Continuing the muse that began last Saturday with Saturday morning musings - meander though Belshaw's writer's diary 1, I find that my writer’s diaries are littered with dates; dates that I wrote, dates of publications or articles, dates of events. I seem to be obsessed with dates. It’s partly the academic in me that makes me want to record chronology, partly that I need dates to fix things in my head, partly that I get things wrong if I don’t have dates right.
I also like to know the days on which things happened. Sometimes it just makes things seem more real if I am reporting on past events as though they were just happening. For example, 10 October 1845 was a Friday. So if I was reporting on the opening of the Naval School (now called US Naval Academy) at Annapolis (I’m not sure why I would, but who knows!) I might begin the piece Annapolis, Friday 10 October 1845….
Dates are important for another reason. We live in a world where ten years is very past, twenty years remote, fifty almost inconceivable. I don’t mean that people don’t know objectively that certain events have happened, they simply can’t attach context to them.
I mention this now because of the current Australian debate over whether the current generation however defined will be the first to be worse off than their parents. When I first saw it, my first reaction was that this was a-historical. Surely that can’t be right? As I dug into it for a piece that I am writing, I concluded that as framed it was a meaningless discussion except to the degree that policy prescriptions were being based on it. That had an objective reality.
In writing, I constantly struggle with the difference between causation and correlation. This leads to diagrams and charts as I try to sketch possibilities. They are always rough, often just lines and squiggles. The kinship relations of the Kamilaroi are in a case in point. I have page after page of relationship trees, written on trains in the morning and afternoon. Most now mean nothing to me. However, it’s not wasted, for if I go back to my source material, the writings of Michael O’Rourke, I know that they will.
Michael features heavily in my writer’s notes at certain periods. Michael, it may give you a certain satisfaction to know that your kindness in sending me copies of your books on the Kamilaroi has been repaid by hours of reading, thought and writing. I have no idea as to how many hours, but it’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds.
I don’t think that Michael and I have ever met, if we have it was just in passing along our different tracks, but I know how to place him in my firmament, and an important place it is. So, Michael, time to do more writing?
As a writer, I struggle with context. This is a 1909 portrait of Australian artist Thea Proctor by Charles Davis. I struggle with fitting her into the multiple places she occupies. As a human being, I struggle to deal with the texture of human experience with its moments of happiness, challenges and despairs.
I tend to leave what I think of as my angst moments to my personal diary, not my writer’s log. Inevitably, the two overlap. How do I understand Thea Proctor (she is a very pretty woman) and try to explain? Inevitably, I mine my own experiences, for that is only way I can understand, to give an emotional context.
I find that as I re-read my writer’s diaries over the years that I have been keeping them, it is the political and, more broadly, the current events that have the least long term value. It’s partly the ephemerallity of current events, more that it’s so hard to bring about change.
I don’t believe that our current system is sustainable, it’s too entrenched in cost and rigidity. But how do you explain that? How do you show what needs to be done when the answer is not doing better, but simply not doing, accepting limitations?
I am vehemently opposed to some of the current nostrums about the role of the state, the structure of social control, the application of simple models. Grattan gives us disaster, as do the Greens. The solution lies not in models with their universal solutions nor in a constant search for improvement. While improvement is always possible, the real immediate need is simply simplification, the need to stop doing stuff. The second need is to get rid of command and control.
As an example, it took more time and resources to introduce a simple $A1.84 million subsidy to support a narrowly defined range of activities to help Aboriginal housing in NSW than it did to restructure the entire training program for ophthalmologists in Australia and New Zealand? Sorry, I don’t think that’s very useful.