Saturday, April 30, 2011

Allies surrender in Greece

I did not record this, although I should have given my interest in things Greek. The daily diary of World war II, World War II Day-By-Day, records that on 28 April: 

Allied resistance on mainland Greece effectively ends at 5.30 AM when 8000 British, ANZAC, Greek and Yugoslav troops surrender at Kalamata, Peloponnese peninsula. The evacuation is over, although men will be collected from various small Greek islands over the next few days. Germans take 6508 British, 2030 Australian, 1614 New Zealand prisoners, plus 3806 Cypriots and Palestinians. Allied support of the British government commitments to Greece (executed mainly by NZ and Australian troops) has cost 2250 killed and wounded and 14,000 taken prisoner (out of 58,000 sent to Greece). In addition, 104 tanks, 192 field guns, 164 anti-tank guns, 40 anti-aircraft guns, 1812 machine guns, 8000 trucks are lost plus 209 aircraft destroyed (72 lost during the combat phase, 55 bombed on the ground by Luftwaffe, 82 destroyed or abandoned during the evacuation). Germany has overrun Greece in 23 days with 1318 killed and 3360 wounded (plus 166 killed and 392 wounded in Yugoslavia). In contrast, the Greco-Italian war in Northern Greece and Southern Albania (which was ended by the German invasion) costs Greece and Italy each about 14000 killed with 60,000 wounded. Most British troopships crowding Suda Bay, Crete, are sent on to Alexandria, Egypt, avoid attack by Luftwaffe bombers which sink 2 Greek steamers.

Rommel is still having trouble in Tobruk.

Saturday Morning Musings - nostalgia & the increasing pace of change

It was raining when I got up this morning. These were some of the wettest March and April months in Sydney for a long time, and I'm sick of it. I am out of clean clothes, I am sick of it, and I wish it would go away for a little while!

I did end up watching the Royal Wedding last night and enjoyed it, although the little Britishness of the BBC coverage (the ABC took the BBC feed straight) ended by annoying me. Unlike past coverage, there was little recognition that the wedding was also important to others.

After the wedding I spent a little time looking at the reactions, although my continued problems with Twitter reception made this difficult. I noticed one plaintive comment, I think that it was actually on Facebook: "I don't understand why so many people care." That got me musing on memory and nostalgia.

Denise, Checkpoint Charley I have mentioned before that my wife is in Europe visiting eldest daughter. This is a photo of Dee at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.

Dee grew up in the cold war period and acquired an addiction for spy novels, films and TV series set in that period. So in Berlin, she wanted to visit scenes and localities made familiar by her reading and watching.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. That's quite recent, yet already the events of the Cold War period are fading from memory. Len Deighton's novels may survive, but it is hard to re-capture the darkness and grittiness of the period for younger audiences increasingly lacking a visual and emotional context.

In 1979 I went to London and the UK for the first time. As I have said before, I come from the generation of young Australians that first really discovered Asia. My first three month overseas trip was to Asia, almost fourteen years before I finally made it to the UK. I was comfortable in my skin as an Australian and simply took it for granted.

One of the reasons why I got quite cranky at one point with the Whitlam Government is that what I saw as its obsessive focus on "being Australian" and "what it meant to be Australian' actually appeared to challenge or even discredit my own fully formed sense of national identity. I felt that this was the national and political equivalent of the cultural cringe that I had always so strongly objected to.

Given all this, I was quite surprised at the resonance I felt when I arrived in London. Upon reflection, it could hardly have been otherwise.Royal Presentation

The next reproduction are two newspaper clippings from Cousin Jamie's collection about the presentation of my Aunts to the new Queen. There were strong and multi-layered family connections between Australia, the UK and other parts of the now fading Commonwealth and Empire.

I have written a little on this in exploring one aspect of Australian and indeed broader history, the nature of Imperial families. By this, I don't mean the very grand, but the nature of families and family connections that spanned countries within the Commonwealth and Empire.

There is remarkably little writing on this. In the Australian case, we tend to focus on those who came here and then their life after they arrived. The context has been cut off. In the case of my own not very large family, we had immediate relatives or connections in the Australia, the UK, New Zealand, Canada, India, Hong Kong and the US. One aunt was serving in Malaya with the Red Cross (the Emergency was on) and had fallen in love with the country. One of her closest friends married David Marshall who would become Singapore's first Chief Minister.

The point of this story is simple to explain some of the emotional resonance that I felt on arriving in London. But beyond this was the visual, the recognition of things made so familiar by books and films. As the family and political links across the old Empire and Commonwealth have reduced, as the visual material has declined and lost emotional context, so has understanding and interest. I can understand someone asking why all the fuss, although it might pull me up short because I can't disengage my own feelings.   

One of the great tribal divisions in Australia, one deeply embedded in the history of the United Kingdom and Ireland and in the broader sweep of European history, has been that between the Irish Catholic minority and the broader generally Anglican/Protestant majority. This division overlapped with a second, that between Labor and Capital, the rise of unions and the Labor Party.

To be Irish was to be Roman Catholic and Labor. You were also more likely to be anti-British. To be Labor was not necessarily to be either Irish or Roman Catholic, for there was a strong secular even anti-religious thread, as well as Protestant British influences. However, the Irish Catholic influence was strong, Further, within Labor and union ranks there was a strong rejection by many of what were seen as the trappings of class and of Imperial pompery. 

By contrast, to be Anglican or Protestant (sometimes the two can be equated, other times not) you were more likely to pro-Britain, pro-Empire, deeply suspicious of the popery that had threatened England in the past. Religious divides ran very deep because there were reinforced by other tribal conflicts, as well as the desire of the Irish Catholic hierarchy to retain their power over the Church.    

Of course, this is a simplification. However, if you trace through the threads in Australian thought as well as politics, you can see how these divides have affected aspects of Australian life and thought in a way that continues today.

You can also see why there might be conflicts between my own perceptions and those of a Whitlam Government strongly influenced by thoughts and arguments on the other side of the tribal divide. Historically, this marked the start of what came to be called the Australian history wars. It also energised the republican movement, moving it from peripheral towards the main stream.

The now famous Whitlam campaign slogan, It's Time, accurately caught the mood. It captured the mood for change, with the Whitlam campaign gaining great support among actors, writers, journalists, film makers, painters and university students and staff.

Even though the Governor General did not consult the Queen and acted presidentially in dismissing the Whitlam Government, something that Mr Whitlam himself explicitly recognised, there was a sense of betrayal that translated in part to a campaign for a republic, for a change to the system of Government. In an interview, I do not have a link, former PM  Keating made it quite clear that he was , in Mr Whitlam's 1975 term, maintaining the rage. There was unfinished business.

It is now thirty-five years since the Whitlam Government was dismissed, and that period too has become wrapped in nostalgia. We can see this in the success of Paper Giants: the birth of Cleo. This was not just good television in a general sense, but with its inclusion of archival footage and its approach, it brought back an era. However, here there is another problem.                      

The Northern Ireland Peace Accords were signed on 10 April 1998, thirteen years ago. I watched the live coverage on the BBC because of its historical significance.

By then, the previously bitter sectarian divides in Australia had largely ended. The political parties, while to some extent still tribal, had professionalised. The union movement was in decline, while the Catholic Church and indeed the churches in general had lost their place. Many of the core ideas underpinning Australian life such as the old social contract had vanished. The class struggle was over, replaced by competition and the market. Now the Peace Accords took Ireland of the table.

Just as I had earlier seen some of the things that had formed me stripped away, now the very underpinnings on the other side had been removed. My nostalgia for elements of Empire and Commonwealth is pretty much equivalent to the nostalgia by some people for Its Time and the Whitlam years. Mind you, I share some of that nostalgia because I too remember other elements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Change makes for strange bedfellows.

I remember my father and mother-in-law coming to dinner at my aunt and uncle's place for the first time. There was a degree of discomfort because Labor, Irish and Catholic was meeting National (Country) Party and Protestant. Yet I get on remarkably well with my mother-in-law because we have so much in common. I find that in many ways I am closer to the old time Labor Party than I am to the modern Liberal Party. Tribal enemies maybe, but shared values still.Drummond's arrival at Buckingham Palace, 10 Jul 52

  Since this post is in part a bit of a nostalgia trip, the photo shows my grandparents (car right) entering Buckingham Place 10 July 1952. This was just over a month after the coronation.

In trying to describe the fundamental difference between the Aboriginal world view and that of the European settlers arriving on their land, I said that to the Aborigines the present was part of a living past. To the Europeans, the present was a step to a still to be defined future. I think that the second is still true, at least so far as Australia is concerned.

I have complained about Australia's loss of its past from time to time, and indeed in my writing I have tried to bring some of that past back to life. Yet the Australian view is not always a bad thing.

I remember when I first arrived in Europe I actually came to find the sense of history oppressive. I felt that Australia was in a better position because we were less constrained by our past. However, there is a price in this, for none of us can assume that the views we hold dear or even to be self-evident will survive into the medium term.

We live in a world now where processes, policies and technology constantly reshape. When I was born, there was an apparent historical continuity. This vanished during the tip decade of the 1970s. Since then, change has accelerated, while the life expectancy of social structures and attitudes has declined.

This, I guess, is the real point of this muse and of the examples that I have used.        

Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal weddings, republics & real problems

In Monarchy, republics & the royal wedding I discussed shifting support for the idea of an Australian republic. Last night's ABC Q&A program focused on the question of an Australian republic. It's not on line yet that I can see, but I will post the link when I find it for those who are interested.

The program began with a one hour historical perspective on the monarchy. This was quite interesting until towards the end it really became quite slanted. There was still some interesting material, but I became annoyed. I ended up watching a bit of the Q&A program, but then switched it off. I did watch the twitter feeds for a while, they were far more entertaining, although computer memory problems made this difficult.

Older Australians certainly do have a degree of nostalgia, of fondness, for the Queen in particular. I thought that Neil's post I haven’t been watching any of the Royal Wedding lead-up coverage captured this rather well. However, and this was a point I made in my post, with republican support most heavily concentrated in the 35 to 49 age group, it is changing attitudes among younger voters that will determine final outcomes.

In the meantime, while the Australian media focuses on the Royal Wedding and, to a lesser degree, the republic question, the Australian dollar has continued its rise against the US dollar. Instead of wondering  when the Aussie would reach parity, the focus now is on when it might reach a $1.15 US. The US dollar has fallen against other currencies as well, but the rise in the value of the Aussie has a disproportionate effect because so much of our trade is US dollar denominated.

In a post a few days ago, Musings on turning five, I looked back at some of my past writing.

In all this, I have also been concerned about balance in the Australian economy.

Mr Akaya's view was that Australia's weaknesses in manufacturing and services meant that Australia could not compete in a changing Asia. Like it or not, there is some truth in that view. There I said in part:

Once wool and other primary products dominated Australian exports. Today, mineral products and especially coal and iron ore are equally dominant. On my rough calculations, Australia's export base is less diversified than it was twenty years ago.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, service exports were seen as the new game. I stand to be corrected, but outside education services that are now in trouble, I do not know of a single services sector that has established a really significant net export position.

I have tried to write on some of this, but I doubt that I have had any impact even at the margin.

Now none of this may matter. It may be that the current mining boom will carry us through to a golden future, I just doubt it because I have been through previous resources booms.

Extending this argument a little, to my mind Australia faces considerable potential problems along two dimensions. The first is strategic, including responding to the rise of China and now India. The second is economic.

Globally, the world is going though a period of economic rebalancing and change. Within this, Chinese economic restructuring is very important. Can China rebalance its economy? There has been a strong line of argument for some time that says no, or at least not in the short term and not without pain. As I have argued, I don't fully share that view, but I do think that there are troubled waters ahead.

I think that we can add two further things to the mix.

The first is peak oil, the point at which global oil production starts to decline. Ten years ago Peter Hill, one of my professional colleagues, argued that peak oil was far closer than anybody realised. There is now evidence that it may have arrived, meaning a growing gap between demand and supply, with the gap closed through price increases. The second is the possibility of climate change.

We could also add to the mix that global production of certain forms of fertiliser may have peaked.  

From a purely Australian and New Zealand domestic viewpoint, I think that we have to ask the question what if, maybe what when, we do when things go wrong. I am not a doomsday person, being by nature an optimist. However, I do think that there is a degree of naivety in current reporting and thinking.

Perhaps more later.         

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Julie & Mark

Julie & Mark I couldn't resist this one.

This a photo combining two of the bloggers I follow.

On the left, Julie from Sydney Eye, on the right Mark from Clarence Valley Today meeting for the first time and in Europe!

Both blogs are very good.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Monarchy, republics & the royal wedding

The Royal Wedding has received almost saturation media coverage here in Australia to the pleasure of some, annoyance even fury of others. Inevitably, the issue of an Australian republic has come back into discussion.

At the same time, the suggestion by the British PM that the rules of succession for the monarchy should be modernised has raised a different set of issues, for it requires approval by the fifteen countries including Australia that have the Queen as head of state. It also requires discussion among the broader Commonwealth of Nations, since the Queen is formally head of that body.   

On ANZAC Day, The Australian released details of a special Newspoll examining current attitudes towards a republic. You will find the story here, the graphic setting out the poll details here.  

As regular readers would know, I support the current constitutional position. However, this post is not an argument for or against constitutional monarchy, rather I am interested in what the polls tell us.

The first thing thing that I noticed was the decline over time in the proportions of Australia wholly or partly in favour of a republic from 52% in 2001 or 2002 to 41% in the latest poll. That shift in support has gone partly to those opposing a republic (up from a low of 32% in 2002 to 39% now), partly to an increase in the uncommitted vote (up from a low of 13% in 2002 or 2002 t0 20%).

The 1999 referendum on the republic was defeated 55% to 45%. However, that vote was affected by the form of the republic proposed at the time, with many republicans voting no because they wanted direct election of a president rather than selection by Parliament. If we compare the public opinion polling at the time with the latest results, we find that the uncommitted vote is unchanged on 20%, while support for a republic has declined from 46% to 41%, opposition increased from 34% to 39%.

Interestingly, and I had forgotten this, support for a republic bottomed during the Keating period at 39%.

Support for a republic is skewed:

  • Male support is at 49% as compared to 41% for women
  • 64% of Labor voters support a republic as compared to 39% of Coalition voters
  • At 52%, support is quite heavily skewed towards voters aged 35-49, dropping away to 49% for the 50+ and then 43% for those aged 18-34. If the numbers were available, I think you'd find that support for a republic in the 50+ age group is quite heavily weighted towards the younger end of that age range.

Attitudes of younger Australians are especially problematic from a republican perspective. The original republican thought was that the republic would come naturally as the older fogies with their historical memories and comfort with the existing system passed away.  The very high undecided vote among younger voters, 27%, provides a measure of comfort. However, it seems clear that the republic as an issue is simply not grabbing.       

Republicans also thought that the transition from Queen Elizabeth to King Charles would provide a natural break point. However, this seems more uncertain than might have been expected.

The poll asked specific questions directed at measuring support for a King Charles or a King William. With King Charles, the total in favour of a republic rises from 41 to 48%, with 16% undecided. With King William, its rises from 41 to 45%, also with 16% undecided.

Among voters aged 18-34, the total in favour of a republic with King Charles rises from 40 to 43%, with 23% undecided. With King William, support for the republic rises from 40 to 42%, with 21% undecided.   

You can see from the changing numbers a rough measure of support for the Queen as Queen. You can also see in the comparison between William and Charles that Charles remains less popular. However, the shifts among younger voters in both cases are less than the total shifts. In commenting on the figures, Mike Keating as head of the Republican Movement complained:

Australian Republican Movement chairman Mike Keating lamented what he saw as a lack of political leadership on the issue.

"All sides are looking for some sort of cheap political advantage, preferably next week," he said.

"That's not the kind of issue the republic is. It's not about scoring cheap political points."

Major General Keating said public fascination with the royal wedding was a symptom of modern celebrity culture.

"We're interested in the goings-on of footballers and Russell Crowe and everyone else," he said.

"That's quite different to the concept of having a republic."

The quote comes from the Australian story linked above.

You can see General Keating's problem. Numbers bounce around and things change. Even so, on these numbers it is very hard to see a republic referendum getting through any time soon.

This post is not for or against a republic. I am interested in what the patterns tell us.

I may be wrong, but I think that one of the problems republicans face with younger voters goes back to the original slogans for a republic. If we paraphrase these, Australia needed a republic and a new flag for an independent country for a new century. It was time to cut the apron strings with mother.

The problem is that for younger voters, the historical and perceptual links with Britain, Commonwealth and Empire are much attenuated. They get little of this in schools, and then it is put in a specific context - Empire and colonialism, for example. Monarchists bewail this loss of tradition and continuity. Indeed, I have been known too as well! However, I think that it's had some unexpected side-effects.

Many of the drivers in the republican debate date back to class and religious divisions in the main home countries, to conflicting views over the question of Australian identity.

To many if not most younger Australians, these questions and issues are largely irrelevant. They neither know or care. Australia just is. As they wrap themselves in the flag, as they proclaim their Australian identity, the idea that Australia needs a republic and a new flag for an independent country for a new century seems somewhat odd. What mother strings? Why take away our flag?

I stand to be corrected, but I just don't think that the idea of an Australian republic is important among younger voters. Certainly, on my experience, it's rarely discussed. Even the story of Princess Diana, something that did aid the republican cause, has begun to vanish into the mists of the past in the fourteen years since her death in 1997. 

One of the problems for republicans is that the monarchy is actually interesting. Here I have watched the coverage of the Royal Wedding with interest.

Forget the views of dedicated monarchists or republicans who will dominate the political chatter, and focus instead on the large number of undecided, especially among younger voters.

As part of the coverage, Australia is being saturated with stuff on the role and history of the monarchy. Many turn off, a lot watch. The combination of the wedding with this large scale history lesson clearly has effects. If you think that this is a lot of coverage, imagine what will happen when the Queen dies.

None of this means that an Australia will not become a republic at some point. Australian society is changing very rapidly with continuing large scale migration combined with emigration. I have no idea how the latest rounds of new settlers will respond over time to the republican debate. We don't know what's going to happen to the monarchy itself.

What I am reasonably sure of is that, for the foreseeable future, the chances of Australia becoming a republic are very low.    

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

ANZAC Day wrap-up

In yesterday's post ANZAC Day, national identity & the power of images I mentioned the blog World War Two Day-By-Day and that at this time in World War II ANZ troops were engaged in the defence of Greece, while at Tobruk besieged Australian troops were playing a key role in holding Rommel out.

At the time, I didn't know that the first ANZAC day ceremony was being held in Athens to mark the Greek campaign, while there had also been plans to hold a ceremony in Tobruk before the Libyan troubles intervened.

In this post, I just want to round off the previous post to pick up a few of the ANZAC Day stories I saw in my travels.

A story in the New Zealand Sunday Star Times, the forgotten Anzacs by Rob O'Neil, provides a New Zealand perspective on one element of the Greek campaign.

I mentioned that an ANZAC Day ceremony would be held at Villers-Bretonneux in France. This photo of the ceremony is from the Australian.    

Wreath laying ceremony at Villers-Bretonneux

A number of bloggers provided family perspectives, such as Neil Whitfield's  Anzac Day scans. I wrote A New England family war story.

As has been the case for many years, the Gallipoli ANZAC Day ceremonies were attended by many young Australian. This photo from the Australian shows part of the crowd. Young Australians Gallipoli 2011

I mentioned the war memorials that dot Australian and New Zealand towns. I should have added countryside. A story by Jennifer Ingall on ABC New England North West, 16 dead, but who were they?, gives an insight at a purely local level.Grace Gordon Archibald with Frank Richard Archibald's medals.

One thing that I did not mention in the original ANZAC Day story is of Australia until quite recently to recognise the role played by its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Diggers.  The photo shows Grace Gordon Archibald with Frank Richard Archibald's WWII medals.

The contribution of the Archibald family is actually well recognised in Armidale. However, Michelle Hoctor's story in the Armidale Express, Family’s plea to put a brave man at rest, provides a human face to the story of one digger. 

In the previous post, I mentioned that the strange nature of ANZAC Day - celebration of a defeat on side, of a victory on the other - laid the basis for unexpectedly close relations between Turkey, New Zealand and Australia. In a tweet, tahir gürsoy wrote:

@phbarratt @JimBelshaw i wish to be there again my heroes and anzac soldiers sleeps together in my land, RIP all.

To finish this wrap-up with another photo from the Australian. This photo members of the Turkish Air Force acrobatic team perform over the Turkish Navy Warships sailing near Turkish Memorial at Gallipoli.

Turkish Stars Gallipoli


Tim wrote in a comment:

There are a group of Western Australian school students taking part in the the ANZAC commemorations in Greece and Crete. They won the Premier's 2011 ANZAC essay competition.

My congratulations. What a wonderful opportunity.  

Monday, April 25, 2011

ANZAC Day, national identity & the power of images

Today is ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand and in many places around the world where Australians and New Zealanders gather. The day marks the day in 1915 when members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps went ashore at Gallipoli in what is now Turkey, but was then part of the Ottoman Empire.

ANZAC Day is a slightly unusual military celebration.

To begin with, it actually celebrates a defeat. The aim  of the Allied invasion was to capture Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire  was allied to to the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. If Istanbul could be captured, then the Ottoman Empire might be forced out of the war.

The Ottoman troops were led by Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk), who would become the founder of modern Turkey. The Allied Forces lacked the numbers to defeat an entrenched well led army and finally were evacuated in secrecy at the end of 1915.  Allied casualties included 21,255 from the UK, an estimated 10,000 from France, 8,709 from Australia, 2,721 from New Zealand, and 1,358 from the Indian E94th_anniversary_Anzac_Day_in_Canakkale_mpire.

Australians and New Zealanders celebrate ANZAC Day as a heroic defeat. To Turkey, it is a heroic victory. This makes for cooperation and shared celebrations that both sides can participate in. It also makes for closer links than you might expect between the three countries. The photo shows Turkish troops carrying the Turkish, New Zealand and Australian flags at an ANZAC Day celebration in Turkey.

As the Wikipedia article draws out, ANZAC Day has undergone many changes since the day was first named in 1916. By the 1960s many, including me, were either opposed to or at least ambivalent about it because we perceived it  as a celebration of militarism, even jingoism. Those opposed to it then really expected it to die as the diggers died. Instead, over the last twenty years it has become institutionalised and gone from strength to strength.

This is partially a reflection of nationalism, something that still makes me uncomfortable, but more a reminder of the sacrifice and horrors of war, a memory of Australians and New Zealanders who have died in so many conflicts beginning in the colonial period. The War Memorials that dot the towns in both countries are still being updated.

Despite the nationalism and the use of ANZAC Day as unifying national symbols, there is no triumphalism in ANZAC Day, no celebration of national military triumphs. This can be difficult for others from different traditions to understand.

In general, the first half of ANZAC Day is remembrance, commemoration. The mood at the dawn services that mark the start of ANZAC Day round the world is somber, restrained. Then after the marches the more larrikin spirit of both countries sets in as the mood changes.

The Australian gambling game two-up symbolises the second phase. Banned until the late 1930s when it was legalised just for and on ANZAC Day, two-up has given Australia such phrases as cockatoo (the person who watched for the police and then squawked a warning) and come in spinner (the spinner was the person who threw the coins). Played by the diggers, it has become a national tradition, although I suspect that more modern Australians know about the game than have actually played it!

ANZAC Day is also unusual because it is a day shared especially between two countries. New Zealanders become concerned that the more self-centred Australians sometimes ignore their role. However, that of itself is part of the complexity of a relationship that really has no direct comparison to national relationships any where else in the world.    

It's a bit like Christmas in some families where the kids fluctuate between harmony and dispute. The back-yard cricket (or rugby or netball or any game you care to name) can get quite vicious. Yet the links continue because neither side can deny the relationship.

Finally, from time I have referred to the blog World War Two Day-By-Day. This has just reached Day 602 April 24, 1941.

On April 24, 1941, the evacuation of the Commonwealth Expeditionary forces from Greece including Australians and New Zealanders in the face of the advancing Germans is getting underway. I wrote a little about this in Arrival in Iraklion, Greece, history & the on-line world and especially An Australian dies in Crete. There I record the words of Australian poet John Manifold who wrote of his friend John Learmonth:

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

As John Learmonth was being evacuated from mainland Greece to Crete where he would die, Australian troops were defending Tobruk in the face of Rommel's attacks. I quote from World War Two Day-By-Day:

 At 7 AM, Italian infantry attack the Tobruk defenses at 2 points after an artillery barrage at dawn. Advancing in suicidally close formation, they are broken up by Australian small arms fire from the forward gun pits and British artillery fire from the rear. The attacks are over within an hour (107 Italian POWs captured).

The Australians defending Tobruk became known as the Rats of Tobruk and were celebrated in Charles Chauvel's 1944 film of the same name. The link includes clips from the film.

To a degree this film is propaganda, myth making. Yet the courage at Tobruk stopped the Germans in their tracks. Rommel could not overcome.

Sixty five years later, any Australian regardless of background would instantly recognise the symbols. I quote from curator Paul Byrnes' notes on one clip of the film:

On an armoured patrol into the desert, men of the Australian 9th Division run into an Italian patrol. Peter Linton (Peter Finch) is wounded in the first skirmish. Bluey Donkin (Grant Taylor) and Milo Trent (Chips Rafferty) break off alone into the sand hills, picking off the enemy until both are wounded. As Milo tries to help Bluey, his own head wound makes him unconscious. Bluey tries to keep him awake until their comrades arrive in an armoured vehicle.

This is the film’s first real encounter in the desert and Chauvel emphasises the immediacy and very personal nature of the fighting, as well as the comradeship of the Australian soldiers. They are characterised as ferocious and individualistic fighters, able to function on their own, like guerrillas, but devoted to each other’s care once the enemy is defeated.

The style of this sequence is almost like a newsreel. The narration, written by Maxwell Dunn, is redundant in terms of information, but it gives the audience a sense of direct communication, as if being addressed by a friend in a letter from the front. Audiences were used to narration on newsreels; they were the only source of moving images about the war in an age before television news. Chauvel made use of real newsreel footage in the film, but also newsreel techniques. After the war, this kind of simulated naturalism would be given a name and a great deal of recognition in Europe, as neorealism.

Images are important. To a degree, we are what we believe we are. ANZAC Day reinforces the perceptions of Australians and New Zealanders about themselves. It is, like it or not, a central unifying element in two societies undergoing fundamental change.

The power of ANZAC lies not in its official promotion, its institutionalisation, but in the fact that people in both countries still identify with the underlying messages.   


Australia's ABC went from the Sydney ANZAC March to the Dawn Service at Gallopoli. From there, after a break, the cameras will move to the Dawn Service at  Villers-Bretonneux in France.

According to Wikipedia (link above), on 24 April 1918, Villers-Bretonneux was the site of the world's first battle between two tank forces: three British Mark IVs against three German A7Vs. The Germans took the town, but that night and the next day it was recaptured by 4th and 5th Division of the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) at a cost of over twelve hundred Australian lives.

In 1919 at the unveiling of a plaque to the Australians, the town's mayor spoke of the Australian role. Here he said in part:

Soldiers of Australia, whose brothers lie here in French soil, be assured that your memory will always be kept alive, and that the burial places of your dead will always be respected and cared for...

The school in Villers-Bretonneux was rebuilt using donations from school children of Victoria, (many of whom had relatives perish in the town's liberation), and above every blackboard is the inscription "N'oublions jamais l'Australie" (Never forget Australia).

As I watched the Sydney mVietnamese refugees 1979[4]arch I thought just how thin the ranks were becoming. I also thought that the march showed just how diverse Australia had become. As I watched former soldiers in the ARVN (South Vietnamese Army) march under the old South Vietnamese flag, I thought of the decision by Australian PM Malcolm Fraser to throw open the country's doors to Vietnamese refugees.

At the time some 50,000 per month were fleeing Vietnam with many drowning at sea, other clogging  refugee camps. In the end, Australia took something like 200,000. Yes, 200,000. That's a huge intake.    

   The photo shows Vietnamese refugees arriving for resettlement.

I had to leave the televising of the Gallipoli Dawn service for a period. When I came back, the cameras were focused on the Turkish flag with singing in Turkish. It took me a moment to work out what was going on. It was the Turkish national anthem.

This may not sound significant, but think about it for a moment. Here you have the crescent flag of an admittedly secular country but one with a dominant Muslim population being broadcast on Australian national television as an integral part of one of Australia's most important national celebrations. See what I mean?     

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Musings on turning five

This blog turned five on 19 March. Since then I have written 1,743 posts here, something over a million words given that many of my posts are long, far too long at times for easy reading.

I didn't celebrate the birthday at the time because I had other things on my mind. Really, it escaped me. However, a current event - the release of the Australian Government's new trade policy - caused me to check past posts going back into this blog's early years. This post is a simple reflection on one set of themes that appeared to me to be important back in 2006, themes that are relevant today.

  In September 2006, Blogosphere Woes reported on a tour I had taken of the blogosphere. I can still remember this, for it left me very depressed. Just following links through, I ended up in a series of blog streams linked to the war on terror, to Islam and to Islam vs Christianity. I quote from the time:

I found blogs that satirised anti-semitism but in such a heavy handed way that at least some of their readers would have taken them seriously, blogs that were in fact anti-semitic but were really more satirical than the satirical. I found blogs that presented a Muslim view, blogs that presented a Christian view, in both cases in terms of opposing absolutes. I found right wing blogs and left wing blogs, individual and group, that made me blink at the distortions presented.

I read news reports about Australia that represented significant distortions. Not conscious distortions, or at least I don't think so, but distortions because the facts were forced into a different world view frame.

With one exception, I ended the whole process wishing that I had never started, blogged out.

The exception? Australia really is culturally different from most other countries, quite remarkably different. We don't see it unless forced to by the type of journey I have just taken. I will try to capture this in a post once I have recovered.

On 24 November, an article by Chan Akya, Hazards of Oz, in the Asian Times on-line caused a degree of outrage in this country. Mr Akaya (or should that be Mr Chan?) was scathing. Australia faced a changing strategic environment; the Australian economy was unbalanced; while the country's still racist attitudes meant that Australia faced regional hostility and would not be able to attract the migrants it needed. One quote to give a taste.

As if the strategic position explained above were not challenging enough, Australians have worked assiduously to cultivate an image of being the region's bully. Their behavior toward various neighbors is poor even by the low standards observable across Asia, while the country's politicians have managed to put many a nose out of joint across the region. Famously, Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad pooh-poohed Australia's role in the late 1990s, in essence dismissing the country as a listening post of the United States.

The reasons for countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia to exercise hostility against Australians are of course related to Australia's long-standing animosity toward Muslim immigrants. Racial riots in Sydney aimed at Australians of "Middle Eastern appearance" as recently as 2005 were but a culmination of years of hostility shown by the country's politicians to immigrants from Muslim countries, including the infamous case of the boat people from Afghanistan beginning in 2001.

Mr Akaya concluded that the best solution for Australians was to sell their land to Asians and move back to Europe!

All this led me to begin a series of posts linked to the idea of the Australian Way. If, as I argued, Australia really was culturally different from most other countries, quite remarkably different, what did this actually mean? Why did it mean that Australia's future would be different from that portrayed by Mr Akaya?

Although the tag Australian Way gives a taste, I was never as structured with those posts as I should have been. I wandered, so that many posts on the topic won't be picked up by the tag. Essentially, my arguments centred on Australia as a migrant country, on Australian tolerance at an individual as opposed to a group level, at the strength of and elements in Australian popular culture that encouraged integration over time.

One area that I did agree with Mr Akaya lay in Australia's insensitivity to the external world, to insularity in general as well as in particular groups such as politicians and the mainstream media.

  In December 2006, trouble broke out in Tamworth over the issue of Sudanese refugees. Initial Australian reporting presented the issue in simple terms, another example of Australian racism at local level. This reporting went round the world, making Tamworth and refugees a global story and reinforcing the views held by Mr Akaya and others like him. Of course, it wasn't a simple as that as I tried to report at the time.

Tamworth and Refugees - follow up note provides an entry point to the posts I wrote. Incidentally, in light of later events note the role played by Tony Windsor. By the time that the mainstream media corrected its stances and started reporting the nuances, the damage had been done. Nobody outside Australia was really listening.

In another response to Mr Akaya, in November 2006- GDP - Australia in its Region - I looked at GDP, population figures and Australia's trade policy. Before going on, the post includes an earlier  photo of youngest, Clare, whom I wrote about recently in The many faces of Clare. The caption on the GDP post reads:

Photo: Clare Belshaw and friends, Clare's birthday, four friends, six ethnic ancestries, one country.

This post links to  several themes.

One was the need for Australia to look to its region. A second was the likelihood that Australia's relative position even including New Zealand must inexorably decline in economic and demographic terms even though we would remain a regional power for the immediate future.

Since then we have had a mining boom, the GFC and then a further mining boom. This may seem to disprove Mr Akaya's gloomy prognostications. Yet the reality is, at least as I see it, that the basic numbers remain the same. Australia's relative position must decline.

The GDP post suggested that Australia's trade policy recognised the economic realities facing the country.

As a relatively small country, our best interests were served by a free global trading system. We must therefore support moves towards global freer trade within the WTO. At the same time, and recognising the impediments to global free trade, policy looked towards free trade agreements that would integrate us into not just China, but all our key trading partners. ASEAN as our most immediate neighbour was especially important.

The Australian Government's most recent trade policy statement is intended to differentiate the Gillard Government from its Howard predecessor. I quote from the Minister's press release:

In an important economic reform, the Gillard Government has overhauled Australia's trade policy, re-connecting with the Hawke-Keating philosophy of free and open trade.

If you ignore this and look at the detail of the policy statement, it is actually a direct continuation of the previous Government's trade approach with its emphasis on freer trade and then the negotiation of specific free trade agreements as a fall back position. There are some differences in nuance and focus, but the core is the same. It could hardly be otherwise.

Looking back to that post in 2006, there were several conclusions from it that affected my writing. Here I find it a little difficult to properly disentangle views then and what came later. Accepting this, my key conclusions were:

  1. The relationship with Indonesia along with the success of that country were absolutely critical to our long term future for both geopolitical and economic reasons. If Indonesia failed, we were in great trouble. If, as we all hoped, Indonesia succeeded, then we were in trouble in a different direction because we would then have to adjust to a growing power to our immediate north. Given the population imbalance between Australia and Indonesia, we would just have to accept a large and growing Indonesian presence in Australia measured by people and economic penetration. This would require adjustments on the Australian side.  
  2. A second central strategic challenge lay in balancing the rising economic and strategic power of India and China. We needed to build links with both, but we also needed a countervailing force. This was where Indonesia and ASEAN came in. The combination of ANZ/ASEAN could be powerful in its own right, a balance.
  3. Whether Australia liked it or not, our immigrant intake was going to be driven by our economic and political interests. Among other things, this meant a potentially very large rise in the Muslim population of this country. The challenge here was how to adjust. How do we preserve the Australian Way?

In all this, I have also been concerned about balance in the Australian economy.

Mr Akaya's view was that Australia's weaknesses in manufacturing and services meant that Australia could not compete in a changing Asia. Like it or not, there is some truth in that view.

Once wool and other primary products dominated Australian exports. Today, mineral products and especially coal and iron ore are equally dominant. On my rough calculations, Australia's export base is less diversified than it was twenty years ago.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, service exports were seen as the new game. I stand to be corrected, but outside education services that are now in trouble, I do not know of a single services sector that has established a really significant net export position.

I have tried to write on some of this, but I doubt that I have had any impact even at the margin,

Now none of this may matter. It may be that the current mining boom will carry us through to a golden future, I just doubt it because I have been through previous resources booms.

I will stop here. I leave it to you to form your own views.               

Saturday, April 23, 2011

George Negus, watermelons & the meaning of words

An earlier post, Problems with Kiki, dealt with problems with language across countries. Now I have another example.

In another post, Bellingen, writing, obituaries and skills, I referred to the just completed first Bellingen Writer's Festival. For those who don't know Bellingen, it is a small town in the Bellinger Valley on the road from the coast to Armidale. It has become a significant alterative life style centre.

In that story, I quoted an Armidale Express article written by Armidale writer and journalist Janene Carey. This drew a comment from Janene.     

Hi Jim

The printed version of my story contained another section that wasn't put on our website.


DURING the Q & A part of his session, George Negus was quizzed by University of New England lecturer Jeremy Fisher about a reference he’d made to Barack Obama as ‘the best thing since sliced watermelon’, with Dr Fisher suggesting that the metaphor was racist.

Mr Negus seemed flabbergasted, asking whether ‘you can see my jaw dropping from over there?’ but apologising if he’d caused offence inadvertently.

Dr Fisher persisted, suggesting Negus habitually used tongue-in-cheek comments as a cover for his real views. The facilitator chose as the next questioner someone sitting as far away from the UNE contingent as possible."

BTW my first version of the Negus incident had a line explaining watermelon has a history of being pejoratively linked to black people from the southern states of the USA, but I removed that because I thought it sounded too didactic and it would be best to let people draw their own conclusions.

George Negus (and here) is a well known Australian TV journalist who lives at Dorrigo near Bellingen. Jeremy Fisher was previously  Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors and is now a Senior Lecturer at the University of New England teaching writing practice and theory in varieties of genres. He was in Bellingen to chair a Festival session relating to professional writing.

Dr Fisher clearly has broader issues with Mr Negus. My interest lay in the phrase itself.

The greatest (or best) thing since sliced bread is a common Australian colloquialism, especially among older Australians. I use it myself. I say older Australians because I have sometimes got puzzled looks from younger colleagues when I use it. I would therefore have interpreted Mr Negus's description of President Obama as 'the best thing since sliced watermelon’ as a variant, a compliment. I simply would not have seen a negative context unless there was something very specific to make me think otherwise. Among other things, I happen to be very fond of watermelon.

All this caused me to do a little digging.

I had always thought that the phrase the greatest thing since sliced bread was Australian. Not so, it seems. It actually originated in the US derived from a 1928 advertising slogan, and then spread. So the phrase should be understood in the US. Then what about watermelon? Now things get a little complicated.

Now it's quite clear that watermelon has been used as a pejorative term for American blacks. The Urban Dictionary gives a few examples: 

1. Black persons favorite fruit 2. Nigger bait

"Our nigger slave ran away, get the watermelon'

2. A food that white people who live in a 1%-or-less black neighborhood think that black people like

White guy: "I heard you like watermelon nigger"
Black guy: "Nobody in my family does..."

An apparent Australian example:

Code-word used to be racist to black people, especially in South-East Queensland, Australia.

"Dude that fuckin' watermelon stole my bike I swear to God"

There appear to be a number of other pejorative or even obscene uses of watermelon not connected with race. I won't bore you with those.

The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University says of the US racial use of the word:

It seems almost silly to say that watermelons have been racialized, but that is exactly what happened in this culture. For much of this country's history, postcards showing Black people comically eating watermelons were popular among White Americans. Many of these so-called "Coon cards" show Black people stealing watermelons, fighting over watermelons, even being transformed into watermelons.

obama-watermelon One understandable outcome of all this is that it appears that Black Americans actually eat less watermelon than Americans as a whole. I have no doubt that when President Obama carried a watermelon from the plane he was making a very deliberate statement. One might even say that he was trying to redeem the fruit, as well as addressing prejudice.

I said that things got complicated, because digging around it is clear that the US use of watermelon is morphing. Still pejorative, it has now acquired political overtones among the US right.

As an example, from the Millennium Weekend Ministries best quote of the day:

The green activeist (sic) democrats are lots like watermelons..........................
they are green on the outside and red on the inside.

I very much doubt George Negus had any pejorative intent, for if he had he would have been guilty of a gross and conscious misuse of an Australianism. If you want to be pejorative, why modify an Australian term whose normal content is positive? It doesn't make a great deal of sense. I just can't see him doing it in that way.

Still, it does show how problems with language arise. Who would have thought that Mr Negus would strike such trouble at a writers' festival in what is, after all, his home area far removed from the US?! 

And Dr Fisher?

He clearly has broader problems with Mr Negus. I cannot comment on those because I don't know. But what he does seem to have done in this case is to impose his own perception of the meaning of words filtered through his views on Mr Negus onto a variant of a common and positive Australian phrase. I don't think that's actually very sensible.

And the loser in all this? The poor watermelon!      


In a comment, KVD wrote:

Dear Jim

Just a reflection on your personal reflection:
"I have no doubt that when President Obama carried a watermelon from the plane he was making a very deliberate statement. One might even say that he was trying to redeem the fruit, as well as addressing prejudice."

I think that picture you use is a photoshop of a picture of Obama carrying a Halloween pumpkin - the clearest use of which is attached to this article: (You will see remarkable similarity as to the Presidential tie, hand position, facial expression, etc).

If this is the case, then the picture you use is possibly a racist jab, or maybe a joke, depending upon your point of view, and political, racial sensitivity.

And you - a historian! A seeker of facts and truthiness...


As I said in my response to KVD, ouch! This is the second time that I have been caught in this way. Even though I know that it's not so, my age means that I still have a tendency to treat a photo as a photo.

Thank heaven for commenters. Even though it's a bit embarrassing at a personal level, it's very important that writing like mine is subject to external correction. Otherwise, its just another piece of misreporting in a web full of it.

In a follow up comment, KVD wrote:

Jim - just a bit of introspection.

I found that pic of President Obama so unlikely as to be almost guarenteed to be faked. The thought that the first black President of the United States would attempt to make such a "statement" was beyond my understanding.

Again, KVD is probably right. I was trying to write a piece that might inform under time constraints. I was focused on that task. Again, ouch!

As I said, thank heaven for commenters

Friday, April 22, 2011

The importance of carbon sequestration in soils

I discussed carbon farming in a series of earlier posts; I have given links to some at the end. There I was trying to understand soil sequestration of carbon in particular.

I was interested for several reasons. Proponents argued that improved farming techniques would both reduce CO2 in the atmosphere and improve soils, a win-win situation. Further, the numbers quoted were very large.

I was also interested because the waves of bush protests that would finally help bring down both a prime minister and an opposition leader had already begun, if still below the radar of the city media. To they degree they were being picked up, they were still being treated as an aberration, a somewhat strange side show.

Central to those protests were farmer concerns about increasing land use controls usually justified on environmental grounds. Farmers were also alarmed at the way that farming land was or might be locked up in forests in the name of action to reduce CO2. These concerns and alarms fed into increased opposition to the very concept of climate change itself. Carbon sequestration in soils became a major issue because it offered an apparent win-win way out that did not require removal of farm land from production.

Before going on, I should make my position on climate change clear for the benefit of those reading this post in isolation from my previous writing. I believe on the balance of probabilities that human induced climate change is real and needs to be addressed. Accepting this, I have had a two-fold concern: I wanted to understand as best I could the various alternative solutions proposed and also wished to identify likely adverse and especially unforeseen results. Quite a bit of my writing on this blog has been concerned with perverse outcomes from public policy.

One outcome of the debate was Labor's $45 million Carbon Farming scheme.

In today's on-line Sydney Morning Herald Tom Arup's Farm scheme will reap only minimal carbon cuts, says department reports on a Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Report. Tom's story says in part: 

The estimates show that even under the most optimistic scenario, storing more carbon in cropping land will save less than 1 million tonnes of carbon a year by 2020. Savings from soil carbon cannot be counted towards Australia's emissions reduction targets under international rules.

The estimates instead show most savings under the scheme will be driven by reducing deforestation and better management of waste.

This conclusion is at such variance with carbon farming advocate Dr Christine Jones (a former CSIRO scientist) estimate that Australia could sequester 685 million tonnes of carbon by increasing soil carbon by half a per cent on only 2% of the farms that it pulled me up short.

Those who are interested will find the Department's report here. The first thing that I noted in the report was the distinction between Kyoto compliant and non-compliant activities. This is actually something that has been worrying me because of the way it drives policy in directions that are not necessarily sensible at local level.

In terms of soil sequestration itself, the Department says:    

Increased soil carbon on cropping land

Assuming gradual uptake, it is estimated that increased soil carbon, or reduced losses, on cropping land could deliver abatement of between 0.3 and 0.5 Mt CO2-e per year by 2020.

Key assumptions:

• The CSIRO national potential for building soil carbon, which also includes the mitigation of N2O emissions for cropped land, is estimated to be 25 Mt CO2-e per year.
• We assume that Australia's technical potential is 10 per cent of the CSIRO4 national potential, given the assumptions made by CSIRO about the relationships between potential and attainable estimates of soil carbon sequestration and nitrous oxide reduction for Queensland soils. On this basis, Australia‟s technical abatement would be 2.5 Mt CO2-e per year by 2020.
• In the high scenario, uptake by 2020 is assumed to be 20 per cent of the technical potential, leading to abatement of 0.5 Mt CO2-e. In the low scenario uptake by 2020 is assumed to be 10 per cent of the technical potential, leading to abatement of 0.25 Mt CO2-e.
• The implementation of conservation farm management practices is continued over time to ensure the maintenance of the rate of sequestration and, once the new higher soil carbon stock equilibrium is reached, to ensure permanence of that higher soil carbon stock.


• Most current practices for sampling and analysis may be relatively expensive, but new and emerging techniques may reduce this cost over time.
• The technical potential for the soil carbon sequestration rate is likely to be less than the value given in the CSIRO report4 because this value is a combination of both soil carbon sequestration and reduction in soil nitrous oxide emissions.
• The CSIRO estimated a national potential for building soil carbon and mitigation of N2O emissions for cropped land of 25 Mt CO2-e per year.
• The potential soil carbon sequestration rate assumes that the sequestered carbon will remain permanently in the soil. A change in farming practice, for example from pasture to cropping or no-tillage to tillage may lead to a loss of the sequestered carbon. In the CSIRO Report this reduces the overall abatement potential. Adherence to CFI methodologies would minimise the risk of losing sequestered soil carbon and allow abatement to continue to occur for as long as sequestration continues to raise stocks of carbon in the soil.
• In other CSIRO work (Sanderman et al., 2010) the annual per hectare rates of sequestration were identified as being highly variable, with a range from 0 to 0.6 tC/ha/yr depending upon climate, soil management and vegetation.4 The land area associated with any soil carbon sequestration rate will define the national potential. Care must be taken in the appropriate allocation of land use and assessment of climate when estimating sequestration rates.

4. Sanderman, J., R. Farquharson and J. Baldock , Soil Carbon Sequestration Potential: A review for Australian Agriculture (July 2010).

I don't know what this actually means. I couldn't find the journal article in question in the available time, but I did find this 2010 paper by Jonathan Sanderman and Jeffrey A Baldock Accounting for soil carbon sequestration in national inventories: a soil scientist's perspective. It concludes: 

Results from agronomic field trials generally show a relative gain in carbon stocks with implementation of management practices that return or retain more of the carbon captured by growing plants. However, much of the data used to support such a conclusion has been derived from point-in-time measurements which are ambiguous as to whether the relative difference was due to net sequestration or simply a cessation of losses during the trial (i.e. an avoidance of emissions).

While all of the scenarios in figure 1 represent a real net benefit to GHG abatement, we have argued here that (1) the predictive power of results from most agronomic field trials to alternative situations where these management practices have been implemented is questionable without detailed knowledge of the state of the soil carbon system; and (2) the current recommended IPCC accounting methodologies may not properly credit these activities and may indeed result in contradictory results when accounted for using tier I or II versus tier III approaches. Given that GHG credits for soil carbon sequestration will not be widely included during the first commitment period (2008–2012) of the Kyoto Protocol, there is time to develop more robust accounting systems that correctly credit agricultural management activities.

Now if you look at this piece by some of the same authors you can see that there are savings, but we have measurement and accounting problems. Another 2010 paper that I found by Craig Liddicoat, Amanda Schapel, David Davenport and Elliot Dwyer focused on South Australia says in part:

According to CSIRO estimates, Australia’s current Kyoto Protocol commitments (which don’t include soil carbon) already open the door to nearly 80% of the carbon sequestration potential of the continent, mainly In the form of forestry. CSIRO also estimates soil carbon to offer around 2.5% of the national sequestration potential, and this would be unevenly distributed towards favourable climates and soil types. Given our predominantly low rainfall and sandy soils, South Australia is not expected to be a large player in the area of soil carbon sequestration or trading. However, this view does not take into account the potential offered
through soil modification. This highlights that an audit of existing capacity, and potential to improve capacity in South Australian soils is a key piece of work needed to build our understanding and support involvement of landholders in any carbon trading scheme.

Now what does all this tell us? It seems to me just this:

  1. At farm level, we have a group of enthusiasts including scientists who believe that carbon sequestration in soils is very important and who have been campaigning for a number of years to change farm practices and to get scientific recognition. As I have discussed before, this is actually the way in which much agricultural innovation has occurred in Australia.
  2. At the official scientific level, we have acceptance that carbon sequestration in soils occurs, but no one is quite sure by how much nor how to measure it. The combination of enthusiasts with politics seems now to be driving increased research.
  3. At official or public policy level internationally and until recently locally, carbon sequestration in soils has been excluded from consideration as not important, immeasurable or irrelevant because its effects cannot be measured and therefore cannot be included in things such as carbon pricing or emission trading schemes.
  4. At political level, carbon sequestration in soils has become another card to play in the shifting debate.          

I now want to finish this post by making an extreme claim, that the question of carbon sequestration in soils and especially agricultural land may well be the most important climate change issue facing Australia today. I say this for the following reasons:

  1. Carbon sequestration in soils appears to be the one really genuine win-win possibility in the climate change debate. Environmentalists would argue that the growth of sustainable jobs will more than offset other job loses, so we still win. Let's accept this for the purposes of argument. However, those who lose their jobs will, on experience, not be the same as those who get the new jobs. That's not really win-win.
  2. At a time when global food prices are skyrocketing and food security has been identified as a key global issue, it doesn't make a lot of sense to take land out of agricultural production unless there is no other choice.
  3. The upper limit numbers attached to carbon sequestration in soil remain huge. Accepting that there are problems in the numbers, it would still seem sensible to devote resources to exploring possibilities.

Selected Past Posts


One of the difficulties in the issues I have been discussing is the growing divide between urban and country Australia. In this context I was struck by this article: Give animals property rights: uni lecturer. I won't comment further.

Postscript Two

In a comment, KVD wrote:    

Hi Jim

Cut/pastes from your essay:

Most current practices for sampling and analysis may be00 relatively expensive, but new and emerging techniques may reduce this cost over time.

Sanderman & Baldoch:
there is time to develop more robust accounting systems that correctly credit agricultural management activities

Liddicoat, Schapel, Davenport, Dwyer:This highlights that an audit of existing capacity, and potential to improve capacity in South Australian soils is a key piece of work needed

Now perhaps it’s just me, but there seems to be a pattern in the above comments.

And then there’s your “it would still seem sensible to devote resources to exploring possibilities” – with which I absolutely agree. But I’m assuming you are talking about improved sequestration techniques, not the accounting therefore?

I thought it worthwhile bringing KVD's comment up into the main post because it does illustrate an important issue that I have discussed, the way that the need to measure things for accounting and management purposes (you can't have a trading or at least a performance measurement scheme without this) affects research.

To my mind, research into improved sequestration techniques is key, accounting and measurement techniques secondary. Obviously you have to be able to measure the results of research, that's part of the process, but that's a different if related issue from aggregate assessments.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A taste of the 2011 Australian blog finalists

Two of my blogs were entered in the Sydney Writers' Centre Best Australian Blogs competition, this one plus New England, Australia. Sadly, I didn't make either the finalists or the honourable mentions. Tsk!

Actually, I was a little disappointed. I know that I break most blogging rules in writing, I write for my own purposes, but I had allowed myself to become interested.

Two blogs that I follow did make the finalist list, Darcy Moore's Blog and skepticslawyers. Congratulations to both.

Once I saw the list of shortlisted blogs, I could not resist browsing through them. If you are interested, you can find the full list here. I thought that I would point to some finalists and honourable mentions that I found of particular interest. If I haven't listed a blog, that doesn't mean that its not a good blog. I am only talking about my particular tastes.  

  Sarah Mitchell's Global Copywriting provides some fascinating and well written insights into social media. I have added her to my blog list.

Nikki Parkinson's Styling You is very much one for the women. If is a blog that my wife and daughters would enjoy. This doesn't mean that we mere males shouldn't look, however. To see what I mean, have a look at Paper Giants: mags, journalism and old stories.

Tim Kastelle's Innovation Leadership Network focuses, as the name says, on the innovation process. I have added him to my blog list.

Steve Molkentin's MolksTVTalk is pretty good if you are interested in Australian TV, while Kathy Stone's Four Four Two may appeal to soccer tragics.

Jason Staines is a Sydneysider now living in New Delhi. I include the blog because his Gora!Gora!Gora! may be of interest to Ramana. The NDM's Not Drowning, Mothering really made me laugh.

Abigail Nathan's Bothersome Words is a good practical blog for those who write. I have added it to my blog list. Agent Sydney (anonymous)'s Call My Agent! provides interesting insights for those wishing to get their book published.

All this will provide you with a taste of the entries. I'm blowed if I know quite how they are going to judge the whole thing.

Poker machines, Windsor and Joyce

A week back in Why Andrew Wilkie may fail I discussed the reaction to the proposed poke machine legislation in the country and especially Tony Windsor's New England electorate. For the benefit of international readers, Mr Windsor is one of the country independents on whom the Gillard Government depends for survival. 

In my post I said in part:

In his role as an independent, Mr Windsor has already demonstrated that he is prepared to take a broad view even if it creates local anger. I don't think that he can in this case, because the costs are specific and local. Unless the Commonwealth Government can work out some form of compensation package, Mr Windsor will have to vote no, and the legislation is likely to fail. Mr Wilkie will then have to decide what to do.

I hadn't actually seen it at the time, but the Armidale Express (Armidale is in the heart of Mr Windsor's electorate) was already reporting Mr Windsor's views along these lines. I quote:

“There is no doubt in my mind after talking with smaller club managers that if some of the proposals being talked about come to fruition, they would potentially wipe out some clubs,” Mr Windsor said.

“I’m not convinced that some of the proposals will have the effect of reducing problem gambling.

“I will obviously wait to see the legislation if and when it reaches the Parliament but unless substantial changes are made to the proposal, I will not support anything that will wipe out community based organisations,” he said.

In a letter to the paper (not on-line), the NSW Golf Clubs Association suggested that the legislation would impose $77 million in new costs on golf clubs, while reducing revenues by $42 million. That revenue loss should not equated just to problem gamblers, but is an across the board estimate  

New England was also in the news this week because of the possibility that Queensland National Party Senator Barnaby Joyce might challenge Mr Windsor for the seat. Mr Joyce needs to be in the House of Representatives if he is ever to challenge for National Party leadership.

In an interview in the Lismore Northern Star Mr Joyce made it clear that while he was considering the seat of New England, he was not interested in the adjoining Northern Rivers seats. They have sitting members, while Mr Joyce has a direct family connection with the New England seat. He grew up there, went to school in Tamworth and then studied at the University of New England.On the hustings 1943

All this is, of course, of interest to me from a personal perspective.

The photo shows campaigning at the 1943 election. The speaker is J P Abbott (no relationship that I know of to the current Opposition Leader), then Country Party Federal Member for New England. To his right wearing a hat and carrying his hearing aid box is my grandfather, David Drummond, who was then Country Party member for the state seat of Armidale and would become Federal Member for New England in 1949.   

It's nice to see Northern NSW, the broader New England that I write about, come back into some form of prominence again! From a purely selfish perspective, it does no harm to possible sales if and when I can complete my history of New England.


In New Matilda, Adam Brereton's Big Trouble In New England discusses the possible Windsor/Joyce stoush. Adam concludes that Joyce would be unlikely to win. I think that he is probably right. However, the Nationals are indeed resurgent.

It's actually quite interesting. Northern NSW outside the Lower Hunter was traditional Country/National Party heartland, giving the Party a solid core regional base in both State and Federal Parliaments. This was very important, because the Party's support elsewhere was much more volatile.

In the 1980s and 1990s the Party's Northern support base started to fragment. By the early 2000s it was in very considerable trouble to the point that New England independent supporters seriously thought that they might overturn the Party altogether. The significance of the recent State election results is that, outside the Northern Tablelands, they re-established National Party dominance outside the Lower Hunter.

State and Federal are different. However, the Party is back in Government for the first time in a long while, has had an infusion of new Parliamentarians, of new members and, most importantly, enthusiasm. So it's in a much better position to challenge Mr Windsor.   

The Yindjibarndi controversy

Miss Eagle wrote in a comment on a post:

I haven't got to watch the Cleo stuff yet. Just writing to tell you about an advertisement appearing on your site. I don't know if you are aware but a Twiggy Forrest/FGM ad about the Yindjibarndi dispute at Roebourne is on your site. Please read the post on my blog about it -

I checked through to the post in question. There I read in part:

I "Follow" Jim Belshaw on Twitter and I am a frequent visitor to his blog, Personal Reflections, and I happened to glance at his sidebar and discovered the Yindjibarndi advertisement.  Google ads do their best to match advertisement type to site text.  Jim occasionally writes about Aboriginal matters/history around New England in New South Wales where he lives as did his family before him.  So the word 'Aboriginal' is the only connection between Jim and his blog and the Google ad.

I actually live in Sydney now, but still call New England home. However, that's a minor quibble.

Miss E is a regular commenter and very interesting because she has different experience, a knowledge of the North, and so feeds me a different perspectives. On the other hand, I wasn't sure how to respond to her comment.

  It's interesting but actually not surprising that the Google algorithm should spot this blog. On this blog alone I have written over 100 posts on Aboriginal policy, history and life. Across my blogs I have now written almost  200 posts. Six of my last ten posts on this blog have dealt with or mentioned Aboriginal issues. Really, far to many for the balance I try to maintain. So the Google placement was not a surprise. 

I first became aware of Mr Forrest and the Yindjibarndi controversy when my past posts on Mr Forrest and Generation One (Andrew Forrest's 50,000 indigenous jobs, Generation One, Andrew Forrest and Aboriginal jobs) started getting new comments long after the post dates. As part of this, JabulaniSon in a comment referred to a vimeo video on the matter. By the time I looked at it, this had been taken down, apparently following protests by Fortescue. If you click through on the ad referred to it is clearly a response to the video. 

The Yindjibarndi people are one of the traditional owners of land on which Fortescue is developing its Solomon Hub.

On April 4 a misleading, heavily edited video of a important community meeting was circulated online. It is important that the facts are told.

The people speaking in this video are Yindjibarndi. They formed another corporation called Wirlu Murra Yindjibarndi as they believed the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation was not fairly representing their interests.

A meeting was held on March 16 2011 in Roebourne. All Yindjibarndi were invited, 170 attended. All had the right to vote, regardless of where they came from, regardless of how they travelled to the meeting.

The Fortescue offer to the Yindjibarndi is a $10.5 million package of cash, training, business development and housing.

20 people voted against the Wirlu Murra Yindjibarndi resolutions while over a hundred voted in favour of them. The 20 people control a media group and only wanted cash payments. The Community wanted jobs, training, housing and apprenticeships.

I am not in a position to comment on the accuracy of the Company's PR. Miss E's assessment can be found in these posts. The last post contains links to other material:

For those who are interested in learning further I have given a few links below. I haven't attempted full coverage.

  • ABC North West WA The Yindjibarndi FMG case provides an introduction along with links to previous ABC coverage on the matter
  • ABC AM coverage here
  • Age coverage here