Friday, December 31, 2010

An Australian dies in Crete

In my continuing series on our Greek trip I have mentioned the close connections between Greece and Australia a number of times. These are links of blood and fire.

In Arrival in Iraklion I spoke of the Battle of Crete. At Christmas, my daughters gave me a copy of 100 Australian Poems you need to know (James Grant editor, Hardie Grant books, Prahran, 2008). This included one poem on Crete, The Tomb of Lt. John Learmonth, A.I.F. by Australian poet John Manifold. You can find a copy of the full poem here.

The poem begins:  

This is not sorrow, this is work: I build
A cairn of words over a silent man,
My friend John Learmonth whom the Germans killed.

John Learmonth was the son of Victorian grazier, naturalist and historian Noel Learmonth. He and Manifold appear to have been childhood friends. 

Schoolboy, I watched his ballading begin:
Billy and bullocky and billabong,
Our properties of childhood, all were in.

I heard the air though not the undersong,
The fierceness and resolve; but all the same
They're the tradition, and tradition's strong.

In March 1941, Lieutenant John Learmonth 2/3rd Field Regiment, AIF, sailed for Crete as part of Lustre Force, a military expedition sent to help defend Greece from the Germans. The force included over 17,000 Australians as we01b_Learmonthll as 16,700 New Zealanders.  

Learmonth appears to have absorbed the Greek romantic myth, something I have already written about in this series.

"A number of pretty little islands have been visible on our starboard quarter since daylight this morning," he wrote in his diary on 29 March 1941 as the troop ship sailed up the Greek coast towards Piraeus. He went on:

I have forgotten what little ancient history I ever read; but I fancy Ulysses must have sailed in these seas. I wonder did the Sirens live on one of those little islands over there, now slumbering so peacefully in the warm laughing sea; and do those rocks hide the caves of Cyclops, the one-eyed giant? What history has been made among these seas; what sagas of the human race have had their setting here. Thousands of years ago men have sailed these seas to go to war, and we sail them today for the same purpose.

The trip combined boredom with fear as the convoy was under threat from enemy aircraft and ships, including the Italian navy that had finally put to sea under pressure from the Germans. The day before Learmonth recorded his reactions, British and Italian naval forces clashed at Matapan. The Italians were heavily defeated, leaving the sea lanes to Greece open. 04_acropolis_225

Australian poet Kenneth Slessor who was travelling with the Force as official correspondent described the first reactions to Greece in this way:

They find themselves in a country that might be a piece of Australia towed across the world. The Greek spring with its white and piercing light, its floods of sun, its clean sharp water and, above all its exiled eucalypts, is closer to home than anything they have seen since they left Fremantle.

All those years later, my own reactions to the Greek Islands including the gums was much the same.

I will write about the chaotic events of the Greek campaign in a later post. Outnumbered, Commonwealth and Greek forces were forced into a fighting retreat that included defence of evacuation zones. Between 24 and 29 April, the Mediterranean Fleet, including warships of the RAN, and attendant merchant vessels evacuated an estimated 50 732 men and women of the British force from five embarkation areas.

The evacuation ships came under constant attack from German dive bombers. On 25 April 1941 (Anzac Day) Able Seaman Patrick Bridges, RAN recorded in his diary:

Heading for Suda Bay [Crete] with other ships loaded with troops. Germans attacked us with heavy bombs. Soldiers sleeping all over the place. No sleep last night. Pulled alongside jetty to unload troops. Went alongside another big ship and unloaded another 1000 troops. Pulled alongside wharf again and then went out and anchored. Dropped down in a corner dead beat and fell asleep straight away.08B_nurses Crete

The next photo shows Army nurses from Australian and New Zealand
hospitals arriving in Suda Bay after their
evacuation from mainland Greece, April 1941.

By 28 April the Greek government of Prime Minister Emmanuel Tsouderos, along with the King, George II, had established itself at Hania in Crete.  Major General Bernard Freyberg, the commander of the 2nd New Zealand Division, was appointed as the British commander-in-chief of what became known as ‘Creforce’.

On 29 April, John Learmonth returned to his historical musings in his diary:

It is only a quarter of a century since the Australians of the first A.I.F. made history here, yet this was the cradle of history before the Australians, or even the British, had come into being. I wonder shall we in our turn add fresh deeds to the story of mankind, deeds that will go down from generation to generation for thousands of years to come; and I wonder also what new races will rise up and fight their wars here, when we are as long-distant and forgotten as the Ancient Greeks … now seem to us.

In the fighting that followed, Commonwealth and Greek forces supported by the Cretan population inflicted heavy casualties on the Germans, so heavy that it effectively ended the German paratroopers as a military weapon. However, with German control of the skies, the military balance fell in their favour. Again, British control of the seas allowed for evacuation.

Some 500 British and Commonwealth troops remained behind and took to the hills. John Learmonth was one. Manifold records it this way:

There was no word of hero in his plan;
Verse should have been his love and peace his trade,
But history turned him to a partisan.

There Learmonth was killed.

Far from the battle as his bones are laid
Crete will remember him. Remember well,
Mountains of Crete, the Second Field Brigade!

Say Crete, and there is little more to tell
Of muddle tall as treachery, despair
And black defeat resounding like a bell;

But bring the magnifying focus near
And in contemtp of muddle and defeat
The old heroic virtues still appear.

Australian blood where hot and icy meet
(James Hogg and Lermontov were of his kin)
Lie still and fertilise the fields of Crete.

One of his men wrote:

At the end on Crete he took to the hills, and said he'd fight it out with only a revolver. He was a great soldier.

As I researched this story, I thought of John Learmonth's parents. One son died in infancy. Then John died in Crete. His younger brother, Wing Commander Charles Cuthbertson Learmonth, D.F.C., was killed in 1944. Learmonth air force base in Western Australia is named after him.

Note on sources

In addition to the poem and some general web searches, this post draws heavily from 'A Great Risk in a good cause', the story of Australian involvement in the Greek campaign.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Systemic complexity, the internet & foreign policy

2011 is going to be an interesting year.

In Can Gillard last?, Paul Barratt muses over the vexed question of Julia Gillard's ability to do the job, presently quite a common topic of discussion. He writes in part:

Like most Australian politicians Julia Gillard has had a career path which has equipped her very poorly to manage complexity. There is nothing in Gillard’s career path or performance to date that suggests that she is up to the complex agenda which confronts her.

There is a well established body of literature that demonstrates that the capacity to manage complexity is a product both of intrinsic capabilities and maturing through one’s career in the management of rising levels of complexity. No matter how talented a person might be, he/she cannot successfully “jump in the deep end” when it comes to handling complexity, which necessarily involves managing multiple variables over a long period of time.  This is the very good reason that military organisations do not fast track people through the ranks; they spend time at each level not only to demonstrate that they can handle that level of operational complexity, but to have time to absorb the lessons of that experience before moving up to the next level. For the definitive work on this subject see Elliott Jaques, Requisite Organization: A Total System for Effective Managerial Leadership for the 20th Century, Cason Hall & Co., Arlington VA, Revised Second Edition, 1996.

I agree with Paul's general point here.

On the internet, 2010 was the year of Assange. It was also the year of apps (application software) and cloud computing.

Neither application software nor cloud computing are new. What is new is the sheer scale achieved by cloud computing and the supporting infrastructure. This brings gains, but also introduces new vulnerabilities into communications and processing systems. Our society has become system dependant in a way never seen before.

Sooner or later there is likely to be a serious system crash. 2010 saw the NAB (National Australia Bank) payments system go down, causing acute short term difficulties to many. This gave a small taste of the difficulties that might arise. To quote from just one story on Royal Pingdom:

If Facebook has its way (and it usually does), over the coming years a ton of websites and online services will become part of the open graph that Facebook is promoting, with Facebook firmly planted in the middle. The concept is very interesting, and the potential for this web of data from a wide variety of sources is enormous. You could say that Facebook will tie all our information, and the whole web, together.

There’s just one problem (two, if you count privacy): When the web becomes “interconnected” with Facebook, it also means that when Facebook breaks, the web breaks. In short, Facebook becomes a single point of failure for the web.

Facebook is only one element in systemic vulnerability.

If 2010 was the year of Mr Asssange, 2011 may be the year in which the internet itself fragments.

The original concept of an open self-governing web has already been replaced by a myriad of controls at national and organisation level. These have accreted slowly over time. 2011 is likely to see an extension of this as Governments use a combination of law, regulation, commercial pressure and controls over infrastructure to try to bend the internet to their requirements.

In addition to Government pressures, various commercial organisations are effectively slowing the internet as they seek to control traffic and data flowing from that traffic. 

2010 was, I think, the year in which Chinese replaced English as the largest language on the internet. While English will continue as the most common lingua franca for the present at least, the continuing rise of non-English language content means that non-English language domains become richer and more self-contained.

I don't write a lot on foreign policy, but 2011 is shaping up as a difficult year in global terms. Old trouble spots continue, there are continuing shifts in economic and demographic power, while the ability of the US and EU to influence events are increasingly resource constrained.

The problem with all imperial powers over history is that at the time they most need to project power they can least afford it. The diversion of resources to defence then further drains their strength. The US and EU are now in that position.

From a purely Australian perspective, the economic and demographic analysis I did several years ago (GDP - Australia in its Region) sketched out both the decline in the traditional Western powers and the relative decline in the Australian position as our proportion of global wealth and population declined. I also pointed to the way in which Australia was trying to use both multi- and bi-lateral trade policy to establish a framework of economic links. Freer trade was central to this.

2010 saw the return of protectionism as the global financial crisis ripped previous arrangements apart. To my mind, this has been something of a disaster for Australia because it essentially put the carefully crafted trade initiatives that had underpinned longer term policy on hold.

At the time of Mr Rudd's first overseas trip I was very critical of his approach (Saturday Morning Musings - foreign policy, Mr Rudd and the dangers of Australia's middle power status). We now know from, among other things, the Wikleaks cables that I was right to be concerned.

Sadly, 2011 is shaping up as another year of the boat people. Yes, I know that I have a humanitarian position here somewhat at odds with political perceptions on the issue. However, my concern here is the way that the refugee issue twists foreign policy.

From a national perspective, this is a second order issue. Yet it appears to have become a dominant driver in our immediate regional relationships. This is both silly and dangerous.

Staying international, I also think of 2011 as the year of the Chinese economy. Can China continue to grow, or will the growing imbalances in the Chinese economy stall economic growth? This economic issue plays out in the context of growing complexity in foreign policy in North and East Asia as the Chinese attempt to assert what they see as their traditional hegemony.

To a degree at least, the Japanese co-prosperity scheme that we saw in the period up to and including the Second World War has been replaced by a Chinese version. India adds to the complexity, for that country's population and power is rising inexorably.

This makes Australian life uncomfortable for we have to balance China and India as well as the US.

2010 marked the end of the War on Terror. Back in August 2007 in Moral Courage, Fear, Technology and the Decline of the West I tried to explain why I thought that the so-called War on Terror had become self-defeating. There I said in part:  

In all this, what began as a "war on terror", a response to a terrorist attack by a small but well organised group, has turned into real war fought on a number of fronts involving hundreds if not thousands of casualties each day, mainly innocent civilians.

It has also become a technology war.

War always drives the development of technology.

Those involved in terrorist activities have been able to use the new computing and telecommunications technology to contact each other, to spread information and as a PR weapon. Here they use internet technology not just to instil fear in Western countries - a necessary requirement since this drives the Government responses they need to spread their cause - but also to recruit. In some ways, Al Quaeda has become the web 2.0 version of terrorism.

Those involved in terrorism have also been able to develop new, simple, destructive weapons to kill or maim, using our own systems, technology and fears against us. Their capacity to do so is enhanced by media reporting that facilitates the spread of knowledge about both successes and failures.

On the Government side, the war on terror has encouraged the development of technologies used in monitoring, surveillance, control. All this gives the state far greater power to monitor and control its citizens. That's fine, but only so long as we can trust the state not to misuse the power. And the evidence world wide is that we cannot.

And all for what?

In 2010 we dropped phrases like the War on Terrorism because we were now dealing with real wars in which terrorism had become just one weapon.

My views on both refugees and the War on Terrorism appear to place me in the left wing camp. I am not. I span. Indeed, I think of 2010 in Australia as the year of the ideologues as resurgent warriors of left and right fought it out. The end of ideology, of left and right, was replaced by new battles.

Internationally, and crudely, it was anti-globalisation protestors vs the Tea Party.

I may be wrong, but I think of 2011 as the likely year of values, of a paradigm shift in which previous approaches will be replaced by a still messy set of new approaches.

I haven't mentioned climate change to this point. Here I think of 2011 as the year of grind.

To my mind, much of the discussion around climate change in terms of pro and anti has actually become irrelevant in a longer term sense.

The majority position at official level is that climate change is happening or is, at least, a real risk. We are at the grind stage in which a large number of individual nations are trying to work out common positions taking individual interests into account.    

Monday, December 27, 2010

Social change, the Aborigines & the writing process

M main post today, Social Change in New England 1950-2000 11: the Aborigines, is on the New England history blog.

When I first studied history at school, there was an argument that said that current or recent events were not a suitable subject for history because closeness made it hard to get sufficient distance. The present always affected interpretation of the immediate past.

Of course, all historical writing is affected by the present. Still, there is a point. I have written a lot on public policy towards Australia's Aboriginal peoples. I find that I want to use my historical writing to support my policy positions.

That's hardly surprising. After all, my public policy arguments were already grounded to some degree in history. However, it does introduce a bias.

Just before Christmas I had an interesting discussion over drinks with a German journalist turned historian. An older man in, I think, his early eighties, he had had a fascinating life. I will write something on the conversation at some point. For the moment, I just wanted to record his comment at the surprise he felt that so much history had been written on such a short period, the history of Australia since 1788.

He is right, of course. Australia's history is very short, shorter still if you cut out the British, Imperial and European context. I still find it fascinating.

I have set myself a 100,000 word limit for the general history I am writing. That sounds a lot, I know. However, it means that I have to cover the entire twentieth century in a maximum of 40,000 words. Within that, I have to reduce the chapter(s) on social change in New England over the second half of the twentieth century to 3,000 to 4,000 words. That's actually going to be a bit of a struggle, given that I need to point and counterpoint between broader trends and their local manifestations.

In process terms, I am using the posts on New England's history to flesh initial ideas out. I will then consolidate the material into the seminar paper I plan to give in Armidale in April. That done, the material can be put aside for the moment while I go onto other issues. Then, when I come to rewrite, I can amend and extend to take later work into account, while also shortening and consolidating.     

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas

Christmas Eve and, like many Australians, a busy day lies ahead doing the final things that need to be done. To all my fellow bloggers, readers and commenters, I wish you a happy Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

NSW 2010: elections, prorogation and public policy

Just a bit of a round-up this morning.

For the benefit of international readers, NSW will be holding elections next March.

The latest Newspoll shows the Coalition in NSW with a still commanding two party lead of 61% to 39% on a two-party preferred basis. Again for the benefit of international readers, NSW has what's called an optional , preferential system. Voters can chose to allocate preferences, one, two, three etc. Should no candidate achieve an absolute majority on the primary vote, preferences are then allocated until one candidate achieves a majority.

The current NSW Labor Government  has been on the political nose for quite some time. With pretty much everybody convinced that the Government should and must go, Premier Kristina Keneally has struggled to put together a new approach that might at least minimise defeat.

It's been interesting to watch. No less than 21 Labor MPs have announced their retirement in recent months. A 22nd was convicted of a criminal offence. Whether this leads to Party renewal in the short term really depends on just how many of those seats Labor can hold.  

The Government has also been clearing the decks in policy terms. They have got rid of some unpopular previous decisions such as the proposed Tillegra dam, while pushing forward on others such as the sale of some of the State's electricity assets. Here the Premier asked the Governor to prorogue Parliament to prevent the upper house, the Legislative Council, from holding an inquiry into the electricity sales.

In February, the use of this device in Canada led me to write Problems with prorogation. Interesting that the same issue should come up so quickly in a NSW context.

The practical effect is that the Government continues in an Executive role until the writs are issued for the next election, but the present Parliament itself has ceased. This raises an interesting constitutional issue, for the Legislative Council committee has apparently decided to push ahead. Here I quote from Imre Salusinszky's story in the Australian:

Ms Keneally last night released legal advice from the Crown Solicitor that the upper house standing committee "cannot function while the house of parliament which created it, and to which it is responsible and accountable, stands prorogued".

But Mr Nile will press ahead today, after getting contrary advice from upper house clerk Lynn Lovelock.

Ms Lovelock told The Australian: "The committee has the authority to meet and conduct the inquiry."

However, she expressed reservations about whether the committee would be well advised to "press ahead" if witnesses felt their protection under normal parliamentary privilege might be compromised.

I would have thought that there were other problems as well, including the simple question of funding the costs of any inquiry.

I have written on the electricity issue, but mainly in a New England context. Back in May, Sydney's 1995 electricity heist provided a somewhat partisan historical view of the process by which Sydney took over assets previously regarded as local and then raided them for cash. The current sale marks the end of this process.

I will write a little more on this issue because its part of the economic and social changes that took place across the broader New England during the second half of the twentieth century. Whatever the general arguments for what is called National Competition policy, it had quite differential on-ground effects.

In the lead-up to the last State elections, I was very critical of the policy approaches adopted by both sides. I called it the super market approach in which each side put forward a rag-bag of specific proposals; electors had then to decide which supermarket they preferred.

The problem with this type of approach is that it leads to a series of disconnected measures. Oppositions face particular difficulties because they lack the resources to properly cost and validate individual ideas. If they win, they are then bound to deliver on what may in fact not be good ideas.

We have an example of this at Federal level at the present time with the abandonment of the Green Loan/Green Start program. This is being presented as another example of the inability of the Federal Government to deliver. That may or may not be the case. However, it is an example of an ill-conceived election promise.

Another of the difficulties of the supermarket approach is that it can actually make it quite hard for public servants to respond sensibly.

At the last NSW elections, there was very little focus on opposition policies at officials' level because people had decided that the opposition could not win. That it is not the case this time. All the various state agencies are trying to work out what advice they might provide, how they might respond, to a new Government. They are all preparing ideas and briefings.

This is part of the liberating effect of a possible change in Government.

Over the last week or so I have chatted to officials with some involvement in the process across three major agencies. I got the feeling that they were all struggling to some degree. Their problem is that while you can cost and plan for a specific proposed activity, you also have to integrate that activity into existing programs and approaches, working out how the whole thing might fit together, what changes might need to be recommended.

To do this, you need a feel for the opposition's values and policy principles in general and in the particular areas that you are responsible for, something that you don't really get from the supermarket approach. At the moment, about the only thing on which there does appear to be agreement among officials is the likelihood of immediate cuts.

I will be watching developments here with interest.

Finally, I just wanted to note for my own purposes, to complete a story that I wrote on extensively at the time, that  Dr Mohamed Haneef and the Federal Government have apparently agreed terms of compensation for his wrongful detention.           

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Google's latest tool

I have been completely distracted this morning.

My main post today was Round the history blogs 9 - Footnotes, presentism and soldiers of fortune. In searching, I found this post: Tracking the trends via Google’s New Book Database.

Please visit. There I found the latest Google tool, one that allows you to find out how many times words and phrases have been mentioned in books included in Google books.

The following graph shows how many times the word feminism has been mentioned in books on the Google system. You can actually see  the rise and then decline of feminism in the graph. Do play. I suspect that you will waste many pleasant hours!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Further on obsessions with writing

On the bus this morning, I started to write a post recording the path I followed in my current somewhat obsessive desire to be a writer. Tonight we went to drinks at a friend's house who has been able to make the jump to full time writing, I felt so envious.

Maybe one day I will bring up this morning's post. However, it was a bit too revealing for my taste.

To write professionally, you have to be obsessive. You also need to know certain techniques. Of the two, obsession is the most important.

I did not have  have the techniques when I was younger. I learned these. But then, I didn't have the obsession either. My friends such as Alex Buzo who did make the jump were obsessive.

Today, potential writers have access to so much more than I had: writer festivals, writer's workshops; the list goes on. The things I wrestled with in a technical sense are, if not solved, at least reduced to techniques. Yet without the focused obsession, things don't happen or happen more slowly.

Thinking on the bus, If I had to give advice to a young writer today I would say just two things.

First, the only way to learn to write is to write: write, write and then write again.

Secondly, keep a writer's diary. You need this for raw material, regardless of the writing you want to do and in what medium. With a writer's diary you can record not just ideas, not just the world around you, but also experiments in writing.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

2010's worst jargon

Interesting story in last Friday's Financial Review  by Joanna Mather on the latest English jargon. Each year there is a wave of new business jargon. However, the monitoring done by the Plain English Foundation suggests that 2010 was special. After all, this was that a phrase long abandoned by the business community, "moving forward", was adopted by Julia Gillard!

"Thought showers", "repurposing" and and "cascade" were the emerging jargon of 2010. Another term, "key take-outs", may not be new, but seems to to have had new life, even appearing in job advertisements. Let me unpack this for you, to use another 2010 term.

Unpack, the article suggests, means to explain. Columnist David Astle is quoted as saying that there has been more unpacking going on than at a scout's jamboree. I do use this word, but in the sense of disentangling rather than explanation. I also use it in the very specific context of a topic whose component parts cannot be easily seen; discussion focuses on the case, not the content.

The Foundation suggests that 2010's worst jargon, not all new, included:

  • KPIs. Short for key performance indicators. As abrasive as "key result areas" or KRAs. This one is obviously not new, but remains all pervasive. And slippery.
  • granularity. Replaces drill down, We're now required to examine things with a high level of granularity. I have wondered about this one which seems to be especially popular with CEOs. It seems to carry the connotation of paying attention to detail, with the implication that this had not previously been happening. Maybe a case for revising KPIs and KRAs?
  • disintermediate. Economists term meaning cut out the middle-man.
  • Julia's moving forward.
  • Cascade. To communicate. As in information needs to cascade through the organisation. I have used this one, but in the very specific sense to describe a process of communication.
  • Thought showers replaces brainstorm. Ugly, very ugly.
  • Repurpose. To recycle. Rather than something being recycled, it is repurposed. Mmm. I'm not sure this fully captures the meaning, but then I've never been sure just what the word means anyway.
  • Strategic staircase. Replaces the tautology forward plan with something even worse. I do use the term forward plan, maybe I shouldn't, but I have no idea really what strategic staircase means.

Apparently, "artefact" is one emerging piece of jargon that we need to watch for, with one telco already fond of artefacting. According to David Astle, you need to create a trail of evidence to show that you are actioning something. You need to create artefacts, tangible evidence that you are on the case.

Well, what can I say on this one other than noting that the most common way I use the word is a physical objective dug up out of the ground, as in artefacts from the Minoan period? Does this mean that the telco in question is mummifying, preparing its business for internment and later discovery by some business archeologist?          

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Essay - Information, Assange and the workings of representative democracy

Paul Barratt had an opinion piece in the Melbourne Age that he repeated on his blog, Secrecy, national security and the internet. Paul begins his piece this way:

Nations need secrets. They are fundamental to the preservation of national security.

Democracy demands openness and governments dealing frankly and honestly with the people to whom they are accountable.

If the point of national security is to preserve our open democratic society, we must start with a presumption of openness and ask what tests a document must meet to warrant the protection of a national security classification.

You can see that Paul contrasts the need for national security with democracy's need for openness and accountability. The issue then comes where you draw the line.

I have a different perspective from Paul. Like Paul, my perspective leads me to the same question, where do you draw the line. Like Paul, I have a presumption in favour of openness. However, the underlying principles we work from are, I think, different. They reflect different views about the nature of Government information.

Australia is a representative democracy operating within the Westminster system. In that system, officials advise and implement, Government decides. In deciding, Governments take into account a range of political considerations including the desire to stay in power.

Traditionally, advice provided to a Government belonged to that Government and was confidential to that Government. There is a very funny scene in Yes Minister that captures this principle. There the Minister, frustrated by his inability to get access to policy work done under the previous regime, finally traps Sir Humphrey by gaining a copy of the policy paper from his predecessor.

Australia was never as purist as Westminster. Still, in 1972 when the Whitlam Government came to power after a long period in opposition,  I remember my then Branch head in Treasury discussing this issue in the context of just what previous papers might be made available to the new Government. In practice, the incoming Whitlam, Fraser and then Hawke Governments had access to advice and information on past policies and programs as required, but not access to the papers and information that dealt with the internal workings of the previous Government. 

There was always an expectation that papers should be made available for use by later historians. In England, the Public Records Office maintained key records which were then made available after a period of seventy years.

Australia was very slow to introduce its own national archival system. Agencies kept their own records and also destroyed them as they saw fit. This became a problem during the Second World War when the destruction of past records proved to be, in the words of the historian Hilary Golder, an act of administrative lobotomy. This led to the appointment of Ian McLean as the first Government archivist in 1944. However, it would 1983 before the first full national archives act was passed by Federal Parliament.

From its beginnings in 1944, the Australian Archives had the dual role of improving the management of records now while ensuring that key records were preserved for future generations.      

The formal system of security classifications that Paul referred to - unclassified, restricted, confidential secret, top secret - was introduced as an add-on, but did not affect the underlying principle about the confidentiality of Government information. In addition to these formal classifications, others were used as well including commercial-in-confidence and cabinet-in confidence. In all cases, the purpose of the classification was to signal the degree of special protection to be afforded the information.

While I did deal with some Defence and security matters and therefore had a top secret clearance, I rarely used a formal classification above confidential. There were good practical reasons for this.

Most of my staff were only cleared to confidential, so using a higher classification created a real access problem. Further, the procedures for handling secret and top secret material were cumbersome to say the least. Given that all our advice was confidential in any case in the sense I talked about before, there was actually no real need to use a security classification. Generally, the only times I did so were matters requiring confidential because they dealt with Cabinet issues where confidential was mandated. To our mind, the classification creep you found in Defence and Foreign Affairs was both silly and dangerous.

Despite the restrictions, information actually flowed quite freely in a way that would seem strange today. It had to if we were to be effective. We dealt with companies, industry associations, unions, lobbyists, other agencies, the press and other Governments. We were constantly testing ideas, exploring new possibilities, providing briefings on issues. In all this, my own people had to know what was going on and why. Need to know was interpreted quite widely. 

As I read the wikileak cables I couldn't help smiling, wondering what the equivalent cables would have said then about our work. For example, one of the issues at the time was the development of the Australian defence industries, the extent to which we should be locked into US supply. As part of this, there were a range of discussions with various embassy or high commission staff, discussions that I am sure were reported. It wouldn't have made much sense otherwise.

In discussing our work with others, we followed principles that were determined to some degree by trust. We had to make information available, but had to do so in ways that did not breach confidentiality. We could be open generally where we were discussing issues and principles, collecting information. We could be generally open where we had cleared approaches. However, there were still things that we could not discuss without breaking rules. Sometimes I did sound a bit like Sir Humphrey! It was during this period that I learned that the best way of killing a press story was simply to overload the journalist with information.

Despite general confidentiality rules, there were leaks from time to time, although I am not aware of any from the areas I managed. Many of these came from Ministers or their staff, others from public servants who were discontented with some aspect of policy. However, they were exceptions to the general rule.

I left the Commonwealth Public Service in the middle of 1987. Twenty years later I went back inside another part of the system to do some specific contract work. During the intervening period I had dealt with Government quite often, but always as an outsider. I was surprised and a bit appalled at what I found.

In 1982, the Fraser Government introduced the first Freedom of Information Act for reasons that I thought were good and proper, although I wasn't quite sure how things were going to work in practice. A key reason for that Act was, among other things, to give individuals access to information that might otherwise and improperly be restricted. Twenty years later, I found that Freedom of Information had become a weapon to be used by the press, powerful bodies and political parties to beat Governments and officials round the head.

This may sound fair enough, but it actually affects the way that policy is formed. The freedom that we had had to test new ideas had largely vanished. Those involved in policy or program development had always to take into account that anything they wrote or said could appear on the public record. This constipated policy development.

I also found a somewhat obsessive focus on secrecy and need to know. Twenty years earlier if I were drafting a cabinet submission, I would involved my whole branch as required. I could also, if subject to certain constraints, canvass issues quite widely inside and outside the system. Now Cabinet Minutes (the NSW equivalent) were treated as highly protected species. I also found that were no no central records of previous Cabinet Minutes, Cabinet Decisions or even press statements. The last has changed, with press releases now available on line.

In trying to write a Cabinet Minute, I had to depend upon people's individual caches of past material. I discussed this over drinks with a journalist colleague. I was a bit appalled to find that he didn't regard it as a problem. It simply was.

To introduce my next point, I need to go back into time. Back in October 2006 in Confessions of a Policy Adviser 3: - Administrative Trainee 1 I quoted from evidence to a 1970s Inquiry into the Commonwealth Public Service:

Asked about the objectives of his Department, Sir Lennox Hewitt replied:

I have not previously encountered the suggestion of objectives for a
department of state. The Royal Commission will presumably not need
anything more from the department than a copy of the administrative

Sir Frederick Wheeler's response to the same question was:

The function of the Treasury is to advise and assist the Treasurer in the
discharge of his responsibilities. The objectives of the Treasury are, in
essence, to carry out this function as effectively and efficiently as possible.

This is the old style Commonwealth Public Service. From the mid eighties, all agencies began to be treated as though they were quasi independent corporate entities with their own plans and public objectives. In theory, this aided transparency and accountability and in some cases it was a good thing. But it also introduced new decision and reporting processes whose practical effect was to centralise decisions, including decisions about about supply of information. Now we have the agency PR machine as well as the traditional political one.

I now want to turn to a different if related point.

Pretty obviously if you look at my chronology, I began my public service career when computers were just used for certain type of grunt  processing. Even when I left the Commonwealth Public Service in 1987, personal computers had just started to penetrate. I came back in the new information age. This allows for centralisation, something that contributed to industrial scale of the wikileaks' leak. However, it also fragments. 

You all know how tree structures work in Windows. You also know what managing emails is like. Imagine this writ large in an agency environment. Add to it judgements about what should be actually recorded. For someone like me who actually believes that decisions should be traceable now but especially in the future, the inability to actually find key pieces of information was a great frustration.

People accommodate themselves as I did. When I became CEO of the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists in 1998, one of the first things I did was to stamp out personal record collections, replacing them with a proper records system. Nine years later I found myself, as with others, keeping a spring back binder with key documents that I worked from. The only problem is that this means that key decisions are less traceable since people throw the folders away when they leave.

Archives agencies are obviously aware of this, and are trying to lay down rules to manage the problem. Yet the difficulty is that the officials who have to implement those rules just don't have the time nor, for that matter, the incentive.

I may have seem to come a long way from Paul's points, so let me summarise:

  1. The way that issues such as freedom of information work always depend upon actual institutional arrangements.
  2. The changes that have been made actually affect our very perceptions of representative democracy.
  3. When you introduce a new rule such as freedom of information, you always have to be aware of its impact on other things such as the way information is recorded, the actual efficiency of Government. Openness and transparency can actually work against real openness and transparency. 

The concerns that I have expressed about Mr Assange and the leaks centre on the likely impact on the way Government works and on real transparency. I expect these to be negative.

I think that we really do need to have, to use a modern cliche, a national conversation on issues of transparency and openness, but I don't think that we can regard access to information as an absolute in its own right.

If my analysis is right, I accept that it's personal and partial, then our current emphasis on the right to information is actually having quite negative effects.   

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Death of Ruth Park

The death of the Australian writer Ruth Park has been well reported, by Neil among others.

Later, I will do a post linking to the New England connection. I know that many readers will think that I am far too New England obsessed for such a minor part of this country. Let me explain it this way.

In 1907, one in four New South Welshman, one in ten Australians, lived in the area I call New England. For most, to live in New England is to leave it. Ruth Park's husband did, just as I had too. With such high emigration, it should not be too surprising that there should be so many New England linkages.

That's a matter for another post. Now I simply want to express my sympathy to our fellow blogger Rafe Champion.

Rafe has already brought up a simple compendium post, A Roundup of Nilands, on Ruth Park's death. For those who don't know, Rafe was married to Kilmeny Niland, Ruth's daughter.  Kilmeny died last year. My post, Death of Kilmeny Niland, gives links to some more detailed posts on her.

By all accounts, Rafe got on very well with his mother-in-law. To a degree at least, I think that Rafe sees part of his role in preserving the Niland/Park legacy, and a valuable one it is too.

I do not know the many members of the Niland family personally. But as someone who has read both parents' books, I respect your parents' work; my sympathies are with you. But to Rafe who I do know through blogging even if we have never met, I want to say two things.

First, I do envy you because of the chance you had to know Ruth Park. Secondly, I know that I speak for all our fellow bloggers when I say that our thoughts are with you and the whole extended Niland family.

Like me, I know that Rafe uses his pen to try to preserve and explain elements of the Australian past that might otherwise be lost, as well as commenting on current issues. Long may this continue!   

Introducing Delos

Greek Trip, Day 11, Tuesday 28 September 2010, Delos

Delos: introducing Sparta vs Athens introduced the story of the Greek island of Delos. There I referred again to the influence Greece had exercised on Western thought, contrasting Athens and Sparta. I used a 1913 photo of dormitory at my old school to illustrate the concept of spartan.

By coincidence, I then found a copy of a 1923 magazine from that school. This led me to write 1923: Classical Greek in the New England countryside. The editorial sets out the views of a rather precocious schoolboy, William Charles Wentworth, on the continued importance of Classical Greece.

The vision of TAS (The Armidale School) as the Australian centre of Hellenic culture, a place where Australian boys wishing to go to an English university would study, may seem rather quaint now. However, it wasn't seen as unusual then for a TAS boy to go straight from Armidale to study at Oxford or Cambridge instead of Sydney University.

Wentworth himself went to Oxford, as had David Ogilvie a little earlier. Ogilvie was the father of Judith Wallace, the writer I referred to in Ogilvies, Wrights, social change. Reporting on a visit by Ogilvie to the school in 1925, The Armidalian commented that a number of boys that year were considering going to Oxford.

The financial impact of the Great Depression on the school and its pupils probably marked the end of the tradition. Then came war. By the 1950s, the tradition had become a memory. Greek was no longer taught, while those TAS boys going to university went to local establishments. Still, the influence lingered, a localised example of the continuing influence of Greece on thought.

No-one lives on Delos now beyond a few staff. The whole island is a world heritage site. Here, as at so many other Greek historical sites, EU money has played an important role in protection and restoration. Greece itself does not have the resources to properly manage its historical heritage without support.    

P1010588 The ferries from Mykonos dock at the small commercial harbour. There is constant jockeying for position. We were there at the end of the tourist season. Even so, there were people everywhere.

Walking up from the wharf to the site entrance, the first impression is the sheer scale of the place. Ruins stretch to the right and left and then up the hill. It is simply hard to get a proper feel.

Guided tours are available, but there are also sign posted walks of various lengths. We chose the second. I am not sure that this was the best option. What I am sure of is that we didn't allow enough time. I also found that I didn't have enough historical knowledge to properly fit things together.

In Ancient Thera I described the overlapping history of that site on Santorini. Delos makes Ancient Thera look like a pussy cat! Millennia overlap in complicated ways. To my mind, the best way of handling this in the first instance is to look at the site as a working settlement, at the town as it was. Then factor in the history.

To illustrate, think of modern Sydney. This is a working city that has its own patterns determined by geography. Then, within this, you have various tourist sites - the Rocks for example - that form part of the city's history. If, and this is the way that the guidebooks and site signs generally work, you looked only at the sites in isolation from each other, then you just get a whole series of historical snapshots that don't really fit together.

Like Ancient Thera, Delos's greatest prosperity began in Hellenic times, the period after the death of Alexander the Great. It reached its greatest prosperity in late Hellenistic and Roman times, when it was declared a free port and became, it is claimed, the financial and trading centre of the Mediterranean. By 100 BC Delos had an estimated population of 30,000, which included foreigners from as far away as Rome, Syria, and Egypt. Each group built its own shrines and seem to have lived in relative harmony.

All this sounds nice, doesn't it? But Delos was also the greatest slave market in the Eastern Mediterranean, perhaps the greatest in the entire Roman Empire. Revenue from the sale of human bodies helped underpin that prosperity. P1100839

The main built environment dates from this long prosperous period. Within this, there are buildings and public places that date from earlier periods when Delos was a religious and political rather than commercial centre. There, frozen in time, are monuments to now vanished greatness. The photo shows the Lions of Naxos.

Naxos was once a considerable power in a regional context. Then it fell to the Athenians. Ruins here and at the religious centre of Delphi on the mainland are mementos to Naxos's once power.

Like so many other former centres on the Greek islands, Delos's prosperity depended on trade and that depended on peace. In 88 BC Mithridates, the king of Pontus, attacked the unfortified island as part of a revolt against Roman rule. The population now estimated at 20,000 was reportedly killed or sold into slavery, the sanctuary treasures were looted, and the city was razed to the ground.

The Romans partially rebuilt the city, but continous pirate raids made life difficult. In 66 BC the Romans built defensive walls around the city whose ruins remain. However, decline continued. In the 2nd century AD, Pausanius recorded that Delos was inhabited only by the temple guards.

Today's built remains reflect this turbulent history. Yet enough remains to get a feel for what life must have been like. 

In writing this post, I haven't quite got to the point I said I would, the conflict between Athens and Sparta and the role of Delos in that conflict.  This will have to wait until my next post. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ogilvies, Wrights, social change

I am not posting today in any substantive way because my writing obsessions are elsewhere directed.

In 1923: Classical Greek in the New England countryside I mentioned in passing that I was investigating one branch of the Ogilvie Family. The trigger here was Judith Wallaces' Memories of a Country Childhood (Queensland University Press, St Lucia, 1977).

I first mentioned this book back in May 2008 in Judith Wallace's "Memories of a Country Child-hood". In February 2009, an overseas blogger (Elise) started her review of the book in this way:

This was an absolutely enchanting book. It was lent to me by a friend, who thought I might like it. I am so glad she did! Otherwise I might never have discovered it.

The basic premise of the book is summed up in the title. Judith Wallace grew up on a sheep and cattle station near Glen Innes, in New England, New South Wales. (That's New England in Australia, very different to the American one!)

I'm really struggling for words right now - it's hard to find the right words to get across the haunting, sad, but magical atmosphere contained within the pages of this book.

In his Artful Histories: Modern Australian Autobiography (University of Cambridge Press, Melbourne 1996), David McCooey uses Judith Wallace’s book as one example in his study of Australian autobiography. He writes well, capturing the key elements of the book to place them in a broader context; ideas of place and time; the elegiac nature of accounts of place; the way time weaves itself through the narrative.

McCooey also makes the point that that “Australia’s geographical and geological immensity means that the term ‘Australia’ is at best a political claim and a cultural shorthand which stands for unity, but it is a unity best expressed by the topographical beauty of the map.” To his writers, regions become little Australias.

McCooey's point is one that I have made before. Australia's sheer size and diversity means that Australians' views of their own country are varied and partial, formed by the areas they know best. This becomes concealed under national generalities, constructs that are in fact artificial because they fail to recognise regional difference. This holds in public policy as well as history.

In my present writing, I am using Judith's book to illustrate social change in New England in the period 1950-2000. To do this, I have to place her in an Ogilvie family context.

For those reading this post in isolation from my other writing, the Ogilvies were one of New England's great pastoral dynasties. I spoke a little of their background in Saturday Morning Musings - New England's Ogilvie dynasty.

As with Australian writer Judith Wright, a member of a second New England pastoral dynasty (writer Patrick White was a member of a third), the loss of the family home and property was a devastating blow. Judith Wallaces' book ends this way:

The new owners (Ilparran had been sold) never homesteaded on Ilparran and the great house, still standing in spite of the sunken foundations, stares with blind eyes over the ravaged garden.

To the Ogilvies and the Wrights, their land was central. Beyond that, they followed different paths.

The Ogilvies looked to Sydney, England and beyond that Europe. Judith Wallace's mother created an English world in a New England environment. The house itself and the surrounding gardens created a self-contained world separate from the Australian bush.

This is not a criticism. I have little sympathy, less interest, in those whose obsession with the idea of Australian identify leads them to constantly juxtapose a sense of Australianess with England and Englishness. Things were as they were.     

The Wrights were far more localised.They identified with their local area. This I do find a good thing because it meant that the Wrights contributed directly to local development in a way that the Ogilvies did not. Again, this is not a criticism of the  Ogilvie family, simply a judgement on relative regional contribution.

I will finish there. This has become a somewhat more substantive post than I had intended!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Assange, internet, education

Just a bit of a round-up this morning.

News here is understandably dominated by the dreadful sinking on Christmas Island. One question is the apparent failure of JORN (Jindalee Operational Radar Network) to pick the boat up. There is a story here that I must tell one day. 

In Comparative Law 101: Roman law v Common law and Julian Assange Skepticlawyer had an interesting discussion on common vs roman law that taught me several things I didn't know; I knew that Scottish law was different from English law, but didn't know what the differences were; I didn't know much about the origins of roman law; and I certainly didn't fully appreciate variety between jurisdictions with apparently common legal systems.

I haven't commented on the continuing wikileaks story, although I have been reading with interest. The Lowy Institute blog has quite an interesting thread.

The Australian has now released full text of the Australian originated US cables. Our fellow blogger Paul Barratt appeared twice on national TV in his guise as a former head of the Australia Defence Department, once on SBS World News and then on the 7.30 Report. I simply haven't had the time to attempt a proper analysis of all this, although I'm inclined to share Neil's opinion expressed in WikiLeaks shock: Australian intel outfit sane!; on the American reports, Australian official opinion seems reassuringly sensible on some issues.

I did wonder what Paul might think of the criticisms expressed in reports of Australian defence procurement given his previous defence of the Department's record in this area.

In a somewhat linked story to all this, in ITWIre Stuart Corner reports that an extraordinary meeting on 6 December of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) decided to create a Working Group on Improvements to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) with a membership made up only of governments.

Beneath these dry words lies a debate as to who should control the internet. For some obscure reason, national governments take the view that they should. I wonder why?

A week back I gave something of a round-up of education issues in Education round-up. In Intellectual gains tax on Catallaxy Files, Sinclair Davidson discusses the UK imbroglio over fees. Referring to Australia, he says in part:   

While I share his concern, I think Marginson’s immediate argument is wrong. It isn’t that there is no public benefit in having an educated populace, but rather the private benefits are so high that individuals should pay more (or all) of their higher education costs. To be sure, there is an argument for scholarships and bursaries for special needs and low-income individuals and what-not but the principle of self-funded higher education should be established as the norm.

The concern I have is that government views the higher education system as some form of industry policy where they can pick winners. It is not clear that a humanities student is less valuable from a public good perspective than a science or technology graduate.

I won't comment on the argument at this point. I just wanted to record it. 

An article in the Australian by Andrew Trounson,  UK crisis sounds a warning to sector, was one trigger for Sinclair Davidson's post. Again, just noting.

At Monash University, Vice-chancellor Ed Byrne announced that 356 full-time equivalent staff had accepted voluntary redundancy packages. Monash has just under 8000 staff. The redundancies were triggered by a fall in overseas student numbers.

In a parallel  story, Decline in China numbers to persist, Michael Sainsbury reports that:

The future of Australia's $5 billion Chinese foreign student market is bleak.

Forward enrolments for critical English language courses are down by about 50 per cent next year and there is little relief in sight for at least two years.

Education agents in China expect the sharp downturn in enrolments will result in some institutions experiencing drops of more than 20 per cent in numbers of new students next year. The market is unlikely to stabilise for at least two years and then only if there is an imaginative re-think of immigration policies.

Then, too, Bernard Lane and Julie Hare report:

LEGISLATION for a new higher education regulator is just one item of unfinished sector business for parliament in the new year.

A bill to set up the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency was to be introduced last month but was held back after a sector revolt.

Legislation for TEQSA's counterpart in vocational education and training did reach the Senate on the last sitting day of November but senators had other priorities, chiefly the feud over the National Broadband Network.

TEQSA has a July 1, 2011, start-up date as a quality assurance agency and the national VET regulator is supposed to function from April next year.

The long-awaited bill to fund student amenities on campus did not make it to the Senate, despite the insistence of Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans that it had to pass before Christmas. Resolution of a conflict over Youth Allowance was deferred in mid-November with a Senate committee asked to revisit the definition of regional students. That committee will report in February.

Meanwhile, several key reports from the federal education department didn't see the light of day this year. Undergraduate Applications Offers and Acceptances 2010, the 2009 Finance Report and the 2009 Higher Education Report missed being published on the department website this year.

Sorry for the long quotes; just recording. I think that one of the reasons why the education debate gets so messy, why to my mind there is now a rolling crisis in Australian higher education, lies in the failure to stand back and disentangle issues. As a consequence, universal and often conflicting nostrums are applied combined with very specific measures based on siloed analysis. This has a kind of compounding negative effect.

Looking back over past education and training posts to add a postscript to Education round-up, I don't really like their consistently negative tone. They depress me! 

Enough for today.  

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

1923: Classical Greek in the New England countryside

I am working from home today on my forthcoming paper on Social Change in New England 1950-2000. I was digging around looking for information on one branch of the Ogilvie family that I plan to weave into my story. Purely by accident I found this editorial from the December 1923 edition of my old school magazine, The Armidalian (Vol XXVI, No 4).

It has a certain relevance to the story I was telling in Delos: introducing Sparta vs Athens where I mentioned the continuing influence of Greece. Have a browse, and I will tell you a little of the story at the end.



The WCW is William Charles Wentworth, the great-grandson of the original William Charles Wentworth who is seen by many as one of the founders of Australian democracy. Oddly, perhaps not, there was a Blaxland at the school at the around the same time. For all I know there was a Lawson as well, thus completing the generational triumvirate that crossed the Blue Mountains.

There was something wonderfully eccentric about the Wentworths.

WCW IV must have been about fifteen or sixteen when he wrote this piece. Clearly he was a very bright boy, but the stories of the antics he got up to were still alive if maybe somewhat apocryphal when I got to the school all those years later. Wentworth went onto a career in politics in which he combined support for the anti-communist cause with a passionate belief in Aboriginal advancement; today he is best known and respected for the last.

I do not remember the name of the Greek play he referred to. The school presented it in Sydney. It may well have been the first and probably the last play performed entirely in classical Greek by an Australian school. Sadly, not even WCW could prevent the decline of Classical Greek at TAS, although Latin was to survive.

I hope that you enjoyed this story! 


In a comment, KVD pointed me to this excerpt from the Sydney Morning Herald of  Monday 17 December 1923.     

The Armidale School Dramatic Society will present the Greek play, "Prometheus Vinctus of Aeschylus" in the original Greek; the Quarrel Scene from Corncillo's "Le Cid;' and "Gaspard de Coligny," by W. Wentworth Shields (an old boy), at the King's Hall this evening. Plan at Paling's.

Certainly all very learned stuff! Presumably W Wentworth-Shields was the son of the then Bishop of Armidale. According to K J Cable's ADB entry on Bishop Wentworth-Shields, the Bishop came to Armidale in 1916. Given that he married in 1902, his son would have been twenty or twenty-one. 

The Bishop had scholarly interests and was apparently monumentally absent minded. The death of his wife in 1927 made him anxious to return home to England. Leaving Armidale in 1929, in 1930 he took up the wardenship of St Deiniol's Residential Library, Chester ; In Cable's words, he held this agreeable, scholarly office until 1939, while acting as assistant bishop to the Archbishop of Wales. Survived by two sons, he died at Chester on 13 September 1944.

Gaspard de Coligny was a French nobleman and Huguenot leader killed in the St Bartholomew's Day Massacres of 1572.

If I'm right in all this, we have an Armidale school not just presenting a play in Sydney in Classical Greek, but also another piece written by a young old boy, the son of an English born Bishop, on a French leader who dies 350 years before. 

On top of all this, Corncillo's Le Cid appears to be a very obscure French piece. I love the vagaries of it all!     

Postscript 2

I should have read further in that Armidalian. I found what I think is the text of the Wentworth-Shield's play. Very dramatic. I might run it tomorrow. I also found that the quarrel scene was presented in the original French! And then I found this little piece.

I don't know who W McC was, nor can I comment on the accuracy of the piece. 



Delos: introducing Sparta vs Athens

Greek Trip, Day 11, Tuesday 28 September 2010, Delos

P1010580 Continuing the story of our Greek trip from my last post, Santorini to Mykonos, Day 11 dawned hot. Today we were going to visit the ruins at Delos.

After breakfast, we walked down to the port to catch the ferry for the short trip. The cruise ships in town had followed us from Santorini.

The sheer size of tourism on the Greek Islands is mind-boggling by Australian standards. I have included this shot just because it shows part of the deck of our ferry, and this is only one of the ferries bring people to Delos. 

All groups reinvent history to suit their own needs. I have already spoken of the the way that the modern Greek state drew from history, sometimes with disastrous results. I have also spoken of the Western European love affair with things Greek. With Delos, we enter a new period in Greek history, one central to Greece's view of itself, as well as Western European perceptions of Greece. As we shall see, those perceptions had their murky elements.

The island of Delos is small, 3.43 square kilometres or one square mile. Like the other Greek Islands it is dry with almost no resources. Those living there had to import all their food. Yet this became one of the centres of the ancient world. P1100891    

The sheer scale of the ruins is daunting. I tried to find a photo that would properly show this. This one at least gives a hint.

I now need to introduce some new historical players that I have deliberately left aside to this point.

What is now called the classical period of Greek civilization covers a time spanning from the early 5th century BC to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. We call it the classical period because it came to be seen as the pinnacle of Greek civilisation. Its influence is with it today. 

I noted before that I found Greek history all very complicated at school. Keeping things very simple, the term Greek applies to people who spoke a broadly common language. That language was not uniform, but broken up into a series of dialects. The concept of what it was to be Greek or Hellenic varied over time and was affected by the politics of the time.

By tradition, the Classical Greeks thought of themselves in terms of four major tribes, the Ionians, Dorians, Aeolians and Acheans. Just as the very idea of Greek was a cultural rather than political construct, the tribes are best thought of as ethnic groups; the term ethnic meaning people thought to have common ancestry who share a distinctive culture comes from Greek. They were not political entities.

Common ethnicity does not necessarily make for harmony. The territory occupied by those who might be thought of as Greek was broken up into many small territorial entities, small in size and population. Sometimes brutal warfare was common, even among groups sharing common ancestry.

What I really hadn't got my mind around was just how small these territories were, nor how closely they pressed up against available resources. A few years ago I re-read Homer's the Odyssey for the first time since school. Then I had read it more as an adventure tale, now I was surprised at the material sparseness of life, at the apparently small thP1100938ings that triggered warfare; cattle, for example, were very important.

  This sparseness compares with the wealth of the earlier Minoan period and would change later.

I have included this photo from Clare because it actually captures the denseness of later urban life on Delos.

The Greeks were great colonisers. When drought or over-population threatened or sometimes just for wealth, settlers were sent out to found new colonies, new political entities. In turn, those colonies founded new ones. To my knowledge, Greek history is the first in which colonies and the processes of colonisation was identified as a specific historical theme.

During this change process, systems of government changed. Monarchical rule was replaced by oligarchies and tyrants and then by collective decision making systems; the concept of democracy emerged.

The tribes or Greek ethnic groups formed one element in this mix. Of the four traditional groups, the two most important were the Ionians and Dorians. I think of them as the sailors and land-lubbers, although that's not quite accurate.

The Ionians seem to have emerged first. Without going into the whole history, that's beyond me, they were a sea-faring group that occupied the islands and mainland areas adjoining the sea. Then came the Dorians. While they included sea-going cities, Corinth is an example, they were more a mainland people.

The two groups have become identified with the two city states that came to dominate, Sparta and Athens. Both exercised and exercise a powerful influence on European thought.

Sparta emerged as a military state whose focus was war, self-defence and sacrifice. Spartan, the idea of restraint and self control, of 1913-Dorm-2an ascetic life style avoiding luxuries, comes from Sparta.

This ideal of self-defence and sacrifice, exercised a profound influence on European thought, including the English boarding school systems.

This photo from my old school, a school then in very much the English tradition, shows a dormitory from 1913. I would certainly describe the conditions as spartan!

Love of things Spartan came to be called Laconophilia after Laconia, the area of Greece that included Sparta. This had various manifestations that included incorporation in the ideology of Nazi Germany. There the idea of self-sacrifice, of military virtues, of subjecting personal behaviours to the needs of the state, had an obvious appeal. But so did the idea of exclusion, of the preservation of ethnic purity.

Athens, by contrast, was far more individualistic and mercurial. Athens gave us the concept of democracy and some of the greatest thinkers the world has known. But it was also a blatantly opportunistic and imperialistic power in a way that Sparta could not be. Sparta wanted to preserve its status-quo, Athens wanted to triumph. This meant that you could trust Sparta in a way not possible with Athens.

In my next next post in this series I will look at the conflict between the two and of the role of Delos in that conflict.      

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Negotiating relationships in a shifting world

Woken early this morning because our cat had captured a mouse and wanted to eat it under our bed! So much for my plan to catch up on some sleep.

Thinking further about yesterday's post, It's a rum thing, change, I probably sounded a bit crabby, and indeed I was. I have of course written on some of these matters connected with changing personal roles, but I should do something to pull some of that material together.

I had just started university when Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was first published in 1963, although it was several years before I actually read it. According to Wikipedia:  
Friedan was inspired to write The Feminine Mystique after attending a class reunion of her 1942 Smith College graduating class. At the reunion, she sensed that her fellow alumnae felt a general unease with their lives. She followed up the reunion with a questionnaire sent to the other women in her class. The results of the questionnaire confirmed Friedan's impressions. In interpreting the findings, Friedan hypothesized that women are victims of a false belief system that requires them to find identity and meaning in their lives through their husbands and children. She believed that such a system causes women to completely lose their identity in that of their family.
 Friedan's book had a catalytic effect and in my mind has always marked the start of the women's movement . The book didn't really start the women's movement, but it did help energise and focus changes that had already begun.

Another major headland point in my mind was the foundation of the Australian Women's Electoral Lobby in 1972 because it gave a particular political expression to the women's movement in this country. In 1963 we did talk about gender roles and the need for change, but the discussion lacked the bite that would emerge later in the 1960s. From 1972 there was a concerted political and social push that was to affect every aspect of life including language.

The strongest feminists I know are generally women in their early fifties who were at school and university during the movement's height. From the early 1980s intensity declined because gender roles had in fact been re-defined, although rolling change continued. Later still came something of post-feminist reaction as the movement's very successes bred a counter response.

Women's successful re-definition of their roles obviously affected men.  Changes in women's roles required changes in men's roles. This created considerable confusion in men's minds. There were increasing worries about the perceived marginalisation of men, about the best way of raising boys in the new environment. One measure of this is the huge global success of the books of Australian write Steve Biddulph, including the publication sixteen years ago of Manhood.

Later came increasing worries about suicide among young men and, more broadly, male depression. One outcome in Australia was the creation of the Men's Shed movement in 2007 to provide a social community for men. With over 400 Member sheds representing an estimated 30,000 men, AMSA claims to be the largest men’s support organisation in Australia.

This is not a commentary on social change nor a history of the women's movement and the social responses, although I do have to write something on that as part of my current research on social change in New England in the second half of the twentieth century. Rather, it is a continuation of the muse on changing personal roles that began in It's a rum thing, change.

To my mind, both the women's and men's movement miss, or at least don't focus sufficiently on, one key point, the practical issues involved in negotiating and re-negotiating relationships over time where neither party has a necessarily defined role and where roles are likely to shift. Choices are involved, and those choices involve varying costs as well as gains. They also involve shifting dependencies.

This is the issue that I would like to explore further at some point in terms of my own experiences and observations, for there really isn't a lot of how to do material.

Monday, December 13, 2010

It's a rum thing, change

I came home early today. It was hot, I was tired, and there were some things I needed to do at home today. Once home, I really meandered around, still hot but also restless.

I had a sore neck last night. I was also worried about my weekly newspaper column. I had written it and sent it off, but didn't feel that I had the balance right. This worried me, so finally I got up about 3:30 to rewrite it. Initially it was hard, for I was still very tired. Then I got going and felt better when I had rewritten it.  

It's a rum thing, change. I write about it a lot. Indeed, my column was really about the need to manage change in a very particular context.

I don't know about you, but I find it much easier in a personal sense to manage change when I feel that in some way I have a secure base. 

For much of the last fourteen years my personal rhythms have been set by my family, and especially my daughters.This has included being the main cook and bottle washer. Things change.

Saturday I sat the family down to try to find out who would be home for dinner over the next week. This would help me know what to buy, as well as cook.

My wife is on a special diet at the moment with food delivered, so she is out of the equation. Well, not absolutely. I have still to keep an eye out for things such as Soy Milk Lite or blush grapefruit, but that's about it. So it's then a question of which girl might be home for meals.

I found that in terms of evening meals, I was cooking for two Saturday, myself only Sunday and Monday, two Tuesday, me Wednesday, perhaps two on Thursday, Friday unknown.

Again, things aren't quite what they seem. For both Saturday lunch and dinner I had more because Clare had friends around. So I have to be flexible.

Now there are a couple of funny things in all this.

To begin with, cooking for one takes not much less time than cooking for more. If I am my own, then the inclination to actually cook goes down. I am more inclined to simply snack, which is not especially good for me.

During the time that I have been cooking for others with varying tastes, I have gone to lowest common denominator food, putting aside some of my personal favourites. Now, in theory, I have the chance to try them again, things like Vietnamese salads or thick stews.

It doesn't quite work that way. I have actually forgotten how to cook some of them. Then I still have to accommodate others, even if the number is less.

The thing that I miss most is the loss of our Sunday roasts. This used to be a family event, one where others often came. Sometimes, we even sat at a table! I still cook roasts because I like them, but the sense of occasion has gone.

Two things happened during the last week.

The first was an interview for a possible assignment. I was interviewed by two nice nice, bright, if much younger women. We got talking about house husbands. They were astonished at my stories of female sexism, although they could see my point.

The second was an email exchange with a commenter who was talking about his own experiences as the primary child carer. In many ways, they were similar to mine.

One of the difficulties that men face in taking on new family roles is the absence of real guidance, of examples, that can indicate both what to do and the best ways to avoid the negatives.

My mother went through very similar experiences to me as my brother and I grew up. I remember her comments.

Many women have been and are going through the experiences of career dislocation associated with family. To a degree, men are simply adjusting to conflicts that women have always known. Yet the experiences of men are very different. 

This is partly the way we grew up, partly a matter of different male and female drivers, of the way we see our roles, of the way we interact with others. However, men in new roles also have to deal with the absence of any form of support network.

As I said, change is a rum thing. Maybe I should write more on this matter. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

MyHospitals Web Site

It took me some time to find the Australian Government's new MyHospitals web site. You see there are a number of web sites with that or similar names around the world. Having found it, I don't know what it all actually means in terms of its stated role:  

MyHospitals is an Australian Government initiative to inform the community about hospitals by making it easier for people to access information about how individual hospitals are performing.

On this website you’ll find information about bed numbers, patient admissions and hospital accreditation, as well as the types of specialised services each hospital provides. The website also provides comparisons to national public hospital performance statistics on waiting times for elective surgery and emergency department care, where data are available.

The data is 08-09, with some comparative data for the previous year. So it's quite old. It's also a bit difficult to know what the numbers actually mean. I will have to did around a bit before I can get a real feel.

Santorini to Mykonos

Greek Trip, Day 10, Monday 27 September 2010, Santorini to Mykonos

After my diversion into Greece, history & the on-line world, this post continues the story from  Last day on Santorini.

P1010550 Day 10 dawned bright with the sun sparkling on the water. We were leaving this morning, travelling north by ferry to Mykonos.

Mykonos is one of the best known Greek Islands, made famous through visits by the rich and famous.

Like Santorini, it is part of the Cyclades and shared that Island group's turbulent history. However, Myknonos also introduces another thread into the complex tapestry of Greek history, the story of what became known as the classical period in Greek history. The key here is not so much Mykonos itself, but the nearby island of Delos. More on that later.  

We gathered on the terrace to have breakfast for the last time. We were catching the same jet cat that had brought us to Santorini, and after the very bumpy trip that I described in Journey to Santorini, there was a degree of trepidation.

Then packing. I don't know about you, but I always find re-packing a bit of a chore. Somehow, things seem to spread! Still, it had to be done. After a final check under the bed to discover the things that always seemed to get lost there, we said goodbye to the friendly people at the Hotel Kavalari and then dragged our bags to the bus station for the trip down to the port.

The bus trip down the zigzag road along the side of the caldera provides some spectacular views. However, I think that you have probably had enough views by now!

P1010567 We were early, and so had time to spare.

The main party adjourned to a nearby cafe, while I went for my usual wander.

In this case, I was fascinated by a little sailing boat nearby that was getting ready to depart. I was also fascinated by a group of Japanese tourists either boarding or just taking shots.

Santorini appears to have a far more diverse tourist mix than Crete. On Crete, for example, I saw very few tourists from Asian countries, while Santorini attracts tour parties from all over the world.

At this point, I found myself in trouble with the Greek port police who sent us all away from the port area with something of a collective flea in our ears. It appears that we were breaching some form of port security rules.

I joined the others at the cafe to watch the ferries and wait. Santorini really does have a remarkable number of ferries of all shapes and sizes.  Finally, we saw the jet cat on its way. P1010568

We got a friendly Chinese tourist to take a group shot and then joined the growing queue.

At Iraklion, they had loaded the luggage onto the back of the boat via a conveyor belt. However, at intermediate stops where they are trying to get large groups on and off as quickly as possible, you have to carry the luggage on.

It was all quite interesting just from a logistics viewpoint.

Even with some crew help, it takes time to unload the luggage of arriving passengers. Then it takes time to load the in-coming luggage, putting it on a place on the deck by destination. The crew want to start loading as soon as possible, but they and the port police have to keep the the incoming and out-going passengers separate in order to avoid a total mess. They don't always manage this, leading to incoming and outgoing passengers dragging bags in opposite areas in the same narrow space.

The crew was the same as our previous trip. Unlike then, they were clearly unstressed, nor was there obvious residue.  Worries about a rough  trip set aside, we settled down on board to read or play cards.

I got out Thucydide's History of the Peloponnesian War, determined to this time finish re-reading it since its history was relevant to the next stage. I had now at least refreshed  my memory on the location of some of the places, but I still couldn't get into it. Putting it aside, I read the guidebook on Mykonos instead.

 P1010583 My first impression through the boat window as we arrived was, as with Santorini, just how bare it all was.     

The whitewashed or white painted houses with their painted doors and shutters shone in the baking sun, but there were few trees. Mykonos is apparently a largely granite island with limited water. Like Santorini, it relies in part on a desalination plant.

I know that I have talked a fair bit about water and its importance, but it remains one of the key things that I discovered on this trip. In thinking about the history of the region, I simply hadn't factored this in.

We had no idea how to get to our hotel from the port, so we called and they sent a car.

The Semeli was a different type of hotel to those we had stayed in on Crete or Santorini. Built on the side of a hill overlooking the old town, this was a far more luxurious hotel with room service, comfortable rooms, balconies and a swimming pool. Clare was in her element!

We dropped our luggage in the room and decided to have a late lunch at the hotel while we discussedP1010575 what to do.

I found myself completely disoriented trying to work out just where we were, where the old town was. I mean I could see it, but I just couldn't get any real feel for direction and distance.

After an afternoon knap and a swim,  we decided to explore the town and, if possible, find a supermarket. One look at the hotel prices was enough to show us that it was really outside our normal budget.

We got directions and went for a wander. The old town proved very easy to find. Out the door and just down the hill. Then we got completely lost wandering the narrow streets, something that seems to happen to a lot of people. Later, we would get properly orientated. For the moment, it was just confusing!

Still, we found our supermarket and then the road back to the hotel for a late evening picnic dinner in the room and on the balcony. Tomorrow Delos.