Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Giving up on Facebook

I am going to have to give up on Facebook for the moment. I have an old box with limited memory. After spending over an hour with one re-boot in the middle to put up two brief comments, I simply cannot afford the time.

If I go to Facebook when I first fire up, I can do somethings although its very slow. Once I have several web pages up, and I need this, Facebook is impossible.

Technorati and Ninglun's influence in our blogging world

Ninglun (Neil Whitfield) continues the constant experimentation that makes his blogs so influential in our immediate blogging world.

I have chosen this photo by Neil to illustrate this story because this is in fact the bus stop I get off at when travelling to Central Railway station.

The photo comes from Neil's rejigged Ninglun’s Specials. There, unleashed on the world with a new digital camera, Neil has been reproducing shots of his immediate neighbourhood.

While I have suggested that Sydney has lost some of its identity as compared to Melbourne, the ring of inner suburbs round the central city retains a unique character. Neil's photos bring this out, focusing especially on the former working class suburbs of Surry Hills and Redfern.

My own equivalent blog sparked by Neil's earlier photo forays on one of his now extinct blogs has yet to gain proper form. For that reason I have not really commented on it, nor is it listed yet on the side-bar. I prefer to keep it somewhat hidden until it does take form or, alternatively, gets killed.

As a further sign of Neil's influence, I too have taken to carrying a digital camera with me when I can (it actually belongs to Clare) trying to capture shots that I can use to illustrate stories.

All photographers, especially bad ones like me!, have to watch that their use of photos does not become disconnected and boring - the equivalent of an on-line slide show of the old this is us in front of the pyramids type! The advantage of Neil's focused approach, the same thing applies to Gordon Smith's photo blog, is the way it aids coherence.

Neil's second current initiative is his Shared Items, using Google Reader to make available a number of posts from various blogs on an on-going basis. I do not intend to copy this one, I do not have the time among other things, but I have already found it quite invaluable. There are some really good posts out there. It's actually a bit depressing when I compare some of them to my own efforts. Still, part of the point in comparisons is to provide a drive to improve one's own performance.

In response to a comment from Thomas on my post Technorati - State of the Blogosphere 2008 I promised to provide some analysis of the Technorati study to provoke cross-blog conversation once all the Technorati posts were up.

To ease what appears to be Thomas's current melancholy, Neil's blogs exhibit a number of features that place them at the upper end of the blogging world as measured by Technorati.

To begin with, Neil is by blogging standards a very long-standing blogger. This appears to be a feature of all the leading bloggers - you gain traction with time. Then, too, he posts on a regular basis, usually more than once a day. With exceptions, leading bloggers post up to four times a day; people come back often to see what is new.

Leading bloggers experiment with new technology and are at the leading adaptive edge (tick) and use a variety of techniques to attract traffic to their blogs (tick). They also involve a fair bit of time (tick, tick, tick!).

Where to my mind the Technorati study is weak, almost inevitably so because of its global macro focus, lies in its failure to adequately address the creation of community. There is material on this, but it does not really address the type of roles that blogs such as Neil's play.

Community is not about tools such as Twitter, that's another post in its own right, but about the way in which interaction over time creates the village in the centre of what would otherwise be an amorphous mass. Blogs like Neil's are especially important because they are critical to the sense of community.

To illustrate what I mean, consider the number of blogs we all follow. I have more than one hundred on my watch list, and yet that's just a tiny insignificant percentage of the total number of blogs. So we all have to choose.

In this context, there are a number of blogs and bloggers that I know through Neil, and who know of me through Neil, that are not on my immediate watch list. Here I rely on Neil to keep me in touch, alerting me as required when posts come up that I should read. So Neil becomes a centre of gossip for the extended village, part of the glue that holds things together.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Survey tracks changing Australian attitudes to race and ethnicity

In an earlier post, By global standards, Australia is NOT a racist country, I complained about the way in which Australia and Australians were unfairly typed as racist. Now the Australian media are carrying reports of a ten year study into Australian attitudes towards race and ethnicity.

I have not been able to find the original study on-line yet, but thought that I should provide details from reports so that I have the material on-line for later reference.

Before outlining the reported results, a few definitional points.

I have argued before that the terms "race" and "racial prejudice" have become so confused as to lose meaning.

To argue, as some do, that we need to be careful about admitting Muslim migrants is not racial prejudice because Muslims are not a race but a religion. To the degree that prejudice exists, and I define prejudice simply as an unfounded view formed independent of evidence, we have to be very careful to distinguish the form of prejudice.

I would also argue that all human beings are prejudiced in the sense that we use labels and stereotypes to classify and simplify things. This holds for all aspects of life. Some might argue, for example, that I am a metrophobe, prejudiced against our big cities. Now I would argue that this is based on the evidence, but you see what I mean.

We also need to distinguish between holding and acting on a prejudice. To be anti-Bosnian Muslim is one thing. To act to enforce this view through ethnic cleansing quite another.

This, or so I have argued, is one of the strengths of Australia at two linked levels.

One is our capacity to judge individuals independent of our prejudices about their group. We saw this in the big migrant intake in the immediate post war period. Of course there were cases of prejudice, but we went through an ethnic revolution with remarkably little aggro.

The second is that we have a sense of public order and balance that makes us reluctant to support extremes. This has to be qualified. All of us can give contrary examples. But I think it us still true as a broad generalisation.

The combination essentially allows us to adjust to major change.

The Study

According to ABC news, the study led by UWS's Human Geography and Urban Studies Professor Kevin Dunn tracked attitudes on cultural diversity and racism of 12,500 people across Australia over a ten year period. If I have this correct, this is both a big sample and a longish period. So the results should be reasonably robust.

The Results

More than 80 per cent of Australians see cultural diversity as a good thing. This is quite a remarkable number. Depending on the exact form of the question, always an issue in surveys, I suspect that there are not many countries in the world that would generate such a high number.

Some 10 per cent of Australians believe that some races are superior or inferior to others or are opposed to cross-cultural marriages. This number became the media headline - "one on 10 Australians are racist". I found the percentage very re-assuring. Contrast it with the 29 per cent of the vote gained by the far right parties at the recent Austrian elections.

At a more detailed level, people were asked which cultural or ethnic groups did not fit into Australian society. Forty per cent suggested that some ethnic groups do not belong in the country. The most commonly cited were Muslims or people from the Middle East.

There were clear regional and age divides.

NSW was the least tolerant state, with 46 per cent suggesting that some ethnic groups do not belong in the country as compared to 28 per cent in the ACT. The media reports did not provide details of the geographic break-up in NSW. However, comments from Professor Dunn suggested that Sydney was the most prejudiced part of NSW and Australia, reflecting the city's role as an ethnic melting post.

On the age side, 65 per cent of people over 65 thought that some ethnic groups did not fit in, dropping to 31 per cent for those aged 18 to 34.

Finally, the results suggested that prejudice had dropped over the ten year period.


Both Professor Dunn's remarks and the media commentary had a bias. Professor Dunn focused on the need for continued action to address "racism", while the media focused on the one in ten who were classified as racist. I had a very different response, bias if you will.

These are good numbers. They show that Australia is adjusting to change. But they also have a warning in the NSW numbers. You cannot ram either change or certain attitudes down people's throats. You have to allow time for them to adjust.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Snippets - Indigenous languages, problems with the language of neo-colonialism, latest Australian Aboriginal numbers

mid day snooze, Shanghai Photo: Midday snooze, Shanghai. I took this photo from the bus window, hence the reflected light, because I thought it a rather nice streetscape.

As I have said before, so little time, so much to write about.  Writing these blogs is like a huge adult education program, forcing me to study and keep in touch in a way that my university lecturers could never manage!

Just before I went to China, I saw a copy of Voice of the land, the magazine of the Federation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages. I had not seen this before, nor had I heard of the Federation, so I was obviously interested.

The particular issue that I saw was very top end focused, so did a search to see what I could find on New England languages. This led me to Kevin Lowe's The Need for Community Consultation to assist in the Development of Aboriginal Language Programs in schools:  A Draft Discussion Paper. At the time of writing Mr Lowe was Chief Education Officer with the Aboriginal Curriculum Unit, Office of the Board of Studies NSW.

Alienated, I did not read the full paper, giving up half way in. This, I thought, was the type of writing that ensures that indigenous policy and indeed attitudes towards and about Australia's indigenous people will remain locked in a particular intellectual ghetto.

If, as Mr Lowe appeared to suggest at one point, the close links between language and indigenous culture mean that intellectual property protection should apply to individual languages and that words from it should only be used with the approval of the owners, then I as a non-indigenous Australian have no place.

Just before I went to China, Gordon Smith kindly sent me a link to a new book on the way in which court room talk could disadvantage Aboriginal witnesses. He knew that I would be interested both in the topic and the fact that the book was published by a University of New England academic. Again, the language lost me. I quote:  

Dr Diana Eades said her study – the first of its kind – examined “the ways in which courtroom talk is used to legitimise the overpolicing of Aboriginal people and to continue the neocolonial relationship of control over them”.

I struggle with concepts such as neo or post colonialism. Originally popularised by the academic left, they have become quite pervasive. As an example, they litter some of eldest's current university courses. To me, they say much about the attitudes of those using them and have become a barrier to understanding. I actually hesitate about helping eldest even where I know the topic very well because I do not use the right jargon or interpretive concepts. Perhaps the only plus I can see in Mr Mugabe is that his constant usage of these type of concepts to justify his position is actually discrediting the whole language!

This has become too sour for a Sunday morning. On a more useful note, the ABS has released estimates of the indigenous population as at 30 June 2006. Because I use these numbers, I thought that I should record them in table form.

State Indigenous Population Percentage of Total Indigenous
NSW 152,685 29.53
Queensland 144,885 28.02
Western Australia 70,966 13.73
Northern Territory 64,005 12.38
Victoria 33,517 6.48
South Australia 28,055 5.43
Tasmania 18,415 3.56
ACT 4,282 0.83
Total 517,043  

Still on statistics, if very briefly, the ABS continues to release useful data. I have actually printed some of this off because I want to update and consolidate my general Australian demographic material. This will allow me to test, refine and update some of my analysis.

A little later. Just back from taking Helen to the airport. She is flying to Melbourne for the university games where she and a friend are playing in the mixed netball. Boy did I feel envious! Helen also won the award as the most valuable player for her netball team. Yes,I am a proud father.

At dinner last night for my mother-in-law's birthday, my wife's sister who is just back from a period as a doctor on a cruise ship showed her own recent Shanghai photos. Gee they were good. Quite put ours to shame. She stayed in another part of the city and got a lot of shots of the older parts of Shanghai, parts that we did not see.  

Enough. I am beginning to meander and have to go shopping for the obligatory Sunday family roast chook.We are having this at lunchtime because Clare is working tonight.

As an aside, we did get asked about Australian food in China. But that's another story.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Still on China - the art of Tu Shiwei

Since I am still on a China theme, this rather great work is by the Chinese artist Tu Zhiwei. You will find the link here. My thanks to the Pensacola Beach Blog for the link.

Australia's astonishing migration statistics

I had not intended to post again today, but I really wanted to note for later reference the recent and quite astonishing Australian migration statistics.

The newspapers generally picked up the headline number, the 199,100 persons added to the permanent resident population in the year ended 30 March 2008, the highest on record. Less attention was paid to the underlying numbers.

In the year ended 30 March, 230,300 permanent residents left the country on a long term basis. This marks a continuing acceleration in the number of departures. On this basis, over the next ten years we will add roughly 2.2 million to the number of Australians living outside the country.

To gain 199,100 people while losing 230,300, we added no less than 429,300 new residents. This is an astonishing number for a country with an estimated population of 21,283,000, just over 2 per cent of the current population, equivalent to 4.3 million people over a ten year period.

I have not checked on the composition of who went, who came, but we seem to be in the middle of another social revolution.

Saturday Morning Musings - longer term impact of the US financial crisis

Apart from one post on another blog discussing why the sub-prime crisis - a US crisis - should have had such a flow-on effect in Australia, I have not said anything about the US financial crisis because of the sheer scale of reporting elsewhere. What could I say that might be new?

While in China the only English language programs that we could watch were BBC World and CNN. Since we had the TV on in the background much of the time while in our room, I watched the latest crisis unfold in real time with a growing degree of bemusement. I say bemusement advisedly. I had never seen anything quite like it, and I have been through a fair number of crashes, have studied others in history.

If you look at the responses to the crisis, you can see two key threads to the discussion. The first is the need to find an immediate solution, a quick-fix that will keep the financial system working. The second is the need to improve regulation to stop all this happening again. There has been less discussion on the underlying economic causes of the problem, less still on the longer term implications for the global economy.

When I look at the US scene over recent years, a couple of things stand out. The first has been the rapid rise in personal debt. We have seen something similar in Australia. The second has been a series of asset bubbles, culminating in a housing boom.

The two are linked. Rising household wealth has allowed people to borrow for both consumption and investment. In turn, this has helped support growth in asset prices. Financial institutions played to this by finding new ways of raising and selling money.

During this same period, US economic policy has not been especially sensible. I have to be careful here because I have not checked the details. I am providing my own impressions.

To begin with, US monetary policy has been far more accommodating than its Australian equivalent. The response to the earlier bubbles in this long growth cycle has been to ease monetary policy to cushion the impact of asset declines. Fiscal policy, too, has been less balanced than the Australian equivalent, in part because of the War on Terror, in part because of the nature of the US system with its divided constitutional responsibilities.

In combination, the two have acted to support continued speculative activity.

Of itself, the ending of a housing boom need not to lead to crisis including collapsing house prices. So long as people can afford to meet repayments, they simply hang onto the properties until the market rights itself.

We have seen this pattern in Australia in the post war period. House prices do fall, but the money falls have not been huge in percentage terms. Rather, sales slow down until the impact of inflation reduces both the real value of the houses and the associated debt to more acceptable levels. Economic activity may slow because there is less building while people have less money to spend on other things, but the asset slowly rights itself.

The problem becomes much more difficult where, as appears to be the case in the US now, people cannot afford to hang onto houses and have to realise at a loss. Add to this financial institutions under pressure who must themselves realise cash and prices collapse.

The US case is further complicated by the presence of multiple economies in the one country.

Not all parts of the US benefited during the long boom. Manufacturing areas in particular have been in structural decline as a consequence of the hollowing out of many traditional US manufacturing industries as economic forces shift manufacturing off-shore. With a slowing economy, these areas are especially hard hit in real terms by the flow-on effects of the crisis.

Again, we can see something similar in Australia. Loan arrears rates, repossessions and forced sales are all higher in Sydney's Western Suburbs than in other parts of the country. However, the rates are all far lower than the US equivalents.

I think the bottom line in all this is that it is going to take some time for the US position to unwind itself, and that during this period US economic activity will continue to be depressed.

In conventional terms, depressed economic activity provides an opportunity to use fiscal policy to stimulate the economy especially through new Government capital spending. Governments can invest in things such as new infrastructure without placing pressure on other parts of the economy. This investment can then help support new growth.

The difficulty from my viewpoint with the dramatic US rescue package is that it appears mis-directed, while its sheer size must reduce the capacity of the US Government to do other things.

I say misdirected because it appears to be addressing two very different problems. The first is the need to restore confidence in financial markets, to get banks lending to each other again. I think that this is necessary. However, the package also appears to trying to stablise US house prices, to stop the cycle of foreclosure and price decline. I think that this is very dangerous because it risks preventing necessary corrections, actually prolonging economic stagnation.

In all this, the thing that perhaps interests me most of all is the way the crisis is indicative of, and also reinforces, longer term shifts in economic power.

Currency is both a means of exchange and a store of value. Here the US currency has been the dominant store of value in global terms. This has allowed the US to fund its trade deficits through off-shore borrowings and to act as the leading global financial centre.

The US remains a huge continental economy. However, the US share of the global economy has been steadily shrinking. To a degree, this shrinkage has been concealed by the US's continued dominance of the global financial system. The current crisis has badly damaged this dominance. In this sense, it marks a shift in the global economic seismic plates.

While I was in China, opinion pieces in the English language press suggested that it was time that the yuan or RMB became a fully traded international currency.

I think that this is too soon. I doubt that the current Chinese Government is prepared to cede the control required to make this happen. However, what we can say with a degree of certainty is that the current US financial crisis has already seen shifts in economic power that will have long term implications.

The Australian position in all this is a little clouded.

In the short term, we are all going to be affected by the global economic downturn. This is of considerable personal interest given that I chose to change work directions at what became a time of economic turmoil. Talk about jumping into troubled waters!

Current official prognostications at international and domestic level suggest that Australia is in a better position than most to ride out the troubles. I think that this is true, although as I have argued before I also think that there are a number of structural weaknesses in the Australian economy. Here the downturn may in fact be an opportunity in disguise.

In recent years, Australian Governments have simply not invested enough in infrastructure. I think that we all know this.

Public investment projects can have very long lead times. This makes it difficult to use them as an effective counter-cyclical weapon.

If I were Mr Rudd, I would be strongly focused not on the immediate financial crisis, but on infrastructure planning. How do we set investment priorities? How do we get projects ready so that they can roll-out quickly?

If we could do this, then we may be in a better position to weather the current storm while laying a base for continued longer term growth.


My thanks to Ramana Rajgopaul for drawing my attention via a comment to this rather nice and quite funny explanation for the current financial crisis.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Visiting China 4 - out with the old, in with the new

This photo shows the view from our hotel room in Shanghai, a view that captures a key element in modern Shanghai.

The building in the centre left is the 88 story Jin Mao tower, previously the tallest building in Shanghai. Just beside it is the new 101 story tallest tower; this opened while we were there.

Both Shanghai and Beijing are in the process of tearing themselves down and rebuilding. The results are impressive, but come at a cost.

As one does, at Beijing Airport's smoking room I got chatting to a Chinese bloke while we shared a last minute smoke. He left Shanghai in 1989, returning after many years. He mourned the increasing destruction of the old city.

I knew how he felt. I first visited Singapore when I was twenty, a very impressionable age. After the order of New England I was greatly struck by the buildings and chaos of old Singapore. When I went back many years later, all this had gone. I found modern Singapore very boring, just another modern city.

In Australia, Sydney tore itself down in throws of reinvention, Melbourne preserved its structure. Now Sydney is just another modern city saved to some degree by its harbour, while Melbourne is reinventing itself as a life style capital.

If I had a single piece of advice to the city authorities in Shanghai or Beijing it would be this. In your desire for modernisation, preserve your past. Once gone, you won't get it back.

Visiting China - the photos are back!

Well, all the photos including those taken by our Chinese hosts in Beijing are downloaded. So I can now illustrate!

Looking at the photos, I was again reminded at the kindness and courtesy of the people we met, including especially our hosts in Beijing who devoted three sometimes exhausting days to show us as much of the city as possible.

This shot shows part of the Great Wall. If you look down, you can see just how incredibly steep it is.

Part steps, part smooth but still very steep, I tried to imagine what it would be like to run up and down it wearing full military kit! I could not.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Technorati - State of the Blogosphere 2008

For those who have not already seen it, Technorati has a rather useful report on the State of the Blogosphere. You will find the introduction here.

I will write a review once the series is finished - T is publishing on a daily basis. I found the report interesting because it provides sufficient information to allow me to benchmark my own blogging.

Another view of China - and the importance of shifting perspectives

Photo: Lin Yutang, a Chinese writer who played a major role in first introducing China to the West.

My thanks to Marcellous for his post, Olympics - a different view from Beijing or just outside it. It contains a link to a rather good article by Peter Hessler in the New Yorker, an article that I greatly enjoyed.

I feel a little hesitant in writing my current series on my reactions to China because others know so much more than me. Yes, I do know something about Chinese history. Yes, I have met a substantial number of Chinese people. Yes, I have even dealt to a minor degree with the Chinese at official national level. Here both my wife and I, to the somewhat bemusement of our Chinese host, became quite excited when we saw the CATIC building in Beijing simply because CATIC was one element in our shared past. But, compared to others, my knowledge is very limited.

In writing, I am trying to apply both my skills as an analyst and to use the experience to order my own ideas and perceptions - a learning experience.

In Beijing in the early morning I was musing about a post simply called China and Shifting Perspectives. I think of this at two levels. The first is the way in which exposure to a different culture causes shifts in the way I think about my own. The second is the way in which direct exposure to another culture enhances my understanding of that culture.

There is something of a modern urban myth that Australians of the past did not have contact with or interest in the Chinese. This may have been true at a general level, indeed it may well be true today, but was not universally true.

In some of my writing I have tried to discuss Australia's changing perceptions of the world outside Australia. Here I have suggested (among other things) that in some ways we were more aware of that external world than modern Australians simply because we were a much smaller country, a European enclave on the edge of Asia.

At one level this translated into racially based concerns, fear of the yellow peril. But at a second level, it was also reflected in an interest in the depth and complexity of Chinese history and culture, especially among Australia's educated cultural, academic and political elites.

We can see this duality in the work of Mary Grant Bruce, a very popular author of Australian children's books. Here I quote from the Wikipedia article:

Some of Bruce's earlier works are considered to have had offensive and dated content, particularly in regards to racial stereotypes of Australian Aborigines and Chinese and Irish immigrants, and her earlier belief in the theory of Social Darwinism. More recent reprints of the Billabong series have been edited to remove controversial material.

We are far too precious and sensitive in modern Australia in dealing with past views. The Chinese market gardener on Billabong represents the Chinese stereotype the article is talking about. On the other hand, the end of another book in the series - the story of the rescue of a kidnapped Chinese boy and his return to his family - very explicitly draws out the contrast between the simple popular stereotype of the Chinese and the high sophistication of the Chinese gentleman that the Billabong couple are allowed to meet because of the rescue.

Views are rarely one-dimensional.

I first read Lin Yutang, I think the greatest 20th century populariser of Chinese culture, in my early twenties. Why? Well, partly because the books were there on the shelves of both my grandfather and father. These were very popular books. But also because I wanted to learn more about China.

So despite my own self-doubts about the value of my observations on China, I will continue the series. In doing so, I want to educate myself, but also draw out some of the lessons as I see them for Australia from the experience.

Let me take an example.

The Colombo Plan is one of the most successful foreign policy initiatives that this country has ever been involved in. A country with a racially based immigration policy still in place, took in huge numbers of overseas, especially Asian, students. This changed Australia. But it also created enormous good will among students that we welcomed.

In somewhat similar vein, the long involvement of Australia's military forces in Aceh seems to have caused a shift in local attitudes towards Australia. In both the Colombo Plan and Aceh we were making a practical contribution.

Today we have a huge number of Asian and especially Chinese full fee paying students in Australia. This is a straight service for cash deal. We are making money, but we are also ignoring the long term implications.

Unlike the Colombo Plan period when overseas students were welcomed and integrated into the broader student body for great mutual benefit, our modern commercial approach locks students into ghettos. They do not learn about Australia, nor do they establish links. They see Australia in very narrow ways.

We will pay for this.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

An extreme sense of boredom

Today I read the Sydney Morning Herald in full for the first time since I returned to the country. I was left with an extreme sense of boredom.

I see that Mr Rudd has had to compromise in the Senate. Yawn. Despite the dramatic heading "Rudd's first surrender to the Senate", we all expected this.

I see that there have been further transport delays in Sydney. Yawn. Self-harm is on the rise among teen girls. Apparently the rate has risen by a third over the last twelve years so that 300 girls out of every 100,000 are now admitted to hospital after harming themselves. Yes, there is an issues here that is a tragedy for those involved, but the problem does not warrant the paper's breathless treatment. Yawn.

The new NSW Government appears to be Iemmering itself by proposing new restrictions on L plate drivers. Yawn. All Mr Iemma could do to meet problems was to impose a new restriction or benchmark.

NSW teachers are angry at the latest plans to streamline (=cutting costs) of the NSW HSC. Yes, they may have a point. But none of the debate really cuts to discussion on educational issues. Yawn.

Perhaps I am unfair, but almost everything in the paper was a repetition of past issues. Yawn.


Thomas made a comment on this post that is worth repeating in full. He said:

Could I suggest being a little more sensitive on one of the issues that you've touched on here Jim, the one on self harm among girls. You don't know *who* might be related to one of those 300, and has had to deal with it.

Just a suggestion, nothing meant to incite an argument or criticism of you. I know that you only have the best in mind, and good intentions. I could see your wider point, but still.

Thomas is, of course, right. I have two daughters. I would be devastated if they were one of the 300. I was commenting on the way the matter was reported, not the tragedy for those personally involved.

I thought of deleting the point entirely, but then decided to alter the wording a little plus add this postscript as an explanation.

Thanks, Thomas.

Visiting China 3 - population, ethnicity and governance in modern China

Photo: The Bund at night. Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank and Customs House.

Our hotel in Shanghai was near the Huangpu River in Pudong, the new business section of Shanghai built on reclaimed land. This is a very modern area full of an ever-increasing number of skyscrapers.

As soon as we had unpacked, we walked down to the river so that I could look across to the Bund, something that I had really wanted to do.

It was a holiday, and the walk-way was absolutely packed with locals. Both of us felt something odd, and it took us a few minutes to work out what it was. There were very few obvious foreigners. Now here our thinking was conditioned by Sydney in ways that we had not realised.

If you go to Darling Harbour or any of the popular tourist spots in Sydney, you expect to see a very ethnically diverse group of people, locals as well as tourists. Here in Shanghai's equivalent we had expected the same, and it simply wasn't the case. Later in Beijing we were to find many more tourists because of the Olympics, but the impression of ethnic homogeneity remained.

I make this point for two reasons.

The first is that despite sometimes tensions, modern Australians take ethnic diversity for granted. It just is. By contrast, while China's large population means that the number of non-Han Chinese is large in absolute terms, the Han Chinese dominate.

I was asked a number of times about the Chinese in Australia. I answered in terms of history, geography and numbers. People were interested in this, but it took me a little while to work out that they seemed to be asking in fact whether Australian Chinese were still Chinese or had they really become Europeans in Chinese skin. Yes, I do know the slang term for this, but have chosen not to use it because I think that it will distract from the point I am trying to make.

There are close linkages between the concepts "China" and "Chinese" and the Han Chinese, linkages influenced by history and ways of thinking. The Cantonese term Gweilo, white ghost sometimes translated as foreign devil, may have fallen out of fashion, but has historical as well as ethnic antecedents.

The Chinese face is circular and smooth, the European face square and angular. The Chinese have black hair, the Europeans brown, blond or even red. To a degree, and as I understand it, Chinese perceptions of the world link in some way to their own appearance - the circle represents heaven, the square the earth.

During the more recent colonial period, the Chinese sense of self-identity, their powerful sense of pride in their own history, took heavy blows. The Empire that had seen itself as the centre of the universe was forced to bow.

During the Olympics, many Australians struggled to come to grips with the Chinese sense of pride, including the demonstrations by Chinese residents in Australia in response to the pro-Tibet rallies. As a country, Australia has its own insecurities. It pays us to remember that the modern Chinese state, while communist, is in fact the inheritor of the Chinese imperial tradition, that China's very success is in some ways a salve to previous rebuffs. The importance of national Han Chinese pride should not be underestimated.

During the trip we were often asked what we thought of China, especially by people in Beijing streets wanting to practice their English. It was easy to say how impressed we were. People beamed.

My second reason for mentioning ethnic homogeneity is that it leads into the importance of regionalism in China. We can think of this in terms of diversity and control.

Ethnic homogeneity conceals great diversity in language and culture across China. At a very superficial level, you can see this by comparing Shanghai and Beijing. Food, architecture, language and manners are all different. We have the rice people of the south, the noodles in the north.

Perhaps the best analogy is to think of China in terms of a Europe with a common script that everyone can read. This leads directly into problems of central control.

As I understand it, conflict between regional autonomy vs the need for central control has been central to Chinese history, with periods of strong central Government alternating with weak central control. Even today with all the advances in communications technology, it is simply not possible to run a country as big, diverse and complex as China through central fiat.

I do not pretend to understand the Chinese system of Government. We have a three tier system system of national, provincial and municipal governments. Then we have a parallel system through the Party that also reflects the three tiers.

I do not know how all this actually fits together in practice. However, what I do know is that the complexity, the need to balance central control with different regional and local influences, makes for difficult governance and helps explain both the sometimes authoritarianism of central control with frequent failures in that control.

The tainted milk scandal broke while we were in China. This involved the addition of the industrial chemical melamine to build up the protein content in milk, thus concealing watering. However, sustained consumption of melamine tainted milk creates kidney problems, especially in children.

The scandal began with Sanlu, 43 per cent owned by New Zealand dairy company Fonterra, where the melamine was first found in baby formula. As an aside, I saw one report that the contamination was actually picked up first in New Zealand tests, not in China.

With subsequent testing, melamine was found in samples from one company after another and in a wide range of milk products. The contamination was also found in exported product. Well over 6,000 children were affected, with the last death count I saw at six children.

This was a scandal of huge proportions, forcing milk products off the shelves and creating difficulties for the Chinese Government at the highest level. It was obviously of interest to us as well, because we were there and using milk and milk products.

To my mind, the significance of the melamine scandal lay not so much in the Government response, I thought the Chinese Government responded in much the same way as any Government would have, but in what it said about the continuing difficulties in modernisation in a very large country.

The Chinese dairy pipe-line starts at the farm. While there are some large dairy farms, many producers are very small indeed. This creates supply chain problems in collecting milk and preserving quality, including avoidance of watered milk.

The exact chain of events that led to the adulteration is unclear, but appears to have begun in north China's Hebei Province. According to one larger farmer quoted in the paper, he was told to add the chemical because the fat content in his milk was down. He had no idea that it might cause harm - it was simply an additive. Usage then spread as more people became aware that the chemical could improve returns. Finally, the scale and duration of use led to health problems among children of sufficient scale to attract attention.

One thing that was noticeable during the scandal was the scale and speed of the press response, at least in the English language dailies. The press responded very quickly in much the same way the Australian media would have. The issue was also picked up quickly through the blogging world - the papers often quote Chinese blog conversations on a variety of topics.

Australian discussions on the role of the internet in China generally focus on human rights issues. In doing so, they ignore other implications of the technology. They also often ignore the importance of the now ubiquitous mobile phone.

Application of the new computing and communications technology actually makes central administration possible in ways that have not been possible in China before, shifting the balance between the centre and regions. China is still an authoritarian state - in our short travel through China every step we took was recorded in some way. Computing and communications technology makes this possible in ways not possible with paper records.

Conversely, the combination of the mobile with the internet makes for greater communication among people, in turn forcing modification of state positions. Here I am not talking about civil rights in the Western sense, simply the fact that any Government has to respond in some way to concerns among its people.

Take the melamine case. Six thousand affected kids means twelve thousand parents, perhaps thirty thousand family members, perhaps three hundred thousand immediate friends. Each child that is affected leads to phone calls. These rapidly spread. After a certain point, any form of central censorship becomes impossible.

In saying this, I am not saying that the Chinese Government tried in any way to censor the scandal. I know of no evidence to suggest this. In fact, in some ways China is more transparent than NSW! What I am saying is that the significance of the new technology is that it creates a new balance between state power on one side, citizen response on the other.


According to the Shanghai Daily (23 September) quoting the Ministry of Health, about 13,000 babies remain in hospital after falling ill from melamine-tainted milk powder, and nearly 40,000 others were also sickened but had been cured.

Li Changjiang, China's chief quality supervisor, has resigned, while Wu Xianguo, the Communist Party chief of Shijiazhuang City, the center of the scandal in northern China's Hebei Province, has been sacked.

The paper suggests that the Sanlu Group began receiving complaints about sick infants as far back as December 2007.

Wang Yuanping from Taishun City of Zhejiang Province reportedly lodged a complaint to Sanlu in May, suspecting that his 13-year-old daughter developed a kidney stone after drinking its milk powder. The Health Department in Gansu Province admitted having received a hospital report in July that 16 infants suffered from kidney stones after drinking the same baby formula.

Sanlu didn't do tests until June when it discovered melamine was being added to milk to make it appear higher in protein.The company did not report the matter to the Shijiazhuang government until August 2. According to a report on Australia's SBS news, this was the date of the Sanlu Board Meeting at which New Zealand's Fontera first found out about the problem.

The government of Shijiazhuang then reportedly delayed reporting the contamination to authorities at provincial and state levels until September 9. Again according to the report on SBS Television, this was also the date on which New Zealand authorities advised the Chinese Government independently of the problem. On September 11, Sanlu admitted its products were toxic and recalled baby formula manufactured on and before August 6.

In all, a mammoth mess.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

China and the West - a note on the importance of dates in comparative history

There is a common view in China and the West that Chinese history is ancient compared to that of Europe. This is both true and false.

If we compare the broad sweep of Chinese history with that of Western Europe following the fall of Rome, then its true. However, if we compare China with the broad sweep of western history including the ancient world, then it is not.

I make this point because I was surprised at just how recent much Chinese history is. Recent is, of course, a relative term in itself. However, I thought it might be interesting and helpful in any posts on Chinese history to provide comparative material on the position in Europe at the time.

Visiting China 2 - musings on social and economic change in modern China

Continuing my China trip, this post focuses on social, economic and cultural perspectives.

Just to set the scene, China like Australia faces a problem in getting professionals to go to the country. Kids come to the big metro centres for their education, then stay. To help overcome this, the Henan Agricultural University announced a degree (China Daily quoting the People's Daily) in rural development and management during our visit.

All this was very familiar, although I was surprised that the Henan degree was reported to be the first in China. I have been writing on these issues in an Australian context for some time. Indeed, while I was away the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a report on regional, rural and remote health pointing to continuing problems in this country.

However, in reading the story I was rather struck by one paragraph. I quote in part:

In recent years, more than 5 million students have been graduating annually, equivalent to the population of a provincial capital city.

Think about it, five million graduates annually. Note, too, that in population terms Sydney as Australia's largest city ranks at best as a Chinese provincial capital. Compare this to Shanghai's 23+ million people. Now you get a feel for real power rankings.

I make this point because I think that we in Australia sometimes have an inflated idea of our own importance. We prognosticate and expect the rest of the world to listen. Our own self-image blinds us to the reality of our position.

In similar vein, our news access in China was limited to CNN and BBC World plus the Chinese English language dailies. Here Australia attracts very little coverage outside sport. The change in the opposition leadership was picked up, but that was about all. More negatively, Australian domestic reporting and navel gazing on race issues in particular carries over into Chinese perceptions of Australia.

As an aside, measured by frequency of comment, Kevin Rudd's fluent Manadarin clearly did have an impact during his visit, attracting many Chinese.

Australia's economic influence is somewhat greater.

The Australian dollar is one of a relatively small number of currencies that the major hotels list on their currency boards for exchange into yuan (RMB). In Shanghai, the large commodity trade and associated shipping requirements generate substantial professional services demand in areas like shipping law.

However, we should not assume that the present commodity demand and associated price rises will continue. As a simple example that I have not seen reported in Australia, the Chinese car industry is presently reporting lower sales - something that is new - because of price hikes flowing in particular from higher steel costs, as well as softer economic activity due in part to reduced international demand for Chinese products.

In the longer term, economic development in China will underpin demand for our mineral products. This does not mean, however, that there will not be short term fluctuations, nor does it mean that the currently favourable terms of trade will continue. As global demand softens, the Chinese will be in a much better position to demand more favourable prices for our commodity exports.

I found the patterns of generational change in China absolutely fascinating, although my understanding is obviously far from perfect.

I have the clearest picture of middle class China. While large in absolute terms, the middle class is still a relatively small slice of 1.3 billion people of whom 800 million are rural. There is a huge gap between urban and rural poor and the bling bling of Beijing's middle class young with their love of Karioke and bars.

Further, even in middle class China there are two key variables not present in Australia.

The first is the opening of China from 1978 after the end of the Cultural Revolution. This was a key defining event.

Those who went through the Cultural Revolution were marked in ways that we can barely understand. I have always wondered how China survived this experiment. Now I have a feeling that the country survived because many people simply tried to keep things going by working round official positions.

Take medicine as an example. Apparently, medical training was cut back to three years. This was too short a period for proper training, so new doctors were required to do another year under direct supervision in hospitals before being allowed to practice, essentially maintaining a four year pattern.

The generation immediately following the Cultural Revolution - those who did their schooling in the late seventies and early eighties - gained from the new freedoms, but still lived in the Revolution's shadow. They appear to see a clear difference between their and subsequent generations with their more individualistic focus.

If we think of an individualistic-collectivist spectrum, the US has traditonally been at the individualistic end, China at the collectivist end. Australia sits more towards the middle, individualistic, but with continuing collectivist elements. Now the Chinese young have moved towards individualism. A story to illustrate.

Coming down in the lift from dinner, the lift stopped at KTV, what appeared to be an entertainment venue. Three girls around 20-23 got in. One smoking, one texting, all three talking loudly, they ignored the rest of us while planning the next stage of their night on the town. With the exception of smoking in the lift, they could have been in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. Downstairs, they joined a throng of young people heading in a different direction.

When I asked about them, I was told that KTV was a popular Karioke spot. My comment on the comparison with the Sydney equivalents led to a discussion on generational change, tribalism and individualism. There are common themes. However, and as I will outline in a later post, the similarities should not be overstated.

The second key variable not found in Australia is the one child policy. I have discussed this before in the context of demographic change. However, it has had social effects that were unclear to me.

One theme in the commentary that I have read has been the common suggestion that the overwhelming focus on individual children has in some senses created a pampered, indulged, generation. I have no idea whether this is true or not. However, what I had not fully realised was the nature of the pressures placed upon the kids themselves.

Chinese society appears competitive and stratified. Parents' hopes for their children are bound up in single individuals, the child who will carry the family forward, who will better the family position. China's long exam tradition also carries forward through the schooling system. Parents make great sacrifices to give their children the best opportunity. The pressures on kids to perform appear enormous.

In Shanghai we went to a confucian temple and school. The temple itself has wall after wall recording exam success over multiple dynasties. Attached to trees in the courtyard by red ribbons are many hundreds, thousands, of cards seeking gifts from the gods. Our tour guide, himself a child of the immediate period after the opening, read some of them out. Pleas for exam success dominated.

Speaking personally, I can only begin to imagine just how this type of pressure affects kids and parents.

Australian Foreign Policy Documents - a great historical resource: update

Thomas kindly pointed out to me that I had failed to insert the relevant link in Australian Foreign Policy Documents - a great historical resource. I have now done so.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Return from China

Well, back from China this morning. I am still very tired, but have begun the process of catching up on domestic issues.

This was an incredibly packed trip. Just as an example, in our last full day in Beijing we drove to and then walked up one part of the Great Wall, visited the Olympic site, went to a silk market and then a little later took our Chinese hosts out to dinner. Then we did some late night shopping.

Switching the TV on on our return to the hotel, we found in breaking news that a bombing had just occurred in Islamabad and sat there watching the fire engulf the hotel in real time. Not really the type of thing to watch just before going to bed.

There is so much to write about and across several blogs. For someone like me who is fascinated by the way societies work, this was a great trip. I found it especially useful in taking me outside my immediate Australian pre-occupations.

I am not sure that my observations and conclusions are very profound. However, they are interesting to me. So I am going to spend the next couple of days writing things down before they all blur together in my memory.


One thing that was nice while I was away were the number of comments I received on various posts. I tried to respond, but I found it a little difficult because of the combination of time pressures and internet access. I will do so properly over the next day or so.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday Morning Musings - the complexity of modern Australian society

Thursday night before going away I got to watch part of an episode of the The Circuit, a court room drama set in WA's Kimberley region.

Helen was fascinated, she had not seen it before. Then we had to turn it off after Clare came home from hockey training because she wanted to watch a birthday present DVD and it was her birthday.

The program reminded me just how complex Australian society has become in ways that many of us barely perceive. In saying complex I am not talking about the complexity of current life, we share that with many other countries, but the complexity of society itself.

Helen found The Circuit episode fascinating because it exposed her to some of the complexities of an area and of the Aboriginal people in that area, bringing alive some of the things that she had read about or heard on TV. She also found a problem in reconciling the simple black/white images presented in the eastern states' media with the sheer complexity of the on-ground problems shown in The Circuit.

Australia could not and will not survive without common patterns and understandings. Yet we should not under-estimate the difficulties involved in maintaining national coherence. A key need, at least as I see it, is the need to recognise and accept difference. If we ignore or, worse, suppress these, we will all suffer.

Some of our Muslim citizens would like to see elements of Sharia law applied. Some of our Aboriginal citizens would like to see more recognition of customary law. Others in the Australian community reject both outright, still others want customary law recognised but also reject Sharia law.

The starting point in managing difference is not an un-thinking imposition of uniformity or rejection of alternative views. The starting point is to understand and delineate the points of difference, the underlying principles, so that we can address the issues. Without this, Australia will move from global success to global failure as a nation.


Pretty obviously I wrote this short post in advance of my departure. It has been interesting watching economic developments - the only English language TV we have is BBC World, CNN. This means little on Australia, but constant economic coverage. Very frustrating for a blogger with my interests not to be comment! 

Friday, September 19, 2008

Visiting China 1 - Initial Impressions

This internet connection is free. But I am standing up and have a twenty minute window. Still, I thought that I might record some initial impressions before running out of time. And before things blur! You know how it is when traveling.

Impression one. The Chinese are incredibly courteous, marked by kindness and good manners. I am sure that there are exceptions, but I have not found one so far.

Impression two. Size. The sheer press of people can be quite overwhelming, especially in Shanghai. It is hard for an Australian, at least this Australian, to come to grips with population numbers greater than Australian crammed into a single urban area. This is a BIG country.

Impression three. Safety. At no time whether on the street or in the metro have I ever felt threatened. Again, I am sure that this is not universally true, but it is nice.

Impression four. Complexity. This is a remarkably complex society for a country lad like me to come to grips with.

Out of time. More later. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

challenge to legal Eagle - when is it right to legislate?

In response to a post by Legal Eagle I wrote Round the blogging traps - Legal Eagle on the common law.

We both agree that the proliferation of formal legislated law has become a problem. Now I want to issue a challenge to LE.

LE, can you define just what principles might be used to determine just which issues are suitable for treatment by legislation, which should be dealt with by other means?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Australian Foreign Policy Documents - a great historical resource

In searching around for my post New England Story - The life and death of the mysterious Harry Freame I found a very interesting source, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade historical record series.

The specific document I looked at was a secret cable from Sir Thomas Inskip, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Sir Geoffrey Whiskard, U.K. High Commissioner to Australia dealing with the proposed Australian Legation in Japan. From my viewpoint I found this fascinating because of the insights it provided on the way things worked.

This cable is one document in one volume of a twenty volume series. Those that are interested can find an entry point here. You can follow them by clicking backwards and forward. Do have a browse!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

By global standards, Australia is NOT a racist country

I have mentioned before that I watch with dismay the constant stream of searches on Australian racism. The latest was a search on "why are Australians so racist" from someone in Arlington Virginia.

Running the same search again, I noticed a pattern. There are mainly two types of posts. The first are posts from Australia saying that we are. Just two quotes:

  • Australia is a backwater, a racist and inward-looking country - from an on-line opinion article
  • White Australia was founded upon invasion, theft, and genocide. It was subsequently shaped by social inequality - from a South Australian organisation.

Then we have overseas posts or articles that largely reflect Australian stated views back to us.

In the middle are a group of posts and stories that try to redress the balance - if australians are all racist how come I see so many black africans with white women girlfriends and white men with asian girlfriends read one.

Those inwardly focused Australians, and I include the media in this, who for a variety of reasons stereotype Australia as racist, or who are so concerned to fight against racism that they make race issues central regardless of other things, are doing this country a great dis-service.

Is there racism in Australia, yes. Is racism in Australia bad by global standards, no. Is Australia a racist country, no.

Many years ago when I was co-editor of a university student newspaper, we deliberately ran two stories together in the one edition, one on racism in the Soviet Union, the second on racism in China. Our intent then was to redress what we saw as an unbalanced local debate.

The position today is no different. Should we fight against racism, yes. Should we recognise the errors and mistakes from our own past, yes. Should we so obsess with our sins that we forget the broader picture, no.

In a sad way, the worst culprits in all this are those in Australian society who feel most strongly about past injustices. In their desire to set things right, to stop things happening again, they are doing the country great harm.


In a comment, rummuser said...

I came here by accident while surfing and felt that I should share my two bits for what they are worth. I have visited Australia and have had some wonderful experiences with Australians. I am an Indian and did not experience the slightest racism, overt or covert, that I did experience in some European countries and in the USA. I have close relatives who are Australian citizens who do not experience any racism and would not live any where else. I may be an exception, I do not know. My personal experiences however should give some support to your own conclusions.

Nice to hear from you, RM.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A pause

We are going to the airport in an hour and I have suddenly realised that I will nor be able to complete the things I want to complete.

In Shanghai my wife has a conference. I am hand bag. I go on the accompanied persons' tours. This may sound dumb, but what I really to do is create a picture - sight, smell, feel - of what S. might have been like in the 1930s. Later I want to be able to shut my eyes and bring back the feel of the place.

I was very lucky to go to Singapore before it was modernised. Shanghai is exploding, more people already live there than live in Australia. BurtI think that the colonial quarter and old city still survive.

In Beijing we are lucky enough to have a local to show us around. I won't go into the connection, at this point, but we are lucky.

Time to give up on all the things I wanted to achieve before we left. Now it's time to go with the flow!

Time to sign off! By all.

Belshaw and China

I leave for China this evening for a bit over a week. We are going first to Shanghai and then Beijing. This is the first time that I have been and I am really looking forward to it. I will be taking detailed notes and, hopefully, some photos for later use.

I have a few posts that should come up while I am away just to keep regular readers interested. However, beyond this, I will not be able to post or respond to comments. Do feel free to comment. I will respond when I get back.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Scattered Friday Thoughts

So much to do today, so this post is limited to some very scattered thoughts, really notes to myself.

In a comment to Anon on New England Story - The life and death of the mysterious Harry Freame I mentioned that I was wondering about who else I might write about. I really do enjoy writing these biographical posts, although they take a lot of time, time that I do not always have. They also get a good response from readers.

I especially like subjects whose lives interact with different worlds, who illuminate a different aspect of life or history. There is a powerful addiction here because of the excuse it gives me for going in a variety of different directions. While I love ideas, I am also curious about people and the detail of life.

There are a lot of people I could write about, especially people who have become submerged with the passage of time. Here the hardest ones are the lesser known because they are far less likely to have on-line material that I can draw from, amplify as required. Yet these are some of the most fascinating stories. Life is not just about the famous, but about all those who have done different things.

So who do I write on next?

I must say that I am pleased with the recent performance of this blog, although I do not understand it. After a slow period, the blog is showing an upward trend in visitor numbers and page views. I cannot explain this. The stats packages I have do not provide any clue. Obviously I am not complaining, I would just like to understand.

The New England, Australia blog is also on an up. I have a better understanding here. Part is due to the Higher School Certificate exams bringing people through to posts such as those on Judith Wright. Part is due to click-throughs from this blog, something that obviously pleases me. Part is simply due to more regular posting.

I remain dissatisfied with the standard and focus of some of my posts. I was thinking as I responded to a comment from Bob Q on Uniformity and the tyranny of the majority that I really wasn't getting this quite right. There was a muddiness in my own thinking.

All this has been a somewhat introspective post, as I am sure that you will agree. Still, I did say that they were really notes to myself!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

New South Wales Wales itself again- Brown out strikes

One of the reasons why I try to avoid commenting too much on current politics as opposed to policy is that, too often, I can add little real value. I become just another chattering head adding to the static.

For the benefit of international readers, Matt Brown, the new police minister in NSW, has been sacked in part for dancing in his underpants at a budget party, more because he lied to the Premier about it. I do not know who I am crankier with, Mr Brown or the ALP idiot who leaked the story for factional reasons as a pay-back.

I must be one of the few people in NSW who has read Mr Brown's maiden speech in the NSW Legislative Assembly. I was actually quite impressed because of the way he linked different elements of the ALP past together, including the establishment of the Housing Commission by the McKell Government. Now he has put the state in brown-out.

The factional idiot who leaked the matter comes from the Kafka world I referred to in Uniformity and the tyranny of the majority, a world that acquires a powerful internal reality independent of what is really happening. What counts is what happens in that world even if the ship is sinking.

Wearing my consultant hat, I once made a call on an organisation on the point of collapse. The executive suite was well separated from everyone else. The quiet chatter, the well dressed executive assistants, the coffee in fine china on a silver tray with chocolate biscuits, the patient wait while we waited for the busy senior executive to see us. Then the chat about long term plans.

As we came out, my colleague said to me, "Don't they know?" I replied no, they really can't see what's happening outside.

One of the silliest comments on the whole affray came from a journalist. Doesn't the public service run the state, she said. By implication, things would rub along.

The current sickness in the NSW public sector, the reason for complicated processes and slow decisions, the very real paralysis that seems to affect some agencies, all flow from the top.

I suppose that we have to give the new Premier time to sort things out. This will be hard because he actually has to change direction. In the meantime, I think that I will avoid commentary on NSW affairs until the position is a little clearer. Posts like New England Story - The life and death of the mysterious Harry Freame are much more fun!

New England Story - The life and death of the mysterious Harry Freame

Photo: Sergeant Harry Freame, peering out from a sniper’s hole, Gallipoli.

A little while ago I ran a post, Did you board at St John's Hostel Armidale?. This included a photo of 1937 boarders, one of whom was Harry Freame from Kentucky.

Kentucky was an orcharding and soldier settlement community south of Uralla, about twenty four miles from Armidale.

Looking again at the photograph reminded me that I had not yet told the remarkable story of Harry Freame.

Like any self respecting adventurer, elements of Harry Freame's life are shrouded in mystery, a mystery I suspect he sometimes played to with considerable effect.

When Harry Freame enlisted in the AIF on 28 August 1914 he described himself as a horse-breaker of Glen Innes and gave his birth place as Kitscoty, Alberta, Canada. With his dark complexion and accent, many thought him to be of Eskimo extraction, some thought American Indian, others maybe Mexican, an image he played up to "at Anzac where, in cowboy fashion, he carried two revolvers in holsters on his belt, another in a holster under his armpit and a bowie knife in his boot pocket."(1)

Wykeham Henry Koba Freame was in fact born at Osaka, Japan, son of Henry Freame, sometime teacher of English at the Kai-sei Gakko in Japan, and a Japanese woman, Shizu, née Kitagawa.

The date of his birth is uncertain. James Courtney suggests 28 February 1885 with a question mark(2), Darryl Kelly 1880.(3) This difference is not insignificant because it bears upon the accuracy of some of the stories about Harry Freame's early life. Could he in fact fitted have them all in? My feeling is the earlier date may well be correct.

Harry Freame almost certainly initially grew up in Japan, speaking Japanese like a native born. Darryl Kelly records that he was sent to England at the age of 15 (1895, 1900) to further his education. (4)

This early part of Harry Freame's life is shrouded in mystery. We know that on 19 July 2006 he married Edith May Soppitt at St John's Anglican Church, Middleborough in England, occupation merchant seaman. (5) At that stage his age was somewhere between 21 (1885 birth) and 26 (1880 birth). We also know that he had already started as an adventurer and mercenary.

Both Darryl Kelly and James Courtney refer to two campaigns.

The first is given by both as German East Africa. James Courtney suggests that he was involved in the supression of the Hottentot rising 1904 to 1906 (6), while Darryl Kelly records that Freame told friends that he served in 1904 as part of an international band of mercenaries hired to help suppress a native revolt.(7)

I think that both have the colony wrong. There was a rebellion in German East Africa (now Burundi, Rwanda and Tanganyika, the mainland part of present Tanzania), but this started in the middle of 1905.(8) By contrast, in German South West Africa (now Namibia), a serious and very bloody Hottentot rising did begin in 1904, continuing until it was crushed with considerable brutality in 1907. (9) So I think it likely that Harry Freame served as a scout in South West Africa between 1904 and 1906. This would also be consistent with the date of his marriage.

The second campaign on the other side of the world is the Mexican Wars where he is reported as working as an intelligence officer for President Porfirio Diaz. (10).

José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori (15 September 1830 – 2 July 1915) was a Mexican-American War volunteer, a French Intervention hero who fought against the French imposed Mexican Emporer Maximilian, and President of Mexico. He ruled from 1876 to 1880 and then again from 1884 to 1911. (11)

Darryl Kelly records that Harry Freame was in Mexico twice, returning in 1910. In 1910, a major rebellion broke out against Diaz's autocratic rule, starting the Mexican Revolution.(12) With the collapse of the Diaz Government in 1911 and a price on his head, Harry Freame fled Mexico by pack horse, escaping to Australia via Chile.(13)

We do not know what Harry Freame did between his arrival in Australia and his enlistment in 1914. However, by 1914 he seems to have been established as a horsebreaker at Glen Innes on the northern portion of the New England Tablelands.

Darryl Kelly describes Freame's initial impact on the AIF in this way:

With the final honing of skills in Egypt, Harry's skill and knowledge of previous campaigns began to surface. The swashbuckling air of confidence (of) what would soon become an ANZAC legend was about to take shape. The first item to be modified was the uniform. On this he attached leather pads on elbows, knees and insides of ankles. This allowed for the easy movement when leopard crawling around "no mans land". Next he discarded the standard .303 rifle and opted for a pair of pistols, worn on the hips, these were ideal for the close in combat of a scout. A stout bowie knife was positioned, sheathed in a boot scabbard. The last weapon in his armoury was a small pistol, worn in a shoulder holster, under his shirt. To top it off, Harry's trademark, black and white bandanna (photo) was worn around his neck. (14)

I am not quite sure that the AIF knew what had hit them. Harry Freame's bravery and his skill as a scout quickly became legendary. His uncanny sense of direction, his capacity to wriggle like an eel deep into no man's land at night even into enemy trenches, made him a formidable enemy.

Landing at Anzac on 25 April, he was promoted sergeant after three days of heavy fighting. He was awarded one of the A.I.F.'s first Distinguished Conduct Medals for 'displaying the utmost gallantry in taking water to the firing-line although twice hit by snipers'. He was mentioned in dispatches for his work at Monash Valley in June when C. E. W. Bean described him as 'probably the most trusted scout at Anzac'.(15)

On 15 August he was wounded at the Battle of Lone Pine. Invalided to Australia, he was discharged as medically unfit in November 1916.(16) A little later, he settled on the Kentucky Estate as government storekeeper following its subdivision as a soldier settlement scheme, then acquiring a block and establishing an orchard.

At the end of the war Edith, his arguably long suffering wife, came to join him. The historical material has almost nothing on his family. There was at least one son, the Harry who appears in the St John's Hostel photo. I am only guessing, but Harry must have been born after Edith's arrival. If he was fifteen or sixteen in 1937, then that puts his date of birth at 1921 or 1922.

I wonder how Harry Freame adapted to Kentucky? For those who do not know the area, the quiet dirt roads flanked by pine trees, the orchards, the sound of the crows in in the air, is far removed from the world that Harry Freame had known. Perhaps he found it healing. I also suspect that it made him restless.

Now we need to enter an apparent sidetrack, one that I am working partly from memory without checking my sources. Later I may add references if I get time.

In my post Ethnicity, ideology and the sometimes slippery concept of Australian "independence" - Part One: "Independence", I spoke of the evolution of Australian independence. I also mentioned the role that Billie Hughes had played at the end of the First World War for both better and especially worse. One of my points in the post was that the simple us (Australia)/them (London) model that seemed to be so popular today acted to conceal the reality and complexity of the Australian position.

The complexity of the Australia-Japan relationship in the period leading up to the Second World War is an example.

The adoption of the White Australia policy, in some ways the new Federation's first foreign policy act, created real problems with Japan and also for the Imperial Government wishing to maintain good relations with the Japanese Empire for broader strategic reasons. This included the signing of the Anglo-Japanese alliance in 1902. These Imperial imperatives actually led to some modifications of the policy, exemptions allowing for some types of Japanese entry.

Then during the First World War, Japan played a critical role in keeping shipping lanes open to Australia. There was disappointment on the Japanese side when Hughes at the subsequent peace conference fought to limit Japanese manadates over former German colonies in the Pacific. One can argue that he was right in the case of New Guinea, a Japanese New Guinea would certainly have complicated things later, but scarring was there.

By the early 1930s, Japan was central to Australian life in a way that I, for one, had not realised. Japanese trading companies played a major role in Australian trade, while there were tens of thousands of Japanese living in Australia under various forms of entry arrangements.

From 1931 Japan began to move into China. This further complicated things. Concerns about Japanese expansion warred with economic interests (Australians were seeking opportunities for economic expansion) and a love of things Japanese.

In 1935, William Scott joined Australian military intelligence.(17). A lover of things Japanese, Scott was also concerned about the Japanese presence.

In 1939 on the outbreak of the war in Europe, Harry Freame offered his services to the Government. His wife had died, that year, and I think that he was restless.

Scott employed Harry Freame to infiltrate the Japanese community in Sydney, and represented military intelligence at a conference in September called to iron out differences between military and civilian intelligence. In August 1940, Harry Freame married again, Harriet Briadwood. A month later, Freame accepted an appointment to the Australian Legation in Tokyo as "interpreter".

There is a whole story here that I do not fully understand.

Australian espionage in Japan, yes we did have our own spies, had been centered in the Australian Trade Commission. The establishment of the Australian Legation, one if not the first independent Australian diplomatic posts outside the Empire itself, was intended to extend Australian reach and to protect our economic and political interests in Japan.

The story of the Legation itself is one thing that I do not understand. The second is the fate of Harry Freame.

Harry Freame must have arrived in Tokyo in September or October 1940. In early April 1941 Freame, almost unable to speak, was reptatriated to Australia, dieing in agony on 27 May. The death certificate said cancer, but Freame himself said that he had been garrotted by Japanese Military Intelligence because of a leak in Australia that revealed that he had been employed by Military Intelligence. Medical records affirmed that his throat condition was not inconsistent with strangulation.(18)

There are two further postcripts that add to the sadness of the story.

The first is Australia's treatment of its large Japanese community during and then at the end of the war when we simply classified them as "seamen", a legal fiction allowing mass deportation. The second is the fate of Harry Freame junior.

In May 1942, Lieutenant Harry Freame Jr serving with the 2/24th Battalion 9th Division lead an assault on a Japanese underground bunker position near the Tarakan airfield using flamethrowers and grenades. Freame was wounded and hospitalised. A few nights later he was killed when a Japanese infiltrator threw a fused shell into his hospital ward. (19) I do not know whether there were any more family members.


Axis History Forum, accessed 11 September 2008. (19)

James W. Courtney, Freame, Wykeham Henry Koba (1885 - 1941), Australian Dictionary of Biography on-line edition, accessed 11 September 2008. (1), (2), (5), (6), (15), (16), (18)

German East Africa, Wikipedia, accessed 11 September 2008. (8)

German South West Africa, Wikipedia, accessed 11 September 2008. (9)

Darryl Kelly, The ANZAC Bushido - 764 Sergeant Wykeham Henry Freame (1st Battalion AIF), Sands of Gallipoli Stories, accessed 11 September 2008. (3), (4), (7), (10), (13)

Mexican Revolution, Wikipedia, accessed 11 September 2008. (12)

Andrew Moore, Scott, William John Rendell (1888 - 1956), Australian Dictonary of Biography on-line edition, accessed 11 september 2008. (17)

Porfirio Diaz, Wikipedia, accessed 11 September 2008. (11)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Uniformity and the tyranny of the majority

My post WA election, Lyne and a wry sense of enjoyment triggered a conversation in the comments between Bob Quiggin and myself. In one comment I said in part:

What do you do if the entity is such that a majoritarian approach means that you must always lose out, creating a perpetual case of majority oppression?

Bob responded:

What do you do when you are in the minority? For a start, you suck it down, because that's what a democracy is - the tyranny of the majority. That leaves the hard grind of changing attitudes through lobbying, education and work. It's not like it's a hopeless cause, unless it is a plea for special treatment on a plainly unequal basis.

What Bob says says here sounds so reasonable, yet I think that it is very badly flawed. Things don't work like that in practice.

As I write, Nathan Rees, the new NSW Premier, has launched a major cost cutting exercise following an apparent $1 billion collapse in the State budget. In so doing, the new Premier said that he had no explanation of how the State's finances had fallen into a hole since the June budget.

The Sydney Morning Herald (10 September 2008) quotes Mr Rees as saying: "I don't have the time, nor the inclination, to examine why we've got those estimates wrong." Apparently the Government was simply unaware of the problem until last Friday (September 5). Now here there are two quite different issues: how did the problem arise; why was the Government not aware of it?

Dealing with the second first, access to information is central to informed debate and decision making. Here I was a bit appalled, but simply not surprised by the apparent problem faced by the new Premier.

Back in March last year in Access to Information - a NSW oddity, I complained that there was no way in NSW to access Government press releases. Oddly, when I commented on this to a Sydney journalist, he found nothing strange about it. I could always go to the State Library, he said!

What I could not say at the time was that I became aware of the problem because of some work that I was doing that required me to check past Government statements. I had to scrounge round to find copies on files or in people's private holdings. I also found that NSW had no apparent system for recording or accessing past Cabinet Minutes or decisions. Again, I had to scrounge round.

The lack of transparency - internal as well as external - may have facilitated the Government's capacity to constantly recycle announcements, to apply its electoral supermarket approach, but it did not make for good Government.

In writing about NSW Government policy over the last few years, I was (I think) one of the few who took the Government's major planning statements - Mr Iemma's Ten Year Plan, the various coastal strategies - seriously enough to try to analyse them in some detail. Here I pointed to two key weaknesses as I saw them.

The first was that were very bitsy, really an aggregation of somewhat disconnected performance measures. The second was the apparent disconnect between the statements and targets and actual economic and demographic change on the ground. This created an apparent Kafka like world in which the official system acquired its own powerful internal reality - plans, projects, targets, performance measurement, power structures, accords, special interest groups, Commonwealth-State agreements, the power of Premier's and Treasury, risk management, communication strategies, best practice - that was in some weird ways disconnected from the world around and especially that outside Sydney.

Also as I write, on the other side of the continent, the Australian is carrying the sad story of Sanchia Norrish.

The facts are simple enough.

Five years ago, the normally healthy 53 year old became ill. On the Friday morning, she was driven 25km to the Northam Hospital in WA's wheat belt. There she was X-rayed and diagnosed with a blocked bowel. Neither that hospital nor the immediately surrounding ones had the doctors or staff to operate - Northam Hospital itself services a population of 20,000, but usually does not have doctors at the weekend.

Mrs Norrish was then driven to Perth - and hour and a half trip. The busy Perth hospital did not accept the local diagnosis. By the time the diagnosis was confirmed, it was too late. She died during the operation.

The significance of the Norrish case is that the leader of the WA Nationals, Brendon Grylls, is the local member. Mrs Norrish forms one element in his push for improved regional services.

Now when resources are short, and they seem to be getting shorter all the time, Governments have to triage. They have to set priorities. In this context, those living in Sydney could point to a string of similar cases in the greater metro area.

The problem with triage in an increasingly resource constrained world is that it creates a pattern of winners and losers with sometimes fatal consequences to the losers. In a perfectly fair system, one could argue that this may be sad for the individuals or communities concerned, but them's the breaks.

The present Australian system is neither perfect nor fair, nor can it be. The current emphasis on national or state priorities, uniformity, common standards both conceals and adds to the unfairness, creating a constantly changing pattern of winners and losers.

At present, NSW has very particular problems. This means that the squeakiest immediate wheel gets action. However, even if we can fix the current problems of transparency and fragmentation, problems will remain.

In my series Why I remain a New England New Stater I tried to set out using personal examples why the current system worked against New England. Here my core focus is on institutional factors.

In somewhat similar vein, to test the NSW Government's Ten Year Plan, I took New England as a case study. My core conclusion, set out in NSW Ten Year Plan and New England - Conclusions, was that the plan simply did not reflect New England's needs. I would add that it could not because current institutional structures prevented those needs from being recognised.

Now one could argue, and quite fairly, that my New England focused approach is parochial, even quaint! However, it does rest on reasonably articulated underpinnings.

In my posts on constitutional issues (list of some at the end of post) and especially the View from 1926 series, I refer to the views of David Drummond.

Drummond argued that all exercise of Government power involved loss of freedom and created winners and loosers. He also suggested that a major problem in democracy lay in the fact that the majority would always oppress the minority. This is not simply a matter of changing majority views on particular issues. Rather, of cases where there is an entrenched majority view.

To overcome this, he suggested that Governmental structures should be geographically based, close to the people, so that there was a commonality of interest. This implies a shifting hierarchical structure capturing different levels of needs.

Drummond would have accepted, I think, that there will always be cases where specific local, regional or (for that matter) national interests must be over-ridden in the interests of the greater good. However, he would have said two things.

The first is that the meaning of greater good must be defined, tested. Secondly, that the dangers of majority oppression must be controlled through proper decentralisation of Government.

Our current structures do not easily allow for this. Let me illustrate this by taking an example that Bob and I share.

Working in the Commonwealth Industry Department, we were trying to develop new policy approaches that would encourage the development of Australia's electronics, aerospace and information industries. These industries shared many common features, but were also very different.

In developing new approaches, we had to fight against deeply entrenched Canberra attitudes.

One was the view that any industry support measure involved market interference and was therefore bad. A second that the only appropriate measures that could be used were so called horizontal, universally applicable, measures. Any vertically tailored approach was necessarily bad in its own right and open to special pleading.

We shared the doubts about previous industry specific measures. We also knew that most of the so-called horizontal measure ignored industry and geographic variation. In this sense, the so-called horizontal measures became deeply vertical because of their very varied industry impacts. By contrast, vertical measures that took into account industry variation could be structured to achieve a more uniform affect.

To manage all this, we developed what we called the matrix approach, something that Bob has referred to before in his comments. This was quite simple in concept.

We listed all the industry sectors we were dealing with across the top axis. This is a very big and varied sector, so there were a lot.

Then down the horizontal access we listed all the economic factors affecting the industries, all the relevant policy measures as well. Again there were a lot.

We then examined the effect of each policy measure, each economic variable, in each industry sector. From this we asked basic questions: what were the common features; what the differences; what were the gaps; what needed to be done to alter or harmonise policies so that negative impacts were overcome, so that their effects were harmonised and mutually reinforcing.

The approach proved very powerful, but also failed in the end because we could not overcome the horizontal, one size fits all, mentality. Our fatal flaw lay in the fact that we wanted to take difference into account.

And this, I think, lies at the heart of problem of majoritarianism.

Constitutional Posts