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?


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.


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.


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


Lord Malcolm at work three years ago.


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.


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.”


I think of Jelaluddin Rumi:

The garden of
is green without
and yields many
other than sorrow
and joy.
Love is beyond either
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.


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.


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.

What was I up to in September 2006?

Selected posts from Floating Life 4/06 ~ 11/07. Internal links not guaranteed.

Tragic confidence

30 September 2006

In August last year I posted a poem by Yehuda Amichai.

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

This comes to mind as I read in today’s Sydney Morning Herald Film on Christian children’s camp has cross to bear:

…The president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Reverend Ted Haggard, says the movie is skewed against Christianity. Mr Haggard, who appears in the movie when Levi and Rachel attend his mega-church in Colorado Springs, told the Denver Post the film was yellow journalism, with “a strong agenda, like any Michael Moore film with the cinematography of The Blair Witch Project“.

“It does represent a small portion of the charismatic movement,” he admits, “but I think it demonises it. Secularists are hoping that evangelical Christians and radicalised Muslims are essentially the same, which is why they will love this film.”

In fact, Fischer compares her evangelising of children with Muslims being brought up in the Middle East. “Our enemies,” she says, are filling up their children’s minds. The difference is that, “excuse me, we have the truth”.

Those last four words are the core of the tragedy, aren’t they?

Good news

30 September 2006

I don’t tell M stories here very often; he doesn’t like me to, but this is worth sharing. Recently M and I both got mobile phones under different Telstra plans, his a contract, mine a prepaid. We also had two landlines. M got rid of his landline first, and then when I decided wireless internet (you can’t really call it broadband) was at least viable, we got rid of the other landline. Now there was the rub: Telstra was not happy, so they restricted M’s calls to inward calls only! Bastards! So we fired off a complaint to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

On Tuesday I realised that Telstra had cut off access to outgoing calls on the above phone which is on a $20 per month contract without reason. It seems that they are annoyed because I had recently closed a landline at ****** which I no longer need. I have been paying my phone bills to Telstra since 1992 without fail. Now they are asking me to provide proof of residence at the above address and also at ********, where the landline had been, and they also want pay details and other personal information, which I gave to them anyway when I signed the contract. I have done nothing wrong and feel I am being treated very shabbily by Telstra. I would like an explanation.

He also went to the NSW Department of Fair Trade. Result? Very rapidly his service was restored, and just yesterday he was told Telstra were giving him $100 in free calls…

Mind you, I will be very surprised if many people go for the Telstra share float. Once bitten, and all that, and Sol Trujillo must be one of the most hated people in Australia now. (That smarmy PR woman from American Express, Luisa Megale, must be competition though. “Wouldn’t it be sad if we weren’t able to expand our operations here, and if Australia wasn’t an attractive place for international investment?” Not if you want to flout our labour laws, lady. We can quite easily cut up our Amex cards, and be none the worse for the experience.)

The other good news is that I had lunch at The Shakespeare with Lord Malcolm yesterday; of course he isn’t better, and still needs to go to the hospice for outpatient therapy, but he is in pretty good shape all things considered. We went through all the gear (cards, leaflets, magazines) which David Humphries had given me on Wednesday. Malcolm enjoyed that. We wondered if Artist Andy knows David; he would certainly know of him.

The public art of David Humphries

28 September 2006


Here is where I had dinner last night and a few red wines, meaning I do feel a touch seedy this morning… But what a great night it was, excellent conversation going back thirty years and more. I took the bus out to Rosebery and entered David’s studio, greeted by Jacko the red-tailed black cockatoo flying freely through as wonderful an interior garden as you could imagine. The pictures don’t do it justice.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

David’s work is everywhere in Sydney, and beyond. Some of you will have seen Skygardens:

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The flower there is the waratah, an Australian protea, and the floral emblem of New South Wales.

David’s work goes well beyond Australia. For example, read Paved with passion in The San Diego Union-Tribune of May 14, 2006.

Known internationally for her fashion and textile designs, Zandra Rhodes also has designed tableware and linens, jewelry, etched-glass windows, opera sets and costumes – and now a beachfront terrazzo patio for her home in Del Mar…

Rhodes collaborated with Australian artist David Humphries, who is known for his terrazzo creations throughout Australia and at Rhodes’ Fashion & Textile Museum in London. After she created an abstract design on paper, Rhodes drew it on the concrete base with chalk and looked down on it from her upstairs balcony to get a perspective on how it worked.

Humphries worked out the final details on the computer, and they then cut the major shapes out of Styrofoam sheets to make a template to hold the terrazzo, a mix of stones or glass chips in portland cement.

Together they hand laid the terrazzo in a design that embodies the universe. In the pattern you can see the solar system, the Earth, rivers of water, and under the sea.

Or maybe it’s the four elements: air, water, earth, and fire (represented by spiky shapes that also represent the shadows of the New Zealand flax planted along the edges); or an echo of the rhythms of the sun, sand and sea.

On another level, it’s yin and yang, light and shadow…

Go to David Humphries’ site Public Art Squad for more.

Lately his most pressing current project in what is still a very busy life has been advocacy for the rights of the mentally ill and developmentally challenged, as his own sister has been in danger of falling through the many cracks in a system under which appropriate care has become increasingly hard to find. I may perhaps be saying more on this, as I have asked David to send me some details. This is one of the things we talked about last night.

The joy of Gnomespeak

27 September 2006

“Gnomespeak” is the characteristic style and thought-patterns of the Great Grey Garden Gnome of Kirribilli House, aka “The Prime Minister”. It is remarkable how thoroughly this has permeated our culture in recent years. Like “Newspeak”, its purpose is to render dissent unutterable. We were told, and by “we” I mean ESL teachers at a meeting I attended around 1998, that the words “multiculturalism”, “equity”, and “disadvantaged” were from now on to be avoided. In their place we were to speak of “integration”, “cohesion”, “harmony”, “incentives” and “Australian values”.

The process goes on.

The Gnome is “on message” in his Canberra speech reported in Shared values beat terrorism: Howard this morning. Apparently the values of the Exclusive Brethren are OK though, and aside from the Four Corners episode I mentioned on Monday, see When I hear the word “culture” I reach for my kool-aid by Arthur Vandelay (not a religious person) and brethren in Jan’s Shalom blog (a religious person). In passing, I really did blush when I read Ahmad Shuja’s riposte to my (borrowed) one-liner on the Brethren making the Taliban look liberal: “Wow! What a perfect example of relativity. Reminds me of what my teacher once told us: Nothing is absolute; everything is relative!” Young Ahmad, of course, knows the Taliban up close and personal.

So what did the Gnome say about our shining representatives of core Aussie values, the Brethren?

…yesterday Mr Howard admitted for the first time that he had met members of the fundamentalist Christian sect the Exclusive Brethren, AAP reports.

The secretive group, which boasts 40,000 members worldwide – many in New Zealand and Australia – has been accused of underhanded campaigning against the Greens at the 2004 federal election and in state polls.

“They are not breaking the law [and], like any other group, they are entitled to put their views to the Government,” he said.

How magnanimous! Of course they can put their point of view to the Government, as can the Spartacists, the representatives of Hezbollah, naturists, vegetarians, and anyone else, so long as those viewpoints don’t also get you charged with sedition. But guess whose views are more likely to be listened to?

In the speech The Gnome had said:

SOCIAL cohesion would be Australia’s biggest challenge, the Prime Minister, John Howard, warned yesterday, citing a controversial writer who questions the future willingness of developed countries to accept new arrivals.

In a speech in Canberra to a security conference, Mr Howard left the audience in no doubt that he was linking concerns about a lack of shared values in a more diverse community to fears of so-called “home grown” Islamic terrorism in Australia.

David Goodhart, the editor of Britain’s Prospect magazine, has stated: “To put it bluntly – most of us prefer our own kind.”

Goodhart has pointed to immigration and refugee flows eroding “collective norms and identities” and producing conflicts of values.

In a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Global Forces 2006 conference, Mr Howard preceded a reference to Goodhart’s views with one to Muslim militancy.

“The battle against Islamic extremism in Australia will only be won with a strong combination of accurate intelligence, effective law enforcement and, crucially, a commitment to certain shared values across the whole of our society,” he said.

“Liberal democracies around the world are having to face challenges at the point where questions of citizenship, immigration, culture and national security intersect – what the British writer David Goodhart has labelled ‘security and identity issues’.

“The maintenance of social cohesion in Australia is both our greatest national achievement and our greatest national challenge for the future.”

Yesterday Mr Howard heralded a “more assertive strategic posture” in place of “benign abstinence” by successive Australian governments. And he referred to a “framework of international norms” conducive to individual freedom, economic development and liberal democracy.

Which one in that final trinity is the real story? You work it out…

I have in fact read Goodhart’s articles: see [no longer online]:

…The second article was “Fear and Loathing on the Left” by Prospect editor David Goodhart, whose exploration of the limits of cultural diversity, first published in Prospect, led to much controversy. “Discomfort of strangers” by Goodhart in The Guardian (Tuesday February 24, 2004) says pretty much the same, so go there. He is also worth taking seriously, and I did so myself when I read the original Prospect articles. My view is that cultural diversity is simply a fact, like the earth not being flat; the question is how to enable a functioning, harmonious society which also gives due justice to the subcultures that compose it. That’s where we get problems on all sides. Yes, integration is necessary and achievable; no, monoculturalism is not desirable, and assimilation is not usually just or practicable either.

I take Goodhart seriously, but in Gnomespeak his articles are appropriated to fit the Gnome worldview. As is just about everything else that goes through the Gnome’s filtration device. You could argue that is how we ended up following George Bush up the Euphrates.

“Cultural diversity” is like gravel in the Gnome filter, I’m afraid. It gets through if it is sufficiently pulverised; otherwise, it just gets spat out.

The Great Grey Garden Gnome of course is John Howard.

Random notes

23 September 2006

My colleague of thirty-four year ago, David Humphries, and I have made contact. I am having dinner with him soon. He tells me the internet is renewing all sorts of contacts. I mentioned my own a few years ago with Jay Caselberg (James A. Hartley), a novelist now living in Germany it seems. Unfortunately a “senior moment” blocked the name as I was talking to David, but (obviously) I recall it now. Then more recently there had been Scott Poynting and a class-mate of his, Ralph T, whose brother Ian T was a classmate of Simon H, who I have maintained contact with all these years. Wednesday night could prove interesting.

Lord Malcolm is still in the hospice, but the Swans winning through to the Grand Final has obviously brought him back to life. He tells me he comes home on Monday.

I’m true blue, mate, but are you?

20 September 2006

On Australia Talks Back tonight you can hear (or will soon when the podcast appears) a whole lot of to-ing and fro-ing about citizenship and Oz Values, a theme the Howard government has been banging on about for years now. “The government is keen for more public discussion on who is accepted into the country, and what we expect from them. Is this an ideal opportunity to really reflect upon who we are and what we want for the future of the country? Or an exercise in xenophobia?”
Remember when state schools were traduced as “values-free zones”? The crux of that, of course, was not that state schools lacked values or didn’t teach them; rather, the values were not quite what the Howard world-view had in mind. I ranted about that in 2004: see here. I had another go in January this year. I still stand by those entries. See also my somewhat ironic look at Oz values 50s-style in A la recherche du Sydney perdu.

Meanwhile, Jim Belshaw has been running a very well-considered series on his more personal blog — as distinct from his New England Australia, where the latest entry has a nice tribute to this blog. (Thanks, Jim.) In his latest reflection on immigration, Jim writes:

At this point, I will simply pose two questions:

1. Why is it that immigration has become such an issue at a time when its importance relative to the size of the population is actually quite low, far lower than in the fifties and sixties?
2. Why has no one, at least no one on the official side that I have seen, linked the debate to Australia’s future needs?

Relative Importance

As I understand it, and I stand to be corrected, we presently take three groups of migrants ranked by size:

1. Family reunions, the family of previous migrants who have become citizens.
2. Skilled and business migration, those people we want because they have skills or money.
3. Last, and a long way behind, refugees.

I am hard pressed to see what how these three classes link to our current obsession with values and citizenship.

One can only speculate, then, on what it really has to do with, but I suggest one can see a pattern (which I call a “culture war”) of which this is another episode. We are being Quadranted — again.

Australia Talks Back has just finished, and you can now listen to it online. Andrew Robb has the opening go. I’m afraid I don’t find him the brightest person I have ever heard…

Remembering 9/11 five years on

11 September 2006

So much is being said about this I have little to add. Instead, I refer you to some of what I said last year when I dedicated “this insignificant site to oppose all who hate, whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, agnostic, atheist, left, right, whatever, regardless of race, culture, background, or excuse for hate. I dedicate this site not to the abolition of fun, cheekiness, irreverence, or freedom of thought and expression, but I do dedicate it to opposing sloppy thinking, propaganda, cynicism, and all that dehumanises ourselves and others.” I haven’t always succeeded.

I also commend a New Yorker to you. Go to THE 9-11 ANNIVERSARY EXTRAVAGANZAS (if Blogspot lets you, that is.)

September 11th on every year for the rest of my life is a day of mourning. I don’t think about my politics on this day so stop trying to sell me something.
Monday the 11th will be much like other days for me except that I will have that talk with my grown daughter again about how we spent that day sitting on my bed crying, uninformed, unaware, frightened, calling my sister who lives in Manhattan and getting nothing but a dead line, watching the news and wondering if this is it. Watching people throw themselves from a tower because of utter hopelessness. Listening as “they” declared our metropolis a possible target at any moment. Not moving from that bed while we declared how much we loved each other. It could have been the end, we were ready for that. There is no moment that compares to that kind of awakening. We didn’t know what being afraid was until that day. We didn’t comprehend sadness until that day.

This weekend my 11 year old nephew will ask me again – as he does every year – why people blew up the buildings in New York. And I will try again to explain to him the world reality that he is inheriting.

I will remember again how fortunate I was to hear my sister’s voice, to know she was not there or near enough that I lost her. But I, along with all of us lost 3,000 family members. To grieve for an eternity would not be long enough.

I will remember again that even greatness can fall victim to its vulnerabilities.

I am grieving on this day. Leave me alone. Sell your wares somewhere else, I am not buying or tuning in.

I find this “wholly personal statement” very moving.

What was I up to in August 2011? Part Two

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

Wikis and weblogs and trolls, oh my!

Posted on August 30, 2011 by Neil

Such a good title! A student of secondary teaching at Melbourne University has just started an edublog with that name.

No matter how fancy or whizz-bang our teaching presentations or animations of enzymes are, if we can’t get the kids listening and engaged we may as well try can-can dancing up and down the classroom with sparklers in our hair.

I am currently teaching two rather rowdy classes in Year 8 and Year 9, and have been learning the fundamental lesson that no matter what wonderful things you have planned to teach, you can’t actually teach them if you can’t effectively manage classroom dynamics. As my Year 7s and Year 11s last semester were much more manageable, this is my first real test of my behaviour management techniques, and it’s a bit of a learning curve.

Kristy’s first post led me to Teaching the iGeneration by Larry Rosen.

Studying generational similarities and differences can be tricky; no individual completely fits the profile of a particular generation. But research suggests that the majority of people born between a rough set of dates actually do share many characteristics (see Strauss & Howe, 1991).

Those born between about 1925 and 1946 are often called the Traditional or Silent generation. Growing up through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, they are characterized by a belief in common goals and respect for authority. The Baby Boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964, tends to be optimistic, idealistic, and communicative and to value education and consumer goods. The next generation, born between 1965 and 1979, were defined by Douglas Coupland (1991) as Generation X in his book of the same name; the label X signifies that, compared with the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers are not as easily categorized.

With the 1980s and the birth of the World Wide Web, the power of cyberspace came to the masses and a new generation of web surfers, very different from their predecessors, was born. The most common label for this generation is Generation Y, simply meaning the generation after X. Some people stretch this generation past 1999 and refer to its members as Millennials. To me, these names are an insult to our first true cybergeneration. This generation should not be defined by the next letter in the alphabet or by the turn of the century. I believe that Don Tapscott’s (1999) term—the Net Generation—better reflects the impact of the Internet on the lives of its members.

On the basis of our research with thousands of teenagers and their parents, my colleagues and I have identified a separate generation, born in the 1990s and beyond, which we label the iGeneration. The irepresents both the types of digital technologies popular with children and adolescents (iPhone, iPod, Wii, iTunes, and so on) and the highly individualized activities that these technologies make possible. Children and youth in this new generation are defined by their technology and media use, their love of electronic communication, and their need to multitask.

Parenthetically, we are just starting to examine a separate minigeneration of kids like Mikey and Brittani, who not only are facile with individualized mobile technologies, but also have the expectation that if they conceive of something, they should be able to make it happen. If an app doesn’t exist for something they want to do on a smartphone, they just assume that nobody has created it yet and that it should be a piece of cake to do so. All in all, a fascinating minigeneration.

Good stuff, but one can’t help wondering at the odd parochialism in such things. All I have to do to see that is talk to M who was born in Shanghai in 1962!

In yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald was an article about Birrong Girls High.

Students using blogs to express their creativity are coming out of their shells, writes Melissa Lahoud.

Speaking out in class can be daunting for some but high among the benefits of blogging in schools is the platform it provides for shy students to come out of their shells and express their thoughts more freely.

Birrong Girls High School in south-western Sydney is one school taking to blogging in a big way and Victor Davidson, a teacher and librarian, has developed hundreds of online learning spaces for his students.

”Some of our brightest and most articulate students, who often shy away from face-to-face conversations, have developed an active and dynamic presence online,” Davidson says.

Student Kristine King, 13, uses the blog to channel her creativity when writing stories and her confidence has surged since reading the positive responses…

Good work there! I did wonder how it meshes with what Thomas is doing – see Edublogging and I–with an aside on classroom management‘.


Gratuitous view from my window yesterday afternoon

I’m feeling justified in the matter of David Hicks

Posted on August 21, 2011 by Neil

Last year I wrote this in The South Sydney Herald.


Click to read

In that I wrote:

…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….

Today in the Sun-Herald we read US did Howard a ‘favour’.

AS HE sought re-election in 2007, John Howard called in a political ”favour” from the US government to get any charge possible laid against David Hicks, a former Guantanamo Bay chief military prosecutor has claimed.

Colonel Morris Davis’s accusation against the former prime minister, in an interview with The Sun-Herald, adds weight to an American journalist’s report which quotes leaked US government documents.

Jason Leopold, from the internet publication Truthout, says he has obtained material, including documents from the office of the former vice-president, Dick Cheney, stating that Mr Howard met Mr Cheney in Sydney on February 24, 2007, and told him the Hicks case had become a ”political threat” to his re-election campaign….

See also Truthout Exclusive: David Hicks Speaks Out on Torture, Medical Experimentation at Guantanamo and Former Guantanamo Chief Prosecutor: David Hicks’ War Crimes Charge Was a “Favor” for Australia.

  • Read the letter from David Hicks pdf
  • Submission to UN Human Rights Commission pdfRead more: The letter that never arrived.

    Time Mr Howard revised that chapter in his autobiography and time that self-satisfied goon Downer ate some crow.

    Rhipidura leucophrys

    Posted on August 12, 2011 by Neil

    Better known as Willie Wagtail. This one was in Figtree Park yesterday.




    Alternative names: “Black-and-white Fantail”, “Shepherd’s Companion”, “Wagtail”, “Frogbird”, “Morning-bird”,”Gossipbird”, “Messengerbird” \

    Aboriginal names: “jitta jitta” [bibbulbum], “jenning-gherrie”, “mugana” “tityarokan”, “deereeree”, “dhirriirrii” [yuwaalaraay], “dhirridhirri” [gamilaraay]

    Watch this, folks! James Delingpole is hilarious!

    Posted on August 8, 2011 by Neil

    Back in June I posted Not seen — yet? — in Australia: ABC please note. SBS has taken it on, I am happy to say.

    Climate science has become a battleground since leaked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit reverberated across the world. Activists vandalise genetically modified food crops. Parents refuse to vaccinate their children from potentially fatal diseases because of one discredited piece of research.

    Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel laureate cell biologist and the President of the Royal Society, wants to find out why science is suddenly under attack and how scientists have responded.

    As part of this quest he meets some of the key protagonists; from the Professor at the heart of Climategate, to an HIV sufferer who denies that HIV causes AIDS and refuses to take any medication.

    He spends a day as a science journalist on a national newspaper – and he visits the most secure and highly protected potato field in the UK.

    He examines the science of climate change to ask why it is that public support for the concept of human induced climate change is falling. As he travels across the US and the UK he learns that the core problem is uncertainty – new discoveries often seem to complicate rather than simplify the science. And where there is uncertainty, in the public’s mind, there is room for doubt.

    In the 21st century there is no automatic acceptance of a scientist’s word. They have to earn that trust. Paul wants to find out what scientists need to do to earn, and keep, the public’s trust.

    It’s on tomorrow night at 8.30…

    The loquacious Anthony Watts, radio weatherman in the USA and serial cherry picker, cites Christopher Booker’s review of the program.

    Horizon’s “Science Under Attack” turned out to be yet another laborious bid by the BBC to defend the global warming orthodoxy…… Hours of film of climate-change “deniers” are cherrypicked for soundbites that can be shown, out of context, to make them look ridiculous…… Although Sir Paul presented himself as the champion of objective science, he frequently showed that, for all his expertise in cell biology, he knows little about climate…

    The deniers looked ridiculous because they really were ridiculous. James Delingpole is a tosser! You don’t believe me? Watch the program.


    James Delingpole – can be amusing…. But…

    “James Delingpole is a libertarian conservative who writes brilliant books and brilliant articles, and is really great on TV, radio and the internet too.”

    He says so himself.

    Christopher Booker knows rather less about climate than Sir Paul Nurse, and not much more than I or the average guy in the pub…

    To highlight the level of inaccuracy and falsehood in skeptical journalism the Guardian launched a prize in 2009 to be “presented to whoever crams as many misrepresentations, distortions and falsehoods into a single article, statement, lecture, film or interview about climate change”. This was called the “Christopher Booker prize.”The first nomination was inevitably Christopher Booker for an article about arctic sea ice with six errors in 900 words.

    Not that the True Believers care a toss about that. Witness the continuing devotion by the likes of Alan Jones for the egregious and error-prone non-scientist Lord Monckton. (My June post also deals with him.)

    So do watch. Be informed for a change. Too much of what you see and hear in the media is disinformation. This is not.

    See The Independent’s review.

  • 2016: Of course now we have the Revenant and her friends in the Senate we will be hearing more on this topic, particularly from Senator Malcolm Belfry. Indeed he has already started. Do read Why Malcolm Roberts’ demand for ’empirical evidence’ on climate change is misleading (Scientist and Nobel prize-winner Peter Doherty says new One Nation senator ‘has no understanding of how science works’.),  Australia’s New Climate Science Denialist Senator Malcolm Roberts Has A History of Harassing Academics and The Galileo gambit and other stories: the three main tactics of climate denial.

    An old soldier remembers The Somme…

    Posted on August 5, 2011 by Neil

    Well not quite, but my reflective mood prompted by all that Cronulla High material is making me not dissimilar.

    Back when Sydney looked like this I had been around Cronulla High for two years already. The school was only four years old when I arrived as a student teacher in 1965, being appointed the year after and staying until 1969.


    Go back from 1965 the same span as I have covered since then and you will arrive at 1919! Near enough to World War I… And how old did that generation seem to me in 1965, when I turned 22?

    Today the NSW English Teachers are having their annual conference.

    Making Connections Count, the annual conference for the English Teachers Association, will be held at Australian Technology Park on Friday, 5 August and Saturday, 6 August in Bay 4.

    The conference will showcase and explore the myriad ways in which English educators and those with a professional concern with English in NSW are making the sorts of connections that truly count for students and which will effectively support teachers in the transition to the Australian Curriculum and other national initiatives.

    Making the connections that count for students is integral to their educational success and personal growth. It is therefore an essential goal as an English teacher work as English teachers to seek to fire students’ imaginations and enhance their critical capacities, help them to express their ideas and feelings in interesting and contextually appropriate ways, and assist each individual to achieve their very best.

    Cost: Members two days $430; one day $290; Non members $495 (two), $350 (one).

    For more information please visit here

    Just check the program:


    Little-200x0Yes, Thomas and Mr R! But I still see names I know – Wayne Sawyer, Paul Grover, and (not on the extract above) Ernie Tucker, who is actually even older than I am but still as committed a progressive as ever. Then I see there is a Ken Watson Lecture, and of course Ken was my boss and colleague at Sydney Uni in 1977-8 and a friend as well.  And I can’t think of the English Teachers Association without thinking of Graham Little (left), who died last year. In the late 70s and very early 80s I was on the ETA State Council and a reasonably well-known figure in those circles.

    But that was still in the future when I was at Cronulla.

    Looking at this list, what do I recall?


    Jack Morrison was a good old guy to have had as my first head of department. Phyllis Wheeler was totally amazing as a person and as a teacher. Soon after she moved on to the famous Frensham School in Mittagong.

    One more image from Cronulla 1966-69:


    That’s actually quite remarkable, when you think about when and where we are talking about. I know personally that it was at Cronulla I began the shift towards the pluralism and multiculturalism I now value.


    Today this seems quite unremarkable!

    But 1965 seems a very long time ago. Not anywhere as bad as The Somme of course. Though there were moments…