Friday, August 31, 2007

Hot August Day

Yesterday was Adelaide's hottest August day on record.

Not that I think the globe is warming or anything silly like that.

Tell us how you really feel

While I am sometimes in less than full agreement with the Age's Catherine Deveny and don't always think her columns are 'good' (unlike many bloggers, I think there's a very clear distinction between those two things), I have just decided that I want her for my new best friend.

That's because I've just caught up with her Wednesday column (my secret Terrist name is Pavlov Bin Busy), in which she expressed the feelings of -- I'm guessing -- about three-quarters of the Australian populace, thus:

You can shove your citizenship test up your poxy date.

Like many others, including -- again -- many bloggers, she then goes on to provide her own citizenship test, and I must say this is the best one I've seen so far. After long consideration I've decided that my favourite question is #1 under 'Customs':

'Macca, Chooka and Wanger are driving to Surfers in their Torana. If they are travelling at 100 km/h while listening to Barnsey, Farnsey and Acca Dacca, how many slabs will each person on average consume between flashing a brown eye and having a slash?'

(Zoe from crazybrave may well be able to answer this correctly, but I don't like anyone else's chances. Those who have had the experiences are unlikely to have been doing the arithmetic.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why don't we just send them up the chimneys and down the mines?

From Anna Lamboys in today's issue of

'There’s a document circulating around Yuendumu, Central Australia’s largest Aboriginal community, that suggests federally appointed Government Business Managers on Aboriginal communities in the Territory will have the power to direct police activities on those communities.

Northern Territory coppers are to be ordered to round up kids wagging school and conscript them into work gangs so they are "worked until visibly tired" ... The document "Yuendumu – School Attendance Proposal" has been drawn up by Noel Mason, the newly appointed Government Business Manager at Yuendumu.

Explaining that the kids from Yuendumu "enjoy staying away from school in Yuendumu far too much", Mason states that "the names of children staying up late at night will be collected and those children will used to assist with the clean up the town site the next day ... The aim is to make children who want to avoid school, have a busy, tiring day."

He goes on:

"Children listed will be ... questioned about why they are not at school, then moved to an area of rubbish in the town site and will be required to collect rubbish as punishment. Family elders, Police, Night Patrol staff and CDEP staff, will manage the rubbish collection. Students will be worked until they are visibly tired. Water and fruit will be available for them whilst working."'

Great. How about rubber gloves, face masks, free antibiotics and emergency responses to needlestick injuries?

I don't even recognise this country any more.

One ray of light is that the Northern Territory police are already publicly very unhappy as it is about the Feds' latest foray backwards in time; many of them have extensive experience in the Aboriginal communities and already know what works and what doesn't. I hope for, and expect, harsh words from the boys in beige in charge.

UPDATE: Or, if you are obliged to use grown-ups to do your dirty work, here's another cool new bit of government enabling: now you can ensure that they are expendable icky foreign grown-ups that nobody cares about.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Pavlov's Law #49

Pavlov's Forty-Ninth Law states that every glass you break will be the first of a set. The house will thus be full of sets of glasses numbering three, five or seven.

There are, however, two silver linings here.

Silver lining #1: it further encourages one (as though any further encouragement were needed) not to hold dinner parties of the Noah's Ark variety, the kind to which people with no official/acknowledged/visible partner (of the opposite sex; this convention must drive gay and lesbian couples straight up the wall) never get invited unless the hosts accidentally find themselves with a 'spare' guest. In such cases, one is usually invited on the afternoon or even early evening of the dinner in question.

One should accept such invitations only if one knows the food is going to be good. While Noah's Ark dinner parties are usually dramas with double or triple parallel subplots -- extra points if any of the subplots are, so to speak, intra-couple -- to rival Shakespeare's, the dialogue is usually substandard.

Silver lining #2: The kitchen floor gets swept. Properly.

This Writing Life, or, Someone's trying to tell me something, but I can't quite work out what

Some readers of this blog will be familiar with the work of J.M. Coetzee, and will know that in his novels and essays there is much food for thought on the ethical treatment (or more to the point, the unethical treatment) of animals. The vegetarian Coetzee is known for his literary variations on the theme of human cruelty, and his most straightforward and least complex writing is to do with cruelty to animals and all that that implies.

So as I sat down at the keyboard this morning and was poised to bash out the first word of the last draft of a review of his most recent novel (late, and if my editor is reading this, you are being very nice about it -- the not-being-badgered thing will have its reward when you get this copy later today), wholly concentrating on the keyboard, on the screen, and on the syntax and diction of my opening sentence, the phone began to ring.

And it was nice old Alan from the RSPCA, asking which of their fund-raising lines of merchandise I'd like to buy this time. I don't know why I don't just give them money and tax deduct it, but, for whatever reason, I have amassed an extensive collection of teatowels and chopping boards with wombats and toucans on them. I ordered the 2008 calendars -- Australian Birds and All Creatures Great and Small -- and trudged back to the study.

Begin again from Square One, for the nascent sentence has atomised and blown away. Start from scratch, if I could find it. Ah yes, I was going to say this, and put it together with that, and then I was going to segue to ...


Tortoiseshell leaps into lap, kisses my ear, and settles down with her front paws across my right forearm, a position not known for its typing comfort.

Sentence shatters and blows away a second time.

Coetzee would enjoy this scenario, I think, but it's not getting the work done. I'm not game to start again a third time quite yet; I might invoke an elephant, coming trumpeting into this not very big room.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

You'd think, would you not, that these things would raise their heads one at a time

Today I have been forced to think about the Four Big Things -- love, money, music and death -- and by 'forced' I mean exactly that: invisible forces have taken me by the scruff of the neck and shoved my face up against them, as up against a mirror.

And as Whatladder would say, 'Okay, I think my head asplode.'

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Elvis to the left of me, His Bobness to the right ...

In the Central Market this morning as I shopped for strawberries, they were playing top-end-of-vintage Elvis all morning. And in the car on the way in I caught the whole segment on Andrew Ford's fabulous Music Show of Dylan tragics Imre Salusinszky (with whom I once worked, and a good colleague he was too) and the brilliant Amanda Rose from Flop Eared Mule, talking beautifully about Dylan's Sydney concerts, and his latest album, and all things Dylan in general.

I've almost stopped listening to music (and am still trying to work out what that's about -- something to do with it being too important to do in passing or as background; go figure), so I haven't heard Modern Times at all. But at the end of the segment, Ford played a track from it called 'Spirit on the Water'. Imre had earlier been cursing the Philip Morris Company for what Dylan's voice now sounds like at 66, but although much of what musicality he had in his youth is gone, I noticed something very odd: he is more precisely on pitch than he used to be, and though his notes are no longer resonant nor sustained, he drills a sweet hole straight through the middle of the pitch in a way that sounds new to me.

It was a lovely upbeat track, light years away from the venomous snarl of some of the really early songs -- I still can't listen to 'Positively 4th Street' without feeling a bit sick -- or the tragic edge of Blood on the Tracks, and I wound the window right down to give the crowds of pedestrians the full benefit as I crawled down through the almost-gridlocked Gouger Street.

Amanda reckons His Bobness will come back to Australia maybe one more time, when he's about 70, and will spend the concerts sitting on a stool, alone in a spotlight, with an acoustic guitar and nothing else. I hope she's right. I'll go to that one.

At the gates of Graceland

Sometimes I think the people who say that Elvis is still alive know something I don't. Even when he's been officially dead for 30 years.

Does he sound dead?

I don't think so.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Stormy weather

I don't mind rain and I really like electrical storms, but wind I can take or leave.

They did say something on the car radio this afternoon about gale warnings for the southern coast, but they didn't mention my quiet little old suburb. Yet here I am, late-ish at night, listening to the gate rattle and the roof creak, and the ceiling and the chimneys making ominous and unexplained noises, and the wind yowling through the trees, and big gusts hitting the house with an intermittent whump like an explosion.

I'm frightened out of my gourd, frankly. And I don't even quite know what it is I'm scared of. But it's quite comforting to watch the two wind-spooked tortoiseshells thundering up and down the passage with their ears back.

Friday, August 10, 2007

They're not called Anguish & Robbery for nothing

Overland editor and Leftwrites blogger Jeff Sparrow has a terrific piece today at on the breathtakingly shameless move made by the Angus & Robertson book chain in recent days to snort up hundreds of thousands of dollars in blackmail-like payments from publishers and distributors deemed insufficiently profitable for them, the alternative being to lose their place on A&R shelves. This is a long and unsavoury story that I heard yesterday from some Adelaide publishers and that deserves more time than I have to do it justice, but here's Jeff's conclusion:

' ... the real threat to Oz-lit does not come from snooty postmodernists who deconstruct beer-coasters rather than reading books. The problem lies instead with the contemporary infatuation with neo-liberalism, a system that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

We should fight for literature. But the important struggle is not in education: it’s in the market-place.'

Never mind the quality, feel the Ka-Ching!

Boycott, anyone?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hardly worth the bother

"Registering your telephone number on the Do Not Call Register will not stop all telemarketing calls to your number. There are some exemptions which enable certain public interest organisations to make telemarketing calls. Exempt organisations include charities, religious organisations and registered political parties. You can also still receive calls from market researchers."

Que ...?

Lose on the roundabouts, lose on the swings

In the immediate wake of Steve Bracks's shock resignation as Premier of Victoria, a decision in which the very public problems of his children played a major part, and after eight years as Premier that began when the oldest child was still only twelve, Bracks's replacement John Brumby has shown his Heffernan-hued true colours and demonstrated that he has learned less than nothing from his predecessor's life experience.

From today's Age:

'New Premier John Brumby has suggested one of the reasons he overlooked Tim Holding for the Treasury portfolio is that the young Finance Minister is unmarried and has no children.

Asked on ABC TV why he had chosen former education minister John Lenders over Mr Holding for the key job, Mr Brumby replied: "He's a bit older and has had a few more of life's experiences. He's a parent, father, husband. All of those things."'

Got political ambitions? You'd better get breeding, then, if you haven't already. And while you're at it, setting up a trust fund for the sprogs' counselling and rehab in fifteen or twenty years might be a prudent move as well.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

In praise of literature

Of late there have been some particularly shrill trolls around the traps banging on about what a waste of time literature is and how it's all bullsh*t and what a bunch of wankers blah luvvies blah latte blah chardonnay blah blah blah.

Now, one does not usually allow oneself to engage with or be annoyed by trolls, except for the occasional brief passing swipe of a paw, but for some reason it's been more than usually wearing lately. So by way of correction, here -- old news in terms of the event itself, but always worth reading and thinking about again -- is a particularly lovely and pertinent bit from the absolute cracker of an opening speech that the lovely Scottish writer Andrew O'Hagan gave at the Sydney Writers Festival a few months back. (Convolutedly via Matilda.)

'Literature may be entertaining and it may be diverting but its role in a civilised world is neither for distraction nor diversion, but for engagement: every day is Sorry Day in the world of literature and every day is Humanity Day and Contemplation Day and Tolerance Day and Get Your Finger Out of Your Arse Day. Let the word go out. Literature is not Lifestyle – it is Life. It is the news that stays news.'

Friday, August 03, 2007

An intricate, beautiful world

When I turned the key in the ignition this morning, the car radio was set to RN, where Michael McKenzie, host of Bush Telegraph, was chatting to a man called Andrew Murray from a project called Southern Ark.

They were talking about ecosystems, a subject dear to my heart ever since the Matric Biology exam in which I wrote a surreal, heat-struck rave comparing an ecosystem to a piano. More specifically, they were talking about the fox eradication program in East Gippsland.

It seems that since the program was implemented, the potoroo population of East Gippsland has gone through the roof. This came as no surprise to a farmer's daughter who vividly remembers the sight of fox-mangled newborn lambs, to say nothing of the slow-burn paternal displeasure that accompanied it, and the retaliatory (and also slow-burning) poison gas thingies that he used to chuck down the foxholes.

(While this sounds mean, it's nowhere near as bad as the reason foxes were introduced into this country in the first place in the 1870s: they were brought over so that people could chase them down with horses and dogs, thus terrifying and exhausting them before having them torn to shreds, in the hateful, vicious sport of foxhunting.)

The potoroo, it seems, eats a particular kind of truffle-like fungus. These truffles grow in the roots of trees and shrubs, not parasitically but in a symbiotic relationship in which the truffles enable nutrient takeup from the not-very-good-soil. Because the trufffles grow underground, they can't spread their pores by shedding or bursting like mushrooms or puffballs, so they rely on the potoroos to eat the truffles and spread their spores via fur and gut. The potoroos, in digging for truffles, aerate the soil and help the breakdown of leaf litter, both of which improve the nutrient value to the trees and shrubs. Via mobile potoroos, the spores are spread, new truffles grow on new roots which uptake nutrients to new trees, and the forest maintains itself as habitat for more potoroos.

Andrew Murray explained this lovely bit of bio-clockwork to Bush Telegraph host Michael McKenzie, who was clearly mesmerised by the neat, balanced beauty of this scenario; you could practically hear him listening, and when Murray finished the description there was a little pause in which you could hear McKenzie being too enchanted to speak and then remembering he was on air. 'What an intricate, beautiful world we live in,' he said.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

How the guilty behave

Why, they call the police, of course.

Here's a question: If Mohamed Haneef tried four times to call the British police with pertinent information about a failed terrorist attack, and failed, what does that say about the efficiency of the British police's comms systems and the amount of information that fails to get even as far as someone picking up the phone?

Here's another question: From the linked article, the treatment of Haneef seems to have been a matter of Kevin Andrews applying his intelligence and reasoning powers to the range of material before him. Now then: what did we already know about Kevin Andrews' intelligence and reasoning powers?

And while I'm here, a third question: what sort of relationship does Kevin Andrews have with his brothers (I'm presuming for what I hope are obvious reasons that he has some)? Is he incapable of imagining how a brother might behave and what a brother might say when he saw his sibling in potential trouble of this magnitude?

And if Haneef is indeed entirely innocent in this situation, what do his and his brother's fear, and the urgency of the perceived need to get out of the country, say about the way the Australian government is now viewed?