Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cat Avenger at writing desk

I have put up many photos of my various writer's desks. Then a friend asked me about Avenger, the cat. The following is Avenger at my home writing desk.


Goodnight all. Time for bed. 

In light of comments, another photo, this time of Tiger (Avenger's Mum) "assisting" youngest with her art work.  Tiger

It appears that certain things run in families. And I also couldn't resist bringing this comment of kvd's into the main post:

Your cat smokes? I hope Avenger has no mental problems because, if so, see previous post (The inhumanity of modern social policy).
ps most cats have mental problems, induced by their sublime belief in their innate superiority over humans, balanced against their inability to open cans of cat food.

I did laugh.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The inhumanity of modern social policy

In a story on 13 March 2013 in a story headlined as Tobacco ban leaves mental health groups fuming, Sydney Morning Herald health reporter Louise Hall began:

A BAN on smoking in all psychiatric facilities will go ahead despite vehement opposition from some members of the mental health community, who argue that strict anti-smoking rules will destabilise acutely ill patients and put staff at risk of violence.

NSW Health has ordered all facilities, including emergency psychiatric centres, to close designated outdoor smoking areas, confiscate tobacco products and supply free nicotine replacement therapy to staff and patients.

Anti-smoking groups say the department's decision to enforce its longstanding smoke-free policy in wards that had been granted an exemption will help to break down the "deep-rooted smoking culture" among mental health staff and patients.......

About one-third of people with a mental illness smoke, rising to two-thirds for people with schizophrenia, compared to about 17 per cent of the general population.

The ban was welcomed by anti-smoking groups. I quote:

The chief executive of the Cancer Council NSW, Andrew Penman, said arguments that people with psychiatric disorders smoke to self-medicate or relieve symptoms, stress and anxiety "are too easily used as excuses to justify inaction about smoking".

This type of ban had some medical support. In December 2011, the WA branch of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists had stated:

Allowing smoking would be a backward step for mental health patients who have higher smoking rates than in the general community....

"We need to help people with mental illness stop smoking, not encourage it," the branch's chair, Dr Alexandra Welborn, said.

She said people with mental illness had high rates of physical illness and higher death rates, with many suffering from smoking- related conditions such as heart disease.

"As doctors, we have a key role to play in the physical health care of patients.

"We do not allow smoking in our general hospitals and should not go against national and international trends to reintroduce smoking in secure mental health facilities," Dr Welborn said.

She said the state's mental health units offered smoking withdrawal, nicotine replacement and education programs to temporarily stop smoking and they increased the likelihood patients would stop smoking altogether.

In December 2012 in regard to a proposed ACT ban ( Anxiety rises over effect of smoking ban- on the mentally ill) the President of the Canberra Action on Smoking and Health, Dr Alan Shroot, stated "addictions should not be tolerated at any health site."

In March in NSW, Ashley Coleman took his life after being granted an unsupervised cigarette break off-site from NSW's Liverpool Hospital's mental health unit - where smoking has been banned.Apparently, as a sufferer of schizophrenia, Coleman had been in and out of Liverpool Hospital's mental health unit for six years. Previously, he and other patients were able to smoke, under supervision, in a small, open-air courtyard next to the ward.

His father said: ''When people like my son are admitted, they are already suffering from conditions such as severe depression, anxiety issues and suicidal tendencies - without the added burden of suddenly being told they must quit. It seems cruel and unjust.'' This view was shared by leading anti-smoking campaigner. I quote:

Professor Chapman, who has won international awards for leadership in tobacco control, said he is in favour of ''dedicated smoking zones where people can go''.

''There are some important and under-discussed ethical issues in depriving people of their rights,'' he said. ''But somehow, when you are a patient, your rights to do as you please are suddenly suspended - even if you are not hurting other people.''

This view was not shared by the anti-smoking lobby:

Anne Jones, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health Australia, said mental health units were given a much longer period of time to go smoke-free and it would be a ''retrograde step'' if they returned to the ''bad old days''.

She said: ''There is overwhelming evidence that the health and treatment of people with psychiatric illnesses is significantly worsened if they smoke - and significantly improved if they quit.''

Liverpool Hospital said:

A Liverpool Hospital spokeswoman said its smoke-free policy mirrored NSW Health guidelines across the state.

''Inpatients are routinely assessed for nicotine dependency and offered appropriate advice and nicotine replacement therapy to manage withdrawal.''

She said it was wrong to imply inpatients were granted ''smoke breaks'' off-site.

''After careful assessment and, where clinically appropriate, mental health patients are granted escorted leave as part of their rehabilitation plan,'' she said. ''If patients respond well, they can be granted short periods of unescorted leave.''

Smoking is legal. It is totally inhumane to tell a sick person that, by fiat, they are not allowed to do something, that they must have "therapy" imposed on them when that has little to do with their immediate condition, when they are not harming others. It can be hard enough to get a person to seek necessary help. It can become impossible unless they are forcibly detained when they are provided with a powerful reason for refusing help.

There is no health gain from this. It is a cruel infringement of human liberties that really benefits no one, it is (and I accept that this is a bias) another blind application of universal rules based approaches that has become so prevalent in what is called social policy. In pursuit of goals and targets, in the desire to control, we have become inhumane, censorious, lacking in fundamental human empathy.  


This post drew a long and very thoughtful comment from a mental health nurse presenting an inside picture that that I thought demanded full inclusion in the man post. I was writing because I was actually shocked by the story, but it was an external view. This is an internal view.

The Comment

"As a Mental Health Nurse that survived the implementation of a no smoking policy, I would rate it as one of the most risky 12 months of my life. The stress and tension that was created during this period was incredible. Nurses used to using cigarettes for managing behaviour were at a loss as to intervene during a patients escalating behaviour. We saw an increase in the use of as required medications and there was an increase in the reported assaults against staff. We also had to negotiate harder to get at risk patients to comply with treatment and even to accept admission into hospital. Some medical staff even admitted to being forced to make "poor clinical decisions" with regard to complying with the non smoking policy.

As for enforcing the policy, this duty once again, fell to the nursing staff. Other departments, such as security refused to participate and exemplified it by this quote: "If we did that, we wouldn't get time to actually do any work and besides; if we give them an infringement, do you think they would pay it?". Eventually we ended up with a blind eye policy that was even less effective than previously and created for the staff another avenue of vulnerability and manipulation.

Another factor that this change produced, was the sudden emergence of staff and patients smoking on the footpaths outside the hospital grounds. This visual reminder was only reinforced with the removal of the smoking bins in the grounds. So, where once a smoker would dispose of their butts correctly, there was a massive rise in the littering of cigarette butts all over the hospital grounds.

There ended up being a positive out of all this though, as prisoners were allowed to smoke in prison and refused permission in a psychiatric facility, the numbers of prisoners that we accepted for admission plummeted dramatically!

I have done some further research into the brain and brain function with the understanding that the more that we stress these populations, the worse the health outcomes and the reactive behaviours become. THIS evidence IS demonstrated through all the jurisdictions throughout the world that have implemented a smoking ban in psychiatric facilities.

A decision that is considered only by a bureaucrat in a high office who's last clinical contact (if any) was at least 15 years ago?

That's gotta end well.

Kind of remind me of a beach somewhere in Turkey where the most successful part of the operation was the retreat.

Oh and @Evan, C.S. Lewis wrote it best...
"Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good
of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live
under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.
The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may
at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good
will torment us without end for they do so with the approval
of their own conscience.""


This and the other comments do confirm my view, and I really loved that quote from C S Lewis. But aren't my commenters wonderful in extending and critiquing discussion?  In this case there is agreement, but that's not always the case. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Train Reading - the journeys of I-Ching

This post continues the story that began in Train Reading - Introducing May's Culture of South East Asia. One of the strengths of Reginald Le May's The culture of South-East Asia (Yi_Jing artist's impressionGeorge Allen and Unwin, second impression 1956) is the way it brings alive elements in a world of which I knew little. I have been to some of the places he talks about, I have walked through some of the ruins, but I didn't know the history.

Le May records that in 671 AD the Buddhist monk and traveller Yi-Tsing (or I-Ching, modern Yijing) departed Canton for Shihlifoshih or, more shortly, Foche. According to Wikipedia, I-Ching was born in 635 in Fanyang, China, as  Zhang Wen Ming, becoming a monk at age 14. A benefactor known only as Fong provided funding to allow him to study at the great Buddhist university of Nālandā in what is now India.

Travelling by Persian ship, it took I-Ching 22 days to reach Foche, a place known as a centre of Buddhist studies with links to China and India. Le May quotes I-Ching's impressions of Foche.

In the fortified town of Foche there are more than a thousand Buddhist monks, whose minds are set on study and good works. They examine and discuss all possible subjects exactly as in India itself: the rules are identical.

If a Chinese monk wished to go to the west in order to read and study (the original Buddhist texts) he cannot do better than stay at Foche for a year or two and practise the necessary rules. He will then be in a fit condition to go on to India for further study. 

When I read this, I was struck by its modern feel.

Foche, modern Palembang on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra, was the capital of the Kingdom of Srivijaya, then a considerable regional power. Srivijaya_Empire.svg       

The map from Wikipedia (link above) will give you a feel for Srivijaya's position and influence. Part of its power came from its location, its control of key shipping lanes, of the trade between China, India, Ceylon and beyond to Africa.

Srivijaya's full history is another story, but it remained a maritime power until the 13th century. That's quite a long time in human terms.

I-Ching stayed in Foche for six months learning Sanskrit grammar and the  Malay language.

Now for the next part I have taken from Wikipedia.

He went on to record visits to the nations of Malayu and Kiteh (Kedah), and in 673 after ten days additional travel reached the "naked kingdom" (south west of Shu). Yijing (I-Ching) recorded his impression of the "Kunlun peoples", using an ancient Chinese word for Malay peoples. "Kunlun people have curly hair, dark bodies, bare feet and wear sarongs." He then arrived at the East coast of India, where he met a senior monk and stayed a year to study Sanskrit. Both later followed a group of merchants and visited 30 other principalities. Halfway to Nālandā, Yijing fell sick and was unable to walk; gradually he was left behind by the group. He was looted by bandits and stripped naked. He heard the natives would catch white skins to offer sacrifice to the gods, so he jumped into mud and used leaves to cover his lower body; he walked slowly to Nālandā where he stayed for 11 years.Nalanda_University_India_ruins

I hadn't heard of the University of Nālandā, but it was obviously quite a place. At it's peak, it is reported to have had over 10,000 students in residence with over 2,000 teachers. This picture of the ruins will give you a feel.

I-Ching was quite some traveller. After leaving Nalanda, he returned to Foche in 687 where he stayed translating Buddhist texts into Chinese. Having completed all his translations, he finally returned to China in 695, where he received a grand welcome back  from Empress Wu Zetian. His total journey had taken took 25 years.

In addition to some 400 Buddhist translated texts, I-Ching was an inveterate travel diarist whose diaries described his adventures and provided a picture of society and lifestyles in the places he visited.


Our blogging friend Ramana pointed me to this piece on the re-establishment of the University at Nalanda.It's a nice story.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - Hazel Hawke and the power of goodness

Hazel Hawke's death touched Australians, me included. She was one of those people who found her way into our hearts. Hazel Hawke

I read the obituaries section in the Sydney Morning Herald for personal and professional reasons. Personally, because I am old enough that people I know are sometimes featured. Professionally, because of my interest in Australian life and history.

I do not know most of the people I read about. I was trying to work out the other day the things that affected my responses to obituaries even when I did not know the people. Sometimes its the achievements, sometimes the variety in life, more often it's what I have come to think of as essential goodness. Their story made made me like them.

To make my point, consider this piece on Professor John Hogg. There is achievement, but there is also an essential niceness, a willingness to muck in and help. You can see this in their response to the Bali bombing. They were there. He worked in the hospital helping victims, she helped in the morgue identifying victims. You wonder about the vagaries of life that took him away from her and their family at such a young age.

Hazel Hawke was like that. She wasn't a perfect human being: from the obituary, she was sometimes insecure and unhappy, as we all are. But there was an essential goodness about her.

One can wonder about the basic unfairness of the Alzheimer's disease that took her away from he family. Life just is, as it was with John Hogg's cancer.

In the end, it's what we leave behind that counts: It's that that brings comfort to those who survive; it's that that marks a place in the shifting sands of history. My thoughts are with her family.         

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Train Reading - Introducing May's Culture of South East Asia


To introduce this post, this photo shows the ruins at Borobudah in Indonesia. The photo is from the wikipedia article on the site. I have visited the place once as part of an official mission led by then Science Minister Barry Jones. 

For the benefit of new readers, my irregular train reading series requires me to pick a book at random from my shelves that I have either not read before or, at least, not for some time. Better still, the book should be outside my current interest. Mind you, I don't always follow the rules, but nobody's perfect!

Yesterday, at random, I picked up Reginald Le May's The culture of South-East Asia (George Allen and Unwin, second impression 1956).It is, accurately, subtitled the heritage of India, with a dedication to PM Nehru. Written on the fly leaf is J P Belshaw, 2/65, Bangkok, so it was my father's. It really is a slice of history, with a focus on buildings and the visual arts.

May spent much of his working life in Siam, what we now call Thailand. From 1908 to 1922 he served in the British Consular Service in Siam 1908 to 1922, and then from 1922 to 1933 be was Economic Adviser to the Thai Government. In 1934 he retired and moved to a research fellow at Pembroke College at Oxford. From then until his death in 1972, he continued his research into the history and art of South East Asia with a special focus on the Indian links. The book I am reading was his magnum opus.

It's a very  English book, you can see May sitting at his boarding house while his land lady studied one of the pieces he collected. Paraphrasing, she said "I always take my orders from him, Sir", referring to one head. "He has such authority".

May is a very learned man who managed to bring alive a past world. I realised how little I knew. I don't want to write a lot about the full book, but I am looking for a few things from it that might interest you. I want examples that will show that world in ways that will seem directly modern and relevant. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Foreign policy note - Ladakh

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is on a state visit to India. The visit follows a recent stand-off between India and China in disputed territory within Ladakh. This was resolved prior to the visit. The two countries fought a war in 1962 over the disputed territory.

The dispute and visit are a reminder of just how complicated Australia's immediate environment is becoming.

The 1962 war seemed relatively remote to Australians. There was also limited sympathy here for India at the time, despite fears of Chinese communism. Indian-Australian relations had unravelled in the period after independence. Now Australia cannot escape the complex evolving relationship between two of Asia's big powers.

Monday, May 20, 2013

When did atheism become a religion?

Yesterday, I went out shopping in the morning, walking up past the Greek Orthodox Cathedral. There must have been a major religious festival, for the church was just emptyingP1000249(1). I didn't have my camera, so I couldn't take a crowd shot. But here is an earlier shot of the Cathedral.

My area in Sydney was the location of Greek settlement in Sydney after the Second World War. Many Greeks have died or moved on, but it remains a centre.

There is an old Greek woman, I think that she is Greek, She has lost her English, that's often a problem with our older migrants, but we always say hello. Tuesday night on my way to tennis, I said hello. She pressed a number of sweets into my hand, said goodbye in heavily accented English, and then walked on.

looking at the crowd thronging the pavement outside the Cathedral, I thought how nice it was. There were old woman alone in their black, older couples talking to their friends, young people with their families. An older man, well he was certainly older than me!,  hugged his daughters and then, cupping his granddaughter's face in his hands, gave her a kiss on the top of the head. I smiled, but it took my thoughts in a different direction.

When did atheism become a religion? That may sound an odd question in the circumstances, but let me explain.

I have noticed through the feeds I get and some of the blogs I read, an increasing an increasing stridency in atheist propaganda. The following is an example of what I mean.Atheism  Now its perfectly rational to conclude, on the balance of probabilities, that God doesn't exist and that, consequently, you are an atheist. However, when you use images such as the above, you have adopted an especially unpleasant faith that were you anyone other than an atheist would be roundly and rightly condemned.

The existence or otherwise of God or Gods, of a divine being or beings, cannot be proved or disproved. That is why it is a faith. When atheists concluded that god does not exist and seek to persuade others, they too have accepted a faith, a belief in the non-existence of the divine. That's fine, but when they use images such as the above in the attempt to discredit the views of others, when they selectively point to all the evils created in the name of religion. they have entered a new religious domain much loved by those they criticise. I am right, therefore you must believe.

Now the actual theological issue captured in that image has been much debated. How can an all knowing, all powerful god allow evil or indeed natural disasters to exist?, There isn't an easy answer. In the Christian tradition, it comes back to the question of nature and free will. Man has the freedom to make his choices and must suffer the consequences. That's actually very hard, for the innocent suffer.

Would the world be better off nobody believed? I don't know. I suspect not. The evidence of human history is that we all have a deep need to believe in something beyond ourselves, something that might help explain, to make sense of. the apparently unexplainable, 

As knowledge has expanded, the domain of the unexplainable has shrunk. And yet, we still feel the need to believe. That need has created some of the worst moments in human history, but also some of the best, the finest. I don't think that we should lose sight of that.        

Budgets, the Aussie dollar, a passing reference to vaccination

Measured by the general tone of commentators as well as initial opinion poll results, the latest Commonwealth budget has been quite well received in the general community. Opposition Leader Abbott's response was, not unexpectedly, highly political but has still helped set the frame for discussion.

The interesting thing now is just what happens to the Australian economy, for that will affect the exact form of discussion. While I expected the decline in the value of the Australian dollar to occur sooner than most people expected, it has come a little earlier than I expected, while the exact transmission mechanisms were a little different. I had expected the decline to be associated with the end of global quantitative easing. In fact, the present decline is due in part to the prospective, not actual, ending of QE in the US.

I don't make precise economic forecasts. When I do I am always wrong! However, analysis can reveal broad trends and something about possible alternative outcomes, even if we cannot actually pick turn points. Here the next twelve months are going to be very interesting. Forget hedge funds, by the way. 

On a completely different matter, the debate over vaccination has become a real issue in NSW. Should pre-schools be allowed to ban un-vaccinated children?       

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Essay - a ride from school

As a young kid, gravel rash was an occupational hazard. Many of Armidale's roads were unpaved beyond a strip of tar in the very centre, while the footpaths themselves were pretty rough.   Those unpaved road sections were quite useful, actually a good source of clay that could be used to make many a misshapen object.

We seemed to run everywhere. Most of our games seemed to involve sometimes violent exercise.  British Bulldog 123 was popular, especially in scouts where we played on a cement floor, while another variant, Red Rover Cross Over, was also generally popular. Chasings, yes it is a valid scrabble word, was popular, as was hide and seek and later wide games, another scouting influence. After I was given a stop watch for a present (I can't remember whether it was for Christmas or my birthday), we used to time ourselves running around the block. This was exactly 880 yards.

Later when we got bikes, we used to ride all over Armidale and into the country around, often with Rover, our red kelpie. Rover was a working, not show, dog and really most unsuitable for an urban environment. Still, he did get lots of exercise, something that can be a real problem today when dogs are meant to be so controlled. Poor Rover. He survived the inevitable accidents with cars, he did like to bark at the wheels, only to die from snake bite.

I suppose in those circumstances prangs were inevitable. I was a slightly clumsy child, so when my feet somehow got entangled, the gravel and I would collide. I don't know that I minded so much, although picking the gravel out of the grazes was sometimes unpleasant! Later with the bikes, risks increased, although there were remarkably few accidents.

Looking back, it's hard to remember just how fit I was. During the football season in my last years at secondary school I played two full eighty minute games of Rugby per week, trained two afternoons a week, and walked, ran or rode everywhere. On boring Sunday afternoons when friend David came across on exeat (he was a border at my school), we would sometimes go for very long walks just to see how far we could get in the time. From memory, our record was eighteen miles.

You would think in all this that I would like cross-country runs, sometKids on horsehing that was popular at the school. In fact, I hated them. To do something for fun was one thing, to do it because you had too was quite another thing. 

I was reminded of all of this by a rather nice tale told by Denis Wright - Five-ex, blood and the zebra twins, Five-ex, blood, and the zebra twins 2. I won't tell you the story, beyond noting that in my world kids no longer rode to school on horses. That stopped with the school buses. And yet, in stories of Australian country life, that ride to school often features very heavily.

The photo, I have used it before. shows a gaggle of us on a horse. I am the tall one. Brother David is just behind, hanging onto me. Its a very placid animal. Note our bare feet.

Despite the photo, I wasn't good on horses. My grandfather sold Foreglen, his property, when I was very young. After that as a townie, I lost all contact with horses. Years later when I came to get on one, it seemed so bloody big, I was a long way from the ground, and I had forgotten what to do. I didn't enjoy the experience.

It would be many more years before youngest took up riding and I learned to ride again. Then the years fell away and I found that, with gentle reminders, I could remember what to do. Mind you, they were placid old nags!

Still, even though I wasn't riding, I did understand those early rides to school that I read about or heard described. I think that you will enjoy Denis's recollections.      

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - innocence, respect, the invisible person with a dash of money

This morning's post is a round-up, a muster, of things talked about on this blog and elsewhere. For the sake of simplicity, I am using headings to separate multiple topics.

Respect, informality and the art of listening

In The importance of the Aboriginal concept of respect,  I expressed my concerns about what I perceived to be a decline in respect in current Australian society and contrasted this with the Aboriginal sense of respect. In response, Winton Bates commented that the use of surnames alone did not constitute disrespect. He also wrote: "In my view respect is a basic human need. I remember a person who had an official role in an American prison telling me that respect was the basic requirement survival. "It is all about respect, man"."

I agree with Winton that the simple use of surnames such as Gillard or Abbott does not constitute disrespect; it's the way the names are used that concerned me. Winton's comment was followed by a short comments thread on the rise of informality. Formality and respect are different concepts, both linked also to manners.

I like the less formal Australian approach as compared to, say, England or Germany. By Australian standards, the world I grew up in was relatively formal with complex overlapping social hierarchies. I once tried to explain the naming conventions, the way you addressed others, to a Chinese friend. He was astonished at the complexity!

That world is largely gone, swept away by Australia's economic and social changes. I write about it now from time to time because it was important to me in in a personal sense, more because it is interesting and very different from other Australian worlds. While I regret some aspects of the changes, I also welcome the relative informality that replaced it.   

In terms of Winton's prison comment, I think that the need for respect for us as a person is deeply imbedded in all of us, more so for those who are in some way dispossessed or marginalised. Here Evan wrote: "I am wondering if respect has to do with honour/shame." I think that's accurate.

Evan also wrote: "My feeling (based on hugely limited experience) is that the aboriginal sense of respect has a greater feeling of being personal than our idea of 'respecting the office not the person'." I'm not sure that that is absolutely right. However, I do think, and should have drawn this out, that the Australian Aboriginal concept of respect does incorporate a listening component, a respect for person, that is lacking in the broader Australian society,

The importance of the reader or listener

In recent discussion in various fora, I have said that I try to write for people, A fair bit of my writing has particular individuals, sometimes just one person, in mind. In my mind's eye, I am talking to to them. You can see this in the start of the respect post, That post was written with very particular people in mind, as was my current New England Aboriginal language series in the Armidale Express. 

While I enjoy the craft of writing, this personal focus and the response it gets has proved to be by far the most satisfying aspect of my writing. Here I quote from a Facebook comment. I have deleted names because it was a personal message.

I also mentioned to XXX, that I enjoy reading your articles, because it feels like you’re having an actual conversation with me. So I’m pleased to be a part of your audience. As far as being energised, I must thank you and XXX for motivating me. I am so eager to learn more and have decided to do a BA in History, majoring in Indigenous Studies.

To say that I was flattered and pleased would be a gross understatement. I went dancing round the kitchen (my computer is presently there). One of the messages that I have tried to get across to my fellow writers and especially my fellow bloggers, is that we do have an influence. Of course, I am trying to keep them motivated, I am trying to slow the thinning of the blogging world, but its also true!  

The Invisible Man

In a comment, Ramana reminded me of one of his posts, The Invisible Man. I had forgotten it. Its a very simple post, not long, but I found it to be a very good post directly relevant to the concept of respect. Have you ever felt like the invisible person? I know I have.

Real vs Nominal Economy

Turning to the more mundane, in a comment on Budget conundrums - real vs nominal growth, kvd wrote:

Now you've really got me confused. I thought that in order for 'real growth' to exceed 'nominal growth' you would have to be in a period of deflation. As I'm not aware that we have recently been in such an environment, I'm wondering what report you have read which suggests we've just experienced such an effect?

One of the simplest explanations here is provided by the Sydney Morning Herald's Ross Gittins, Rising damp: why nominal GDP is so flat. It all comes back to the way we measure things!

In responding to kvd's comment. I realised that what was really puzzling me was why this should have affected the estimates. How come Treasury got things so wrong, underestimating tax revenues on the way up, overestimating on the way down? I guess it has to do with the econometric forecasting models and the way that real growth is built in. I should add that I don't know, I'm just guessing.

If that's the case, it strikes me as a bit dumb. Still, it appears that Treasury is promising to focus more on "nominal" growth (ie the normal money measures) to get things better!

Loss of Innocence

In response to Loss of innocence, Ramana wrote:

Paranoia about children's safety. Society has gone bonkers everywhere Jim. I have young nieces and my daughter in law who are frequently seen with me and on more than one occasion I have been called a dirty old man! For exactly the reasons that the grand father could not understand, I have stopped making friends with young children in our local park as some parents think that all of the oldies there are perverts.

So it's just not an Australian problem. As I said in the post, I don't have a solution to this. It just is.

As I write, there are multiple paedophile inquiries running in Australia, while the Anglican Bishop of Grafton has resigned over his treatment of allegations about abuse at the North Coast Children's Home in Lismore. It's really all too hard,

Maybe it's time to bring in some hard rules.

No male can be seen in public with a child, male or female, unless a woman is present. No male may speak to a child of either sex unless he can demonstrate under later investigation by the police that the child is relative and that, further, he can prove that he has done no damage to him or her. No person at a public beach, male or female, may undress a young child to wash him or her under the public shower. No male taking a young female child to the beach on his own (not on, see rule one), may take her into the male changing rooms because she needs a shower or he does and doesn't want to leave her alone.  

  Seriously, it's become all too difficult!  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The importance of the Aboriginal concept of respect

This post is for my Aboriginal friends including Callum and Susan. I was emailed about a proposed Aboriginal monument in Armidale. I will do a post on that in another place. Following the email, I put a status report up on Facebook to test what I might say in response. There I said in part:

If it aids Aboriginal advancement, respect, pride and things like the rediscovery of language and the education of the broader community into Aboriginal life over the millennia, and especially if it reinforces other initiatives to encourage people to explore and learn, then it would be worthwhile.

A little later, I added:

Thank you, Callum. Just focusing on the word respect, maybe at some point I should do a post on the Aboriginal concept of the word respect. In my contact with Aboriginal people and especially communities, I have learned to use that word in a very particular way. It fits with aspects of Australian culture, but it is also very Aboriginal. The word comes up all the time, in every meeting. Its use reflects traditional Aboriginal culture, but also the treatment of Aboriginal people. I haven't actually seen anybody write on it, but I suspect that it's important. What do you think?

Both Callum and Susan liked this comment. This post is a response. It's not a long post. I'm just making a few simple points.

I have written in the past about what I perceive to be the decline in respect in Australia.

We talk about Prime Minister Gillard or Opposition Leader Abbott as Gillard or Abbott. We may have no time for either. But in talking in this way, we are disrespectful of and denigrate the positions they hold. Would anyone deny that those position are critical to our democracy and hence deserve respect regardless of the person who holds the office? 

Take another example, the sometimes use by commentators of the word punter to describe voters. This is disrespectful and indeed contemptuous. I feel like throttling the speakers.

The word respect is central to Aboriginal society, past and present. Respect for elders, respect for traditions. This doesn't mean that you have to like the elders or even the traditions, but they deserve respect.

Over recent years I have been privileged to meet many Aboriginal people and to sit in on community meetings. When talking about the social disruption that has taken place in certain places over the last few decades, a common complaint is that the young have lost respect. They respect neither the elders nor the traditions. In so doing, they have lost their pride.

To a society in which respect is central, the sometimes contemptuous treatment of Aboriginal people by other parts of Australian society, public as well as private, is deeply hurtful. It hurts at a personal level, it hurts at a group level. I am not talking here about ethnic or racial prejudice, although that exists. Rather, a far more deeply ingrained unthinking that actually denies the validity of the Aboriginal experience.

Respect does not mean blind acceptance of existing structures or the past. It does not mean accepting gross wrongs . It does mean manners, politeness, thought for the other person. recognition of roles, traditions and institutions.

I think that Australia would be a lot better off if we as society adopted a little more of the Aboriginal concept of respect.          

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Budget conundrums - real vs nominal growth

Today's post explores one of the questions raised in my mind by the latest Australian budget. I am not addressing the budget directly. For those interested, you can find the full budget papers here.

A key questions raised by the budget can be summarised as credibility. Can you believe the numbers?  Opposition shadow treasurer Joe Hockey was quite scathing on this point, calling the budget dishonest. Was it? I don't think so, although it arguably contained some of the tricks so beloved by the previous NSW Labor Government in the way the numbers were presented.

Of more interest, was the question as to why previous budgets got the numbers so wrong and what that means. The problem here lies not so much on the expenditure side, governments have a degree of control there, but on the revenue side. Why has projected revenue fallen so short?

  To begin with a simple point, the revenues from both the mining and carbon tax were embarrassingly short of the projections. Now this need not have mattered so much except that the Government committed to spend based on the projections. So you had expenditure up, revenue down. Basing expenditure decisions on taxes whose final return is dependent on a set of complex assumptions is not wise. To my mind, this was actually the worst error made by the Government.

In the budget speech and in the subsequent commentary, there was a lot of discussion about the difference between movements in the nominal and real rates of economic growth. Put simply, real economic growth has risen faster than nominal growth, so tax revenues that depend on nominal growth have risen more slowly than expected. Confused? Well, I was and am now!

What does nominal economic growth mean? It appears to mean movements measured in terms of money. My income this year will be X dollars, next year Y dollars. The dollar difference is nominal economic growth. Price levels rise. So one dollar next year will be worth a bit less next year. To work out whether I am actually better off, I have to adjust my income by movements in prices. My income has gone up 3%, prices have risen by 2%, so I am one per cent better off. That's real economic growth.

But how can real economic growth rise faster than nominal economic growth? If money incomes remain the same and inflation is negative, I am better off. I have experienced real economic growth despite the zero increase in my money income.

Now Australia has experienced some inflation and yet real economic growth has been higher than nominal growth. So the total dollars in my pocket are actually worth more than a year ago! Obviously they are not, so there is a problem. The answer appears to lie in the way we calculate national income, adjusting it for the terms of trade and the value of the currency.

If we look at what I can buy overseas, the dollar in my pocket is (more or less) worth more than it was a few years ago. So it's real value measured in this way is up even though my income hasn't increased. Of course, that's not really relevant to me unless I buy a lot from overseas. I still have the same dollars in my pocket, and in domestic terms they are worth less.

It appears that the Government is a bit like me. Its tax revenue depends on nominal dollars, what is actually earned or spent from which the Government takes its cut. So how can a variation between nominal and real growth affect tax revenue? It can't! The problem lies elsewhere.

I might be very dumb here, but it seems to me that the only way that an unexpected variation between real and nominal growth can affect revenue projections is if those projections are based in some way on real rather than nominal growth. Surely that's dumb?

Of course real growth is important, but what the Government is concerned about is cash in its kick, and that depends on money incomes and expenditure. You see why I am confused. Perhaps one of my economist colleagues might explain!                 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

No post tonight

I'm not going to attempt to post tonight. I played tennis and then listened to the Australian Treasurer's budget speech and some of the subsequent discussion. I will try to make a sensible comment tomorrow.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Loss of innocence

I found Eamonn Duff's story Age of innocence lost forever as trust clouded by paranoia dreadfully sad. As I have said before, it fits with my own experiences in bringing up girls in a primary child care role. I was yelled at only once, accused of being a paedophile -  it was a primary school break-up and all the kids wanted to be swung around. That was a nasty experience, but it reflected shifting attitudes, including sometimes subtle discrimination against men looking after children. 

I don't think that we can do anything about it. It just is, an example of the way that social pressures in combination with shifts in the law work in practice. Sometimes you have to accept that, accept the losses involved.

Has any of this made children safer? In some cases, maybe yes. As I write, the number of charges against Father F, someone I know, has been increased. Without commenting on his guilt or innocence, the type of systemic abuse revealed by some past cases is, I think, less likely to happen  or more likely to be found out. 

Do I think that my children would be any safer were they born today than in the second half of the eighties?  Do I think that those social attitudes portrayed in Eammon Duff's story, that the experiences of Leo and granddaughter Emma, of Newcastle dentist Andreas Schwander, of Uncle Lachlan in the Coffs Harbour supermarket, would make my children safer? 

Just the opposite, in fact. In a society marked by certain types of paranoia, children actually become less safe. They can be hurt by the very social attitudes and laws designed to protect them. In NSW, mandatory reporting of certain types of suspected offences against children brought the entire child welfare system to the point of collapse. Those who suffered were the kids, as well as the staff who had to try to operate the system.

As I said, I don't think that we can do anything about it. We can fight against certain restrictions, but others we have to accept. It would be a brave person, especially a man. who would argue for a wind-back in child protection legislation, a braver person who would challenge or fight back against the social moral mafia.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday Snippets - walks, books, the Aborigines with a dash of defence

This morning's blog round-up starts with a scathing attack in GeoCurrents, Do “Ultraconserved Words” Reveal Linguistic Macro-Families?, on recent claims about the long term preservation of certain key in language over 15,000 years. It's worth a read.

In Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American eye, Living on Country reviews Melissa Lucashenko’s new book Mullumbimby (UQP, 2013). Set in the Northern Rivers district of the broader New England, the book is part straight story of romance, hard work, friendship, and family, but it also entwines the Aboriginal story. I quote from Will's review:

Land and law are two of the pillars on which Mullumbimby reveals itself; the third in language.  The novel is saturated with Bundjalung and Yugambeh vocabulary, along with more familiar Aboriginal English.  All the animals that inhabit the land are named in language.  The reader quickly learns that jagan means land yumba means home, and gwong means rain; relationships are parsed in Aboriginal terms as well: jahjam (child) and bunji (friend).  Jo thinks and speaks in multiple linguistic registers, just as her relationship to land is sung in multiple scales that span octaves of meaning.

I suspect it's a good book. I plan to buy it for that reason, but also to add to my growing stock of New England books. The reference to language caught my eye as well, for in my weekly history column in the Armidale Express I am presently completing a series on Aboriginal languages,

The columns are not on line and my subscription to the paper is their e-edition. However, Callum (an Aboriginal friend) kindly sent me a scanned version of the first in the series. I thought I would reproduce it as an example of my writing elsewhere. 

First in a series

One nice thing about my research and writing is the way it sometimes supports other things. Caullum and Susan are interested in reviving Anaiwan or Nganjaywana, the Aboriginal language spoken in the Southern portion of the New England Tablelands, so some of my current writing supports that aspiration.

Now if you want to try your knowledge of the world, here is a Google maps based game that will give you your chance. It's harder than it looks. You have to spend a little time looking at the detail. For example, based on Spanish language signs, I put one photo in Spain when it was in Paraguay! The game came to me via the Lowy Institute blog whose Defence White Paper round-up provides a very useful list of responses to Australia's latest Defence white paper.

Over at Ramana's place, Ramana has had an interesting series of posts on interfaith marriage. I am not going to list them now. I want to pick them up later in another post.

In terms of the Aboriginal theme earlier in this post, Neil Whitfield's Two hundred years ago: Blue Mountains NSW looks at an iconic event in the post European settlement of this country from a different perspective. I would like to do that walk, although I got picky on poP1000155(1)ints of detail!

Speaking of walks and historic places, this is a photo of part of the obelisk in Sydney's Macquarie Place. All of the road distances in early colonial NSW were recorded from this point. The distance to Bathurst records the route Neil talked about. The obelisk is meant to mark the start/end of the the Great North Walk to Newcastle. You know, for such a major walk I could not find a single descriptor in or near the obelisk! Maybe I'm just dumb, but I felt quite annoyed!

Well, I have so much more to write, but I fear that I am out of time this morning. I have other things that I must do.       

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - conversation with a busker

The regulars on the 343 get to know each other, at least by sight, often through conversation. I had been on an excursion to Circular Quay and the Rocks. Coming home on the bus, I got chatting to a busker. He was lumping this huge suitcase. It was old but still relatively recent because it had wheels. Despite that, it was still cumbersome.

"What's in the case", I said. "My amps", was the reply. "I need to charge them."

We chatted on. I mentioned that I had been watching buskers around Circular Quay. This lady is a contortionist warming up. P1000241(1)

And this is her equipment.  I thought of my youngest daughter when the performer said she was into extreme performances. Just what can you do with that, I wondered?P1000239(1)

"Do they make much money there?", I asked my friendly busker. "Its a good beat", he replied, "but you must have $10 million public liability insurance, and that costs $320 per annum. That puts people off." I wondered about that. It certainly stops the casuals, and that may explain why there are fewer buskers now, why the place is less interesting.

By the way, do you know what circular breathing is? I didn't. It means that you breath in through the nose while breathing out through the mouth. It's absolutely critical to the playing of things like the Aboriginal didgerdoo. This player is explaining the technique to a member of his audience. P1000196(1) 

We chatted on. "Where's the best beat?", I asked. "You can make $400 per night at the Cross", my informant explained. Kings Cross is red light and entertainment district about 2k to the east of the CBD. He went on: "But you have to be careful not to be rolled. What I do is to grab an on-looker, promise them some beers, and get them to watch while I play." 

The bus had arrived at the Kingsford roundabout. We got off, still chatting. It had been an interesting trip.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The world is awash with money

A very, very short post tonight just to record an impression that I want to write about later. I have been following global policy developments reasonably closely, including quantitative easing and the currency wars.

The thing that is making me increasingly uneasy is the feeling that the pre-conditions are being set for an economic crash. What makes perfect sense for one country, becomes a mess when multiple countries do it. What I'm trying to work out in my mind is a scenario that would allow multiple quantitative easing to be unwound without tipping the wheelbarrow  over and us all onto the ground.

I can see how one country might do it, but not economies making up, what, more than 50% of the global economy if they all start doing it around the same time. That's my problem.                       

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Australian Life - a travesty of justice?

If correctly reported,  I found this Armidale Express story quite staggering. I repeat the story in full. Comments follow. 

An Armidale camper who fled an armed attack found himself in court after police charged him with negligent driving.

Ian Bettinson  was found guilty of the offence and drink driving  while seeking help from police after he was bashed in the head.

He had been camping alone in the Tweed Valley when he was allegedly attacked by three men with baseball bats.

The court heard after escaping from his attackers, Bettinson, who didn’t have access to a phone, drove his car to seek help and, seeing a police vehicle, pulled over behind it to alert them of the attack.

He remained in his car while the officers called for an ambulance, but Bettinson became increasingly agitated about his injuries and released the handbrake, causing the car to roll slowly forward into the police vehicle.

They then charged him with negligent and drink driving, having been found to be just .01 over the legal limit.

The court heard that Mr Bettinson suffers from cancer and mental health issues, which contributed to his level of agitation.  Magistrate Karen Stafford said while she had taken the circumstances into account, she felt  Bettinson still needed to be punished for getting behind the wheel.

“Members of the public on Tweed Valley Way were put at risk as he was driving with an injury and while intoxicated,” she said.  

Bettinson was fined $150 for negligent driving and $350 for drink driving and lost his licence for six months.

A police spokeswoman said the department could not comment on whether the police should have made the charges or if they went in search of the assailants.

Sorry, if this story is in any way accurate, it strikes me as a travesty of justice.

What on earth were the police and Magistrate Stafford thinking? So Mr Bettinson who has just been bashed and is seeking police help is to be punished for driving with an injury and while intoxicated. So what is he meant to do. Go away and suffer his injuries in silence?

I know that I often complain about Australia's present rules based obsession, but surely this is crazy? Maybe some reader can provide a rational defence of just what happened. For the life of me, I can't see it!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Has the Financial Review been Australianised?

I had intended to do an update on my Monday Forum post to try to encourage discussion. Instead, my attention was been caught by something else, the shifting lines of ideological warfare. This short post  records my observations for later discussion.

While you won't have seen many signs of it yet, my recent reading has been heavily focused on economics and the economy. I have been updating my knowledge, for we are now at another shift point.

As part of my updating, I have been again buying the Australian Financial Review. I enjoy it, it still has real content and my attention is constantly struck by things worth writing about. However, last week reading the editorial in association with the columnists, I found myself wondering just when the Financial Review first started reading like the Australian?  It's been quite recent. I wasn't conscious of it even a few months ago, but now the stamp is unmistakable. As an example, you find an editorial on the need for budget restraint juxtaposed with guest columns from people connected with the Institute of Public Affairs.

The wording used has started to catch my attention. For example, in a recent piece, the writer talked about Australia's straightened budget position, that the country could no longer afford the welfare measures of the past.

I thought, hang on a bit. The past the writer is talking about is not the immediate past, but the longer term past. Looked at it in this way, the comment is silly. The Australian economy is far larger than it was in the past. Relative to that past, Australian Governments have the capacity to do far more than when certain welfare measures were introduced. The question is not one of capacity to pay, but of our willingness to pay. That is the dividing line around which the ideological fight revolves.

As a general personal statement, while I know of little empirical evidence that the size of the Government sector actually matters in terms of relative economic performance within at least broad ranges, I do believe that there are advantages in minimising the size of Government. Simply put, smaller Government means, other things being equal, that more resources are available for private activities.

That standard economists' qualification is important. In all the debate about the size of Government, we have been under-investing in key things: we have naval ships withdrawn from service because nobody could find the money to invest in preventative maintenance; we have a social housing stock that ran down so much in quality terms that the rising cost of basic backlog maintenance almost bankrupted the public housing system; we have university colleges in just the same position; we have growing gaps in infrastructure, including the collapsing minor country roads that once formed an integral part of the community backbone. It seems to me that the only infrastructure that gets built now is that where a direct price can be extracted, and then we get it wrong!

We talk about an entitlements' culture. I'm damned if I know what that actually means. The only "entitlements" I can see around is an expectation by predominantly middle class Australians that they can impose their view of what they perceive to be right on others. As the political ability of Governments to actually do declines, they focus on the areas that they can still control or at least think that they can control, and that's behaviour. We can no longer do a simple thing like maintain a ship or a house or a university college, but by hell we can regulate down to the minutest detail when it comes to just how a teacher or social worker works.

We are in a mess, and not one of the nostrums now being peddled by the Financial Review will help.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Monday Forum - Gatsby, Brideshead Revisited and more!

Over at his place, Neil Whitfield was inspired in Gatsby revisited. This led our collective regular commenter kvd to a somewhat different view that spread over into a comment at my place on Sunday Essay - why I write. Now before buying into the discussion, I actually have to read the book! However, it started me thinking in a broader way,

Do you remember the TV series Brideshead Revisited? Now some of my friends actually cringed at the dialogue, but I liked the slow tempo. So taste is very much in the eye (and ear) of the beholder. I could do a Gatsby version of my early morning walks, but it wouldn't quite fit.

So now I am posing a very open question. What writing do you most hate. What writing do you most like? And in both cases, why!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Sunday Essay - why I write

I woke very early and then went for a long walk to clear my head. I do this several times a week, nearly always the same route, up Gardeners Road to the roundabout and then down Anzac Parade. I am getting to understand the early morning patterns before they are replaced by the normal daily routine. Next time, I will take my camera and see if can get some photos to share with you.

My thoughts this morning were disconnected, linked only by some common connection to writing. I have been suffering from something approaching writer's block, as well as conflict over time and priorities. It's actually been quite difficult. Still, in all this, one of the things that makes me just so grateful is the feedback I get.

In a private Facebook message, a friend wrote: "I have no idea how you manage to juggle so much knowledge across so many interests, all with grace, exquisite humor and cogent writing."  Another friend wrote:

Sorry to hear that your struggling with writing your next piece, but I'm sure you'll get there. Hope you become reinspired! Fingers crossed : )

By the way, thanks for keeping me inspired! I don't think I would be as excited or this motivated to learn about my people, myself, and most importantly be responsible for revitalising such an integral part of my culture and passing it on.

By it's nature, so much of what I do is isolated and can be isolating. I share a little, but it can be hard to explain what I do, why I do it and the joy I sometimes get from it, as well as the frustration that can result.

Some people write because they must write. Their focus is on their writing, on the art of writing and, often, on their need to explore, understand and explain their personal world in all its confusions. That's true for me too, but basically I write for people. Most of my pieces are written with a specific audience in mind, sometimes just one person. In my mind, I am talking to that person. They are there in front of me as I write. It is our conversation.

I am, I suppose, still something of a reformer, a campaigner. I want my writing to have an effect. Most times, this doesn't happen, or at least nothing that can be measured. But then, sometimes it does. The effect may not be large, but it is clear. Then I smile. I am inspired to go on, to try something new. 

In writing, I draw constantly from my fellow writers and especially my fellow bloggers.

Wikipedia, where would we be without it?, defines a salon in this way:

A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to please or to educate" ("aut delectare aut prodesse est"). Salons, commonly associated with French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, were carried on until quite recently in urban settings.

I don't go to writers' events or to the functions or festivals put on by various writers' centres, although perhaps I should, for I am totally outside what I perceive to be the writing mainstream. After all, it's only quite recently that I have defined myself as a writer. Before that, I would have thought of that classification as simply presumptuous!

  To me, the internet has become my salon and, what's more, an open egalitarian one. The French or English salons were always a bit precious, elitist. The internet is different, for in the kaleidoscopic exchange of views there is constant inspiration, constant refreshment. I rely on that very heavily. Let me give you an example.

Go to Denis Wright's My two daughters. When I read Sylvia's message to her dad, I was reduced to tears. I have two daughters. They are very different women, but both are wonderful. As I read Sylvia's letter to her dad, Denis is dying from a brain tumour, I thought that''s what it's all about.

Who would have thought when I really began writing, just how much joy I would get from it? Who would have thought that I would meet new friends from around the world? Who would have thought that I would end up knowing dozens of fellow writers, some very successful? Who would have thought that I might bring a measure of joy and inspiration to at least a few?

That's what it's all about. That's why I write.   

Friday, May 03, 2013

3 May 1917 - remembering a family death at Bullecourt

The Second Battle of Bullecourt began early on the morning of Thursday 3 May 1917[1]. The offensive had originally been intended to support a failed attack to the south.. The French attacked on 15 April 1917 but failed. However, both British and French leaders agreed to continue operations, one of which was a combined British and Australian attack on the Hindenburg Line around Bullecourt where the previous attempt to capture and hold sections of the German line had failed so disastrously on 11 April 1917. The objective was to capture the railway embankment at Reincourt, thus damaging German transport while opening an immediate front beyond German fortifications.

The battle was a confused one. Two hours after it started, the centre of the 2nd Australian Division had reached its second objective, but with troops barely able to hold it, let alone to push onto Reincourt at the scheduled time of 6am. Around 7am Colonel Murray and some of his men from the Australian 18th were pinned down in shell-holes facing O.G. 1, the first of the defensive lines. CEW Bean, the official Australian Morris Drummond War historian, described the following events in this way:

A little later, Lieutenant M. C. Drummond (Petersham and Leichardt) N.S.W), the intelligence officer of the 18th Battalion, succeeded in reaching from the rear the shell-holes in which Colonel Murphy and a number of men were lying in front of O.G.1. On learning of the situation Murphy decided to attempt the rushing of the trench. On rising to make the charge, however, the gallant Drummond, a sergeant, and two men were instantly killed. Seeing others also fall, Murphy gave the order to dig in and hold on.[2]

This view of Morris (photo) was shared by others. On 6 May 1917, three days after Morris’s death, a fellow officer (Lt. Jim Harrison) wrote to brother Will: “Maurice was ... the most fearless officer in the Battalion, he was exceeding his duty at the time, very typical of him.”

The story that ended here began in 1914. On 4 August, Britain declared war on Germany. The Australian Prime Minister declared Australia’s support the following day, offering an expeditionary force of 20,000 men to serve in any destination as required by the Home Government. On 6 August, London cabled its acceptance.

There was a rush of patriotic support for the war. On 25 August 1914, Will, the oldest of the Drummond boys, enlisted[3]. It had been an agonizing decision. His Christian beliefs would not allow him to take life, but he also felt that he must do his duty. His solution was to join as a stretcher bearer: 'I have tried to play the game and to live up to the ideas Jesus has set before me', he wrote to Morris on the day of the Gallipoli landing (25 April 1915).

Uncle Will, 1916 Morris and David Drummond did not enlist immediately. The three brothers had agreed that David, as the only married one, should stay to be in a position to look after their sister Ellie should that prove necessary. Later, when David did try to enlist, he would be rejected twice, probably on the grounds of his deafness. He couldn’t have heard orders in the battlefield din.

For Morris's part, he followed events closely, finally deciding in August 1915 that he too must enlist. “Perhaps you will not be altogether surprised”, he wrote to David in August 1915, but I have felt it coming on - like a bad cold... while I have the conviction that men are really required I cannot hang back and let someone else carry my bundle... I've taken the step and hope it won't be labour in vain, but at any rate I've no delusions about the fun and glory of it.”

Morris was offered an immediate commission, but declined it.. His sister recalled later that officer training would have delayed his passage, and he also wanted first to know something about the men he would command[4].

I wondered about this, for family stories are always uncertain things and especially long after the event. However, the official Australian War Memorial form required for inclusion in the Roll of Honour includes this reference: “Refused to accept any promotion in camp & again in France until he had served in a battle.”[5] The information was supplied much earlier by Brother William, but is consistent with his sister’s recollection.

Based on this and other records, Morris was clearly a remarkable man.

The death came as a huge blow. The three brothers had always been very close, with Morris and Will forming a close knit team providing support to both David and Bid (the brothers' pet name for sister Ellie). Throughout the war Morris had written regularly to David; cheery letters full of details, such as descriptions of French farming methods, intended to interest the younger brother. However, they also gave a clear picture of the hardships and dangers associated with the war.

Brother William survived the war. He was repatriated home and had to spend some time in convalescence. The photo shows him during that period. For his part, Morris’ memory as a remarkable man was carried down through the generations to this day. 

[1] C.E.W. Bean, 'The Australian Imperial Force In France 1917', Volume IV, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1933 p412f

[2] Op cit, Note 88, p456

[3] The Australian Army's Central Records Office (CARO) provided original enlistments details for Will and Morris Drummond. (CARO to author, 5 February 1982.)

[4] Interview with Mrs Morris, 1 October 1982

[5] Australian War Memorial Records,, accessed online 3 May 2017.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Train Reading - Scaramouche and that dangerous gift of eloquence

This continues my theme from Tuesday's post, Train Reading - introducing Sabatini's Scaramouche_book_coverScaramouche. I had no idea when I read the book at school just how much I was learning about both theater and the French Revolution.

  Following the death of his friend Philippe de Vilmorin at the hands Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr in a forced duel, Vilmorin was killed because, in d'Azry's words, of his "gift of eloquence" that threatened the established order. Moreau leaves for Rennes to seek justice from the King's lieutenant in Brittany. Denied this, ridiculed, Moreau uses Vilmorin's own words and Moreau's own gift of eloquence to inflame the crowds first in Rennes and then in Nantes, in so doing setting events in train that would help lead to the French Revolution.

Now a fugitive, Moreau falls asleep on a great stack of hay in an open barn, He is woken by the sound of voices. At first he takes them seriously, although the story of threatened love seems a little melodramatic! Then he bursts out laughing when he realises that they are a travelling company, rehearsing in the Commedia dell'Arte style.

Climbing down, he discovers M. Binet's players. He is introduced to the cast who all use their stage names. There is Pantaloon, M. Binet himself. Polichinelle (Punch in English), Harlequin, Scaramouche, Colombine played by M Binet's lovely daughter Climene and so it goes on.  The image shows a 1683 representation of Colombine.  Colombine  

Before going on, Debbie reminded me in a comment that the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody actually provides an introduction to  Commedia dell'Arte. One verse goes: 

Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango
Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very fright'ning me
(Galileo.) Galileo. (Galileo.) Galileo, Galileo figaro
Magnifico. I'm just a poor boy and nobody loves me

Now Sabatini clearly knows his theater. Moreau not only knows about Commedia dell'Arte, but has the advantage over M Binet in that he has read and enjoyed Molière. No M Binet has in fact lifted some of his ideas from Molière, something that he indignantly denies, but he doesn't have Moreau's understanding. Moreau' joins the company and then when Scaramouche is injured in an accident, he takes that part. It suits him, you see, because he remains anonymous behind the mask.

As a company member, Moreau' borrows shamelessly from Molière and provides the company with detailed guidance. His own gift6 of eloquence that had inspired the crowds in Rennes and then Nantes proves equally adept on stage. The company's success grows, and Moreau plans a series of moves that will promote the company. culminating first in performances in Nantes and then using that as as springboard for Paris itself.

If Moreau borrowed from Molière, then so did Sabatini, for Moreau's plans for the Binet troupe are very like the exact course that Molière followed with his own troop.

Sadly, things do not go according to plan. Moreau falls in love M Binet's daughter, the beautiful Climene. The troupe does arrive in Nantes and to considerable success. Sadly, the fickle Climene is seduced by none other than the  infamous Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr. Now truly feeling, in the words of Queen, I'm just a poor boy and nobody loves me, Moreau strikes back, With d'Azyr in the audience, Moreau uses that dangerous gift of eloquence to incite the packed theatre to turn against the Marquis.

The performance ends in a riot, d'Azyr escapes, but the company breaks up with  Moreau on the run again. If you are going to follow any more of this particular melodrama, you will just have to read the book! 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Australian Life - the decline of the swagman

Perhaps Australia's best know song begins "Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong". The idea of the swagman was deeply embedded in Australian mythology. In very simple terms, the term swagman emerged during the 1850s Australian gold rushes and referred to an itinerant bush worker who walked from place to place looking for work. Or, in the case of prospectors, the next strike.

A swagman was not the same as the tramp, a much more derogatory word, although some were tramps and some were thieves. It was just a way of life, of travel between work when there were no cars or trains or, indeed, bicycles. No, bicycles is not a misprint. Once invented, they became a major form of transport in country Australia. Frederick McCubbin on the wallaby track

This 1896 painting by the Australian painter Frederick McCubbin is called simply On the Wallaby Track. It shows a family on the move. Dad is trying to boil the billy, while Mum sits exhausted.

The term on the Wallaby Track apparently first appeared in 1849. It appears to be based on the tracks that Wallabies created by hopping through the Australian bush moving towards food or water. It came to mean the track followed by people on the move.

From time to time, I have felt that it would be interesting to go onto the Wallaby Track, to see the country as swagmen once saw it. And, in case you wonder, I can walk long distances; I can survive in the bush to some degree, although I know that life might be unpleasant in cold or wet weather; I know how to build a camp, to create a proper fire, to boil a billy, to cook damper.

I would make some concessions to modernity. I would want to carry a camera and my writing logs. That means waterproofing, and probably requires a pack instead of the rolled-up blanket or swag.

Why don't I do it then? Well, apart from work issues, I'm not sure that it's possible anymore. Even forty years ago you could stop by a creek on the side of the road. light a fire and create a camp. You could tramp through the bush and create a camp there. Today, it's all rule bound. I would probably be arrested for breaking one law or another. Instead of just going, my trek I would require detailed investigation in advance, and that defeats the point.

Today, the term swagman has been replaced by tramp or homeless. I think that's a pity.