Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Since the Federal Government continues to behave like a sullen and solipsistic small boy on the question of an apology to the Aboriginal people for the way this country has failed them over the last 219 years, and since it's unlikely to change its mind between now and the end of Reconciliation Week, individual apologies while we wait are, I hope, better than nothing. So here is mine.

My own passage along the road of sorriness steers perilously between the all-encompassing Mea Culpa on the one hand and the cry, on the other, of Bunty from Seven Little Australians -- 'I never, it wasn't me, it wasn't my fault!' -- both of which I reject.

From within the pro-apology camp, I don't buy 'We're white, therefore we should feel guilty', but I'm not having 'We have merely to express our sorrow that something bad happened, it's not really an apology', either.

A note on the so-called 'black armband view of history': the meaning of Geoffrey Blainey's phrase, like that of Donald Horne's 'lucky country', has been politically appropriated and badly mangled in its transition to popular rhetoric, and, in both cases, not by accident. But black armbands, as any student of history knows, actually have nothing to do with 'guilt': they are about mourning and remembrance. Happy to wear one, on both scores.

For me at least, there are some fairly direct implications. The Narungga man in the photo a couple of posts back was probably -- nobody knows for sure -- my great-great-grandfather's son. From what I can make out, he stayed with the family because he wanted to, part of one of those loose and shifting constellations of single men that move seasonally round any farm. The patriarch in question, himself a penniless young Cornish immigrant who had worked eight years on the waterfront to qualify for a colonial land allocation, was one of the white men who took advantage of the colony's land policies to displace the Narungga people from Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.

I have benefited directly from that, in ways too numerous to count.

Last winter I stood in the foyer of the Adelaide Festival Centre looking in horror at a huge, brilliant, angry painting by a Narungga artist of dead bodies in the ocean being nibbled and chewed at by sea-creatures, with a little exposition alongside about the old stories of Aboriginal people on Yorke Peninsula being murdered and thrown into the sea, washed by the tide into rocky places where crayfish and crabs lay in wait to gobble them up and dispose of the evidence.

I don't know whether this story is true or not, but I hope to God it isn't. If it is, 'sorry' doesn't even touch the sides.

At that family level, I am sorry for the land-taking, which definitely happened; for the sexual exploitation of Aborginal women, which might have happened; for the murders that I want to believe did not happen -- or not, at least, at the hands of my family, 'not at all' being too much to hope for.

For whatever happened in that place, which for better or worse is also my place, that was exploitative, destructive or cruel; for whatever such activities my ancestors may have taken part in or done nothing to prevent; and for all the histories, all around the country, that are similar or worse: for all those things, on my own behalf and on behalf of my family and my country, I am truly and deeply sorry.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The return of the Spelling Nazi

It has come to my attention that almost nobody seems to be able to spell the word VICIOUS. (That I should have even noticed this is in itself is a worry; why does this word get used so much?)

VICIOUS, pronounced VISH-us, derives from VICE (as in squad, not as in carpentry or captains). There is no S in the word VICE.

The word VISCOUS, pronounced VISS-cuss, means 'thick and sticky'.

The word VISCOSE, pronounced VISS-coze, is the name of a synthetic fabric akin to rayon, polyester and so on, as in 'Do you know how many little viscoses died to make those tracky daks?'

There is no such word as VISCIOUS.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

As good a day as any

The figure holding the horse's head is Narungga man George Button, who grew up with my great-grandfather, and saved my father's life in 1929. My dad turned 80 in February, but if it were not for George he would never have made it past two. And I, of course, wouldn't be here at all.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The older you get, the more apples you have to compare with the oranges

If my arithmetic is correct, there are people in this country who were born the year of the Dismissal -- and therefore turning 32 this year -- and have never voted in a Federal election that John Howard didn't win. Not many, mind. But a few.

This would be even more mind-boggling if not for the history of the Menzies stranglehold (1949-1966, after a false start in 1939-41), and there are also many people in the country who lived through that. As a nation we're imprinted with a cultural memory of having the same person in charge for decades at a time, and with the idea of its normalcy.

So I was astonished when Wilson Tuckey, a man considerably older than me though not noted for his capactity to think logically, put a mischievous burr under his leader's already unsteady saddle yesterday by suggesting that it wasn't too late to change the leadership and citing the example of Bob Hawke, shoehorned into the Federal Labor leadership a matter of weeks before the 1983 election and surfing into office on the wave the drover's dog could have ridden.

When I heard the announcement that Bill Hayden had been dumped as leader and Hawke wheeled in to replace him, I was sitting in a basement kitchen of a London hotel, eating my breakfast egg and listening to their radio. Very little Australian news was thought of sufficient note to get a guernsey on the English news, but this was headline stuff.

And it wasn't because it was about a political switch somewhere in the wretched colonies; it was because it was about Hawke. The Poms had probably never heard of Bill Hayden, but they knew all about Bob Hawke. And as soon as I heard it I knew that Labor would slide effortlessly into government, which, a month later when I was back home in Melbourne, they duly did.

I think a lot of people have forgotten, if they ever knew in the first place, what Bob Hawke in his heyday (and personally I place his heyday before his Prime Ministership) was actually like. He was nothing like the media contruct of his later career, the Silver Budgie*, sliming up to sportspeople, wearing horrid jackets, engaging in mortal combat with PJ Keating and publicly abandoning his valiant Aussie wife for the glamourous, sexy and gorgeously named Blanche d'Alpuget.

Before reinventing himself in the sort-of-statesman mould, he was a wiry black-haired hard-faced heavy-drinking ratbag with an Oxford degree, a short fuse, and a mind like a steel trap. He had long experience in politics if not in parliament itself, and an extraordinary gift of achieving -- in all kinds of situations -- the sort of genuine consensus that stuck, rather than simply papering over the cracks. By the time he became Prime Minister he had been generally regarded as the most popular man in the country for nearly a decade.

And he was indeed staggeringly popular, in a way that contemporary Australians probably find hard to imagine or remember. Parachuting him into the leadership was the obvious thing to do. The hole -- the great gaping abyss -- in Wilson Tuckey's suggestion, at least once he started to draw parallels with the Hayden/Hawke situation, was the notion that the Libs have anyone even remotely comparable to Bob Hawke as he was in 1983.

*UPDATE, 4.20 PM: Fiasco da Gama points out (see Comments) that Hawke was in fact a Bodgie not a Budgie. I can only plead error by association, as my dad has always called him the Silver Budgie, wilfully getting it wrong partly as a play on his name, partly as a Kylie joke, partly as an allusion to the fact that Hawke did in fact remind him of a budgie, and partly because my father has been an anti-Union man all his life but actually admired Hawke very much, a contradiction he resented and for which he chose to blame Hawke.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bored ...

Here are some names that are either no longer 'news' or never were 'news' in the first place, and that one wishes, however unrealistically, never to see in the 'news' again:

Paris Hilton
David Hicks
Angelina Jolie
"Baby Catherine"

I'm sure you can think of others.

Paris, Texas: the postcolonial curse of the Adelaide suburbs

From the Media Briefs section of today's crikey.com.au bulletin:

'Hicks's Scottish stopover. David Hicks's journey back to Australia took a side trip through Scotland, according to Sky News. The only problem is, the Edinburgh David Hicks passed through was in South Australia -- Edinburgh Air Force Base, to be precise. It's where his private jet landed before his transit to Yatala Labour Prison.'

Hicks also passed through, over, or very very close to a number of other well-known landmarks on his world-tour flight to Adelaide: Ascot Park, Brighton, Cheltenham, Dublin, Goodwood, Hyde Park, Kensington, Kilkenny, Pasadena, Piccadilly, Salisbury Plain, Skye, Stirling and Strathalbyn.

Clearly the jet did a bit of bouncing around England and made a couple of whistle-stops in Ireland and the US. But apparently it was quite a comprehensive tour of Scotland.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tinker, tailor ...

Over at crikey.com.au today, regular contributor Christian Kerr observes Treasurer Peter Costello's childhood dream of being an astronaut and invites readerly speculation on what occupations other senior political figures might have dreamed of, tucked up at night in their stripy jarmies when not a creature was stirring.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a vet. Then, being a bit apprehensive about large, non-cute animals, I eventually narrowed it down to the more focused field of marine biology, but that too had its down side; my healthy fear of stingrays, which abounded in the waters where I learned to swim, proved last year to be well-founded.

What did you want to be when you were a kid? Are you being it?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers

On Friday the local ABC radio station had a rather odd talkback segment: people were invited to ring in and tell the stories about the most embarrassing thing their mothers had ever done.

Embarrassing? I thought. Was my late and much-lamented Ma ever embarrassing?

Couldn't think of a single time. Not once.

Mother's Day is a bit bleak these days, what with nobody to give a new dressing-gown to. So I'll cheer myself up by wishing all of my bloggy mates what is mothers themselves a very happy one. Especially Cristy and Zoe.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Another free public service: your writing questions answered

Yet again today, as it now seems pretty much every day, I am hearing more public talk of 'education' as though it were simply a buy-able commodity, rather than what it is in fact: an abstract and infinitely complex process of self-development, where responsibility for the process rests equally on student and teacher, and where neither the acquisition of knowledge nor the ability to process it can possibly be measured in money or in any other material equivalent.

And so, in protest against this drift in general, and in particular against the allocations in the Federal Budget for lavish university funding provided the universities in question teach what the Liberal Party wants them to teach, call it 'education', and commodify in it in such a way that its content becomes 'client-driven' and thus freed from all responsibility to truth, or indeed to responsibility -- in protest, as I say, I am starting YET ANOTHER blog.

The exclusive purpose of my new blog is to provide a free-of-charge advice and education service to aspiring writers.

At 'Ask The Brontë Sisters' you can put your questions about any aspect of writing -- characterisation, grammar, manuscript preparation, how to write your Creative Writing thesis exegesis, whatever -- to Emily, Anne and Charlotte.

All three worked as schoolteachers or governesses as well as writing Timeless Classics -- no Satanic postmodernist marxist cult studs relativism for the Brontës, I can tell you -- so they have experience in this area. Their patience with students is, however, limited, as is shown by the immortal words of Charlotte in a letter to a friend, describing her reaction to being interrupted by a small pupil needing help one day while she was in a creative daydream at her teaching desk: 'Just then a dolt came up with a lesson. I thought I should have vomited.'

And Charlotte is a pussycat compared with Emily. Sympathetic they are not. Nonetheless, they will respond to the best of their ability.

(If they feel like it, that is. They are all very highly-strung.)

I shall be available to provide a contemporary persepective on matters that they could not be reasonably expected to be up on. For example, I've supervised and/or examined quite a few MAs and PhDs in Creative Writing, so have a bit of an advantage over them in the How to Write Your Exegesis department, for example, though it's something of which I'm not sure they would approve.

For all your Advice to Writers needs, go here.

Brought to you as a free public service

Order your 'Deliberately Barren' T-shirt today!

Available in a range of colours and styles. Caps and badges also available.

And as a bonus, there's a free larf up in the top right-hand corner of that site where there's a little box saying 'Send gifts in time for Mother's Day!'

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Taureans Rule, Part 2

Next time you find yourself trashing Her Maj, stop and ask yourself if you'll be able to make it alone up those stairs in those shoes when you've just turned 81.

Even if you haven't just had to endure the company of George Bush all through dinner.

Yes yes, I'm sure the Brazilian aquamarines and diamonds help to ease the pain. But still.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The thusness of it

I'd trust this quiz more if they'd spelled 'Buddha' correctly, but being him is kewl all the same.

Via Tigtog.

Which God or Goddess are you like?
Your Result: Budha

You are Budha. You are a very peaceful person, you love all who love you. You are a cheerful personality, and you have a great sense of humor. Congratulations!! You are Budha!!

The Christian God
Goddess Bast
God Zeus
Goddess Sekhemet
You are your own God or Goddess
Which God or Goddess are you like?
Make Your Own Quiz

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

'Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever'

For those not versed in pre-20th-century syntax, the last bit of that quotation means 'and let the people who are misguided enough to want to be clever do whatever they like, poor godless souls', though of course that would not have scanned at all.

When I was a child my mum used to say it to me a lot, presumably because she thought I was an insufferable little smartarse. I don't think it ever occurred to her that she was also implying that I was bad. But what she thought of as cleverness was definitely something she didn't completely trust.

This of course is one of the things that informs the oft-repeated adjective 'clever' to describe the Prime Minister, which has been just a tad overdone in recent weeks. Like the Kingsley line, if only in its implication, it appears to construct 'clever' and 'good' as mutually exclusive.

Alas, yes: this time it's a Labor dog-whistle, being blown by their use of the word 'clever' in a sneering, grudging, nobody-loves-a-smartarse kind of way. Labor is calling Howard 'clever' as an insult: a synonym, directed at those who know how to interpret its use, for 'overflowing with rat cunning and seriously not to be trusted for a nanosecond'.

Now, the Prime Minister is, as we say, big enough and ugly enough to look after himself, and his tender feelings are not what concern me here. It's the sub-Orwellian abuse of language in the service of politics, and more specifically the use of the word 'clever' as a barely disguised insult, that is getting me down. That, and the hypocrisy of Kevin Rudd's use of it in particular; Rudd makes no secret of the fact that he actually values intelligence highly, most of all his own. When he indulges in this mediocrity-valorising verbal tic, he isn't even being sincere. It's not a pretty sight.

And the result of Labor's chant of 'Howard is very clever' is to pander to and reinforce the general national mistrust of any form of cleverness -- in exactly the same way that the Howard government has devalued the word 'elite': the way the two major parties are using these words leaves the Australian public in no doubt that both the elite (that's the so-called cultural elite, of course; the sporting elite is, well, you know, elite) and the 'clever' are to be sneered at, mistrusted, resented and deplored.

This kind of thing is the 'exaltation of the average' that frightened the bejesus out of Patrick White in 1958. It's alive and well and living on both sides of Australian politics.

As for 'Be good, sweet maid', I've just (for the first time) looked it up: it's from a short poem by the 19th century British clergyman and writer Charles Kingsley. Those who recognise his name will probably remember him as the author of the allegorical and highly political children's book The Water Babies.

And if only my Ma in the 1960s, and with her both of the major Australian political parties in 2007, had paid more attention to the next line of his poem. 'Do noble things, not dream them, all day long.'

Monday, May 07, 2007

Heffernan redux: who's out of touch then?

And in a ripper bit of argument from a particularly juicy Crikey bulletin today, ANU political scientist Norman Abjorensen makes this brilliant and unanswerable riposte to the notion that the childless ought to be barred from politics:

'A glance through the biographical details of the ministry shows a gaggle of relatively autonomous lawyers and other professionals along with self-employed farmers like Senator Heffernan who call their own shots, and the privileged children of family business owners. How many of these have ever been subjected to the petty humiliations and indignities that are common every day to most Australian employees?

How many, if any, of them have ever known the fear and loathing instilled in most of us by the prospect of another day at work in an environment in which we have no say, no control and no power?

If Senator Heffernan and his party wants to go down this track of who is in touch with the majority of the community, then let them try to explain what they know, individually and collectively, of the wholly distasteful experience of work where democracy is unknown and, worse, actively opposed by existing government policy. Then we might find out who is in touch and who is not.'

Interwebs? What are these interwebs of which you speak?

From today's Crikey bulletin:

'For the third year, the Treasurer's office has refused Crikey permission to attend the Budget lock-up, a facility extended, according to the cut-and-paste rejection letter we received late last Friday, ''... to a limited number of organisations that focus on providing information and analysis that is widely available''. That means organisations like The Illawarra Mercury, The Border Mail, The Newcastle Herald and The Gold Coast Bulletin.'

Perhaps the last person leaving the Howard Government would be kind enough to turn out the lights.

Things I learned over the weekend

Dirty dishes breed. (Actually I already knew that.)

Getting the single biggest workload-monkey off your back just makes room for all the little ones to swarm up there instead.

It is possible to go straight from listening to Port Power's ex-gun forward Stuart Dew making a remarkably good debut for local ABC radio calling the game at AAMI Stadium on the car radio to watching a Theatre Guild production of The Importance of Being Earnest in order to review it for the local press without even changing gear. Who says there's a gap between high and popular culture, pfft.

It is also possible to write a list of things that must be done and tick all of them off by the end of the day. I never knew this before.

If you don't tie up the climbing roses, they will fall over.

It's a bad idea to explore the haunts of your unhappy youth. Especially alone at night on a particularly nineteenth-century part of the campus in a part of town where ghosts of all kinds abound.

Saturday morning is the worst possible time to go shopping in the Central Market.

Offered a choice of litter trays, the cats will use both of them.

There is a fantastic Greek butcher in the Welland shopping centre, just over from Dan Murphy's.

Plants in pots under shelter will not have benefited from the recent rains that made you think you could forget all about the watering.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Only Just Gone Friday Mogblogging

For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.

... For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.

Christopher Smart, 'Jubilate Agno'

Friday, May 04, 2007

And the winner is ...

This week's Pav's Coffee All Over the Keyboard Media Award, which we hope to make a regular weekly feature if we can get that many laughs, goes to Simon Hughes for his report on the Logies in today's Crikey:

'But now -- the envelope please (I may want it to be sick into later).'

Mr Hughes receives the award partly because he made Pav laugh on an otherwise unfunny day but also for his correct placement of the full stop outside the closing parenthesis.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

What's In the Nappy Bucket?

27 May 2006, "Hard Man on the Hill", Good Weekend (as quoted in today's Crikey):

'When asked about the prospect of Julia Gillard as leader of the ALP, Bill Heffernan responds: "Na. Na. Na. I mean anyone who chooses to remain deliberately barren ... they've got no idea what life's about. We've got a few on our side as well. I've said this before, the most difficult job in the world is parenthood. Rudd's got three kids. He knows what a bucket of nappies is all about."'

Bill. Dude.

Why would we need a bucket of nappies to teach us what poop is, when we have you in our faces on a regular basis?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Autumn: how to tell what day it is





This vine covers most of the southern wall of my long, narrow little house. This is the tenth time I've watched it do this, and it still takes my breath away.

Advice please

We interrupt this 100-hour week (memo to my friends: I'm not dead -- yet -- and I need you to forgive me for not answering any of my emails for weeks and weeks) to send out a cry for help, precipitated by a sympathetic yet frustrated reading of this post by Lymphopo at As the Tumor Turns, formerly Liz/Grannyvibe, whose fortunes I have been following since before she was diagnosed with the aggressive Stage IV lymphoma which she seems, rather amazingly under the circs (or indeed any circs) to have beaten.

In this gruesomely funny post, Liz charts her meltdowns and the reasons therefor. It is, as her blog warns, not for the squeamish, nor yet for the faint of heart.

But here, on behalf of the more or less ongoingly well, is my question. I had my own long-drawn-out experience as an intermittent 'carer' last year and early this year, when my sister had a horrendous post-operative complication after surgery on her right hand. It involved acute chronic pain, a reasonably high level of impairment, serious work and financial worries and uncertainty, and a drawn-out series of treatments which were, if only for a few hours, worse than the condition, which is saying a great deal.

She suffered the tortures of the damned. She is my baby sister and my own empathetic, guilt-ridden, proxy suffering was quite bad enough to be going on with. I was the only person close to her who was in a position to do chauffeuse duty, home carer duty and so on, and I did, on and off for over a year.

She and I have sibling issues going back fifty years. We are very attached to and protective of each other, but if put in the same enclosure at a human zoo would tear each other to pieces within hours of our incarceration. Last time I was in Carer mode I was supposed to stay with her overnight after one of the ghastly treatments (think three injections deep into your neck, one after the other), but by about fifteen minutes after we got back to her place it took every ounce of willpower I had to stop myself storming out the door and going home.

So here's the question. What is a carer to do? What is the correct response of someone who's well to someone who's in a state of shocking pain and fear, and quite possibly gaga from their meds as well? How do you deal with emotional meltdowns, particularly (but not only) when they are directed straight at you? How do you manage your own vulnerability to attacks from someone you cannot possibly attack back? What are you supposed to say? What are you supposed to do?