son (1907), the literary masterpiece of his son, poet and critic Edmund Gosse

The gist of the Omphalos theory is that just as Adam. though not “born”, would have had a false history stamped on him via his belly button – think about it – so the fossil record etc represents a false history preloaded, as we might say today, by God at the time of creation. Ingenious, except that there is nothing to say the false history began two seconds ago and this entry was preloaded by God….

At the moment I am reading Father and Son. Just how true it is people have disputed, but whatever the case the book is a real treasure. Thanks to Project Gutenberg and my Kobo.

Meanwhile, capable as I was of reading, I found my greatest pleasure in the pages of books. The range of these was limited, for story-books of every description were sternly excluded. No fiction of any kind, religious or secular, was admitted into the house. In this it was to my Mother, not to my Father, that the prohibition was due. She had a remarkable, I confess to me still somewhat unaccountable impression that to ‘tell a story’, that is, to compose fictitious narrative of any kind, was a sin. She carried this conviction to extreme lengths. My Father, in later years, gave me some interesting examples of her firmness. As a young man in America, he had been deeply impressed by ‘Salathiel’, a pious prose romance by that then popular writer, the Rev. George Croly. When he first met my Mother, he recommended it to her, but she would not consent to open it. Nor would she read the chivalrous tales in verse of Sir Walter Scott, obstinately alleging that they were not ‘true’. She would read none but lyrical and subjective poetry. Her secret diary reveals the history of this singular aversion to the fictitious, although it cannot be said to explain the cause of it. As a child, however, she had possessed a passion for making up stories, and so considerable a skill in it that she was constantly being begged to indulge others with its exercise. But I will, on so curious a point, leave her to speak for herself:

‘When I was a very little child, I used to amuse myself and my brothers with inventing stories, such as I read. Having, as I suppose, naturally a restless mind and busy imagination, this soon became the chief pleasure of my life. Unfortunately, my brothers were always fond of encouraging this propensity, and I found in Taylor, my maid, a still greater tempter. I had not known there was any harm in it, until Miss Shore [a Calvinist governess], finding it out, lectured me severely, and told me it was wicked. From that time forth I considered that to invent a story of any kind was a sin. But the desire to do so was too deeply rooted in my affections to be resisted in my own strength [she was at that time nine years of age], and unfortunately I knew neither my corruption nor my weakness, nor did I know where to gain strength. The longing to invent stories grew with violence; everything I heard or read became food for my distemper. The simplicity of truth was not sufficient for me; I must needs embroider imagination upon it, and the folly, vanity and wickedness which disgraced my heart are more than I am able to express. Even now [at the age of twenty-nine], tho’ watched, prayed and striven against, this is still the sin that most easily besets me. It has hindered my prayers and prevented my improvement, and therefore, has humbled me very much.’

This is, surely, a very painful instance of the repression of an instinct. There seems to have been, in this case, a vocation such as is rarely heard, and still less often wilfully disregarded and silenced. Was my Mother intended by nature to be a novelist? I have often thought so, and her talents and vigour of purpose, directed along the line which was ready to form ‘the chief pleasure of her life’, could hardly have failed to conduct her to great success. She was a little younger than Bulwer Lytton, a little older than Mrs. Gaskell—but these are vain and trivial speculations!

From my week’s reading: Edmund Gosse, “Father and Son” — 1907

Still relevant after all those years.

My holidays, however, and all my personal relations with my Father were poisoned by this insistency. I was never at my ease in his company; I never knew when I might not be subjected to a series of searching questions which I should not be allowed to evade. Meanwhile, on every other stage of experience I was gaining the reliance upon self and the respect for the opinion of others which come naturally to a young man of sober habits who earns his own living and lives his own life. For this kind of independence my Father had no respect or consideration, when questions of religion were introduced, although he handsomely conceded it on other points. And now first there occurred to me the reflection, which in years to come I was to repeat over and over, with an ever sadder emphasis,—what a charming companion, what a delightful parent, what a courteous and engaging friend my Father would have been, and would pre-eminently have been to me, if it had not been for this stringent piety which ruined it all.

Let me speak plainly. After my long experience, after my patience and forbearance, I have surely the right to protest against the untruth (would that I could apply to it any other word!) that evangelical religion, or any religion in a violent form, is a wholesome or valuable or desirable adjunct to human life. It divides heart from heart. It sets up a vain, chimerical ideal, in the barren pursuit of which all the tender, indulgent affections, all the genial play of life, all the exquisite pleasures and soft resignations of the body, all that enlarges and calms the soul are exchanged for what is harsh and void and negative. It encourages a stern and ignorant spirit of condemnation; it throws altogether out of gear the healthy movement of the conscience; it invents virtues which are sterile and cruel; it invents sins which are no sins at all, but which darken the heaven of innocent joy with futile clouds of remorse. There is something horrible, if we will bring ourselves to face it, in the fanaticism that can do nothing with this pathetic and fugitive existence of ours but treat it as if it were the uncomfortable ante-chamber to a palace which no one has explored and of the plan of which we know absolutely nothing. My Father, it is true, believed that he was intimately acquainted with the form and furniture of this habitation, and he wished me to think of nothing else but of the advantages of an eternal residence in it.

Then came a moment when my self-sufficiency revolted against the police-inspection to which my ‘views’ were incessantly subjected. There was a morning, in the hot-house at home, among the gorgeous waxen orchids which reminded my Father of the tropics in his youth, when my forbearance or my timidity gave way. The enervated air, soaked with the intoxicating perfumes of all those voluptuous flowers, may have been partly responsible for my outburst. My Father had once more put to me the customary interrogatory. Was I ‘walking closely with God’? Was my sense of the efficacy of the Atonement clear and sound? Had the Holy Scriptures still their full authority with me? My replies on this occasion were violent and hysterical. I have no clear recollection what it was that I said,—I desire not to recall the whimpering sentences in which I begged to be let alone, in which I demanded the right to think for myself, in which I repudiated the idea that my Father was responsible to God for my secret thoughts and my most intimate convictions.

He made no answer; I broke from the odorous furnace of the conservatory, and buried my face in the cold grass upon the lawn. My visit to Devonshire, already near its close, was hurried to an end. …

“Gosse’s Father and Son is a superb and sometimes quite beautiful book…” — Brian A. Oard

Sunrise

What was I up to in February 2012?

Hard to believe yesterday’s post replayed items from TEN years ago! Today I offer a selection from Monthly Archives: February 2012.

If I hadn’t seen the video I wouldn’t have believed they could be so stupid…

Mining executives, that is.  Or should that be so contemptuous of us and the truth?

This week mining billionaire Gina Rinehart became the largest shareholder in Fairfax, having already bought a stake in Channel Ten. But this new video reveals this move is bigger than one woman’s ambition — it’s part of a coordinated and very deliberate strategy, with climate skeptic ‘Lord’ Monkton seen here advising a room full of mining executives on how the industry must gain control of Australia’s media. – GetUp.

Monckton!

Skull Murphy: a Monckton fan

See also my post How to pick a climate site that’s not worth reading.

1. It thinks global warming is all about Al Gore.

2. It thinks every scientific organisation in the world from the Royal Society down is in a massive conspiracy to destroy capitalism.

3. It takes Lord Monckton seriously.

4. It touts some pipsqueak or other simply because they cherry-pick “proofs” climate change is not happening.

5. It thinks all the measurements from NASA or elsewhere are somehow rigged.

6. It sees climate science as a racket whose sole aim is garnering research grants.

7. Checking the site’s fine print shows it is a front for powerful energy interests or right-wing US think tanks.

8. It believes the “Oregon Petition” is genuine.

9. It displays the most egregious ignorance of the well-established physics behind climate theory.

10. It has no idea about the concept of “certainty” and the scientific method.

Monckton? OMG! See also Monckton: this has to be a joke…

No, the ones who would be stupid would be us punters – if we were to believe one self-interested word this mining mob comes up with. Now we have seen how desperate they are. Scientific objectivity? Concern about the environment? Concern about the well-being of the country and the planet? Pigs arse!

Compare So What’s A Teacher to Do?

Imagine you’re a middle-school science teacher, and you get to the section of the course where you’re to talk about climate change. You mention the “C” words, and two students walk out of the class.

Or you mention global warming and a hand shoots up.

“Mrs. Brown! My dad says global warming is a hoax!”

Or you come to school one morning and the principal wants to see you because a parent of one of your students has accused you of political bias because you taught what scientists agree about: that the Earth is getting warmer, and human actions have had an important role in this warming.

Or you pick up the newspaper and see that your state legislature is considering a bill that declares that accepted sciences like global warming (and evolution, of course) are “controversial issues” that require “alternatives” to be taught.

Incidents like these have happened in one or more states, and they are likely to continue to happen. Teachers are encountering pushback from many directions as they try to teach global warming and other climate science topics.

The importance of climate change education is, to the RealClimate community, a no-brainer. Numerous professional science organizations, from the American Chemical Society to the American Geophysical Union to the Geological Society of America have stressed the imperative of climate science being an integral part of science education.

So What’s a Teacher to Do?

Long a defender of the teaching of evolution, the National Center for Science Education has recently launched an initiative to support and defend the teaching of climate change science…

Quite a month for anniversaries

Coming up is the anniversary of the fall of Singapore in 1942. I don’t recall that but it certainly affected some people I have known very directly and all of my generation in one way or another. Of course less well known is the fact that I was conceived in 1942.

Then there is 1952 and the current Diamond Jubilee of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne. That one I remember very clearly for reasons I gave last month. By a very indirect route that brings me to my grandfather, Roy Christison.

That’s him seated on the right of that photo with my brother Ian leaning against him.

You see of the many things Grandpa Christison talked about with me during the 1950s – and oh how significant I now know those conversations to have been in my life and thought! – one topic was the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, which he, to my astonishment, remembered – along with much else of pre-Federation New South Wales. And another thing that peppered conversations with Grandpa Christison was Charles Dickens. Grandpa Christison’s world-view owed more to Charles Dickens than it did to the Bible – about which he had somewhat agnostic views. He used to say that if you saw someone praying you needed to watch out for the knife behind his back, for example. But Dickens – no friend either of evangelicals and God-botherers – was a pure source of ethics as well as delight. My mother recalled family readings of Dickens, as no doubt many people of my grandfather’s time and tribe would.

And of course it is now the Dickens Bicentennial.

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There are quite a few connections between Australia and Dickens, which explains his having an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.  As an article in the Sydney Morning Herald explains:

FOR someone who never visited the place, Charles Dickens wrote, obsessed, lobbied and published an awful lot about Australia.

Though plans to make a lecture tour and write a book, The Uncommercial Traveller Upside Down, fell through, Dickens encouraged two of his sons, Alfred and Edward, to go to Australia. And, of course, many of his most memorable baddies, including Abel Magwitch (Great Expectations), John Edmunds (Pickwick Papers) and Wackford Squeers (Nicholas Nickleby) were transported down under…

At first, Dickens saw Australia only as a place of transportation, says a Queensland scholar, Marion Diamond,on her website Historians are Past Caring.

”But by the 1840s, free emigration to the Australian colonies was becoming important. This sparked his interest.” Encouraged further by the discovery of gold, he supported a number of emigration schemes, in life and in fiction. Indeed, at the end of David Copperfield he ”sends an absolute torrent of redundant characters to NSW: the Micawbers, Mr Peggotty and Little Em’ly, and Mrs Gummidge. Just to round things off nicely, he then has Mr Peggotty return, 10 years later, to tell David just how successful they have all been. Mr Micawber has become a magistrate!  Mrs Gummidge received an offer of marriage. Martha has married a farm labourer, and they now live happily on their own land, 400 miles from the nearest settlement.”

Like Magwitch and Micawber, the Dickens boys prospered in the new land of opportunity. At least, at first.

Alfred bought a station near Forbes, NSW, and later moved to Victoria, where he and his brother set up a stock and station agency, called EBL Dickens and Partners. He died on a visit to the US.

Edward managed a property in Wilcannia, and for five years represented the town in state Parliament. He later worked as a rabbit inspector and lands department officer for the NSW government. He died in poverty in Moree.

In Australia as in England, the public devoured Dickens’s prolific outpourings in books, stage plays and magazines, such as Household Words and All the Year Round.

As the author’s entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography notes, so widely published was his material that it ”helped impose Dickens’s own view of Australia on Australian life and society”.

Marie Bashir, the NSW Governor, is one of many prominent admirers of the author, who died in 1870. She recently recalled how as a ”little book worm” growing up in Narrandera in southern NSW, she visited his statue in the park, and later munched her way avidly through his complete works.

”I can still hear my mother saying, ‘Come to bed, Marie. It’s past midnight. Put that book down’.”

Next entry I will recall another anniversary of a literary nature, and confess more about my new addiction to eBooks!

Damn Fine Gentlemen and visitors from Beijing

Yesterday at The Five Islands Brewery.

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The ladies were part of a bus tour. They are from Beijing. Seems word is getting out about what a good venue we have down here in The Gong.

Yesterday: the Christening Party at Five Islands Brewery

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M’s Wollongong visit

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M in Mylan studying the menu.

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

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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.”

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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.

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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

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And I’ve been reading…

Posted on January 13, 2012 by Neil

…quite a few books.

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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.

GOLD

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.

FLOODS 2011

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.

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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.

vulnerability

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…

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