Personal Reflections

Friday, October 11, 2019

Trying to understand foreign policy in a Trumpian and febrile environment

To say that I find President Trump unsettling is an understatement. It's not just what he does, but how he does it.

Since coming to office, he has launched trade wars that are now dragging the global economy down. He has launched a detente with North Korea whose effect appears to have been an entrenchment of the regime without any reduction in its arms program. He has begun and then partially withdrawn from attempts to bring peace to Afghanistan whose primary effect to this point has been a strengthening of the position of the Taliban. He announced that the US would develop a new circuit breaking deal between the Israelis and Palestinians while taking steps that would seem to preclude any such deal. He withdrew the US from the deal with Iran triggering a new round of sanctions and uncertainties. Now President Trump appears to have triggered the long planned invasion by Turkey of parts of Syria designed to break the power of the Kurds.

These various moves have taken place against a backdrop of a rapidly changing international scene and have added to the pace and uncertainty associated with those changes. They have been delivered with a mixture of bluster and blandishment expressed through tweets that I sometimes feel have been composed by a lonely man sitting alone at night seeking to establish relevance and satisfaction through the artificial sugar hits that come from twitter audience and responses. Others have responded, making twitter the dominant news mechanism of this new age. Who would have thought?

Millions of words have been written analysing the man, his policies and actions. I don't have a lot to add here, especially on immediate events  I agree that his approach is transactional. I agree that he has delivered on things he promised during his election campaign. I agree that US domestic political issues including the Muller Inquiry and the impeachment moves play into his responses. To my mind, none of this matters. We just have to wait it out.

The current international scene is as uncertain as I have seen it in my life time. To a degree at least, Europe and the UK are paralysed over the UK's departure from the EU as well as political divides within the UK and EU countries. Relations with Russia are uncertain as President Putin continues to push his own agenda. Fighting continues in the Ukraine.

The Middle East can only be described as a mess with both Syria and Yemen humanitarian disasters. Further west, war continues in Afghanistan, while the sub-continent is tense following Indian actions in Kashmir. China continues its expansion despite US trade actions, has become more authoritarian, is dealing with internal ethnic tensions and faces problems in Hong Kong and potentially Taiwan. South Korea and Japan, two key US allies, are at each other's throats.

Without going further, this simple list indicates the scale of global problems and uncertainties. Within this mix, President Trump has become a random wild card. As I said earlier, it's not just what he does, but also the way he does it.

I suppose that I could make guesses as to what might happen, but with so many cards in play it's perhaps better to wait on events, It must be creating nightmares for the planners and policy advisers in Canberra and other capitals.

From an Australian perspective, this is a time for caution. It is not clear to me that Australian Prime Minister Morrison is capable of exercising the caution and subtlety required to work through the shoal waters we face. I don't have a really solid evidence base to support this conclusion. It is based on his US trip, on his attacks on globalism, his arguments for the reshaping of the trade order, some of his responses to China.

To a degree, the Government seems locked in a time warp still driven by concepts such as the "war on terror", the need to propitiate and manage hard right ideas within the Liberal Party as well as sometimes xenophobic fears within the Australian community driven in part by the Government's own previous rhetoric, fears shared by those on the left as well as the right.

Managing all this requires a clear articulation based on a combination of principles and pragmatism, as well as the capacity not to say things, something that is very hard in Australia's sometimes febrile    political and media environment. It's not easy.

Postscript 13 October

In  a comment kvd wrote:
"Judges 15:16
Twitter is Trump's "jawbone" - in more than one way."
You will find the reference here. I had to laugh.

The BBC's Anthony Zurcher had a useful summary of the apparent confusion of the US position on the Kurds and Rurkey over the last week. Mr Trump's suggestion that he might mediate struck me (and I suspect the Turkish President) as very odd. Meantime, the roller-coaster continues with President Trump proclaiming that a phase one deal had been agreed with China on the trade war. We will have to wait and see what this actually means. 


Monday, September 23, 2019

Monday Forum – as you will

I let the Monday Forums lapse in the turmoil of the move. I think it time to reinstate them, recognizing that my irregular posting plus loss of some commenters means that responses are likely to be very slow initially. I have found them valuable in a personal sense in alerting me to new things, generating new ideas.

This first Monday Forum after the break is an as you will. Feel free to comment on things that have interested/ annoyed you!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Reflections on my first three weeks in Armidale

I have been enjoying my return to Armidale, although the internet is still not functioning properly. That’s not the NBN’s fault, just problems with my ISP.

Apart from the increase in my standard of living (my rent has dropped $215 per week for a much better house compared the increasingly grungy two bedroom semi), I’m enjoying the reduced travel time.

In Sydney it took me two way travel time of an hour thirty to go to the State Library which made it a significant excursion. Here things are much closer.

One day last week I drove into town for coffee then went to the industrial area to buy some wood. I have a wood stove and while I haven’t used it a lot (it’s been warm) I have really enjoyed it. From the hardware store I drove to the Family History Centre to pay my subscription and to do a quick scan of their collection. I also answered some queries from family researchers who called in. From there I popped over to the Heritage Centre and Regional Archives to talk to archivist Bill Oates about a possible UNESCO listing for some of the material. I then went to Coles to buy a few things for the house and then home. All this took two hours thirty.

I have also enjoyed doing some things that I used to do, but which were more difficult in Sydney.

Tuesday evening I went to the Armidale & District Historical Society meeting to hear Bill Crocker talk on “Working on the railroad; memories of a young teacher.”  Having finished Teachers’ College, the 19 year old Bill’s first posting in 1947 was to the provisional school at Kinalung, a small railway settlement near Broken Hill on the line between Menindee and Broken Hill. There were two gangs there, each responsible for maintaining a portion of the line. Their children plus a few from neighboring properties who came in by horseback provided the pupils.

Bill is a skilled raconteur, telling a string of stories that brought railway life in that small community and in Broken Hill and Menindee vividly alive. I was going to take notes, I wish I had, but the bloody pen ran out as soon as Bill started talking. Looking later, I found one nice story on Kinalung and school, if earlier than Bill’s time. I also found that Kinalung was probably a composite element in Tiboonda, a small town that appears in Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel, Wake in Fright. I filed some thoughts away for later reference.

Friday I went to a humanities seminar at the University presented by Professor Graham Maddox, “Rome as a model of Republican Liberty?” Graham focused on the constitutional views of Philip Pettit and Quentin Skinner including their views on liberty. Both claim linkages back to republican Rome. There were, he suggested inconsistencies within their views and between their views and the realities of Roman history and political and constitutional expression.

This one stretched me because while I have a reasonable knowledge of Roman history, I lacked the background knowledge on certain political theories. That, of course, was partly why I went, to expand my own knowledge.

As Graham talked about their views, I was struck by the similarities between those views and some of the libertarian views I have seen expounded. I had also noticed a tendency among some libertarians to hark back to Ancient Rome. I also started seeing similarities between the arguments and those set out by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged. In the end, I asked a question about possible linkages. This was so badly worded (I was trying to articulate a very ill-formed impression) that it left both Graham and I confused!

Dissatisfied, I came home, did some quick research and put the results in the form of a draft email to Graham. I may or may not send this, I don’t want to bother him, but it has given me a possible post as well.

The next day, Saturday, I went to the official opening of Boobooks’ new sci-fi, fantasy room. They had all dressed up in costumes and had prepared a cake. They also announced new writing prizes to go to younger writers (school age, up to 28) in the New England North West area.  

You can see that I am having quite a social time, if one that fits within my particular intellectual interests. In so doing, I have met or re-met quite a few people. At the end of three weeks, I seem to have slotted right back in even though it is 23 years since we moved to Sydney.

One thing I really like is the availability of resource material linked to my particular interests. I still have my State Library reader’s card which gives me on-line access. I am a member of both the City and University libraries which have some particular collections that I am interested in. I also have access to the big collection at the heritage centre including state records and the smaller collections at the history and family history societies.

So many of the references and the source material I am interested in are not available on-line. I have already found much that I had not seen, that compliments my own collection.

On the negative side, one thing I have noticed is the aging of Armidale combined with an increase in poverty. This is partially a matter of demographics linked to structural and cultural change.

The city grew very rapidly during the fifties, sixties and seventies. Local school numbers exploded with the influx of new families. Then came the changes associated with the Dawkins education reforms, changes that in combination with centralisation of service delivery cost the city a thousand jobs in a short period. Growth went into reverse. The city hollowed out as families left.

Those in permanent positions appointed during the growth phase who have strong connections with the city have now entered retirement. They were replaced to some degree by new arrivals, although these are much more mobile with changes in tenure. The city has attracted retirees (retirement homes are a growth business) and also people with disabilities or on low incomes attracted by services and the relative availability of social housing.

These changes are very visible in the street or in the shopping centres. In Sydney I lived in Daceyville with its aging social housing and retirement populations. Here I have seen more disability chairs, more walkers, in a morning than I saw in Daceyville/Kingsford in a week or even a month.

The effect is just as pronounced in my areas of interest such as history. I find that I know all those interested, the most active. Most were history staff at UNE or the Armidale College of Advanced Education when I was a post grad student in 1981 or 82. Then there were more Australianists than the total number of history staff at UNE today. The Australian history postgrad students from Litt B up outnumber the total number of history postgrads today.

Armidale is growing again. The population has finally passed the previous peak set during the eighties. There is a vibrant cultural life, a proliferation of writers, artists, of small publishing or production houses. There are new start-ups once more. Interestingly, and this is just a perception, the growth is more city, less university focused than in the past.

I suspect that this growth has come just in time to save the place from a severe shock.  

Monday, September 16, 2019

Fire and drought on the New England

It’s very dry in Armidale. Sitting outside at the back table I look across an expanse of dead grass stretching to Queen Elizabeth Drive, the main drag to the University. Fortunately, it’s been close mowed. Otherwise I would be worried about fire hazard.

The fires at Bees Nest and at Tenterfield and Stanthorpe have attracted much attention. The Bees Nest fire has now burned over 90,000 hectares, so it’s a very big fire. News reports describe it as near Armidale. In fact, it’s some considerable distance away, north of Ebor, north-west of Dorrigo. A camp for firefighters has been established at the Dorrigo Polocrosse grounds.

Fire fighting efforts have been hindered by lack of water. In some cases, limited town supplies have had to be diverted to fire fighting. Armidale itself is relatively fortunate, although level 4 water restrictions have been imposed. The main dam, Malpas on the Gara River is 42.9% full, while the much smaller Puddledock and Dumaresq dams are at 70.7% and 58.6% respectively. Puddledock is reserved for emergency use including fire fighting. Malpas now supplies Guyra as well as Armidale. Guyra’s own dams also on the Gara River are very low.

The streams in this immediate area including Gara flow east and have generally wetter catchments than the westerly flowing streams that form part of the Northern Darling Basin. Rainfall declines across the Tablelands from east to west. While it’s dry on the eastern portion of the Tablelands, it’s even drier in the west.

While I accept the statistics that suggest that this may be a record dry spell, I struggle a little with some of the hyperbole, mainly because I have seen so many droughts. Certainly it is very dry and will remain so until we get decent rain.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The 1980s – the missed link in the story of Australia in space: a note

The discussion and sometimes euphoria over the re-establishment of Australia’s space programs has been marked by a total neglect of the attempts to re-establish an Australian Space Program in the 1980s. Discussion slides from the 1960s or early seventies straight to the present time; it is though the 1980s did not exist. And yet, the 1980s were marked by a considerable push including the failed establishment of new institutional structures.

When the grand new initiative began, I became very annoyed at what I saw as the effective re-writing of history; neglect amounts to rewriting. I was also annoyed because the discussion failed to recognize the individuals who tried so hard. Then during the clean-out of my papers prior to the move to Armidale I found a box of documents on the 1980s’ attempts.

That box has disappeared for the moment, lost in the pile of boxes in the garage. It will re-appear in due course, allowing me to write a better documented account. For the moment, I just want to record some of the key events, recognizing that without documentation I may get things wrong including the spelling of names.

Australia’s withdrawal from space has been much canvassed in current discussions. Australia had an active launch site and a not-inconsiderable space sector. In Sydney, Hawker de Havilland employed some 4,000 people in its space division. When the British abandoned its independent space program, Australia had a chance to join ESA, the European Space Agency. This move was opposed by France which had its own plans and saw Australia as a threat to those plans. There was also little support domestically. The then Menzies Government saw it as a waste of money. The net effect was an unwinding of Australian involvement in space and our not inconsiderable space sector.

By the start of the 1980s, things had begun to change. Four factors contributed to this:
  •  Barry Jones, the newly appointed Minister for Science and Technology in the Hawke Government, supported by Deputy Secretary Roy Green, began a space push. This led to the setting up of the Madigan Inquiry, While this proceeded, Jones and Green attempted to use Section 39 funds, part of the IR&D grant scheme, to fund Australian involvement if space projects
  • Meantime, the Department of Industry and Commerce, concerned that the industry policy focus was too dominated by support for cot-case industries, established a new branch (the Electronics, Aerospace and Information Industries Branch) to chart new directions in the high technology sector. I was charged with responsibility with setting that branch up. We focused early on the role that space might play in developing not just the aerospace sector but Australia’s high technology industries in general
  • There were moves in CSIRO too. The Division of Radio Physics under Bob Frater supported by Colin Cooper had not lost its interest in space and supported increased Australian involvement in space. Ken McCracken, head of Minerals Research and a dedicated believer in the value of space based remote sensing began a push to create a special space focused centre within CSIRO. There was growing interest in the universities too where researchers were experimenting with new space focused technologies
  •  In industry, Hawker de Havilland had not forgotten its previous role and supported the push led by (among others) Peter Smith and Stan Schatzel. Stan had had a long involvement with Australian space activities. There were also a growing number of small space related start-ups.
A number of initiatives resulted:
  • We began a series on industry consultations aimed at identifying opportunities and impediments and to gather support for new space initiatives
  •  In CSIRO, Ken obtained endorsement to create a new committee to examine CSIRO’s role in space of which I was a member. This resulted in the creation of the CSIRO Office for Space Science and Applications headed by Ken, supported by Christine Astley Boden
  • A new Australian Space Board was created headed by Bruce Middleton to develop new program activities.
These various moves would finally fail. The reasons for this deserve exploration as does the whole story. In essence, the climate in Canberra was changing. These space initiatives were seen as yet more special pleading for industry subsidation. I remember a frustrating meeting at Treasury where I finally said in frustration how do I satisfy you? David Borthwick carefully explained about benefit-cost analysis. It was actually quite a helpful response, but my problem was that benefit-cost analysis deals with the known, while I was doing with the what might be. I could explain linkages, show where I though benefits would come, but I was really very reluctant to attach numbers or risk assessments. From my perspective, I could show benefits, but so long as we were in the right ball-park precise quantification was meaningless.

When I get my box of papers I will write more. For the moment, I simply wish to assert that the new Australian Space Agency is not the first Australian Space Agency, that what happened in the 1980s deserves to be remembered.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Returning to Blogging

Cross posting to the New England Australia and New England History blogs.

Well, I am now in Armidale. I still don't have the internet working properly, that requires connecting to the NBN, but can access the internet using a hot spot created on the mobile. This is potentially very expensive, but meets my immediate needs.

After such a long delay in blogging, the move was creating distractions and delays long before the intensive move period, traffic to my blogs has declined greatly. I have to rebuild and that will take time.

I will write about the move, after all it has been a big and all consuming one, but for the moment I simply want to record that I am back blogging.

I look forward to a return to regular posting, to the on-going conversation with blogging friends old and hopefully new!

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Returning to Armidale

I am sitting here listening to Debussy. I like classical music; it's soothing.

I have had several goes, well more than that actually, in writing a post, posts. But time has been limited, other pressures more important. kvd once said that I could (would) write under wet cement. I fear that's not true.
Lunch in the sun, Armidale, with Rod and Becky Holland. Tobias inside watching TV. Armidale was cold, up to -5 at night, but out of the wind in the sun it was very warm during the day.  
The photo was taken a few weeks' back. I was in Armidale looking at houses. It will be no secret that I have been thinking of moving, I have been for some time, but now the move is actually taking place and in the near term.

Because of my continued involvement with Armidale and the broader New England, people still equate me with the area. Indeed, some people including locals think I still live there! It's just that they haven't seen me down town recently. However, the reality is, to use a politician's phrase equivalent to the facts are, I left Armidale early in 1996, so haven't lived there for some 23 years.

The world changes. Many years ago Rosalba Gustin, a friend in Canberra, lent me a book on English expatriates living in Italy.They had fallen in love with the place, but in the end found that they did not belong there or in a changed English homeland. I have never forgotten the key message of that book. The Armidale I knew no longer exist beyond people's memories. .

I have been working hard over the last few years digging back in while recognising that I won't know the real texture of life until I get there. I should write about that at some point as a case study, For the moment, I just note that people have been kind and welcoming. I don't expect to be lonely, something that has occurred in Sydney. 

Sydney's a funny place. I am fond of the city, I have known it for a long time. But it's also a place where you need money and structure, money because of distance and costs including entry fees, structure because so much of life resolves around the phases of life such as family, immediate friends and work.

I now have a house in Armidale. It's further out than I would like, very near the uni when I wanted something within easy walking distance of the CBD, but it's better than what I have now and $215 less per week than I am paying now.

Some of my friends remarked on its apparent size. It's actually smaller than it looks, but in any case it's big enough for me to have family and friends stay and to store my much loved books. and papers while I continue to sort. It has space for me to have friends round, I have really missed this recently, and a  small but adequate garden bed for a kitchen garden including herbs.

I haven't moved yet. I am going though the painful process of trying to sort. There is so much stuff! I also want to get back to Queanbeyan either before i move or soon after.

In all this, while I have tried to maintain my writing the process has become harder and harder when I am trying to manage basic change. There is some writing I must do including the columns, but otherwise I am stopping. I may find some time for more columns here. but if not you will hear from me after I am settled.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Reflections on my visit to the 2019 Archibald exhibition

Established in 1921, the Archibald Prize is Australia's oldest and best known award for portraiture in Australian art. The Archibalds are associated with two other prizes: the Sir John Sulman Prize  awarded each year for the best subject/genre painting and/or murals/mural project executed during the previous two years; and the older (established 1897) Wynne Prize  awarded for the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours or for the best example of figure sculpture by Australian artists completed during the previous twelve months.

You will find the 2019 winners and finalists displayed here for the Archibald Prize,  here for the Sulman Prize, here for the Wynne Prize.have a browse and see what you think.

I try to go each year to see the finalists on show at the NSW Art Gallery. Having missed last year, I was determined to make it this year, so trooped of to the Gallery this morning with a friend.
Jun  Chen's Mao's last dancer - Li Cunxin. Not a winner, but my personal favourite. I rarely agree with the judges! 

There were 107 finalists across the three prizes. That's a lot of pieces of art to absorb in often crowded gallery spaces full of generally well behaved school kids. They were very well behaved, but there were a lot of them!

I no longer pretend that I am capable of making fine judgements on the quality of the finalists, but in broad terms I thought that the quality and variety of the Archibald finalists was up on previous years, that of the Wynne and Sulman finalists down.

That's just a personal view. Others may well disagree.

As in previous years, I was struck by the continued presence of what we might call message pieces, where the supplied description of the paintings reflected current popular political and cultural angsts such as feminism, gender roles and differences, Aboriginal rights and dispossession and the environment.

 I don't have a problem with the idea of art as politics, but I would recommend that you look at the art works as art works before reading the descriptions. I have a bad tendency to quickly scan the work and then read the description before looking in detail at the work. I find that this distorts to some degree because the description affects my independent judgement of the work.

Recognising that space for descriptions is limited, I would also like more information about the artist, especially for the Wynne and Sulman prizes where this was noticeably lacking.  I have a particular interest in art and artists connected in some way with the broader New England. This was significantly down this year. I only spotted four such artists. More broadly, and this reflects that fact that I am out of the art scene, I couldn't work out how the artists and styles might fit together.

Perhaps it's just a volume question. There is so much more Australian art now with that it's become a very crowded palate.

If you are in Sydney, do have a look. If outside, browse the links I have above. I plan to go back again and this time spend more time just sitting and looking.  . 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A new project firms up - launching an introductory course on the history of Australia's New England

For the last few months I have been working on a new project, an introductory course on the history of Australia's New England. While in some ways I need a new project like a hole in the head, this one has the advantage that it pushes forward with some of my major writing projects.

I am trying to do it properly. Delivered through U3A Armidale, it is a full semester course involving 16-18 lectures plus some tutorials.

The first course will run over semester 1 to test interest and develop course ware. I would like to make it available externally - a quick initial market test attracted 35 expressions of interest - but am not sure how to do this easily. Any suggestions would be gratefully received!

If you would like to find out more, this post on my history blog provides further details.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Falling out of the zeitgeist

I have often called myself a social analyst and indeed I am. I am also an historian. Over time, my focus has shifted from economic, policy and social analysis to the more historical. That's actually become a bit of a problem.

As a social analyst, I need to be in touch with the current. I have used various techniques to try to achieve this including talking to people, monitoring economic and other statistical data and reading widely including both current media and other people's research and analysis.  I also use other social media including Facebook and Twitter.

Just recently I realised  how badly out of touch I had become. I was listening to an ABC Radio National Program called Stop Everything presented by Beverley Wang and Benjamin Law. The program bills itself in this way: tune in for a savvy, critical look at pop culture and what's in the zeitgeist. Join our panellists each week for a discussion about what they’re reading, watching and listening to.

I have often found the program mildly annoying because the presenters' emphasis on the need for diversity seems really to mean anyone but me, an older heterosexual white guy. I never thought of myself as a "white guy" until quite recently when we became such a target for criticism. Now I have become a racial stereotype. Increasingly, I didn't properly understand what on earth they were talking about in particular segments. Yes, I could understand the words and indeed some of the tropes, Youngest does give me a window into their world, but the detail meant nothing to me.

Around five years ago, my old TV broke down. I was broke at the time and could not afford to replace it.. I decided that watching TV was a bit of a waste of time when I should be reading or writing, that if I wanted to watch a TV program I could look at it on the computer. That decision has had all sorts of side-effects.

I largely stopped using the lounge room. I used to go in there to watch TV some times for a break, sitting comfortably on the lounge. I used to watch TV while ironing or tidying, including sorting books. That stopped. I spent more time at my computer, adding to the curve in my back since I was now watching some TV there in addition to my other computer viewing. And with my size screen you have to sit to watch, you can't wander unless it's a podcast. Most importantly,  I got out of touch.

To explain this, consider Game of Thrones. I have never seen it. Indeed, I have rarely seen Netflix, never Stan. I am not going to subscribe to a streaming service when I have to watch it on my computer at my desk. Equally importantly, I stopped dipping in and out of TV programs in the way that I used to. This is quite important, for that was the way I identified new things, things I might want to watch.

It's not all bad. I have become a significant fan of YouTube even watching the ads! There are some good ones with high production values. I also mine the ABC and SBS sites for specific things I might want to watch. But these choices are all based on my current interests. My knowledge of things such as the prehistoric past has expanded, as has my knowledge of past aspects of Australian culture. However, my knowledge of the current has greatly diminished. I know nothing of most current programs. Yes, I could browse and check, perhaps I should, but I already spend far too much time stuck in front of my computer.

I have, it appears, dropped almost entirely out of the current zeitgeist. Should I rejoin, or should I just accept my new role as a boring old white guy, leaving social analysis to others more in tune? Perhaps not, because I have increasingly come to think of my research and writing as equivalent to an archaeological rescue dig seeking to preserve and present aspects of history, society and culture before they are submerged by the new cultural and historical high-rises. That's not a bad aim.

Still, I do want a new TV.. I hate being out of touch. I miss just sitting on the couch and watching TV. And I think that it helps to know the "enemy." I don't begrudge Beverley and Benjamin their views, nor do I think that those views are evidence of "progressive" bias within the ABC.

To my mind, my cultural warrior friends on the right miss the point in responding because they present stereotypes to match stereotypes. Both right and left go for the big hit, the re-assertion of views that will appeal to their own base and get the other side riled.

Twitter has not helped here because of the way that it has trivialised discussion. I may be unfair, but it seems to me that simply retweeting every story that agrees with your position, sometimes adding divine right pronouncements, is not an aid to discussion. Worse, the time spent is time taken away from substantive discussion that could actually advance the causes in question or, at least, ensure that issues are clarified. The sugar hit of instant response has replaced the hard thought that is really required to develop and present argument.

We live in a cluttered world. How we respond to that is a matter of individual choice. For my part, I will keep trying to make a difference on matters that are important to me, accepting that I may be out of tune with the times. That may sound pretentious, but it is all that I can do, regardless of whatever the current zeitgeists may be.

I ma still going to buy a new TV though!

Monday, July 01, 2019

Passing of Bob Quiggin, 2tanners: a memoir

Regular readers on this blog will be saddened to learn that Bob Quiggin - 2tanners - died in Canberra on 14 June 2019. He was only 61.

Some months before his death Bob emailed me privately to explain that he had a melanoma that had escaped discovery, the prognosis was bad while the combination of pain and medication made it difficult for him to comment coherently. This meant that he might not be able to comment.

In fact he did continue for a period and then, suddenly,.he stopped. I feared the worst.

Bob's email was characteristic of the man. He wanted me to know the reason if he dropped out, but did not want me to tell anyone. He preserved his privacy. At one point I had remarked in a comment that 2 tanners equalled a bob. Bob got quite cranky because he felt that I was breaching his privacy, his ability to comment freely.

Bob and I first met in, I think, early 1984 when he came to work in my branch in the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce.  He had completed a degree in economics at the Australian National University and was completing add-on studies that would give him a degree in Political Science and Philosophy. Later he would complete a Masters of  Science in computing at Deakin University

In thinking of this early period, I tried to find some of the comments where Bob talked about it but without success in the time I had. This blog has attracted 10,000 comments, so searching was time consuming. So my response here is working from memory.

We were trying to find a new approach to industry policy that would break through the mind-deadlock between the old protectionist school, neoclassical economics and the emerging neo-liberal forces. We believed that Australia could have a global future in the new communications,  computing, electronics, system and software based industry areas that were emerging but if, and only if, we could break through the dominant mind-locks. And that was hard.

It was Bob, I think, who coined the term the Belshaviks to describe the group. Later, he would paint a picture of me as a pirate attempting to storm the citadel. There was some truth in that.

After I left Canberra I kept coming back for work and marketing reasons, seeing Bob on many trips. The last time we met was in the early 2000s when Bob helped organise a lunch for the old Branch. That was when I learned about the Belshavik tag!

Meantime, Bob's career had gone in new directions. He moved to Finance. There. among other things, he managed the Solomon Islands' budget as part of the RAMSI mission. Later he would do the same in Timor Leste.. From Finance he moved to Foreign Affairs and Trade and then into the private sector as a consultant specialising in PFM (Public Financial Management). This brought him back  to Timor Leste, this time to help in the health sector.   

I lost contact with Bob after the Branch lunch. We came back into contact during the RAMSI period because Bob discovered this blog. For a time, Bob maintained a blog on the Timor Leste period - I'm sorry, I have lost the link.- which gave a fascinating insight into that country at a very human level. I still laugh at the description of the official emu parade!

In Timor Leste, Bob was actively involved with building Rotary and with Rotary projects. I saw but cannot re-find some of them.

Bob was a lovely man with an active mind and a commitment to service. I am sure that you join with me in sending wishes to Diana and all the family. There will be a memorial service for Bob in Canberra in late July. 

Update 2 July

kvd found the Bob kept on his Adventures in Timor Leste. And he added this comment that I thought that I should bring up in the main post. We did talk a lot about cooking!

 "And it was most remiss of Jim to note tanners' other Masters degree - in cooking - to whit, from February 2016 in this blog:

I take a shinbone of beef and slash it with a sharp knife. In the cuts I insert wild garlic and basil. I take three large onions and cut them as finely as possible, then fry them in strongly flavoured olive oil, with pepper and herbs. I wait till the onions are golden brown and melting, then I add a little Douro Shiraz. I have some thin, delicate prosunto which I also chop finely and add to the gravy that is forming. At some stage, everything starts to bubble together and some one says, "Let's just eat that! It smells so good."

That is a signal. The rest of the bottle of wine goes in, along with two carrots (roughly chopped), a sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped and some pieces of parsnip, along with the beef shin.

The beef shin is covered as much as possible by the mixture, the heat is set to extremely low and for the next four hours the house fills with the smell. It's glorious torture for everyone. The weather is cold (this is always best served in the cold) so I warm up the plates. When the last plate is warm I throw in a handful of snow peas. Two minutes later, I ladle out everything into the plates except the meat. Using gloves so as not to burn myself I strip the meat to the bone. It's so tender I can literally do this with a plastic spoon. That leaves the bone itself. Many love to suck the marrow from the bone, but sometimes the cooking has already done it.

If there is no marrow in the bone, say "Sorry, it's already in your meal." Put the empty bone in the bin. If there is still marrow in the bone say "Sorry, it's already in your meal", zip out the back, suck it out and put the empty bone in the bin. Do NOT get caught doing this.

It is a glorious way to spend an afternoon, with house full of cooking smells and a delicious meal at the end of it.

But, I've told you the old fashioned, really good way. You can get something ALMOST as good with the same ingredients. Fry the onions, pepper and prosunto for a few minutes and throw them and everything else in a slow cooker for six hours while you go out, get some exercise, visit a modern art gallery, write 20 pages of a thesis or do unpaid work for your employer.

This meal has red wine in it and some alcohol remains, but you should always drink strong red wine with it. 

2tanners was a fine contributor who taught me many things, or at least explained exactly how and where I was wrong (on the very odd occasion :)"

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Harry Freame Story

Over the last few months, my Armidale Express history columns have been devoted to the mysterious life and death of Harry Freame, soldier, orchardist and spy.

I have not brought links to all the columns up in a single post on my New England History blog.  I think that it's quite a good yarn. You can follow the whole series through here.