Personal Reflections

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Saturday Morning Musings - reflections on urban development and life style 1

I suppose it's inevitable but not universal that we become more reflective as we grow older. There is more to reflect on, good and bad, The iceberg under the present becomes just so much larger, the future shrinks. 

Is this increased reflection a good thing? I do wonder some times. I know some who have a unique capacity to live in the present, to enjoy what they have even if that is much reduced. Others have the capacity to reinvent themselves, to move forward in new directions.  In both cases, reflection may be put aside unless it adds value to the present.For still others, reflections on the past bring a sense of loss, loss of friends and loved ones, of lost opportunities, even guilt over past mistakes. This may lead to a sense of grievance, a feeling that life and especially people have let them down.

I'm not sure which group I fall into. I have elements of them all. I do know that I have become more reflective and I'm not sure that's such a good thing. How do I use that reflection in a positive way?

This brief meander was triggered this morning by an apparently unrelated event. I have long been fascinated by the dynamic elements in the patterns of human life. This morning there was a radio program  on the fifteen minute city. This included an interview with Carlos Moreno who promoted the concept. As you will see from linked Conversation article, the whole concept has somehow been caught up in those terminally boring culture war debates between right and left.  The article is written from something of a left perspective. Those sceptical of the concept are concerned that it will become another weapon in the armoury of those who wish to impose particular life styles on people for their own good and to preserve the environment. 

I can see why they might feel that, but it's really beside the point. It's quite possible to have an objective discussion on the pluses and minuses of a concept or approach including experience in practice without becoming too involved in possibly related but peripheral arguments. Mixing metaphors, there is little value in chasing a fine red herring down a rabbit hole. Unless, of course. you wish to use the smell to distract! 

This morning's radio discussion started reflections along two lines. 

Now that I am back in Armidale I have become much involved in thinking about life in this little city that is again my home. I walk or drive the streets and surrounding countryside, bike riding is a bit beyond me at the moment, looking at the changing pattern of life. I read the local media and attend activities and functions. And where I can, I talk to people both face to face and on-line.This is a fascinating place undergoing change, one with a unique lifestyle. What does this tell us about the process of urban, community and social development? My argument is that it is a microcosm, a case study, of the broader discussions usually dominated by the metros.  

The second line of reflection lay in a simple question; how did I come to be so interested in this area? What have I learned? How did I learn it? This question is a little self-indulgent. You must bear with me here.

Over coming weeks I will follow these two lines through, thus (hopefully) getting me back into writing mode.    

Saturday, January 28, 2023

400+ Harry Potter Facts & Statistics from the Books, Movies, and More

Back in July 2011 in The end of Harry Potter I reflected on the last Harry Potter movie.  As eldest said at the time, "7 Books, 8 Films and 14 years of my life. In essence, my childhood!" 

As it happens, Netflix has all the movies on at present, so I have been revisiting them and especially the early ones. Coincidentally, Ella Trosden drew my attention to this piece by Rebecca Janacek on the vpnMentor blog, 400+ Harry Potter Facts & Statistics from the Books, Movies, and More. I think that it's worth a browse. Certainly, I enjoyed browsing 

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Preliminary reflections on 2023: Ukraine

 After a turbulent few years, 2023 looks likely to follow the same pattern. 

When President Putin launched his Special Military Operation in Ukraine in February 2022, there was some debate about the causes of the conflict, a debate that has dragged on. Regardless of that, few expected a war with such significant global implications. Looking back at the small number of posts I wrote from 2014, I downplayed suggestions that we might have a repeat of the Second World War. Now I'm not so sure. I also underestimated the global impact of the conflict.

President Putin expected his invasion to yield quick results. The strength of Ukrainian resistance took him by surprise, providing time for Ukraine's allies to provide financial and material assistance that in turn forced the Russians back. Now Russia is regrouping trying to use its stronger population and resource base to wear down the Ukrainians. President Putin has been reluctant to move to a full total war footing, it's hard to do that when you even deny that there is a war on, but circumstances are likely to force his hand. 

The present war position can best be described as a stalemate reminiscent of  World War 1 with trench and defensive lines running over thousands of kilometres. President Putin hopes that the extended conflict will finally drain the West's willingness and ability to sustain support given domestic political considerations in the various countries involved. The West hopes for a Ukrainian breakthrough that will erode Russia's ability to fight the war. I could wish that, but it seems to me that the most probable military result is a period of stasis with heavy casualties on both sides. Meantime, the effects of the war continue to spread and spread.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Family memories of Queen Elizabeth's accession to the throne and subsequent Coronation

I am of an age to remember learning to sing God Save the King at primary school, to remember books and magazine articles on the royal family including the bombing of Buckingham Palace and the role of the princesses during the Second World War.

The death of Queen Elizabeth brought many of these memories back, as well as the Coronation, the Royal Visit in 1954 and subsequent festivities and visits. At the time the Queen visited Armidale in 1970 I was already in Canberra so missed the visit there, but was invited to a gathering at the ANU Union when Charles visited there. Not that we talked. I was just in the background while he moved elsewhere in the room. 

Later I watched his wedding and also saw he and Diana pass in Sydney, My old school had links with Gordonstoun and Prince Edward, links that continue to this day.  Given all this, I thought that I would indulge myself by taking you back to the early days of Queen Elizabeth's reign where there was a family linkage. 

In 1952-1953, my grandfather David Drummond visited the UK together with Gran and Aunts Kathleen (Kay) and Margaret. Fa, I always called him Fa because I couldn't pronounce grandfather, was then Member for New England having previously been a member of the NSW Parliament and a long standing Minister for Public Instruction (Education).  

King George V1 had died in February 1952 and the new Queen while not yet crowned had already assumed ceremonial duties including on 10 June 1952 the first presentation to court of the new reign. Lady White, the wife of the High Commissioner to the UK, arranged for the Drummond girls to be presented to court. By happenstance, and as reported somewhat  breathlessly in the Armidale Express, Kay was the first deb to be presented followed by Margaret.

I was struck by the bolded reference to the elastic dress-belts as the height of fashion. They along with deb presentations were about to pass into history! Kay would teach in London, elocution and drama, at a private drama academy. 

The following photo shows the dress Kay wore at the presentation.  

On 12 July 1952, there was a garden party at Buckingham Palace. This photo shows the Drummond family arriving at the Palace for the party. 

My grandparents. Things were definitely more formal then! 

Gran with the girls after the garden party. 

And here is a family shot taken at the party.

The Drummonds were still in London at the time of the Coronation, purchasing tickets to watch.

Kay took notes and typed them up later. Her diary follows.

Page One

Page 2

Page 3 

Page 4

One week later the final event was the Derby. None of them would ever forget the the collective experience


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Moving woes

Rusden Street, Armidale. Playing with the house.

 I hate moving. Growing up, we lived first at Rusden Street. The house no longer exists, later demolished to make was for a New England TAFE car park. I do remember the house and nearby park, although I left there when I was around four.

When I was around four, we moved to 202 Marsh Street, the place that would be home until I left for Canberra in 1967. Well, that's not quite precise. While I was away I retained my bedroom and my books and constantly came back. Much later after I married, we moved back to the old house where my girls were born. There we lived until my wife took a job in Sydney in 1996 and we all had to move. 

Bath time. Both my girls were born at Marsh Street

Since we left Armidale I have lived in seven rental properties, now moving into a house owned by my partner making an eighth move. It would be nice if this were the last.

I mention all this because I have found this last move totally disruptive, It's partly a matter of age. I can no longer lift boxes in the way I once could. I can no longer go without sleep in the way I once could. I find it harder to motivate myself yo keep going.

My books are my love, the tools of my trade. During the many moves I have been forced to reduce my book and paper collection by perhaps two thirds. Now I am still unpacking books and trying to organise myself. I got thye computer and internet set up early, but the books are still going even with reduced numbers. I guess that reduced is a relative concept. I still have thousands of books!

To most Australians, printed books have been in decline. Many Australians actually have few or no books in the house. I remember a decade or so ago on a consulting job staying with a client. With the exception of a few Reader's Digest condensed books, there was not a single book in the house. On assignment, I hadn't brought any books with me. I became frustrated at not being able to read myself to sleep!

There is a myth that today we don't need printed books. We can get everything from the internet. The reality is quite different. The internet is wonderful. I use it all the time. It gives me access to material in hours, sometimes minutes, that would have taken me weeks when I started university. This may be true, but the internet is actually very limited in scope and focus. I work in niches, areas not covered by the internet except in most peripheral ways And here I come back to my books. 

 I know that I will get though by current moving ways, that I will be able to increase my writing, but for the moments it's very hard.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

A series of unfortunate events

 While I haven't been writing here I haven't been totally distracted, just a tad preoccupied. Since I wrote Can globalisation survive current shocks? (Monday June 6 2022) the world has continued to track in unfortunate directions, reminding me of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. I hadn't thought of that series for years! Somehow, the title seemed appropriate. 

In the eight weeks since I wrote that post, omicron has extended its reach; the WHO had declared a global monkey pox emergency; foot and mouth disease has reached Bali creating Australian consternation;   the war in Ukraine grinds on through a process of bloody attrition: exports of Ukrainian wheat and oil may or may not resume; inflation has exploded round the world with most Central Banks raising interest rates; Shri Lanka has imploded with other countries possibly following the same path; general supply chain shortages continue; and global recession seems very likely.

I find myself sucked into perusal of on-going daily, even hourly, events switching from outlet to outlet. It's very distracting. I must try to do better! 

Monday, June 06, 2022

Can globalisation survive current shocks?

Malaysia has banned the export of chicken products from 1 June 2022, Introduced to protect Malaysian domestic supply, the ban covers live poultry, whole carcasses, chilled and frozen meat, chicken parts and chicken-based products, 

Variants of Hainanese chicken rice are a popular local dish in many parts of Asia and especially in Singapore where it is a ubiquitous national dish. On June 2 2022 CNN carried a story written by Heather Chen on the impact on Singapore of the Malaysian ban. 

The Malaysian ban is the latest in a series of interconnected flow-on effects that began with covid related damage to global supply chains that were then further damaged by the Russian invasion of Ukraine which restricted supply of oils and grains from those countries and led to the application of sanctions on Russian activities that further affected trade. Then add the effects of drought in parts of the world. The end result is a perfect storm now affecting billions of people. 

Australia has not been immune from these various effects. At one level the country has benefited from record prices for agricultural products, coal and natural gas. Here I couldn't help noting the irony that the controversial Adani mine whose economics were so doubted now looks like a profitable short term bet with current thermal coal prices well above break even. At a second level, consumers are suffering from continuing supply shortages in supermarkets and along supply chains with high prices for vegetables, meat and especially energy.  

It is unclear how these various effects will work themselves out. I suppose my main longer term concern lies in the impact on globalisation. Globalisation has become a hotly contested topic. From my perspective, while globalisation has had costs it has also facilitated economic growth that has lifted millions out of poverty. Now the world risks a shift back to national autarchy not seen since the great depression. 

At a personal level, I underestimated the fragility of the interconnected global economic system. To illustrate this, consider the case of Just In Time production, more recently known as Lean Manufacturing. Central to this are interconnected production systems designed to reduce inventory costs by bringing in supplies just when needed. With time, these systems became globally complex. They also became dependent on a small number of critical suppliers for products such as computer chips. Recent supply chain disruptions have have had ripple effects along these complex chains, They have also changed price relationships disrupting the financial models built into the production processes. In Australia, for example, shortages of building materials have had disruptive supply and price effects that have dramatically slowed construction including house building, adding to problems associated with labor shortages. 

I don't think anybody knows just how global systems will adjust to current shocks. The economic outlook has certainly become darker with some commentators talking about the risk of global depression. I think (hope that) these concerns are overstated, but the risks are there. 


Saturday, June 04, 2022

Saturday Morning Musings - Labor returns to power

Like many, I did not shed tears of blood over Labor's victory in the last Federal election. I felt that the Coalition Government had become stale after nine years in office. A change in Government allows for the evolution of new approaches, something that becomes increasingly difficult as governments age. I also found myself increasingly annoyed by Prime Minister Morrison's unfortunate tendency to select words, express attitudes, that reminded me of areas where I had been in disagreement with the Government's previous approach. There was a sometimes harshness, a lack of compassion, in his words that made me distrustful, that reinforced my concerns that the Coalition Government could not be trusted on matters of individual freedom. 

The success of the "Teal" independents and, to a lesser extent, the Greens surprised me. I have spent a fair bit of time involved in or observing country (now regional) politics. There the primary political context has long been between the Country now National Party, the Liberal Party and independents or, more recently, minor parties. Labor was once strong in country NSW, but that's a long time ago. While I describe my traditional affiliation as Country Party, I have voted independent on many occasions. By contrast, I have voted Liberal once in my life. In my world, the Liberals have been the traditional enemy, Labor less so. 

While some city independents have been successful, Ted Mack comes to mind, it is much harder to run an independent campaign in the city. In the country, voting populations are in discrete pockets within electorates. The city position is very different. Go to a meeting of a local group and your will find that many attendees live outside the electorate. Hand out campaign material at a railway station and you will find that a large proportion of people do not live in your electorate. In the country, a now sadly diminished local media will still carry your material. In the city, the main media is all metro focused making it hard for a candidate from a particular locality to attract coverage, 

The "Teal" position this time was different. Their local identity was important but they campaigned on two popular issues - integrity and climate change - which attracted national media coverage giving them real coverage. And they were well funded to an extent that most independents could only dream of. The end result was a considerable electoral triumph. 

There has been a lot of rather breathless coverage over the results including "Teal" and Green success and the reduction in the vote of both Labor and the Coalition.  I would agree that the results reflect continued demographic change and as well as cultural shifts. but it will be some time before sensible judgements can be made. In the meantime, I have enjoyed watching the new Government start to settle in. 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Saturday Morning Musings -times of turmoil

The last few years have been truly tumultuous. Drought was followed by fire and then covid and floods. Internationally, growing tensions with China were followed by the Ukraine War. The global rules based order established after the Second World War has progressively broken down. The integrated globalised trading and financial system that helped drive world economic growth lifting millions out of poverty has been fractured by the combination of covid restrictions with political and economic tensions including sanctions. The economic policy framework that emerged during the 1970s in many countries including Australia with its emphasis on freer trade, reduced government, deregulation and privatisation has been swept away as governments responded to global changes and to the need to respond at domestic level to the damage done by the covid epidemic and associated restrictions. And now we have the apparent re-emergence of 1970s style stagflation, the phenomenon that helped destroy the old concept of the welfare state.

In all this, Australia has been relatively lucky as it was during the Global Financial Crisis and for somewhat similar reasons. China's wolf diplomacy with its restrictions on Australian trade has had limited economic impact in part because other markets emerged, more because China itself has continued large scale purchases of iron ore. While our education exports have been badly hit by covid restrictions and by clumsy government policy responses, these losses have been offset by booming energy sales including coal. Our primary products have benefited from higher prices and from increased output as the big dry ended. While some shortages have emerged in supermarkets, while rising food prices have placed strains on household budgets,  Australia has been insulated from the food shortages appearing in some other parts of the world. While sometimes clumsy, Australian Government(s) policy responses have been generally effective in managing the rolling crises. 

As a policy analyst, I find it difficult to  determine the relative longer term importance of the changes that have been taking place. Like many Australians, I am a little shell-shocked by the pace of change, 

Each crisis has had different interacting elements that were seen as important at the time but were then somewhat overtaken by subsequent events. China, the drought, fires, covid, floods and the war in Ukraine were all dramatic events attracting saturation hour by hour, even minute by minute, coverage before being overtaken by the next drama. And then below the main headlines other important events were occurring that were effectively swamped, ignored. In all this, I think that we can say that a new world is emerging although the details are still unclear.      

Monday, March 14, 2022

Creating texture in writing and related matters: a note

While I claim to be a writer, my writing scope is really quite constrained, non fiction with an analytical and predominantly historical focus. I try to write with clarity, I try to be interesting, but my writing is still constrained by its form and purpose. I have also experimented with different forms with varying success including poetry (disastrous), short stories (just okay) and memoir (reasonable) as a way of varying my writing style. Because I lecture as well as write, the two forms are very different, I have acquired a certain facility in oral presentation.

I was reminded of all this listening to the ABC Radio National film critic Jason Di Rosso interviewing Italian-American film maker  Jonas Carpignano with a special focus on his latest film A Chiara. It was a good interview, but two things interested me in particular. 

The first was the way that Carpignano's three feature films all centred on different stories set in a single Calabrian town, Gioia Tauro. This is now Jonas's home town. In filming, he had to work in a way that would tell a story while being respectful of the local community. This required a degree of trust. I face something of the same problem, compounded by the fact that while  Carpignano's films are fiction, my writing often deals with living people or their families. 

The second was the discussion on film craft, the way in which Jonas's apparently free-flowing semi-documentary style concealed careful attention to detail in a structured approach designed to achieve his filmic objectives. In writing terms, I think of this as the creation of texture, the provision of the detail necessary to create a story.

In writing, in film, in plays, in art, indeed in all forms of performance, there is an interaction between the work and the audience. This is not a simple process. 

Consider a play. The playwright has an idea as to the story and the way it should be presented, but once completed it is out of the writer's hands. It will be interpreted by producer and cast in ways that may diverge from the author's intent. Then it will be interpreted again by the audience. Here there are in fact three works, the play as written, the play as presented and the play as interpreted by members of the audience. 

I sometimes call myself a public historian. By this I mean partly that I write from outside the academy, more that I am seeking to interest and involve a broader audience in the topics I select. Over the hundreds of columns that I have written, I am (if you like) trying to sell both history and the topics I am interested in. I regard my writing as successful it it gives my readers new insights, if it leads them to further reading or, perhaps most importantly, if it leads them to challenge me.  

Writing in this way I rarely use footnotes or identify sources, although in most cases I can if asked. This habit of mine appals some academic historians. They regard it as a professional breach. To some, the purists, the only genuine history is that based exclusively on primary sources. 

I really challenge this last view. I am fortunate to have a reasonable library including many older texts, most now consigned to the dustbin in our current digital age where only the most recent or most popular are regarded as worthy of  retention. Just because a book is older or in some way now old-fashioned does not prevent it offering insights in general or as an artefact of its time.     

I follow a somewhat different approach when writing as a professional historian, I am now seeking to advance knowledge of a particular topic. I still wish to interest, to explain, but I am now bound by the canons of history as a discipline. Here long ago I absorbed the simple message that knowledge is only knowledge if it is potentially refutable. If it cannot be refuted, at least in theory, it's more a matter of faith and belief. This means that I must present my evidence in ways that allow my evidence and arguments to be checked and challenged. 

 Looking back over my own writing, the type of issues referenced in this note have been a constant preoccupation of mine. Here are a few examples:

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Sydney Wharf Review, tropes and good satire - even just humour

Cleaning the kitchen, I was listening to the Wharf Review on ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio National. For those who don't know it, the Wharf Review is something of a Sydney institution, a musical satirical review program on the events of the last year. It was a favourite of my little family. I used to listen with them, sometimes smiling, sometimes grimacing for my humour was nhot the same as theirs.

I had not had contact with the Review for many years so left it on while I cleaned the kitchen mess. Then I turned it off. A little later, I turned the radio on again, feeling that I should listen, only to turn it off after ten minutes. 

My problem was the constant repetition of  tropes designed to appeal to the particular audience that the Review attracts. It is relatively easy to achieve a laugh by exaggerating features that the audience knows and is opposed too, that are already a matter of common discussion among particular groups. I just found it boring. 

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think that the measure of good satire is the extent to which it appeals to a relatively uninvolved audience.    

Monday, January 17, 2022

Personal reflections on the tent embassy


Activist and actor Bob Maza addresses a protest at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in front of Parliament House on July 30, 1972. Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

A piece by Bronwyn Carlson and Lynda-June Coe in the Conversation, A short history of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy – an indelible reminder of unceded sovereignty, took my mind back.

The Tent Embassy began on 26 January 1972. I was working in Treasury at the time, just across from the Embassy. I frequently walked past it on my walks or when visiting Parliament House. The thing that stands out in my memory now is that I had no idea of its significance. There was a total void between me and the Embassy, a void of ignorance. 

Growing up in Armidale, there were very few Aboriginal people. The big influx began about 1956 with in-migration, leading to the creation of an Aboriginal camp on the town dump. I remember that, I remember the creation of the reserve, the last created by the old Aboriginal Welfare Board. I remember the construction of new galvanised homes leading to the application of the name Silver City. I remember some of the activities carried out through Chirch and University groups to try to improve conditions. I knew some of the older families by name. I even knew some Aboriginal history up to the European invasion and had read anthropological and historical studies. I had heard a young Charles Perkins speak to UNE students at a crowded UNE Union meeting. And yet I knew nothing about certain key aspects of Aboriginal history post 1788.

At the time, discussion on Aboriginal issues tended to be dominated on one side by Northern Australia, on the other by the emerging interest in massacres and frontier violence. I already knew a little about the second, but there was nothing on post frontier warfare Aboriginal history in NSW and especially in Northern NSW where my particular interests lay. 

In 1966 when I read Malcolm Calley's thesis on the Bandjalung I was interested and surprised by the continued existence of Aboriginal culture including language, but I had no context to set that into. 

It would be a number of years before my own research started to paint a picture, more years before I actually met a large number of Aboriginal people through my work with the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office. And yet, even now, I don't think that we have a basic foundation text on Aboriginal history at least so far as NSW is concerned. I think that's a problem.