Why should any school kid have to commute up to 5 hours a day?

Quick fire update: smell of smoke here in Wollongong this morning, but Fires Near Me shows nothing close.  Could be hazard reduction…

A story that got my attention over the weekend was ‘No time to be kids’: The students travelling 100km a day for selective schools.

Data obtained from the NSW Department of Education under freedom of information laws also shows more than 300 students are travelling more than 100 kilometres a day between areas such as Frenchs Forest and Camden, or Moore Park and Wollongong to get to school.

Now of course I have a bit of a stake in this discussion, as a quick read of posts here tagged “Sydney High” will show.

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October 2008: SBHS/SGHS students arriving at Central Station en route home


There was a student I recall a few years after Scott Morrison — and yes, I was working at SBHS from Term 3 1985! — who travelled from Liverpool, 40 km SW of Sydney, but that is nothing compared to a current student at SBHS who travels daily from Wollongong — 86 km! (I myself 1955-1959 as a kid travelled 31 km from Sutherland/Kirrawee/Jannali, and some classmates came from Cronulla, same by road but further by train. So not entirely a new thing.)

However, Wollongong? Ridiculous, in my opinion, especially given there is an excellent selective school right here: Smiths Hill High.

Back to that student from Liverpool last century: a memorable character. He arrived just for Years 11 and 12 and was absolutely determined. His background was far from affluent. In fact — and I am sure this cannot happen now — he told me near the end of Year 12 that he had been covering school expenses by making donations to the sperm bank!

The million (and more) hectare fires

And that’s just New South Wales. And that’s just so far… Of the many images we have seen, this one from Harringtom NSW stands out:


Fortunately yesterday we here in the Illawarra were spared serious fires, though not the catastrophic weather conditions. Here in West Wollongong it hit 39 C around 3 pm, and the wind at times was strong. The most obvious sign was the haze, a mixture of smoke and dust. When the southerly came at last the temperature soon dropped 10 degrees, but sadly no rain, and in the foreseeable future no sign of rain.

The bush near here is certainly ready to burn. As a neighbour pointed out there hasn’t been a major burn-out since 2001 — and I recalled that one because it was on Christmas Day, and I saw it not from The Gong but from Paddington in Sydney. On the way home from Christmas Lunch at the Dowager Empress’s place to Elizabeth Street Surry Hills I saw, to the south, great clouds of smoke.  And the post is still lurking in cyberspace!

I am just back from Christmas lunch with the Dowager Empress of Hong Kong. His Atlantic salmon was to die for, and the tamarind prawns were–oh my God, I don’t usually eat prawns, but they were wonderful. The Christmas cake was a genuine Mrs Beeton recipe (with a whole bottle of brandy); it was light yet flavoursome. There is no doubt the Empress has a talent. I would have loved to have shared this day with the Crown Prince, I really would, but that could not be. Sirdan was there, and Paul Davis and another friend of DEHK’s.

On DEHK’s new DVD and digital TV we saw several episodes of Queer as Folk, which is not on free-to-air TV here. It is such a shame that SBS did not get it for late night viewing, because it is actually very good indeed. I would like the chance to see it again.

Walking home was an apocalyptic experience. The ground is yellow with smoke as bushfires ring Sydney. It is very hot and there are strong winds. The south and west of the city looked to be totally in flames from the vantage point of the inner city. According to the latest news the Blue Mountains are very bad, and the road north may soon be closed. To the south around Appin seems also to be bad. M. has headed north but would have got through before the problem arose.

Ironically, given the past few days, that Christmas M. (Michael) was heading for Laurieton!

Today our attention is especially on Queensland, but it does need to be said that this is just the beginning of months in which we very likely will see yesterday’s catastrophic conditions return.

Back to the Elephant in the Room again — and I really do commend again Jim Belshaw’s post. Let me also commend a recent (31 October 2019) opinion piece in the New York Times by Katherine Hayhoe, a professor at the Climate Center at Texas Tech University, and an evangelical Christian.

An important and successful part of that framing has been to cast climate change as an alternate religion. This is sometimes subtle, as the church sign that reads, “On Judgment Day, you’ll meet Father God not Mother Earth.” Other times this point is made much more blatantly, like when Senator Ted Cruz of Texas told Glenn Beck in 2015 that “climate change is not a science, it’s a religion…”

…my favorite question is the one I often hear from fellow Christians: “Do you believe in climate change?”….

As I always do now when someone asks this, I explained that climate change is not a belief system. We know that the earth’s climate is changing thanks to observations, facts and data about God’s creation that we can see with our eyes and test with the sound minds that God has given us. And still more fundamentally, I went on to explain why it matters: because real people are being affected today; and we believe that God’s love has been poured in our hearts to share with our brothers and sisters here and around the world who are suffering….

I want to make one rather obvious point: it is not quite correct to say that climate change CAUSES bush fires. Lots of things, including arson, cause fires. What climate change has done however is to magnify the CONDITIONS where bush fires are likely to be worse and more frequent. To me this is hardly controversial!

On the other hand there is finger-pointing on the subject of hazard reduction. Now clearly hazard reduction is a good thing. But I urge you to read Factcheck: Is there really a green conspiracy to stop bushfire hazard reduction? by Graham Readfern.

Large parts of New South Wales have been in the grip of catastrophic fire weather this week as firefighters desperately work to save homes, properties and lives.

But as firefighters try and beat back the bushfires, a familiar blame game began with critics pointing fingers at “greenies”, claiming they get in the way of hazard reduction efforts that might have reduced the size and scale of the disaster.

“These are very tired and very old conspiracy theories that get a run after most major fires,” says Prof Ross Bradstock, the director of the centre for environmental risk management of bushfires at the University of Wollongong, who has been researching bushfires for 40 years.

“They’ve been extensively dealt with in many inquiries.”…

Sadly, silly and unfortunate things have been said on several sides by politicians who really should know better. I quite agree with the Sydney Morning Herald’s David Crowe on this:

The loss of Australians’ homes, and sometimes their lives, should shame politicians who exploit human misery to score points against their enemies. Yet the politicians cannot help themselves….

… For some politicians, everything about you is seen through the prism of partisanship. Even your death.

When [Barnaby] Joyce called in to radio station 2GB later in the day, he sounded under huge stress as he tried to save his parents’ home in country NSW, but the damage from his earlier remark was already done.

This was a dismal but predictable sight for anyone who has watched the decline of Australian politics over the past decade.

I am not going to dignify Barnaby’s remark by quoting it! And Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John was not much better.


What might have been yesterday, or what might be! This photo of Mount Keira — so close to me — was taken I believe during the 1968 fires. Found on Facebook but the source is elusive, but it is a real photo. Scary, eh! Showed it to an old lady here at Diggers who remembered it happening.


Memory and apprehension: what will tomorrow bring?

Usually at this time of the year I focus on 11 November, Remembrance Day, but this year so many memories are being laid down here in Oz, good and bad. Good? Not a fan of Scott Morrison, but I pay my respects to this, which can’t possibly be faked.


And I am going to get the elephant in the room over with quickly by saying simply: YES — THERE IS A BLOODY GREAT ELEPHANT IN THIS ROOM! And we need to deal with it! Unlike Morrison’s deputy who has been banging on about those cliched “pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies.” Shame on you, McCormack! Try this for size: from a former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner: This is not normal: what’s different about the NSW mega fires.

I write this piece reluctantly, because there are still possible fire victims unaccounted for; people have lost loved ones; and hundreds of families have lost their homes. My heart goes out to them. I don’t want to detract in any way from the vital safety messages that our fire commissioners and Premier will be making about Tuesday’s fire potential.

And cool as ever, writing these days from Armidale, Jim Belshaw: Fires, drought and climate change within New England.

So what about tomorrow, Tuesday 12 November? This: note that the term CATASTROPHIC is used for Greater Sydney (Blue Mountains and down to The Shire) and Greater Hunter —  the first time the Sydney region has been rated at that level since the new fire danger ratings were introduced in 2009. The Gong is EXTREME. The NSW Premier has already declared a State of Emergency.


Here is where we have fires right now:


And for those overseas, let me post this so you get an idea of the territory involved:


On October 25 I asked: Wonder what this year’s bushfire season will bring? Could be dramatic….. Well, now we know. So far. AND IT’S NOT SUMMER YET!

I consider my own street. These pics I took eight years ago. Today, despite a cloudburst Sunday before last, it is much drier up there. Imagine that escarpment in flame! It has happened before. See my post 1968 and Illawarra burns.

So fingers crossed, eh!



Update 11/11 1.20 pm — The Gong now CATASTROPHIC!


Wollongong stars on SBS last night

Did you see Ainsley’s Australian Market Menu on SBS? See Eight reasons to eat your way around Wollongong.


That’s “Linda Galea, a first generation Australian with Maltese heritage, has been a stallholder selling vegetables from her family farm at the Wollongong markets for up to 15 years.”

Then there’s Louie Kelbert’s honey.

The Warilla man’s passion for bees arose from his first sting at the age of eight when he was throwing rocks at a swarm, and the bees turned and attacked. For his ninth birthday his parents presented him with his first hive, which he still uses today.

“See they thought I was a strange kid because I never played with toys … always had the interest for beehives and bees,” Mr Kelbert said. “I saw photographs in books and TV documentaries and I thought, ‘wow, I would love to do that’.” 

He now keeps 3.5 million bees in 46 hives in a field … neighbouring the Illawarra Golf Range and a reserve that is rich with flowering bee-friendly plants, such as tea tree, swamp mahogany, banksia and bitou bush.

Every morning he arrives to inspect the hives and spends the day in the field with his swarms of Caucasian, Carniolan and Italian bees, all sub-species of the Western honey bee. 

And here am I this morning with my jar, though mine came courtesy of a TIGS ex-student from the 1970s, Doug Parrish, who often minds the stall.


Over the last nine years I have often posted images of our wonderful Friday markets, for example here and here.




Last few days — feeling French

But first, noted this on Facebook: “Lovely to get a call from old mate Sirdan in NZ in response to my last blog post! He responded particularly to: ‘November 23, 2003 Yes, the Rugby World Cup, won deservedly by England in a last-minute field goal. Sirdan, Malcolm, Kevin and I watched it at Sirdan’s place and found ourselves thoroughly enjoying it; the Empress was also there but tended to fall asleep a bit.

‘I’ll tell you what, Sirdan knows a thing or two about lamb. All those years in New Zealand, I suppose. The New Zealand lamb leg he baked last night was, we all agreed, probably the best lamb we have ever had, real melt-in-the-mouth stuff. The 1999 McLaren Vale Shiraz didn’t go too badly either.’ ”

Good when someone reads and responds! Now to yesterday.  Here at City Diggers there was this show:

The new theatrical show, created in Australia, is being performed in the Illawarra for the first time. The show is based on the music and lives of influential late French performers Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour.

French-born Corinne Andrew will perform the role of Piaf for the show’s first appearance in the Illawarra.

The role of Aznavour will be sung by Sydney-based entertainer Milko Foucault-Larche, who also wrote and directed the show. Foucault-Larche, who was born in Mauritius, is a keen ambassador for French popular music in Australia.

On Corinne Andrew: “Corinne Andrew Is one of Australia’s leading multilingual vocalists who studied dancing and singing in Paris, Corinne started her professional career as the principal singer and dancer in music spectaculars throughout most of Europe’s major venues including: Folies Bergeres, Palais Des Congres, Monaco and Paradise Latin. Corrine was also engaged as the starring act in French cabaret performances throughout the Far East and South East Asia…”

My cousin Helen Langridge, fluent in French, and her husband Jim kindly treated me. We also had lunch together before the show, which was very good.


Coincidentally my grandnephew David Parkes and his sister Lauren have been on an amazing and very extensive trip through Europe, not something we Shire people did all that much in the era when Piaf was around Paris. They have both posted fantastic pictures on Facebook, and this one appeared this morning. That’s Lauren: