Banjo Paterson: The Road to Old Man’s Town

Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson (1864-1941)

The Road to Old Man’s Town

The fields of youth are filled with flowers,
The wine of youth is strong:
What need have we to count the hours?
The summer days are long.

But soon we find to our dismay
That we are drifting down
The barren slopes that fall away
Towards the foothills grim and grey
That lead to Old Man’s Town.

And marching with us on the track
Full many friends we find:
We see them looking sadly back
For those that dropped behind.

But God forbid a fate so dread —
ALONE to travel down
The dreary road we all must tread,
With faltering steps and whitening head,
The road to Old Man’s Town!

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My brother Ian, late 1930s or early 1940s

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 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.”

indigenous

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.

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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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What was I up to in November 2011? Part 1

Posts from my Monthly Archives: November 2011.

Relaunching with Tom Keneally’s very functional moral compass

Posted on November 4, 2011 by Neil

Our pollies in the main, have lost theirs, it seems – or maybe the salt water has got into them, or they have been sitting on them instead of steering by them  Begin where Tom does and you just might come up with a policy that both makes sense and also makes us proud.

An open letter to ‘Shooty’, who committed suicide in Villawood detention centre last week.

Dear ‘Shooty’,

I’ve just watched our Prime Minister talking about shared Commonwealth values in Perth. My mind turned at once to you and your solitary, late-night death in Villawood detention centre last week.

I say solitary, but you may have had a mobile. You may have talked to your girlfriend on the outside that dismal night. She is said to have urgently rung Villawood to ask the desk there to call an ambulance because you were taking poison or a lethal overdose. But they declined to make the call at that stage. Your girlfriend’s mother was the one who then contacted the ambulance, which took you to hospital too late. An earlier refusal by the authorities to let you out for a day to attend a Hindu festival may have caused the final despair.

So, after telling your girlfriend you were fed up with Serco, the company that runs the place for profit, you died, a man refugee advocates called perhaps the most positive and chirpy in the camp. Never mind. You were a Tamil from Sri Lanka, and a son of the Commonwealth of Nations. Even if that did you no good, I hope it consoles you.

Your suicide came after two years’ detention. But you had been already declared a bona fide refugee seven months ago. You were waiting only for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation to complete a routine security check. After seven months they hadn’t. An unreasonable person, like myself, might ask how long they bloody well need. But of course, I don’t understand the subtleties of their situation. And in any case, you short-circuited their efficiency.

Because you couldn’t take any more of what we dished up to you – those Commonwealth values, the ones on which we take years to deliver while we treat you as if you have committed armed robbery with assault. You could have lived in the community awaiting the formality of the routine ASIO check. But that would have been too much dignity paid to you.

Your death comes at the end of a period when the psychiatric advisers to the government had warned the government that self-destructive acts like yours would occur. Yet the funny thing is, Shooty, that had you been able to endure, you would have become a resident and an Australian. A brother. A fellow guest at the table of the Commonwealth of Australia. A mate, clasped by the shoulder and probably praised at barbecues – in that back-handed way – as a decent bloody brown bastard!

At CHOGM, the high table of Commonwealth values, Sri Lanka went un-punished for atrocities against Tamils. But even when the Tamil human-shield civilians were being blasted at the end of the Sri Lankan war between the government and the Tigers, we all knew some people like you would inevitably come to Australia. Good old John Dowd, who is head of our local chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, had already called for the trial of the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Australia for war crimes against your people. This just cry, like most just cries these days, has penetrated the stratosphere and vanished into space.

Amnesty International has reported death and torture of those asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka. Of course, none of those accusations made it to the high table of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Mateship. The only person who said anything of note at CHOGM, anything that tried to push out the envelope of concern, was the Queen.

It’s important to know none of what befell you was personal. You died for a failing government that has lost its soul and will soon lose an election. That is, it will have sold its essence to no benefit, and you’ll still be dead. A crease-browed, callow young Minister for Immigration can console us in dusk news bulletins as to why the circumstances imposed on you were so necessary to Australia’s security. And the rest of us have the rhetoric of morning radio and, thank you, but we decided some time back we don’t want you adding your static to our heedless days.

At least until the next suicide, the next foretold and desperate death, some Australians, an increasing number, weep for you as for a brother. Some curse the ineptitude, the cosy lies, the political conjuring and party self-deceit that brought you to your death. And the ironic truth is your remains will have a claim on a patch of Australian soil we wouldn’t give you before.

If we could summon up your soul from that place, we would offer you our useless apologies. If we could summon up your soul, we would ask it to remain among us – the man who was on the brink of Australian-ness, led to water, not allowed to drink. But for now, mandatory detention rolls on, a wheel that crushes many and avails Australia nothing.

What we need, Shooty, what we Australians need for the peace of our souls, is a whisper, a breeze from the direction of your vanished spirit. And what it would say is: treat us as members of the same species. What it would say is: I thought you were a just people.

Tom Keneally, AO, is the Booker prize-winning author of Schindler’s Ark. ‘Shooty’ committed suicide in Villawood detention centre last week.

source

Heading up to Sydney

Posted on November 6, 2011 by Neil

Remember Sirdan–changes coming? Well the auction was yesterday and was not successful, though there is a nibble… Guess I will find out more later today.

Mystery figure in Five Islands Brewery reflection: is it a ghost?

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One of these is one of my grand-nephews… Well OK, the one on the left…

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On being in Surry Hills yesterday and finding Nick Jose’s anthology remaindered

Posted on November 7, 2011 by Neil

First The Trinity Bar: pork spare ribs – apologies to some folk further down this post – to die for! (I guess people have died on account of pork over the years…)

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On the way to the pub I deviated to the Bargain Book Basement at Central Station. Look what I found, here seen at the coffee shop on the way back to Central after the pub.

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That’s the US edition. In July 2009 I wrote:

In today’s Australian Nicholas Jose has an article about the new Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature. A companion, the excellent Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature, has already been published.

… But what is Australian literature anyway? If it seems a dumb question, the answer is not as obvious as it may appear. Does a piece of writing have to be about Australia to qualify, or is it enough if it is written by an Australian, or someone who was in Australia some of the time? Can fantasy or science fiction be Australian if it is written by an Australian but set in another world?

My answer would be yes, potentially, but it helps to be able to point to something Australian, however elusive. Nikki Gemmell’s novel The Bride Stripped Bare is an interesting case. First published by Anonymous in 2003, it was no surprise when the author was revealed as Australian.

There’s a giveaway when the heroine escapes the London cold for Morocco and the sun heats her up in a way she seems to know from some other life … down under.

And how do we define literature? Does genre writing such as romance and crime fiction count, and what about history writing or the speeches of (some) politicians? Again my answer would be yes, potentially, depending on what’s happening in the language, the ideas, the literary imagination of those writers, and what effect their words have on us as readers.

The terms Australian and literature are a potent but unstable combination, invoked in lofty charters and fierce debate…

There’s a touching scene in Alien Son, Judah Waten’s 1952 memoir in which the boy’s mother, a migrant to Melbourne from Odessa, wanting a “musical education” for her kids, takes them to listen to records at a friend’s house. The music “sounded far away and thin, like the voice of a ventriloquist mimicking far-off musical instruments”. They go to a music shop where the mother asks the salesman to play records to the embarrassed children — Caruso, Chaliapin, “whole symphonies and concertos” — until the manager asks if she ever intends to buy one.

The son must translate his mother’s reply about her children’s “right to music and culture and in fact the rights of all men”: “Just because we are poor must we cease our striving?”

The striving of many people such as Waten’s mother, and Waten himself, as a writer, has given Australia an extraordinary culture, including a great body of literature, transformed from distant mimicry into something of our own, something to share, to argue with, to extend and pass on.

I cherish in all the arts a space for Australian voices – even if it is just to remind ourselves that we are not, after all, Americans.  Winking smile   This is not jingoism. Arts that can show us who and where we are with conviction and authenticity (old-fashioned words I know) are to be cherished, and the paradox is that it is often those works from other countries and cultures which are most “local” that move us most. So rather than being the literary equivalent of McDonalds, works like The Great Gatsby or even To Kill a Mockingbird speak to us of – and beyond – a locale they so wonderfully evoke.

I guess I will be able to learn more of the Macquarie anthology; I’ll be dining at M’s on Sunday and Nicholas Jose will be the guest of honour.

I followed that up here: Last night: Oz Lit, refugees and other matters.  “No, I can’t say what was said because any detail is embargoed until the official launch later this week, but I can tell you it is big (around 1,500 pages) and anyone interested in Australian Literature will want one. There may be some surprises.” William Yang was there that night and one of the surprises is that William is in the anthology!

Hard to believe that two years have gone by! Strange too to find (after searching the libraries at Surry Hills and Wollongong and never snaffling a copy to borrow) that the US edition (Norton 2009) is now in the remainder shop!

Our good luck though. Buy it of you can. It is so good!

Last night SBS presented the first episode of Channel Four’s The Bible: A History. Very little about the first episode on Genesis and creation, presented by novelist Howard Jacobson, really surprised me and I am afraid he will have pleased no one. I couldn’t help reflecting on what twaddle F R Leavis represented – I was taught by one of Leavis’s most ardent disciples, Sam Goldberg, and Jacobson by the man himself. Jacobson reflects in that in Howard Jacobson on being taught by FR Leavis.

Upon being nervously greeted by me, he suggested I go into the porter’s lodge and make myself known. Thereafter, in the week before term began, I continued to run into him, by the gates. I summoned the courage to tell him I was rereading The Dunciad and enjoying it. He looked, I thought, disapprovingly at me. The following day I told him I had finished rereading The Dunciad but had not in the end, enjoyed it all that much.

He still looked disapprovingly at me. He was not, I realised, going to be easy to please.

The next week term began in earnest and a person not at all like the person I’d been talking to turned up and distributed practical criticism sheets. If this was Dr Leavis, then who had I been discussing The Dunciad with? I discovered, in due course, that it was a college porter, I believe called Tony.

You don’t forget a mistake like that. I felt a fool the whole time I was there. But I felt a fraud, too…

The true frauds were probably the dons…

That aside, I am looking forward to the next episode where…

War correspondent Rageh Omaar, who was brought up as a Muslim, examines Abraham, one of the most revered patriarchs of both the Jewish and Christian Bible and of the Muslim Holy Qur’an.

According to all three faiths, he was the first man to worship one God – and one God alone – and all three religions claim him as an ancestor.

He’s often cited by world statesman as a unifying figure for all the three religions, yet today many of the ‘children of Abraham’ are locked in conflict.

Omaar travels to Israel, the West Bank and Iraq to investigate the story of Abraham, and ask whether his legacy is a source of great division or if the great patriarch holds the key to peace and reconciliation.

Been rereading Exodus myself lately. It is a highly unlikely story and in many respects a thoroughly immoral one. God is more than a bit of a psychopath in it – but you often find that in The Scriptures, the Koran no more than the Bible as any objective reader of either will very quickly find. (For the purpose I commend in the case of The Bible the Contemporary English Version from the American Bible Society, which reads very easily and at the same time defamilarises the text – an essential aid to objective reading.) But one thing I share with Jacobson is a love of uncertainty and paradox, so I can also see that it is a highly significant archetypal narrative of liberation – a use to which Black Americans especially applied themselves in their rhetoric of liberation down to and including Martin Luther King. Let my people go! Oh yes!

From a purely historical perspective of course the Exodus didn’t really happen, nor did the conquest of Canaan. But then neither did the saga of Abraham as told in the Jewish and Christian traditions and retold from Ishmael’s perspective in the Muslim tradition. Myth. But not therefore insignificant.

The conservative as fool

Posted on November 20, 2011 by Neil

That’s Britain’s Ann Widdecombe, possessor of a very large bonnet which is home to quite a few extremely confused bees – or so it would seem from tonight’s episode of The Bible a History on SBS. I turned her off on the grounds that the series title was patently inappropriate for this batty woman whose grasp of historiography and biblical criticism probably extends to having fairies at the bottom of her garden.  Faith is nice but Widdecombe is on a track that smacks of gullibility, self-delusion and extraordinary disrespect for scholarship and evidence. This isn’t a conservatism worth knowing about; this is just wilful denial of reality. It isn’t faith, it’s cloud cuckoo land. Religion is not served by such naked obscurantism.

Anyone in the 21st century who seriously thinks Moses literally wrote the first five books of the Bible may be many things but “historian” isn’t one of them. It’s even less likely that Moses was the writer of the Pentateuch than the numerous anyone-but-Shakespeares that we are seeing a bit of a cinema-led revival of lately wrote the plays that really were most likely written by Shakespeare – a far more likely proposition than Moses writing Genesis through Deuteronomy.

I am not a fan of Hitchens, and I think Stephen Fry, and I am a fan,  is not being a great historian either in the following exchange which I am not bothering to watch again, having already seen the YouTube, but they do make Widdecombe look a fool – NOT hard as she clearly IS a fool!

All in all a waste of space, the whole episode.

See also I watched Rageh Omaar on Abraham last night (SBS) … and On being in Surry Hills yesterday and finding Nick Jose’s anthology remaindered.

Surry Hills revisited–people — 1

Posted on November 8, 2011 by Neil

Last Sunday I revisited Surry Hills. Even encountered Madam from the Devonshire Street of many moons ago – just as I had done five years back:

Tonight I saw Madam in Elizabeth Street, and this will mean most to The Rabbit, after whom she asked. She was pleased to hear about the English teaching. She is still doing some catering, she tells me, has some Japanese students staying with her, and is enjoying the freedom of not running a cafe. She seems to be over her Bulgarian period. (Mind you, I liked him.)

Her cafe was a bit like Rick’s. If smaller. Much smaller. And there was no piano. But it was as much a haven for all kinds of refugees as Rick’s ever was. I am sure The Rabbit remembers it with as much affection as I do.

Ah, Cafe Max. I haven’t really taken to its replacement.

And just as then she asked after Mister Rabbit.

But also on Sunday:

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Morphs in Crown Street Mall

Posted on November 11, 2011 by Neil

Part of Viva La Gong.

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Very cool kids in Wollongong Mall yesterday

Posted on November 12, 2011 by Neil

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The sad decline of key terms of abuse

Posted on November 15, 2011 by Neil

Take this.

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“Urger” was one of my father’s favourite terms of abuse. Google kept insisting I really meant “burgers” which is terribly culturally imperialist of it, and makes the joke above doubly funny. Josh Larsen, who took the photo, lives in Seattle so I can’t help wondering if he sees the joke I as an Australian see in it.

noun

Australian informal

  • a person who gives tips at a race meeting.
  • a person who takes advantage of others ; a racketeer:he was a free enterprise man — he thought all unionists were urgers

A comment on Language Log (Parliamentary decorum) by one Rob Weaver makes a further point:

There’s a little bit more to ‘urger’ than that. Specifically it means someone who encourages you to a risky or costly course of action that will benefit them significantly more than it might benefit you.

The term originally referred to a particular kind of race-course hustler who would give hot tips – one for each likely winner – to a selection of unconnected punters so as to be able, when inevitably one of the tips won, to appear at the elbow of the bettor whose pick had come first and wheedle a share of the winnings, or at least a free beer.

The post at Language Log is well worth repeating:

In the context of concerns about declining civility in American political discourse, Victor Steinbok points to a post at Vukutu on Australian Political Language, which quotes from “Mungo MacCallum’s great book, How to be a Megalomaniac, … a list of the terms of abuse which [former prime minister Paul] Keating  had used against his opponents duing his time in politics”:

“harlots, sleazebags, frauds, immoral cheats, blackguards, pigs, mugs, clowns, boxheads, criminal intellects, criminals, stupid crooks, corporate crooks, friends of tax cheats, brain-damaged, loopy crims, stupid foul-mouthed grub, piece of criminal garbage, dullards, stupid, mindless, crazy, alley cat, bunyip aristocracy, clot, fop, gigolo, hare-brained, hillbilly, malcontent, mealy-mouthed, ninny, rustbucket, scumbag, scum, sucker, thug, dimwits, dummies, a swill, a pig sty, Liberal muck, vile constituency, fools and incompetents, rip-off merchants, perfumed gigolos, gutless spiv, glib rubbish, tripe and drivel, constitutional vandals, stunned mullets, half-baked crim, insane stupidities, champion liar, ghouls of the National Party, barnyard bullies, piece of parliamentary filth.”

“MacCallum notes that this listing is only of terms which Keating used in Federal Parliament, which of course has rules of decorum not applying in the rougher world outside.”

We noted Keating’s way with words a few years ago ( “A tale of two Dons“, 12/22/2003), and cited the Paul Keating Insults Page, which offers useful context for a large collection of insults, and also must be one of the few accessible pages that can trace a continuous history back to 1995.

a-spivThen there’s “spiv”.  Lovely word. There’s a great discussion of it on World Wide Words.

…Until recently, we have had no idea where the name comes from, which has given rise to a lot of uninformed speculation. It has indeed been said that it is VIPs backwards; also that it was a police acronym for Suspected Persons and Itinerant Vagrants. VIP does date from the same period, but it would be very surprising if it were the source. Apart from the sense being wrong, inverted acronyms based on word play were uncommon then. The police story is a well-meaning attempt at making sense of the matter.

An early appearance in print was in School for Scoundrels in 1934: “Spiv, petty crook who will turn his hand to anything so long as it does not involve honest work”. As a result of investigation in 2007 by a BBC television programme, Balderdash & Piffle, we have learned that the word was around earlier. Its first appearance in print is now known to be in a book of 1929, The Crooks of the Underworld, written under the pseudonym of C G Gordon; this included a reference to “a clique of Manchester ‘spives’”. We also have a better idea of the historical background to the term. The activities of an unsuccessful petty crook named Henry Bagster, a London newspaper seller and petty criminal of the early years of the early twentieth century, were widely reported at the time. Bagster’s court appearances for theft, selling counterfeit goods, assault, and loitering with intent to commit a felony were recorded in the British national press between 1903 and 1906. His nickname was “Spiv” recorded from 1904.

We don’t know why he was given that nickname, though it may indicate that the slang term was in use even then. The word itself may well have come from the dialect term spiving, smart, or spiff, a well-dressed man. This developed into the adjective spiffy, smart or spruce, recorded from the 1850s, and also into spiffed up, smartly dressed. In The Cassell Dictionary of Slang, Jonathon Green instead suggests the Romany spiv, a sparrow, which was used by gypsies, he says “as a derogatory reference to those who existed by picking up the leavings of their betters, criminal or legitimate”.

More distinctly Oz, I thought,  is “lurk merchant”The Urban Dictionary provides the following dialogues:

Dave: My boss goes away a lot and he asks me to mind his apartment. Last week his secretary came over not expecting to see me and was found out.I banged her in the boss’s bed and made a date for next time he’s out of town
Bob: Man!!! How did you get a lurk like that?

Stella: Maxine sucked up to the boss so she could take the company truck home just so she can drive around all weekend for free delivering pizzas.The tanks empty when she comes back on Monday morning.
Thelma: What a lurk merchant.

As my father used it the term rather more broadly referred to the kinds of unscrupulous business practices he found distressing and offensive to his own principles of integrity and honesty. (In the end my father didn’t do all that well in business.)

Then there was “two bob lair”.

Compare other expressions in Oz English that refer to someone who is angry, crazy or just eccentric — in other words, “out of their mind” in some way such as Mad as a cut snake, as a beetle, as a dingbat, as a frilled lizard, as a maggot, as a goanna, as a wet hen, as a gum-tree full of galahs. And as crazy as a tin full of worms, or as silly as a two bob watch. A two bob watch was some kind of badly made timepiece, often extended and used generally for anything cheap and nasty; expression dates from the 1950s. (Two bob “two shillings” appears to have been the amount of money most often used in derogatory expressions of worth; it referred generally to “inferior, rubbishy, useless”). You could compare the Oz expression two bob with US two bit as in he’s a two bit crook in other words, a crook of no note. (Other two bob expressions included: a two-bob lair 1940s “someone who dresses flashily, but cheaply”; go off like a two-bob etc. Both expressions like silly as a two bob watch and dead as door-nail, show the wondrous creativity of slang. If there were time it’d be nice to talk a bit about this constant renewal of expressions and the creativity of slang. – Kate Burridge.

I sometimes feel that the reason I don’t seem to hear these words so much these days is thatthe urgers, spivs, lurk merchants and lairs are now totally running the shop. What do you think?

On a brighter though still verbal note, I have become a late convert to SBS’s delightfully pointless game show Letters and Numbers.

What was I up to in August 2011? Part One

These five years old entries are from Monthly Archives: August 2011.

A day early…

Posted on August 31, 2011 by Neil

… but it has been spring for the last couple of weeks, whatever the calendar says. And people liked yesterday’s Shakespeare sonnet, so I thought – why not?

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Views from or at The Bates Motel.

Spring cleaning the blogs, and Sunday lunch

Posted on August 28, 2011 by Neil

Diggers again and beef penne! Oh yum…!

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Then wandered around Crown Street Mall. Let’s hope the “Mall Sceptics” lose at next Saturday’s election! It’s a treasure, that’s what it is…

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The woman I thought was my aunt’s maid

Posted on August 27, 2011 by Neil

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That’s not a pizza oven!

Miss [Bessie] Foskett gave 40 years of service to the steel industry serving as personal secretary to Sir Cecil Hoskins and successive general managers. She retired from the steelworks in 1965 and opened her own secretarial service and was involved in many community organisations. She died in February, 1985.

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I was reminded of all this by a letter in yesterday’s Illawarra Mercury:

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You may read an outline history of steel in the Illawarra here.

Bessie Foskett, then, was what we would now call PA to Sir Cecil Hoskins, one of the bigwigs in the history of industry in this country and especially in this area. She lived for as long as I can remember with my aunt and uncle, Ella and George Moon, in Wollongong. Because it was so often Bessie who appeared to be in the kitchen I made my erroneous judgement about her role, even asking my mother once if Bessie was Aunt Ella’s maid. There was much laughter about that…

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She was also a musician, a cellist, playing in the the 60s and 70s in Wollongong Symphony Orchestra. That skill went way back, and I have wondered if this is how she met my aunt who in her young days was training as a concert pianist.

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My father once said Bessie is the one who really ran the steelworks at times. It may well have been true.

Later: how times have changed

This graphic in today’s Australian says heaps:

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…The future is already written. The present decade for Australia will involve digging, building, caring and saving. Making things for ourselves doesn’t fit with this destiny, unless the Chinese stop making things for us. The difficulty for Australian governments is our newly wealthy neighbours won’t reach this point for decades yet, just as it may take the West years to get its public finances in order. Before then, our leaders have to work out how to handle the volatility that the Reserve Bank and Treasury warn is the new normal in the global economy.

Australia is catching both sides of it at once, and the first leader who can translate it well enough may just calm the electorate for long enough to do something about it.

George Megalogenis – article linked to the graphic.

Did I mention spring?

Posted on August 24, 2011 by Neil

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In West Wollongong 24 August