The Chris Lilley story took me back to the Howard era — eventually.

And what a miserable place that turned out to revisit! As you will see, I was not only still teaching then but in an area (ESL) that his particularly anal retentive philosophy impacted badly.

But to the Chris Lilley story. As I noted on Facebook: “I saw that original series “Our Boys” — it was one of the best education documentaries ABC has ever made. I was in awe at the teachers I saw in it, and what the school was doing in circumstances I may not have coped well with. At that time I was still teaching.

“I have definitely changed my mind about Chris Lilley.

“‘Young Filipe Mahe faced tremendous difficulties — the death of his dad, family illness and undiagnosed dyslexia — only to be ‘used to create a national figure of fun’. This background story to Chris Lilley’s ‘Jonah’ caricature is quite sad’.”

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That’s a still from the original Our Boys, showing the young Felipe. I went back through my own archives to see how I and others had reacted to Chris Lilley’s shows when they first came out. I am not totally ashamed, as I did have reservations.

Mr Rabbit, a teacher, younger than Chris Lilley who turns 40 next year, thinks Ja’mie is about as funny as childhood cancer.  Maximos, a former colleague of mine in SBHS days, could not watch after Episode 1. The Sydney Morning Herald critic Annabel Ross has a good valedictory on the last episode, screened last night.

As others have pointed out, it’s hard to know if Lilley’s critique is aimed at private school girls like Ja’mie or at the society that has bred them.

Ultimately, though, it all feels a bit so what. There’s been no redemption, no downfall, no real sense that Ja’mie has learned anything at all. But maybe that’s the point.

Ja’mie lives without consequence, and should temper tantrums and tears not win her arguments, the rest of her problems can usually be summarily dismissed with a breezy “whatevs”.

Ja’mie shed a third of its viewers over its Australian run, dividing critics, and attracting mainly brickbats in the US this week when it debuted on HBO.

The announcement that high school bully Jonah will be the next Lilley character to get his own series will doubtless delight many fans. But I can’t help wondering if, like Ja’mie, it will feel a little like more of the same.

Perhaps it’s time for Lilley to go back to the drawing board and unleash a new creation….

I watched the whole thing.  Having taught in state schools but also in three private schools – and the South African references were very pertinent to one of those – I found myself having to cringe but acknowledge the degree of truth in Chris Lilley’s merciless satire. His performance is truly amazing – for a guy pushing 40 now! Linguistically he has a great ear. But I did find the whole thing just TOO dark, too, well, cruel.

I had posted on Facebook earlier on another story from the Sydney Morning Herald: “This really has affected my reaction to that Chris Lilley character. I recall that episode of the excellent ABC documentary on Canterbury Boys High, which has unfortunately disappeared into the for sale only department — if indeed it is still available there. In the comment section I will place a summary of it, and in another comment a more recent video about the school.

“It does now seem cruel, mean-spirited even. And I feel soiled by the fact I actually enjoyed it.”

‘I knew that Jonah was me’: former Tongan schoolboy reveals anger and pain about Chris Lilley character.

You will find an account of the 2004  episode of Reality Bites: Our Boys Filipe there.

Welcome to Canterbury Boys High, Prime Minister John Howard’s old school and the setting for a compelling four-part documentary series, Our Boys, screening on ABC TV from Tuesday February 10 [2004] at 8pm.

Our Boys follows the lives of five teenage students and their teachers at this cash-strapped government school in south-west Sydney.

Filmed over a school year, it tells the personal stories of today’s public education system – a school ‘starved of funds’, boys ‘at risk’ and teachers going far beyond their traditional classroom roles.

Canterbury Boys has a rich mix of nationalities – 90 per cent of the boys come from non-English speaking backgrounds. Many are refugees or come from disadvantaged homes.

This week, cheeky, disruptive 15 year-old Filipe Mahe from Tonga has slipped through the net. He’s made it into Year 9 without being able to read or write….

Have a look at Canterbury Boys High more recently.

Yes, back when former PM John Howard was a boy Canterbury was a selective school like Sydney Boys High and Fort Street. Over time it had become a multicultural school serving a disadvantaged local area.

I thought again of the Howard era. I was none too fond of him at the time and have the blog to prove it!  On the sadly vanished Diary-X I wrote:

19-20 January 2004

Dear me, I was annoyed yesterday!

And rightly so, even if perhaps instead of notorious hypocrite I could just have said canny politician, and for being disrespectful I might have written totally despising. As Labor frontbencher Julia Gillard quite properly said last year, the evil of the Howard regime has been the imposition of a bleak political correctness of the most ruthless kind upon what once was a country showing signs of developing values and attitudes more in tune with the age in which we currently live.

It’s time for those who oppose Howard’s agenda to admit that he and his helpers have succeeded spectacularly.

The nation is in the grip of a neo-conservative political correctness that is out of touch with the values of the majority of the Australian people. It’s a political correctness that has elevated values that most Australians don’t share: individual selfishness and a strange envy of the less fortunate because they are receiving Government assistance.

It’s a political correctness that has produced greater divisions in our society between the haves and the have-nots, indigenous and non-indigenous, new migrants and old. And it is a political correctness that puts winning before all else, where ethics, integrity and values like equality and looking after others less fortunate don’t rate.

John Howard has won his culture war, for now.

My argument is that it’s time for Australians of all political persuasions who don’t like this new political correctness – from Green on the left, to small-l liberal on the right – to wake up to the fact that they have lost the culture war.

Australia has been changed for the worse by John Howard. We can make it better again.

Howard is guilty of squandering important spiritual advances made over the decades since the 1960s and 1970s. He has done this with deliberation, partly out of his own small-minded convictions, but even more so out of “wedge politics”, knowing that the paranoia unleashed some years back by the Hanson phenomenon could be harnessed as a key to power.

So I am glad I sounded off yesterday, and particularly glad that I transcribed the NSW Department of Education’s statement about values. That is a fine document, distilling much thinking — indeed much of the spiritual advance Howard is so antithetical to. True, it is a statement of principles: but isn’t it nice to have principles? Also, from my experience, state schools do try, often in very difficult circumstances to put these principles into practice….

Howard’s agenda:

1) To spend as little as possible on public education, skewing what funding there is towards the private sector, so that privatising education will seem both desirable and necessary some time in the future, and ideologically in keeping with everything else this government stands for. One therefore undermines public education at every turn, without seeming to do so, as Australians are in fact rather fond of their century and more of public (free, compulsory and secular) education: it has been a core Australian value.

2) The teachers have a powerful trade union. The government is intent on destroying the union movement, or having a totally compliant one. It is now the turn of teachers, wharfies and other undesirables having been dealt with some time ago.

If there are flawed values at work in all this, just look to The Lodge (or Kirribilli House) to see where they are coming from….

Blogging the 2010s — 104 — November 2010 — c

In this month, though by now in Wollongong, I was working on my last assignment as an amateur unpaid journalist on the South Sydney Herald — and it was of national import! I remain proud of my swan song.

In the matter of David Hicks

In 1999-2000 at least two young Australians were wandering about Pakistan. One of them was David Hicks.

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The other was M.

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Both of them passed through places such as Quetta and Peshawar.

There is a picture of M in an arms bazaar in Peshawar dramatically holding an AK47. Both of them were in the Pakistani part of Kashmir at times. M’s six months in Pakistan (in two stages) was mere travelling; David’s was that and rather more. M took no courses and visited no camps. M has nothing to confess to; David famously confessed in order to be sprung from Guantanamo. I doubt that confession is worth much.

I have been reading David Hicks’s smiley-happy005smiley-happy005[6]smiley-happy005[8]Guantanamo: My Journey (2010).

One telling item concerns the picture of Hicks above, much used to confirm his evil activities. In fact it was taken in Albania where Hicks volunteered for Kosovo, ultimately seeing no action and under the overarching authority of NATO.

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He and some slipper-wearing mates are in fact clowning around with some empty weapons. The picture does not show Hicks in action on behalf of the Taliban in Afghanistan, though that is what viewers of the cropped pic were led to believe. An excellent example of framing changing meaning.

No, Hicks isn’t a hero, but neither is he the demonic supporter of terrorism we were led to believe. Some have no doubts that he is eevil: Miranda Devine for example. On the other hand see two good posts by Irfan Yusuf who knows rather more about the context of Hicks’s activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan than Miranda seems to: COMMENT: Why David Hicks matters … and OPINION: Artful dodger does himself no favours on David Hicks …  The Artful Dodger is John Howard and Yusuf is referring to Howard’s response to being confronted by Hicks on Q&A.

A recent episode of the ABC’s Q&A almost became a battle of the memoirs. John Howard was the sole guest, his appearance fitting very neatly in with his publisher’s promotion schedule. Howard was buoyed by audience responses to his mantras about the economy and his gentle pokes in the eyes of Peter Costello and Malcolm Fraser.
Then, out of the blue, David Hicks’s face appears via webcam. Contrary to the image Howard and others drew of him as a raving terrorist, Hicks calmly and in a dignified manner posed Howard his question.
Hicks wanted to simply understand why his own government showed indifference to his incarceration and torture at Guantanamo. Hicks also wanted to know what Howard thought of military tribunals. Hicks even ended his question with a polite “thank you”. Osama bin Laden would have been pulling his beard out at Hicks’s demeanour toward Howard.
It was obvious that Howard was rattled by Hicks’s very appearance, let alone by questions Howard avoided for so many years in office. At first, Howard played politician by avoiding the question, instead reminding us of how lucky we were to have a free exchange on an ABC that members of his government tried ever so hard to restrict and intimidate.
Howard also reminded us that there was …

… a lot of criticism of that book from sources unrelated to me and I’ve read some very severe criticisms of that book.

Also worth looking at: It’s right to write about Gitmo stay by Cynthia Banham; For the first time, David Hicks tells by Chris Johnston; David Hicks’ journey by Kellie Tranter…..

In the matter of David Hicks — 2

On the 8th I mentioned that I was reading David Hicks’s recently published account of his life. I now find myself preparing a review for the December South Sydney Herald.

In addition to the reviews linked to the earlier post I have been examining other resources on the subject of David Hicks. Any review of his book must include reference to the documentary The President Versus David Hicks. David Stratton:

The troubling documentary ‘The President Versus David Hicks’, which screened on SBS earlier this year and is only now getting a cinema release, is in effect a profile of David Hicks’ father, Terry. Faced with a situation no parent should have to contemplate, his son imprisoned for years by a foreign power which won’t allow his family access, his own government refusing to intervene on behalf of its citizen. Terry Hicks sets off, accompanied by film-maker Curtis Levy, to follow in his son’s footsteps in an effort to find out what happened to him.

We discover that David, a seemingly average Aussie kid from Adelaide, son of a broken marriage and with a failed relationship, and two children, behind him, converted to Islam and determined to fight what he saw as injustice towards Muslims, first in Kosovo, then in Kashmir and finally Afghanistan, where he became increasingly radicalised.

Terry Hicks is a wonderful character, a real Aussie battler, and very tolerant of some of the less attractive things he discovers about his son during his odessy. The film was made before David Hicks was formally charged, but it still raises once again all the questions about justice, respect for international law and the apparent indifference of Australian authorities to the fate of one of their citizens. This is a documentary which every concerned Australian should see…

The letters used in that documentary are glossed over somewhat in the recent book….

There has also been an opportunity to look again at the thoroughly admirable Michael Mori….

I’ve often wondered what became of Mori later. Here is the answer from Wikipedia.

Following Hicks’ departure from Guantanamo Bay to complete his sentence in Yatala Prison, South Australia – on or about May 20, 2007 – Mori was re-assigned as a staff judge advocate, or legal adviser, to the commanders of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. He has twice been passed over for promotion since taking on the Hicks case.[6]

Mori was presented, in June 2007, with an honorary membership of the Australian Bar Association for his defence of David Hicks.[7] In October 2007, he was awarded a civil justice award from the Australian Lawyers Alliance as “recognition by the legal profession of unsung heroes who, despite personal risk or sacrifice, have fought to preserve individual rights, human dignity or safety”.[8]

In September 2010, Mori took the navy to court, alleging that his 2009 promotion was delayed due to bias by the selection board.[9]

Now that guy is a hero!

I also have looked into Lex Lasry QC on Hicks’s trial: David Hicks Trial. The Parliamentary Library has a useful chronology: Australians in Guantanamo Bay…..

In the matter of David Hicks — 3

My South Sydney Herald project continues; the deadline is three days time.

Now I have discovered something about David Hicks’s guilty plea: it was what in US law is known as an Alford Plea: that is, a plea you make when you don’t necessarily believe you are guilty, or in fact believe you are not guilty. Now isn’t that interesting?….

In the matter of David Hicks — 4

This is the article to appear in December’s South Sydney Herald. The blog and the SSH hardly overlap, hence this preview….

Mr Howard vs David Hicks

A friend of mine was in Pakistan at the same time as David Hicks, and in many of the same places: Peshawar, Quetta, Pakistani Kashmir. There’s even a photo of my friend in Pashtun costume holding an AK47. That was a joke photo taken in a Peshawar arms bazaar. My friend went east and met the Dalai Lama. David Hicks went west and met Osama Bin Laden. My friend came home much sooner.

When David Hicks memorably confronted John Howard on Q&A in October he asked two questions: was I treated humanely? and was the Military Commission process fair? Howard answered neither question, applying the airbrush liberally  to what really happened to Hicks between 2001 and 2008.

After distracting us with a motherhood statement about what a great country we have to allow Hicks to bail him up like this, Howard spun first into irrelevance: “Now, having said that, can I simply say that I defend what my government did in relation to Iraq, in relation to the military commissions….” How did Iraq get into this?

He went on: “We put a lot of pressure on the Americans to accelerate the charges being brought against David Hicks and I remind the people watching this program that David Hicks did plead guilty to a series of offences and they, of course, involved him in full knowledge of what had happened on 11 September, attempting to return to Afghanistan and rejoin the people with whom he had trained. So let’s understand the reality of that David Hicks pleaded guilty to.”

TONY JONES: Mr Howard, on this question of him pleading guilty, Mr Hicks says in his own book that his military lawyer, David (sic) Mori, was told by your staff that Hicks wouldn’t be released from Guantanamo Bay unless he pleaded guilty. Was that your position?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I’m not aware of any such exchange but, look, I mean, there been a lot of criticism of that book by sources quite unrelated to me and I’ve read some very, very severe criticisms of that book…

Howard’s late-blooming desire to see Hicks returned to Australia had everything to do with VP Cheney’s visit to Australia in February 2007, when the deal that led to Hicks’s “conviction” was stitched up, and behind that was the 2007 Election. Howard knew the issue was losing him votes.

Colonel Morris Davis, the prosecutor in the case, recalls that in January 2007 he received a call from his superior Jim Haynes asking him how quickly he could charge David Hicks. (Now an attorney for Chevron, Haynes had in 2005 told Davis: “Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. We’ve been holding these guys for years. How are we going to explain that? We’ve got to have convictions.”) David Hicks was eventually charged on 2 February 2007, even though the details about how the commissions should be conducted weren’t published until late April. (Interview Amy Goodman and Col. Morris Davis 16 July 2008.)

Davis resigned from the Military Commission after prosecuting David Hicks, stating that “what’s taking place now, I would call neither military or justice.”

Howard assured us that the US had a long tradition of Military Commissions. He failed to mention that this particular Commission had been struck down by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Hamden v Rumsfeld in June 2006 so that what David Hicks was dealing with was a reinvented version, but as much a kangaroo court, to quote a senior British judge, as the previous edition.

More  airbrushing. And there’s more.

David Hicks’s guilty plea was an odd beast, an Alford Plea, something peculiar to US law. It is the plea of guilt you make when you don’t believe you are guilty but do believe the court is likely to find in favour of the prosecution. I may also add that David Hicks was never at any stage charged with or found guilty of terrorism. Some of the charges in Gitmo seem to have been invented specifically to justify the imprisonment of people there. Mr Howard passes over such technicalities.

Colin Powell’s former Chief of Staff, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, summed up his view of Guantanamo in an article published in November 2010.

…no intelligence of significance was gained from any of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay other than from the handful of undisputed ring leaders and their companions, clearly no more than a dozen or two of the detainees, and even their alleged contribution of hard, actionable intelligence is intensely disputed in the relevant communities such as intelligence and law enforcement. This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric–continuing even now in the case of Cheney–about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation and for secret prisons and places such as GITMO.

Curiously, one item in Hicks’s book that even he had doubts about has just been shown to be exactly as Hicks tells it: the existence at Guantanamo of a “Camp NO”, so called because it didn’t officially exist. Murders took place there, according to Marine Sergeant Joe Hickman (Harpers: “The Guantánamo ‘Suicides’: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle.”)

Nearly 200 men remain imprisoned at Guantánamo. In June 2009, six months after Barack Obama took office, one of them, a thirty-one-year-old Yemeni named Muhammed Abdallah Salih, was found dead in his cell. The exact circumstances of his death, like those of the deaths of the three men from Alpha Block, remain uncertain.

Those charged with accounting for what happened—the prison command, the civilian and military investigative agencies, the Justice Department, and  ultimately the attorney general himself—all face a choice between the rule of law and the expedience of political silence. Thus far, their choice has been unanimous.

Not everyone who is involved in this matter views it from a political perspective, of course. General Al-Zahrani grieves for his son, but at the end of a lengthy interview he paused and his thoughts turned elsewhere. “The truth is what matters,” he said. “They practiced every form of torture on my son and on many others as well. What was the result? What facts did they find? They found nothing. They learned nothing. They accomplished nothing.”

I have been reading Guantanamo: My Journey very carefully for around four weeks. I have also done a lot of fact checking. I especially recommend the report on David Hicks’s trial by Lex Lasry QC, available on the Internet, which includes the texts of all the charges and the final plea bargain. Hicks had a choice: stay in Gitmo or sign the admissions and go home. What would you do after more than five years? And no, Mr Howard, he was not treated humanely, and no, the system was eminently unfair.

Former Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Danna Vale (Liberal, Hughes) got it right as far back as November 2005:

… The longer Hicks is in Guantanamo Bay, his imprisonment without trial will begin to creep like an incongruent shadow, jarring the Australian consciousness

Let’s get real. The case of David Hicks clearly fails the commonsense test. It fails the commonsense test not only in the educated minds of the legal profession, but in the gut feelings of ordinary Australians who believe in a fair go, and who believe that truth and justice and that old hand-me-down from the Magna Carta that says men are innocent until proven guilty, still deserve some currency in our world. Just like you, just like me, as an Australian, he is entitled to a fair trial without further delay. And, after four years in Guantanamo Bay, if the Americans cannot deliver this to David Hicks, in all fairness, we must ask that he be sent home.

In one of the more considered reviews of David Hicks Guantanamo: My Journey (William Heinemann 2010) Sally Neighbour claims that Hicks has airbrushed some parts of his story. At least she has read the book. I too find it difficult to believe he first heard of Al Qaeda after his capture, but endorse his recommendation of Jason Burke’s Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam as the best on the subject.

By contrast look at Miranda Devine’s recent review of Hicks’s book,  a sustained sledge against Dick Smith who assisted financially with David’s defence. Beyond that she descends into emotive claptrap or sheer ignorance, the latter being her inability to believe Hicks became a Muslim by looking up a mosque in the yellow pages and then meeting an imam. She doesn’t seem to have mastered Islam 101: one can become a Muslim simply by repeating “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet” to another Muslim. No course necessary. On this I absolutely believe Hicks, who, incidentally, no longer considers himself a Muslim.

One telling item for Hicks in the book is the famous picture of David with the rocket launcher. We all remember how this was used to demonise him and purported to show him in Afghanistan. It turns out to be cut from a photo taken in Albania of three friends playing around with empty weapons. Yes, he took part in the Kosovo war, but never saw action. Another photo shows him saluting the NATO flag, under which he was really serving then.

Guantanamo: My Journey is a book we need to read. I am glad it has been published. Like Sally Neighbour, there are some things I would like clarified, but I now believe it to be mostly truthful. Hicks was a bit of a fool, you know, even if a desire to aid oppressed people is quite commendable in itself. He was after all a 20-something at the time, and “under-researched” as he now says. He hasn’t killed anyone or engaged in any act of terrorism; everyone admits that.

One of the most valuable features of Guantanamo: My Journey is the extensive footnotes, a marvellously detailed documentation of the material in the book. I wish they had been set in their places at the bottoms of relevant pages rather than being gathered in the back. The book also desperately needs a thorough index.

David was pretty much a pawn. Heroes? Well, I’d nominate David’s father, and Major Michael Mori, his defending counsel, whose career after that suffered. (See The Marine Corps News 20 September 2010.)

PS: not in the article

David Hicks is accurate in his depiction of the Tablighi. I know this because I have taught one and did considerable research about Tablighi Jamaat at the time. With regard to Lashkar-I Taiba, Hicks may have polished the image somewhat, but it is fair to say that what he says about that organisation in the areas he found them may well have been true at that time and place. The organisation was not yet a listed terrorist organisation in Australia. Certainly David’s depiction of the Taliban is much less admiring in the book than it was in his letters home as seen in the documentary The President versus David Hicks. On the other hand Hicks’s explanation about his letters reflecting what he was seeing and reading at the time in the Pakistani press may well be true. It is also notable that Terry Hicks seems to take David’s rhetoric in those letters with something of a grain of salt. The book leaves no doubt about what David feels about the Taliban now. His account of the training he received in Afghanistan and Pakistan may be true but I do have some doubts about this.

Miranda Devine’s characterisation of David’s account of Guantanamo as “whingeing” is quite outrageous. Says more about her than it does about him.

My spellings reflect usage in The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.

The My ***7 Decade series – and another shot at 2007

I have enjoyed the gallop back decade by decade to 1947. The effect on my blog has been clear too:

Screenshot - 11_01_2017 , 8_48_36 AM

That’s this morning’s stats, and that peak on 4 January is the best day ever on this blog! The details for January thus far:

  1. My 1947: Shellharbour 173 views to 11 January 2016
  2. My 1977: Alexandra Road, Glebe 10
  3. 2016 – surreal year goes at last 8
  4. My 1997: Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills 6
  5. My 2007: retired and blogging 6

The Shellharbour post owes most of that to Shellharbour History in Photos on Facebook.

Yesterday’s 2007 post left out a dominant event. Who can forget it?

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And then there’s this issue, surfacing again now thanks to Mr Potato Head:

That idiotic citizenship “test”

16 AUG 2007

My impatience with this particular piece of gross idiocy has been made plain here often enough. So has my enjoyment of the magazine The Big Issue. Both came together yesterday as I read the new Big Issue (the annual short story number) where I spotted in the “Hearsay” column the following from writer, director, actor, teacher and former Young Australian of the Year Khoa Do.

“In the world I grew up in, a lot of people and their parents struggled to speak English,” he said. “Now they are successful in a whole range of fields. My parents are always learning and always trying. Asking whether people who don’t speak fluent English can contribute to Australia is like asking whether a blind or deaf person can contribute. Of course they can.”

I sourced that to an article by Jonathan Pearlman in the Moruya/Bateman’s Bay News. (Good to see regional papers running such stories, though it was in turn sourced to the Sydney Morning Herald.)

…The Immigration and Citizenship Minister, Kevin Andrews, under pressure over the Haneef affair, has announced that future tests for migrants will place greater emphasis on integration, including factors such as an ability to speak English and a willingness to learn the language.

The rules could potentially have precluded vast segments of the population from immigrating, including prominent Australians such as the boxer Kostya Tszyu, the businessman Frank Lowy, the scientist Professor Sir Gustav Nossal – and Mr Andrews’s assistant minister for immigration and citizenship, Teresa Gambaro.

Ms Gambaro, whose parents were born in Italy and could not speak English when they arrived in north Queensland in the 1950s, yesterday voiced support for the Government’s plan.

“My family came with a very positive attitude and they did integrate and learn English,” Ms Gambaro, the MP for Petrie in Brisbane, told the Herald. “But we are talking about a different era. We needed manual workers back then. The need to speak English is different now … But I don’t think the intention is to preclude somebody based on one factor.”

Mr Andrews yesterday lauded the new immigration procedures and declared he would not “be scared off by people who don’t stand up for Australians”. “Look, I think the Australian people are quite clear about this,” he told Radio 2GB’s Ray Hadley. “They want us to be tough and they want us to make sure that Australia’s protected and they know that there are people in the world who have a different view.”

Mr Andrews said the procedures, to start early next year, would examine people’s willingness to integrate and were not an “English test”.

“We bring people now from all countries and all sorts of countries in the world,” he said. “Many of those countries don’t necessarily share our values … We’ve got to balance up bringing people from overseas but with an ability to actually be able to properly settle and integrate into the Australian society. I think that’s what Australians want.”

The pole vaulter Tatiana Grigorieva, who arrived from Russia in 1997 and won a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics, said she would not have passed an immigration test if English skills had been a factor.

“I would have struggled with any sort of test,” she said. “I think it depends how far you take it and how difficult the test is. I would probably have tried to learn English before I came. I am very glad I came to Australia. I will try to make this place a little bit better than before I came.”

Sir Gustav, who fled Vienna with his parents in 1939 and was Australian of the Year in 2000 for his work in immunology, also said he would have been barred if ability to speak English had been a factor. “I agree that people should learn English as fast as possible if they desire to stay here,” he said. “My parents had very little English when they arrived but were strongly committed to adapting and to learning the language. I have no reverence for people who want to ghettoise themselves.”

Kostya Tszyu, a Russian-born boxing champion who came here when he was 22, said immigrants should be encouraged to learn English but should not be barred based solely on language. “It took time to learn English. Sometimes now I even think in English. My parents came here in their 50s. It took them a bit longer and now they have no problem chatting to their neighbours. Now we live in the best country in the world.”

They want us to be tough and they want us to make sure that Australia’s protected and they know that there are people in the world who have a different view… Trouble is the Citizenship Test would achieve none of these aims. Any terrorist or mad bastard of any kind would have no trouble going through these particular hoops if he/she really wanted to, but in the meantime a far greater number of innocent bystanders would be disadvantaged by the fact, despite Kevin Andrews’ denial, that this is an English test, being in English. This stupid populism Ray Hadley may well have bought, along with many of his listeners, but I don’t. You don’t have to be a genius to realise how pointless the whole exercise is.

See also “Mum can be proud that she Singers well” by Khoa Do (4 August 2007).

…For the first decade of Mum’s life in Australia, that’s all she really knew. To put her children through school, to clothe and feed them, she worked in sewing factories – for many hours a day, sometimes seven days a week. It’s hard to learn English if you’re overlocking, stitching, cutting, labelling, hemming. Even if you have a set of learning tapes, as we had.

Throughout her life she has been trying to learn English with the Adult Migrant English Service. But she has had limited success. I remember the first time she went to learn English – she came back that afternoon and asked me to explain the meaning of an adverb. An adverb! Far out, how do you explain to your dear mother, who lived through the Vietnam War, fled the country by boat, raised three children on her own, spent a million hours of her life hunched over a Singer, what an adverb is? Especially when you were too busy talking about whether Spiderman would beat Superman, during the lesson on adverbs in year seven. Poor Mum, I failed in teaching her what an adverb was, and soon after she gave up on learning English.

… I think that for some people, learning English in the first few years of arriving in Australia is really tough. And as I begin thinking about the many people I know, I start to wonder whether their parents would have passed a test in English to become a citizen. Let’s see, there’s my doctor, Dr Tuan. No chance. His father and mother were from the countryside. I think about my friend, now a social worker. No chance. One of my close friends is a high school English teacher, the best in her school – and no, her parents wouldn’t have passed either. As I think about it, a lot of people I know have parents who would have struggled with a test in English. Ultimately, they would’ve failed in becoming Australian citizens and their children wouldn’t be here now.

You’re probably wondering what has happened to my mum and her English. Several years ago my wonderful brother got married, and he had two children. His wife is Suzie; she’s gorgeous and she’s Anglo-Australian. Their two boys, Luc and Xavier, mainly speak English at home. Mum wants to be able to speak to her grandchildren, so yes, she’s studying English again, in her 50s. Once again I find myself helping her out with her comprehension tests and grammar…

That our supposedly intelligent leaders (with some noble back-bench exceptions) have enthused over Anderson’s (originally Robb’s, for which read Howard’s) heap of steaming ordure is just typical, isn’t it? I think it shows just how far backwards we have come under the reign of the Great Grey Garden Gnome of Kirribilli House.

“Trust us! We are EXPERIENCED!”

Sure are… 😦

Government careers down path of superficial idiocy on citizenship test

27 AUG 2007

NOTE: Updated. I now give the resource book a qualified . Remarks below offer some qualifications, while others, especially about the TEST, still hold.

The singularly unimpressive Kevin Andrews was told how stupid this is over and over again. Go there and download whichever you choose; naturally I recommend (PDF) ATESOL’s contribution on behalf of ESL teachers — I can hardly improve on it. But The Garden Gnome wanted it and Andrews delivered and so the country is stuck with an English test that masquerades as something to do with benchmarks for attaining a successful Australian citizenship.

The Book of Knowledge (in English of course) does not appear to be available online yet*, so I have had to rely on the version presented today in the Sydney Morning Herald: I pledge allegiance to ? the Don. Nothing in there, it would appear, about the Eight Hour Movement or the Harvester Judgement, whose centenary occurs this year, but that is hardly surprising. Meanwhile not one person who represents any kind of threat to the Australian way of life will be deterred by this fatuous yet discriminatory exercise. But the government will seem to be doing something significant, and that is all that matters perhaps.

The Herald does provide these sample questions:

1. In what year did Federation take place?
2. Which day of the year is Australia Day?
3. Who was the first Prime Minister of Australia?
4. What is the first line of Australia’s national anthem?
5. What is the floral emblem of Australia?
6. What is the population of Australia?
7. In what city is the Parliament House of the Commonwealth Parliament located?
8. Who is the Queen’s representative in Australia?
9. How are Members of Parliament chosen?
10. Who do Members of Parliament represent?
11. After a federal election, who forms the new government?
12. What are the colours on the Australian flag?
13. Who is the head of the Australian Government?
14. What are the three levels of government in Australia?
15. In what year did the European settlement of Australia start?
16. Serving on a jury if required is a responsibility of Australian citizenship: true or false?
17. In Australia, everyone is free to practice the religion of their choice, or practice no religion: true of false?
18. To be elected to the Commonwealth Parliament you must be an Australian citizen: true or false?
19. As an Australian citizen, I have the right to register my baby born overseas as an Australian citizen: true or false?
20. Australian citizens aged 18 years or over are required to enrol on the electoral register: true or false?

You don’t need answers, do you?

There will be a nice little earner in Citizenship Tuition though. Perhaps I should set aside part of English/ESL

logo.gifM would have failed, I suspect, had he been confronted with this when he became a citizen. His citizenship, and his right to it, is nonetheless beyond question in my book. Such knowledge (where relevant) has come his way since through simply being an Australian citizen and an intelligent and curious participant in Australian life. Let’s face it: there are some items even in those 20 Questions that simply don’t matter, mixed up with other items that clearly do matter.Trivial Pursuit, essentially, as I have said before! Clicking the logo on the right could take you to the Australian government’s new citizenship test kit then…

Surely the real issue is what contribution people can make to Australia, not what superficial book-learning they may have about Australia.

I have added a new tag, you may notice. While tagging past entries I notice the citizenship test idea was first raised by Andrew Robb (Howard glove puppet?) in April 2006, when I described it as “one of those simplistic nostrums that occur to people over a few beers or while ringing talk-back radio”; later, in December 2006 the PM had embraced the idea — unsurprising really — as “designed to remove divisions in Australian society.” How that works is anyone’s guess; it may in fact have the opposite effect. I went on in December 2006: “Is this scheme going to address community issues in any significant way? No, it won’t. It is a facile scheme, in my view; but that is of course just my view.” Nothing since has led to a change of heart.

* A DRAFT Citizenship Test Resource Book is [was?] now available here. The Harvester Judgement is mentioned. I don’t have too much of a problem with the resource book, from a first reading. I think ALL Australians should have one. I suggest there is material in there that many fourth or fifth generation Australians would be unsure about. I still object to an arbitrary TEST based on this as being of much value. I also suggest the Resource Book should be made available — like the Road Rules — in a variety of community languages, as happens, for example, at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission site. There was a time not so long ago when it would simply have been assumed this would happen in order that the information therein reached, and was understood by, as many people as possible. A CD version for the visually impaired would be nice too, and a DVD/CD-ROM — why not if Spicks and Specks can do it? — or interactive web version, even better if also in a range of community languages…

It IS an English Test!

When you get to the “how to do the test” section at the end of the booklet you discover that it really is an English test. It even tells you how to learn enough English to pass, using AMEP to do so. Naturally, this advice is in English… No sense of irony, these people.

Finally:

Hollow desperation: John Howard on education — TV review bonus

14 MAY 2007

That’s my first impression of Howard’s attempt just tonight to undo Kevin Rudd’s progress on the schools front. I only have the news report to go on at this stage. I will follow it up later. Still following Kevin (the D-word one)down the yellow brick road, it appears.

“Perhaps in speaking about this issue, I’ll again be accused by my opponents of being captive to old ideas,” he said.

“Perhaps a well-ordered classroom where teachers have authority is an old idea, but more importantly, it’s a good idea.”

Mr Howard says the number of students who are under performing is still too high.

He says Australia needs to aim higher than minimum international benchmarks.

“The year three, five and seven literacy and numeracy testing implemented at the Australian Government’s request show that about 10 per cent of students are not meeting basic benchmarks in basic literacy and numeracy,” he said.

“Worryingly, performance actually declines at higher levels of schooling.”

Pure Kevin D. And yes, a well-ordered classroom is a good idea. John should take a year working in one of our more interesting schools and see what his politics actually does in the real world, with or without the principal having the right to hire and fire. Let’s see how good he would be at spotting and actually dealing with bullying in a school of maybe 1200 kids. Let’s see if he could come up with some brilliant scheme better than what is already in place. Let’s see if he knew what to do with the “stupid children.” (I might add I had little idea for the first five years or so of teaching.) Let’s watch him effect the miracle of making more than 50% of the children come out above average. Or Julie Bishop ditto.

Bloody wastes of space both of them…

“Soulless etc. Economic service etc.” Julie is explaining now on Lateline why Labor is wrong. What is “quality” Julie? Do you even know? Does it include actual critical thinking? Or is it just, as I suspect, a buzz word. “Labor is just about numbers.” This is such hypocrisy when the bloody government has been all about numbers and economics for the past ten bloody years! Except when they’ve been hijacking education (or trying to) in the interests of the most conservative “values”… Their values. And complaining about “ridiculous” Education Union submissions that point out that some really important aspects of education may not be measurable in standardised tests — a truism really: love of poetry is hard to measure, just for starters…

“Choice!” “Basic skills!” All the tired old mantras… God I am sick of this mob. And why are they complaining about Labor being bean counters when they want to standardise test the system to death?

But then I have just been watching The Bastard Boys. Some interesting values education could come out of the study of that, don’t you think? Michael Duffy has, predictable as tomorrow’s sunrise, shown where he stands on that, you may have noted. Since Corrigan is not unambiguously the hero and the trade unionists are shown as human, it must have been “biassed.” “Bias” is bad, if it is on the non-Howard side. On the other hand, hagiography is good, if it is on the Howard side. I thought the series remarkable. Corrigan did not appear as Satan after all. It did show that the unions had to change. It did show that the status quo before these events encompassed quite unreasonable conditions and perks on the waterfront. It also showed, of course, that there may well have been — indeed almost certainly was — a conspiracy here at the highest levels. It reminded us again of Peter Reith, God save us! It reminded us of how far this government has been willing to go on its ideological mission. If you want facts and documents about those 1998 events, go to The 1998 Waterfront Dispute on the Australian Politics site.

The irony of what Julie is saying (back to Lateline) is that all the things the government claims they OWN are actually just as attainable, so far as they ought to be attained, under Rudd’s policies, but without killing public education in the process…

Julie is spouting cliches upon cliches… Much of it is motherhood stuff. Of course bullying is bad, and of course schools are addressing it. But the Australian government doesn’t actually run a single school itself, so they can monster and blame whoever they like really… Especially if the monstering and blaming elicit the kind of fear and distrust which the Libs so love as they continue their ideological mission.

That was a rave and rant post, but that doesn’t make it wrong…

Next day

I have written again, as you probably have seen, in the light of what John Howard actually said, focusing especially on bullying in schools. Also, on Bastard Boys I am pleased (and surprised a little) to see Jim Belshaw is in broad agreement with my assessment of the program.

What was I up to in December 2006?

Entries from Monthly Archives: December 2006

New Year Blog Resolutions

31 DEC 2006

1. Write less.

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

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

On the other hand, Elizabeth George wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

A display of humanity and warmth…

28 DEC 2006

Updates 28/29 December and an expanded final comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Charles Dickens, Bleak House.

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

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

Later

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

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

See also:

Thinking of Lord Malcolm

04 DEC 2006

g78987.jpg

Lord Malcolm at work three years ago.

pict0928.jpg

February 2005.

Pathetic Princess Pauline

07 DEC 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All I can say is: bring it on.”

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

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

Next day

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

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

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

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

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

2007 UPDATE

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

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

We made it to Johnnies Fish Cafe

10 DEC 2006

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

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

My heart is too full to say more.

Migrants to sit English test

11 DEC 2006

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

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

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

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

Kevin Rudd is considering it.

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

But let’s be positive and consider the possibilities.

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

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

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

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

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

A multicultural Surry Hills morning

26 DEC 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

muslimwomen

I think of Jelaluddin Rumi:

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

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

Last night ABC-TV broadcast An Aussie Irish Christmas.

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

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

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

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

And Lebanese-Australian NSW Governor Marie Bashir.

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

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

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

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

Back to Rumi:

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

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

Sorry, John Howard, but you’re not great on TV…

Which is not to say that I didn’t actually enjoy the two-part series Howard on Menzies: Building Modern Australia.

37ec6650febff6ea5dc38b4eae3f14dd

Former PMs Howard and Hawke in Howard on Menzies

Holly Byrnes introduces the series thus:

Filmed over 15 months, Mr Howard leads interviews with 30 political and business luminaries, including former Labor PM Bob Hawke, author Clive James and News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch.

In promotional material for the series, to premiere on Sunday, September 21, Howard said: “having been interviewed all my life, it was a fascinating and entirely new experience to be interviewing others. Exciting and enjoyable.”…

Pointing to the divide which still remains between former parliamentary combatants, Paul Keating is described as the “glaring omission” from the cast of interviewees, which producer Simon Nasht, a former Canberra press gallery journalist, says was ultimately mutual.

“Neither party (Keating or Howard) seemed keen, I guess because it would not have been a discussion, more two immovable points of view. Some prime ministers on opposite sides of the fence get along and others don’t,” Mr Nasht said.

It was Keating’s belief the Menzies era was “the golden age when Australia stagnated, when they [Liberal Government at the time] put the country in neutral.”

A sympathetic historian, Gregory Melleuish (Wollongong University) counters:

This program is a work of historical and political revisionism. Its target is the view, expressed most forcefully by Paul Keating, that the 1950s was a time when Australia remained locked in the past in a self-induced stupor, brought about by a failure to recognise that the time of the British Empire was over.

Keating’s rhetoric is both anachronistic and an expression of a sectarian view of the world that was long dead by the 1990s. There can be no doubt that Australia became modern between 1949 and 1966, the year Menzies retired as prime minister.

Much opinion however does seem to dismiss the program as propaganda.

However, Howard acknowledged Mr Menzies was far from a forward-thinking Liberal.

“He was an economic protectionist, but all politicians of that era were,” says Howard. “They believed in government; I think the Liberals wanted to be smaller, when you put it that way, and Labor wanted to be larger.”

Vision of FX Holdens rolling off the production line from Broadmeadows in Victoria and workers building the Snowy Mountains hydroelectricity scheme, as well as general footage of a bustling, working population thanks in part to mass immigration, suggests otherwise.

These, however, were all Labor initiatives.

As Hawke tells Howard: “He had a situation in the post-world war era, where the world was prepared to pay anything for what we grew and, later, what we dug up. So it wasn’t the most challenging period; I think in a sense like Gough Whitlam, I don’t think Menzies personally had a great interest in economics as such.”

Rupert Murdoch concurs: “We were critical at the time and I think we were right. He was very much the status quo, central planning, wage controls. He wasn’t much for change.”

Still Howard isn’t to be dissuaded from his argument: “But it seemed to work well, didn’t it?”

Even so, and even given that John Howard is not God’s gift as an interviewer, I did enjoy the two programs. Partly this was sheer nostalgia: my schooling and university almost all took place in the Menzies years – Kindergarten in 1949 and following. We spent much of 1953-4 looking for Russian spies in the bush in West Sutherland, being excited further that they were building Australia’s first (and still only) nuclear reactor just across the Woronora at Lucas Heights.

In April 15, 1953, Australia entered the nuclear science arena, when the Atomic Energy Act came into effect.

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1958: Menzies at opening of the Lucas Heights reactor

I recall too the moaning from my father’s office in Jannali about the Menzies Credit Squeeze of late 1960-1961. That was rather well covered in the program. For that and other reasons my father’s businesses had failed by 1963. Not all was golden in the golden age.

Which brings me to nostalgia, I do nostalgia. The Menzies program gave me some good hefty doses of it. It is worth noting though that nostalgia isn’t always our friend. The Revenant of Oz positively wallows in it, as this latest story shows:

While [The Had a Gutful Party] says on its website that its number one priority is to “bring about the necessary changes for fair and equal treatment of all Australians”, Senator [Revenant] made it clear that didn’t extend to marriage equality.

“I agree that everyone has the right to peace and harmony, but the gays and lesbians are now wanting to change my way of thinking, who I am,” she said.

“I come from a time when there was no discussion about gay marriage. That’s my background, that’s what I’ve grown up with.

“You want to take something away from the majority of society that we’ve grown up with. Why do you want to take the word marriage?”

Senator [Revenant] said she “associated with the gays and I’ve even worked with gays” but not all of them wanted to get married. She believes the gay and lesbian community should be content with civil ceremonies.

She said she didn’t care that other Western countries were allowing same-sex marriage, but also suggested that could be a way for Australian gay and lesbian people to get what they want.

“If you feel so strongly about it, I’m sure you can move to that country and then you can have that marriage,” she said.

You can almost hear the chalk on blackboard voice, can’t you? Stop hurting my head, or piss off, all you people that weren’t bothering us when I was five years old!  Nostalgia isn’t always a friend.

OK, another right-wing ex-politician, this time British: Michael Portillo. I became quite a fan of Great Continental Railway Journeys on SBS, and am now savouring Great American Railroad Journeys. I love this from The Guardian:

I have a small apology to make. A little over a year ago, confronted by a new series of Great Continental Railway Journeys, I wrote a piece confessing that I couldn’t stand its presenter. Michael Portillo, I said, seemed slimy and ill at ease on camera. I said he looked lacquered, that he dressed like an early 1990s gameshow contestant. The show itself was great, but I argued that this was despite Portillo, not because of him.

But now I’m here to apologise. I’ve been watching Portillo’s new series Great American Railroad Journeys – essentially his Great Railway Journeys show with a different guidebook – and, as much as it pains me to admit this, I got it wrong. Portillo is actually a weirdly compelling host. In fact, there might not be a presenter as gleefully unselfconscious working today…

Rather more colourful on TV than John Howard.