Thursday, October 31, 2013

A short story challenge

In response to a Facebook post of mine, John Coulter wrote:

My mum grew up in Thunderbolt country and stories abound. She saw a man come running out of hotel then another man shot him dead from the hotel then the dynamite in the hotel blew up.

This is you challenge, should you care to accept it.  How do we turn John's comment into a short story? What do you think actually happened? 


To continue the meme, here are two comments.

kvd wrote:

The man running from the pub knew about the dynamite; the publican shot him in accordance with his published policy of "you must pay before exiting or I will shoot you".

As a small business owner, I sympathise with the publican.

Secondly, (and if I were me, I wouldn't raise this, however...)John's mum hanging about outside pubs is a bit of a worry, except of course if she was pursuing her normal means of gainful employment - which I would always encourage, provided she pays the appropriate GST and abides by all health regulations.

Sorry to be so short; needs several dozen vaguely related pictures to round it out.

Now John's mum is clearly not in that game. But you could meld it into the story. And I have a vision of the shot gun hanging behind the door of kvd's premises. Might be useful, too, in handling the borders - in this case cats and dogs.

Evan wrote:

So many possibilities.

John's mum masterminded the explosion in revenge for . . . and it was her son who was shot.

John's mum was the publican's wife and was having an affair with the man shot; they'd plotted to blow up the hotel to kill the publican and live off the insurance.

There would need to be scene setting.

The man running out of the hotel was the only person who had done a good turn for the person who planted the dynamite who planned to blow up himself and others.

Again, we need to keep John' mum out of it. But Evan has added to possible threads. Keep the threads, change the name.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Election update - recounts go on

In case you were wondering, the results of the last Australian Federal election have still to be finalised, with recounting continuing in the seat of Fairfax and for the WA Senate. Just thought that you would like to know!


It appears that Clive Palmer has won the seat of Fairfax by just 53 votes! And in WA, the Australian Electoral Commission has lost a small but crucial packet of Senate votes, throwing the recount into confusion.

Postscript 2

The WA Senate counting mess continues to unfold. New election anyone? 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Forum - do you like short stories? Which? Why?

It was about eleven when I got to the roadhouse at Barrington. P1000894(1) My excursions with the cattle (Sunday Essay - early morning on a New England road) plus my own tiredness had delayed me. I got stiffly out of the car, put my notepad down on the table, and wandered inside.

Coffee ordered, I sat down and got out my book. At the end of September in Sunday Essay - the Turning, I reported on the film based on the Tim Winton book of short stories.

At the time, I said that I hadn't read it. A friend lent me her copy, and I had taken it away on the trip. The previous evening had been too busy and social to attempt reading, so I brought it in while I ordered my coffee. The lady in charge saw the book. "I do like Tim Winton," she said. "I haven't read that one, but I saw him interviewed on ABC. Tell me what you think."

Coffee ordered, I sat outside and read the first two short stories. Following my earlier post, our Indian blogging friend Ramana had ordered a copy. He experienced some problems with language and syntax. I could see why. This is colloquial Australian writing. As I read, I found that the first two stories left a slightly bitter after taste, I also found that I wanted to write another type of story, based on Tim Winton's model, but with a higher degree of joy. I grabbed my pad and started sketching ideas.

I had to move. I went inside to pay. "What did you think", the lady in charge said. "Tell you on my next trip", I replied. I left, driving back into the heat, thinking about short stories. It got me wondering.

Short stories used to be a very popular Australian genre, then went into decline. Now they seem to be coming back.

What do you like about short stories? What are you favourites? Have you tried to write one? Just asking as a different Monday Forum topic.  


In a comment, Ramana referred to an explosion in Indian short stories. He kindly provided this link as an example. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Essay - early morning on a New England road


As I drove south in the early morning light, the mist was just lifting. It had been cold overnight, and the creek water was steaming as the sun reached it.

This is a beautiful time of the morning. I wasn't in a hurry, so stopped the car and just wandered. It had been a rushed trip, and I was very tired after the late night before. I found a bench and sat, allowing the sun to warm me while I watched the world start. In the distance, a tractor started up, while nearby a man walked his dog along the creek bank.  

With a six hour drive still to go, I knew that I couldn't stop for long, but it was pleasant in the sun. Finally, I shook myself out of a half doze and ambled back to the car.

It's been very dry. While the New England countryside still showed traces of greenness, I knew that some graziers had begun to handfeed stock. "We badly need rain", someone had said the night before. "It will be full drought before long."

Turning the car radio on, I continued south listening to the fading sounds of radio 2AD. I was already out of mobile phone reception, and was just entering radio free country. The station was broadcasting from the local IGA store, telling people why they should buy there rather than Coles or Woolies. Not that those two were ever mentioned, but the intent was clear. I listened to that rather strange mix of songs that marks country radio, country plus pop from multiple eras, most about love and loss.

My mainly city raised daughters used to tell me to turn the radio off, they preferred a different music mix, but I like it. I guess it's just what you get used too. The static finally became too much, and I switched the radio off. Driving now in silence, I began to think of short story ideas. I normally write non-fiction, but I have been experimenting with short stories as a different way of expressing myself.

Driving on, I suddenly came across one of those quintessentially New England scenes. Australians call the travelling stock routes the long paddock. I suddenly noticed a small sign by the road warning of stock ahead. I slowed and just as well. Over the hill I found a large mob of cattle being driven along the road, eating the grass on the broad verges on each side.

I stopped to take photos, in so doing spooking the cattle who started rushing across the road. In the distance, I saw a rider with dog rushing up to control the mob. You can't properly see him in this photo, but he is a little dot by the gum trees on the right. Torn, I wanted  to get a good shot, I got back into the car to stop creating problems. He rushed past and waved, all the time calling instructions to his dog who ran from one side of the road to the other to keep the mob in order. P1000925(1)

It was a big mob. A little down the road, I had to stop again. This time I sat in the car inspecting the cattle while they inspected me. P1000931(1)

Finally, I drove on. I look for my stories everywhere, but this had been an especially satisfying experience.     

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Australian life - diving into Australia's past

Tasmania TOURISM 1940S

In a comment on, Preliminary muse - fires & the urban cocoon, Evan wrote:

I think white Australians are still acting like they live in England. I lived in Cairns briefly. Housing estates were being built with the houses not having any eaves!

The rates of skin cancer and lack of hats speak for themselves. And not taking account of bushfires is another example.

I responded that I didn't think that that, white Australians acting like they still lived in England, was true. I also said that there was a fascinating story about adaptation to the climate.  

Certainly it's true that Australia's new settlers carried with them the styles and culture of their homelands. However, they also went through an adaptation process. As a simple example, temperatures once seen as almost unbearably hot, something to be escaped from, came to be seen as normal. 

Most recently, aspects of the process have gone into reverse; inappropriate housing styles of the type cited by Evan are an example. Air conditioning in particular has a lot to answer for!

In looking at these changes, I find that I lack the basic knowledge to properly understand them, let alone explain them. tourism 4Sure I have a general picture in my mind, but I know from experience that that is likely to be wrong.

I have chosen two travel posters to illustrate this story because they themselves are part of the story, aspects of Australia at a point. Both would be instantly recognisable to modern Australians despite the changes that have taken place.

The story of adaptation is a complicated one because it covers all aspects of life, including Australian leisure activities. 

Take a simple example. Deaths from drowning were common in the first periods of Australian history. Why? The heat attracted people to water, but settlers came from cooler climates where very few could swim.

This is true today for some of our new migrants, as well as visitors. Deaths when rock fishing or swimming are not uncommon among people who sometimes cannot swim or are simply unfamiliar with the water conditions.

The need to and desire for swimming led, among other things, to learn to swim campaigns and to the creation of bodies such as the life saving movement. It also made swimming very popular as a sport.

The mass popularity of swimming was, I suspect, a very Australian thing. I don't have hard evidence for this at this point, just anecdotal evidence, but it is intuitively plausible because of the country's climate. I also suspect that swimming, a bit like tennis before it and for similar reasons, has been in decline as a mass Australian sport. There are just so many more things to do. The pool in particular is no longer the centre of local life in the way it once was.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Preliminary muse - fires & the urban cocoon

Following up on Bushfires, rules and real harm minimisation, a comment from Neil Whitfield linked to an earlier post of mine on bushfires that I had forgotten, reminded me that that I had written previous posts linked to bush fires. I did a quick scan. The list that follows is not complete, but it will give a taste. Further comments follow the list. 

I do not pretend that the posts are especially profound, although they do provide something of an introduction to bushfires in an Australian context. The photo comes from the Sydney Morning Herald. Fires, Blue Mountains 2013

Looking back over the posts and the situations and responses that created them, I have no idea whether climate change has accentuated the Australian bushfire problem. I actually don't think that's important in considering the fires themselves.

Australia is a fire prone country. Our vegetation has been modified over thousands of years so that it actually needs fire to regenerate, but not just any fire; it needs fires of varying degrees of intensity, not the very hot fires that mark the current period. To the degree that climate change is occurring, it does not affect the basic equation. We still have to deal with a fire prone bush.

That is the issue that is exercising my brain. Australians live in a very urbanised society that wishes to preserve its cocoon. I sometimes wonder if the cocoon means that modern Australians are increasingly alienated from the realities of the Australian bush. They perch on the country, but are not part of it. What do you think?  


In a comment, Nathan drew my attention to this post of fires past - Trove Tuesday - October Bushfires.

Postscript 2

Neil has now brought up a companion post, STILL ON BUSHFIRES.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bushfires, rules and real harm minimisation

I was trying to find a photo to illustrate this story. Springwood Sept 1952; Cecily, Mary, James, David This was the best I could do, taken from cousin Jamie's collection. It's taken in Springwood, the site of major damage in the current fires. From left to right Cecily, Mary (I thought Mary was rather special), me, David. I will come back to the photo in a little while.

As always happens, special details of these fires are now emerging.

One was the way in which an old wooden fence between two houses caught fire, taking the two houses with it.

A second was the vulnerability of modern subdivisions adjoining bush. Why vulnerable? Well the blocks are very small, so as one house goes, the others around it are likely to catch, setting up a chain effect.

However, there was one piece of information that really pulled me up. Surely, I thought, that can't be right?

I was talking to a work friend who lives in one of the fire threatened areas. She was at work today, but with the weather worsening she is going to work from home tomorrow and Wednesday.

She told me that she and the kids made some cookies for the firemen and took them down to the local brigade headquarters. Chatting to the Fire Chief, she commented that she thought that their place was pretty safe. He looked at her and said just the opposite! They came home and started to complete the rest of their fire preparations, including tidying up the yard as best they could. This is where the photo came in.

I mentioned staying in Springwood as a kid with family friends. It was spring, September. We loved that place. David, Cecily, Mary, JimIt backed onto bush. First there was a creek with tadpoles, then beyond that a track took us through the bush to other streams with little holes where we could swim. This is another photo from the period.

I explained to my friend how we enjoyed the bush fire preparation drill.

First we raked the garden, picking up all the leaves and branches, putting them into small piles. Then we moved back into the bush immediately behind the garden the same thing.

We didn't cut down bushes or anything like that , just removing the fuel. The aim was to create a buffer zone between the house and the intense fire zone. 

Everything gathered, we had the fun of burning the rubbish piles with the smell of the burning eucalyptus leaves in the air.

My friend looked at me strangely. You can't do that anymore she said, you need special approval. It had been thirty years, she went on, since the last big fire in the area. The fuel, leaves and branches, was now a metre deep in spots. A floating ember would quickly create a major fire.

What are you going to do, I asked? We have a bag packed to be ready to leave. But we are at the end of a single road through the bush, with all the later access roads running through heavy Bush. It all depends on how much notice we have, where the fire spots.

A little later I went back to her, This has to be a bit crazy, I said. Aboriginal land management was all about small, cool, fires that would clean away the fuel before it accumulated. That minimised damage, including damage to animals. She looked at me. Oddly, she said, we were talking about that just last night.

As I write, the Rural Fire Service is engaged in heavy backburning, creating mini hot bushfires with the aim of avoiding a worse catastrophe. It doesn't seem a sensible approach to me. We need a few basic changes focused especially on current rules. That includes allowing tidying up around peoples' homes.          

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday snippets - nostalgia, objects & memory

As I write, fires are still burning around Sydney and beyond.  Sydney Oct 2013They create a sky suitable for a disaster movie. These are very big fires.   

Today's Sunday Snippets  rambles, looking especially at a few posts from my fellow bloggers. 

Over on Skepticslawyers, Lorenzo's Righteous Rage examines the way that fanaticism frames thinking. Skepticslawyers has been suffering because its main writers are all busy on other things. I think that's a pity.

On Club Troppo, john r walker's Labors damaging legacy to the visual arts looks at the way that laws and regulations imposed for the best of motives have damaged the Australian art marketplace - and Australian artists. This one really resonated with me because of my interest in Australian art.

Curious story from Ramana, Story 17. The Gentle Man Who Vanished. Dare I say very Indian? The idea of going on the road as a mendicant, that is. I don't think that you could do it in pragmatic Australia with its rules. Oddly, I have sometimes wondered about taking to the road with camera and notebook.

Winton Bates' How does 'democratic failure' threaten progress? takes a somewhat pessimistic view of democracy. He writes;

The growth of inflated expectations of what governments can do seems to be a common pattern throughout the democratic world. It is also common for responsibilities of government to expand until crisis threatens.

I think Winton is wrong, or at least places his focus in the wrong spot. But that's a matter for another post.!

Winton and I come from different perspectives, but go way back. I explored a little of our relationship in posts I wrote earlier on Neucleus, the University of New England student newspaper. Now, in a comment to Winton that will be quite obscure to my general readers, Soo Khoo sends his regards to you (Winton) and is sending me some earlier copies of Neucleus. 

Denis Wright's Not the colour purple provides the story of a particular dinner set, one embedded in his memory. Maybe that's the point to finish today's very short post, for today I am going out camera in hand to re-explore another part of Sydney.

So to finish a question to to you all.

Are there particular things that you remember from your earlier periods that somehow occupy a special place in your mind, that may still survive and can bring memories back just by their presence? Why are they important to you?  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - Kiwis and Aussies are family

Anne Pullar, October 2013

Dinner last night with cousin Anne from New Zealand. Anne had come across the ditch in her official role as General Manager of Tourism Central Otago (TCO) as well as Deputy CEO of Central Otago District Council. We met at her hotel, and then wandered down to the Rocks for dinner overlooking the water.  

Anne has been actively involved in the creation of the Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold Trails, and on the the eve of their official openings she had come to promote them at The Bike & Lifestyle Show Australia .

I have known the Pullar kids for much of their lives. Their mum was my first cousin, and I first met them when they were children.

This is a shot of three Pullersgenerations taken on the farm at Pukerau in Southland. I was taking the shot, so am not there. But Brother David is in the back between Roger and Elaine. Second right at the back is Aunt May, the Belshaw linkage. Anne is in the front, holding a doll up for display.

The kin links go quite deep, There are so few members of my immediate Belshaw family, just nineteen of us spread across three generations and three countries, that we all feel a little isolated. Not surprisingly therefore, Anne and I spent time just catching up on our shared family, talking across countries and time.

With exceptions (I draw the line at supporting the All Blacks!), I am quite happy to claim my New Zealand ancestry and call myself a Kiwi. Perhaps it won't surprise you then to know just how deeply I resent the attempts of Governments to divide us. In Australia, it began during the Whitlam years and continued most recently under the Howard administration.

Australia and New Zealand may be, in economic terms, a common market like the EU. but the barriers to the free movement of people between our countries have increased steadily, the differentials in treatment have grown as the rules become more complex. I so resent that. To my mind, the role of Government should be to facilitate, not impede, integration.

Does this mean special treatment for New Zealanders in Australia, Australians in New Zealand? Of course it does, and I see nothing wrong with that. Remember what the word "special" means in this case. It means that in Australia, New Zealanders should be treated as our own and, conversely, in New Zealand. We are cousins as Anne and I are cousins, part of the same close knit family. That's all.            

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Personal reflections on the US economic crisis

Most Wednesdays I focus on some aspect of Australian life. Instead, tonight a brief comment on the US spend and debt crisis.

As I write, the crisis drags on. This New York Times article provides a good description of the current position.  You can see why the Chinese might be miffed. One interesting feature is that the proportion of China's international reserves held in US dollar denominated securities is apparently down to 60%. That's actually a huge shift. Meantime, some of the risk money seems to have shifted to Australia, pushing the Aussie dollar back up.

The problem will sort itself out through some form of compromise, although this may not happen until after the critical deadline. The biggest global risk now is summarised in some of the Armageddon headlines that are around. Yes, there are structural features build into the financial marketplace that risk triggering not very sensible responses. But beyond that, the real risk lies in individual and organisational responses driven by short term reactions.   

Whatever happens, the damage done to the US's economic dominance will be permanent, accelerating the search for alternatives. Actually, that's no bad thing.

All this does, however, give me an immediate personal pain. I have an economics column due now, a 2,500 word lead economic outlook article due next week. And I'm damned if I know what to write!


A Wall Street Journal view.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

PIAAC & pecking orders - where have all the jobs gone?

Last week, the OECD released preliminary results of its Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The organisation describes the intent in this way:

The Survey of Adult Skills, implemented in 24 countries, and the Education and Skills Online Assessment for individuals are part of the package of tools available to support countries develop, implement and evaluate policies that foster both the development of skills and the optimal use of existing skills.

The survey focuses especially on skills in an ICT (technology rich) environment.

My attention was drawn to the survey by a short report suggesting that since 1998 the number of jobs in 24 OECD countries requiring high level skills had grown at the expense of jobs requiring lower educational levels. Interestingly, the number of jobs requiring medium level skills declined in a similar way to lower level jobs. In fact, in half the countries for which data was available, more medium education jobs were lost than low education jobs. In only four countries did the number of medium level jobs actually increase. 

Some care needs to be exercised in interpreting these results. Of itself, credential creep means that "higher education" jobs grow at the expense of "medium education" jobs. However, on the surface, the results are indicative of the hollowing out of the jobs marketplace that has been a feature of structural change in developed nations.

As always, these types of surveys provide ample scope for pecking order comparisons. This official EU response, The Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC): Implications for education and training policies in Europe, is an example. It's actually worth a browse.  


In a later comment, kvd kindly pointed me to this fascinating piece from Forbes Magazine, The Cities Creating the Most Middle Class Jobs. It's really worth a read. This is the opening.

Perhaps nothing is as critical to America’s future as the trajectory of the middle class and improving the prospects for upward mobility. With middle-class incomes stagnant or falling, we need to find a way to generate jobs for Americans who, though eager to work and willing to be trained, lack the credentials required to enter many of the most lucrative professions.

Mid-skilled jobs in areas such as manufacturing, construction and office administration — a category that pays between $14 and $21 an hour — can provide a decent standard of living, particularly if one has a spouse who also works, and even more so if a family lives in a relatively low-cost area. But mid-skilled employment is in secular decline, falling from 25% of the workforce in 1985 to barely 15% today. This is one reason why middle- and working-class incomes remain stagnant, well below pre-recession levels.

I must say that I was struck by the idea that $14-$21 per represented the hourly rate for a mid-skill job.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday forum - US default & the implications for 2014

We will see this week whether or not the game of political Russian roulette being played out in the the US will lead to US debt default. It is difficult for someone at a distance to properly understand just what it is happening. If this New York Time story is any guide, it may be equally difficult in Washington. This Economist story on reactions in Peoria is, I suspect, probably not a bad guide to US local reactions outside Washington.

Meantime, major glitches have emerged in the roll-out of the the new insurance exchanges that form a key element of Obamacare. That's not surprising. The technical challenges were obviously considerable. Think NBN for an Australian example.

We now seem to have two choices. Later this week, the US will start defaulting as it seeks to meet daily bills only from the cash collected that day. There has been discussion about the extent to which the US Administration has power to prioritise, to focus on meeting its financial obligations while stopping other Government spend. I imagine that, regardless of the formal position, the US will try to avoid or minimise default on financial obligations.

The second choice is some form of compromise that will at least defer debt default. However, that is unlikely to provide a solution, if indeed a solution is possible.

I am trying to finish a major piece for Australian Business Solutions Magazine on the outlook for 2014. I suspect that you will see my problem. I am reasonably knowledgeable, but I struggle to break free from the shackles set by immediate issues.

I suppose that my immediate personal view is that a short term US default might not be such a bad long term thing, but then the global financial system is now sufficiently vulnerable that no-one can be sure. So to help my thinking, what do you think that the real outlook is for 2014? What would be the implications of a US default? 

Don't feel that you need to limit responses just to these questions. I am looking for inspiration!   


The ripples from a prospective default spread. According to reports in the financial press, a number of the larger US money market funds have sold off their holdings of US Treasuries maturing in late October or early November, boosting their cash holdings and pushing short term interest rates higher. Short term funding issues are starting to emerge for US banks as well.

Writing in the Australian Financial Review, Karen Maley says that the impasse is now placing pressure on the $US5 trillion per day repurchase or repo market. In this market, banks or other borrowers use Treasury Bills as security for short term borrowing purposes. Say you need overnight cash, rather than trying to sell securities, you pledge them for cash from the money market funds. If you cannot pledge those Bills, you have a problem.

I imagine the the Federal Reserve could actually do something about that by pledging to buy Bills at face value or even at a premium to cover any missed interest payments. That would also provide protection for non-US holders.

Still, it is uncharted waters. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Septic tanks, swimming pools and the burden of compliance

From time to time, I have complained about the growing burden of regulatory compliance in Australia. It doesn't do me any good, but I keep complaining. Often, the public discussion focuses on business red tape, but the direct burden on the ordinary Australian citizen is substantial and growing.

Fear of risk is a key driver. Risk must be avoided or at least the burden of risk shifted. The second is often more important. I say this now because I have just come across two further cases in NSW, both involving registration processes.

The first concerns septic tanks. All septic tanks in NSW must now be registered. The reasons for this are explained in this official brochure. It sounds quite reasonable, doesn't it? Overflowing septic tanks may cause problems in, for example, rivers. So people must register them with their local council. Council may charge a fee.

This story from the Armidale Express is an example of what is happening on the ground. The Armidale Dumaresq Council has an estimated 2,200 septic systems in its boundary. Seven hundred people have so far been notified of the requirement, with 1,500 to go. In the adjoining Uralla Shire a similar process is underway for the 1,600 on-site sewerage management systems in that Shire.

Note that the official brochure says that councils may charge a fee for registration. The new registration process is quite costly for councils, so both Armidale and Uralla are charging a $30 fee for registration. That is a cost to residents of $66,000 in the case of Armidale, $48,000 in the case of Uralla Shire.

The story doesn't end there. Councils may inspect registered systems to ensure that they are working properly. For may, read must, If councils do not put an inspection scheme in place and there is some form of incident, that may create a contingent legal liability for council in addition to the owner of the septic system. To avoid this risk, councils will have no choice but to inspect. Uralla Shire has already announced that it will charge $100 for inspections.

There have been cases where imperfect septic systems have created health problems. But, to my knowledge, there has not been a proper cost-benefit analysis of the cost of those problems as compared to the cost of the new regulations. 

Swimming pools is my second case study.

In NSW, previous legislative changes require all home swimming pools to be registered with local councils by 29 October 2013. This is the official site for the changes. Look at the photographs of kids who might be saved from drowning. Aren't they cute?

Now there are just a few problems with the changes. One is that the definition of a swimming pool includes any structure, temporary or permanent, with a water depth greater than 30cm. So it covers (among other things) waders put up in the backyard on a hot day. Now these must be registered and comply with all the fencing regulations now mandated for pools. Ugh? It gets worse.

Under the new laws, the owner of the pool must register the pool, but the owner of the property is the one who receives notices and is liable for fines, If you own a house for rent, you are now liable should your tenants fail to register their temporary back-yard wader. Ugh?

What do you do? If you don't already have a pool on your property, you need to amend the conditions of the standard lease so that tenants are banned from doing anything that might breach the new legislation. You don't actually have to enforce it. You just need to shift the liability away from you.

Now in defence of the legislation, surely child deaths in pools are a significant problem, Isn't the NSW Government right to address it?  This is where facts come in.

According to NSW statistics, an average of six NSW children die in private swimming pools each year. That's right, six, and the number has been stable for a number of years. Now we have a change that will complicate the lives of all NSW residents and cost millions in compliance cost that, at best, might reduce child mortality by a maximum of six per annum.

I don't think that's very sensible. Do you?               

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Australian life - Dad Rudd MP

My thanks to Neil Whitfield for this one.  Dad Rudd MP

Ken Hall was one of Australia's most popular film makers. This article by Juleanne Lamond, “Unfounded attack on Dad and Dave comedies!”, focuses not just on Hall but the Dad and Dave series. When I saw Dad Rudd MP years after its release, I really enjoyed it.

There is also a reference in the article to a more parochial interest of mine. The film was part funded by an overdraft from the NSW Government. This, I think, links to the efforts of NSW Deputy Premier and Country Party leader Mick Bruxner (Bruxner was film maker Charles Chauvel's cousin) to get financial support for the Australian film industry.

This little known episode is interesting because it was, I think, the first attempt by an Australian government to support the local industry. And so far, I have been unable to find any real details.  

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Castles in the air, or maybe not, with a dash of rivalry

Chateau France

Chatting at dinner tonight with youngest, she said that she was going to buy a castle in France. It was just so much better value than New York real estate! Now, courtesy of Buzz, I give you the comparison. 

This is the chateau. The description reads:

This 12-bedroom, 6-bathroom, 12,916-square-foot castle is like a fairy tale come true. With over 42 acres of land, a guesthouse, and a beautiful view of Touraine, France, you’ll have no issues entertaining friends.

**Knight in shining armor not included.**

The price? An absolute snap at just $US3.8 million. By contrast, this is the the New York apartment. The caption reads:

Here’s a 5-bedroom, 1,331-square-foot townhouse in the Bronx. The bars on the window will help prevent burglary and are probably a fire hazard.

 Bronx apartment And the price? Just $US4.9 million.

I have to say that's a rather grotty apartment. I remarked in passing, I had Bronte in mind among other suburbs, that Sydney might dwarf both,

Eldest, despite her new and very elegant French jacket purchased recently in Paris, did not seem suitably impressed even at the prospect of staying on one of her planned shopping trips. I had the strong impression that things like upkeep were crossing her mind. And how was youngest to pay for it all?

Youngest was not put off. The money would come from her new, best selling novel whose publication was to be financed via crowd funding. Mind you, that's not quite as silly as it may sound. She completed her first novel in manuscript, Blood Cross, when she was, what, fifteen? It was actually a ripping good yarn. She is heavily editing a later epic with the aim of publishing mid next year.

Now my girls are in no way competitive. Perish the thought! Thoughts of being a CEO or a best selling author would never cross their minds. Nor would youngest even think of entering into competition with he father.

Given this, I just note in that in response to a question, I said that my next publication (two chapters in a book) was coming out later this year. I asked innocently (tongue firmly against cheek), could I count enough of these as a single publication?

Youngest looked at me kindly. If you get four books with at least 25% of the writing yours, I will count it as one book.

You will understand that I am not in any way competitive myself. Besides, what father would compete with his own daughter?  Surely that would be wrong? I just note for the record, and it has nothing to do with this discussion, that my target is to get my first e-book out on management early next year.

As i said, i am not competitive, However, i do reserve the right to poke my tongue out at youngest! But that will be a secret between us.   

Monday, October 07, 2013

Clancy, Barnard and Mundine - threads

Daylight saving crept up on me. I am still disoriented! This morning, a very gentle wander through some of the things that I have noticed, or have been drawn to my attention.

In a comment on A day at the Fleet Review, kvd drew my attention to this link about walks around Sydney. I have been slowly doing some of those walks; this is an earlier example: Introducing the Berry Island and Balls Head Walk. In some ways, Sydney is a breathtakingly beautiful city because of the harbour. For a history nut like me, each walk is also a chance to deepen my knowledge. So many of the guides are very superficial, stitched together from a few sources, that the real story gets lost. You can do these walks just for the beauty, but I like a little more.Tome Clancy

I was saddened to hear of the death of the US writer Tom Clancy for he gave me much pleasure with his earlier books. The photo is from the Sydney Morning Herald obituary.

I first came across Clancy in Canberra when I was involved in the periphery of a major submarine procurement by the Royal Australian Navy. "You must read The Hunt for Red October", a Defence Department colleague said. I"t is the best book I know on submarines." I did, for I hadn't been involved in subs before. It was good, but i liked his later books better.

Clancy was a good writer who could tell a tale. I enjoyed that. But I also found his underlying political views that played out in the career of Jack Ryan interesting. Clancy was a remarkably good way of understanding certain threads US political thought that would later create the Tea Party movement. I didn't enjoy his later and co-authored or sponsored books so much and stopped reading. This had become techno, games babble.

English crime writer Robert Barnard has also died. His first book, Death of an Old Goat, to use the English rather than US title, was actually set in Armidale, Drummondale in the book. I last wrote on this book back in 2012 in History revisited - literature's window to our past. It was a somewhat raw book, but very funny for those who knew the local scene. I both cringed and laughed. Barnard went on to considerable success as a crime writer. Mundine and then wife Lynette with their daughter Garigarra in 1992.

Regular readers will know that I follow Aboriginal politics reasonably closely and also write a fair bit on Aboriginal issues. It's hard sometimes. I was reminded of this by a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on Warren Mundine, the head of Mr Abbott's new Indigenous Council.

I hadn't properly realised the New England connections, This photo of Mr Mundine and then wife Lynette was taken in 1992. They were living in Armidale as was I, but would move to Dubbo the following year, starting Mr Mundine's real rise.

I cannot comment on the detail of Mr Mundine's life, but he is the subject of scathing criticism. This is an example from Facebook:

He is not taken seriously by many, if that is any consolation. He's like the Kevin Rudd of Aboriginal affairs - an unapologetic political whore. Loves the media attention, but has absolutely nothing of substance to say beyond the blatantly obvious.

I am very, very, careful about what I say on Aboriginal issues. I really do exercise self-censorship. I have no time for those who denigrate. I try to tell the historical story as best I can. However, there is a thread in Aboriginal commentary, commentary by Aborigines,that I find very difficult.

Partly I think of it as the re-assertion of claims, of pride. I can share that, promote it. But partly I think of it as exclusionist, the assertion of beliefs and rights that are both impractical and, in many case,s a-historical, I look and see the creation of a new ghetto, but this one accepted, sought for, not imposed. As a non-Aboriginal Australian. I have no place there.

It's all very complicated. A few years back, i had lunch with a NSW Aboriginal leader. He explained that there were two Aboriginal groups in NSW, those connected with mish (mission) or reserve and the fringies, the fringe dwellers, who refused to accept the dictates of the Aboriginal Protection or Welfare Board. They broke out, created a new life. Today, or so it seems to me, Aboriginal thinking in NSW is dominated by connections to mish or reserve, dominated by the need to redress past wrongs as compared to the advancement of the Aboriginal peoples. I wonder how representative all this is?

I won't go on at his point. Just a note. I do wonder, however, how many generations have to pass before the problems of the present will be accepted as problems of the present as compared to the legacy of the past.         

Sunday, October 06, 2013

A day at the Fleet Review

Saturday a bit after eight I headed out for Mosman for my day at the Fleet Review (Sydney's International Fleet Review). I left early because a million or so people were expected to attend, and I thought that the roads would be crowded and parking impossible. As it happened, I needn't have worried. The main crowds (1.7 million was a later estimate) were going elsewhere, and there was very little traffic

For those who don't know Mosman, it is located about eight kilometres north east of the Sydney CBD on the other side of the Harbour. The suburb is named after Archibald Mosman (1799–1863) and his twin brother George.

They moved onto a 4-acre (16,000 m2) land grant in the area in 1831, establishing a whaling station. The area was then known as Sirius Cove, but later came to be called Mosman Bay. One building survives from the Mosman period. Just for the hell of it since this post is part about light and water, this is a 1914 painting by Arthur Streeton of Mosman Bay.  800px-Arthur_Streeton_-_Mosman's_Bay,_1914

Saturday was hot early, with a real haze in the air, making decent photography difficult for someone as unskilled as I. My friend and I set out in the still early light for the vantage point we had selected to see the day's events. As we walked, I kept stopping and looking, filing away mental images for later use.

Mosman is a wealthy suburb that has, In many ways, been less affected by the changes that have taken place elsewhere in Sydney. Its population is on average older and less diverse. You can get a feel from the destination Sydney web site. 

With harbour views in the distance and pretty streets lined with glamorous homes, Mosman is a stylish shopping destination. Military Road and surrounding streets have plenty for the keen shopper from fashion and homewares, to accessories and antiques.

The highly desirable Accoutrement homewares shop is here, the cool and sleek Scandinavian designs in Nordic Fusion and the fabulous Mosman Interiors. Bespoke Art houses the best homewares from around the world, for bedding to cutlery head to Pond Home. Popular fashion brands range from Seed to Lululemon, Mimco to Carla Zampatti.

This is typical tourism speak, and is actually unfair. No tourist is going to go to Mosman for the shopping. Mosman is more than this. However, the architecture is attractive.  Many of the often large houses were built in the early part of the twentieth century. This is an example of Mosman architecture. Love those verandahs.P1000684

We walked on ,ending at Georges Heights. This is a former military base  One of the main streets in Mosman is called Military Road. I hadn't actually realised the significance, for this was indeed a military road.

When we arrived at our destination with its panoramic views, there was almost no-one there. You can see this from this photo with its views towards the heads Note also the military remains. These are gun platforms. P1000694(1)

As we waited for the fleet to arrive, numbers increased a little, with the kids playing on the old guns. P1000698(1) One of the constant themes in conversation over the day, a theme perhaps triggered by the military flavour, was just how lucky Sydney had been to avoid terrorist or indeed other attacks. This is really a very peaceful place.

The Australian Navy ships were to come in two waves, We could see the first wave, the small ships, crawling along beyond the heads. They seemed to take for ever. Meanwhile, a Navy Seahawk helicopter circled the harbour with a giant naval ensign hanging below, stretched out in the slipstream. My instinctive reaction was just how hard if must be for the pilot to keep the copter stable. We also watched the boats on the harbour. It looks positively tropical!


The lead ship in the first contingent came through the heads and then stopped to allow the other ships to form up properly. From that point, the convoy proceeded directly below us, accompanied by a Manly ferry that had somehow gate-crashed the show! later I would learn that many of the pleasure craft were actuslly stranded by the exclusion zones to the sometimes distree of thier passengers. P1000756(1)

The ships really were quite close.P1000758(1)

As we waited, we could see the bigger ships forming up beyond the heads. P1000767(1)

All the sailors were lined up on deck; the distant strains of a brass band could be heard.P1000782(1)

One of the really interesting crowd reactions, one that I shared, was just how small the fleet was. This is the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney, arriving in Melbourne in 1949. This was the first of Australia's two aircraft carriers. one of three aircraft carriers (the others came from the UK and the US) to serve in Korea in 1951. Accepting that technology has changed, there is something a little worrying about Australia's inability even to keep up maintenance on its main supply ship to the point that it had to be withdrawn from service as unseaworthy. 800px-HMAS_Sydney_(R17)_(AWM_301423)

It had been a long morning, and we wended our way to get some copy (in my case a beer!) as the air display began. That was fun too, the air display I mean, something of a blast from my past.  

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Sydney's International Fleet Review

The International Fleet Review has been on here in Sydney. Held to to commemorate the centenary of the first entry of the Royal Australian Navy's Fleet into Sydney Harbour, it's really just  an excuse for a big party.

Thursday the tall ships entered Sydney harbour. Sailing ships 1

Friday the RAN sailed in in convoy, mimicking the events of 100 years ago. The photos come from the Australian Broadcasting Commission.  

HMAS leads the fleet in

Today I am going across to the other side of town to watch some of the events. Should be fun.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Productivity improvement - John Quiggin, Dick Smith & the big end of town

Friend Debbie K referred me to a piece by John Quiggin in the Guardian, Like a zombie, the productivity doctrine is back – we need to fight it. What did I think, she asked? This is what I wrote in reply:

I have only scanned John's piece quickly, but I would agree in part: making people work harder is not real productivity improvement; we saw aspects of that in the 1990s; improving labour utilisation is important. I would also disagree in part; there is scope for gains in some of the areas that he talks about. But I also think that much of the discussion misses the point because of the narrow scope applied to micro-economic reform. But that's a broader question.

Now that I have read John's piece, I would strengthen my position. To the degree that John is arguing against some of the arguments coming from the business sector and others that we must all work harder just to stay where we are, then I would support his argument. However, I cannot accept his argument that that a focus on productivity improvement is not a good thing, a zombie to be killed, nor would I accept his somewhat swinging attacks on micro-economic reform. I have previously argued in this place for a new focus on productivity improvement.

I would agree with John that improved work force utilisation and training are key elements in productivity improvement, although I also think that the somewhat simplistic approach adopted to training - more is better, so long as it complies with ticks and rules, - means that the cure is sometimes worse than the disease. A tick, after all, is also an insect whose bit can kill kill an animal.

I also suspect that John would agree with me when I say that I have little faith in many of the productivity nostrums coming from the business community and especially the big end of town. After all, and with exceptions, their record in their own businesses is not especially good. Business and indeed Australia more broadly, has a cost not productivity culture.

As a simple example, take Dick Smith Electronics. Under Woolworth's, that business effectively collapsed. Twelve months or so ago, it was sold as a basket case for $20 million. I'm not surprised. I went into Dick Smith a year back and there wasn't a damn staff member to help me. I wandered the floor looking forlorn, but no-one came.

Twelve months later, the Dick Smith business is worth between $520 and $600 million. That's a profit! No doubt many things contributed, but I will give you a small example. Three weeks ago, and reluctantly, I went back into that Dick Smith store simply because it was convenient. Again, I wandered around looking forlorn. This time some one came up to help me, answered my questions efficiently, and dispatched me from the store quickly carrying my goodies. Now that's productivity improvement!

Just a note at this point.


As it happened, Ramana looked at a part of all this yesterday in a A Mid Week Holiday; the post includes a link to Get a life, an Economist piece on working hours. This concludes:

So maybe we should be more self-critical about how much we work. Working less may make us more productive. And, as Russell argued, working less will guarantee “happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia".

There was also an interesting piece by Ian Heathwood in On Line Opinion, Older workers wrongly shunned for jobs. Here Ian wrote:

A third of the business leaders surveyed reportedly said older workers did "not like being told what to do" by a younger person, are more forgetful and dislike new technology. Business leaders feel older staff have difficulty learning new things and do not want to work long hours.

When I first read the piece, one thing that I noticed was the reference to long hours.

Its not how long we work but how we work, that's important. If you divide salary by hours worked, staff who work longer hours may notionally cost less per hour our, but that says nothing about their value. That's quite a different issue.    

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Culture, kinship and confusion - a note

Nice to see Niar return to blogging with a first post, My Years with ASEAN, after a long break. Niar began blogging back, I think, in September 2008 and quickly became a member of the village. For the last three years she has been working for the ASEAN Secretariat in Singapore. I have kept in touch via Facebook, but blogging is better! 

Over at his place, Neil has had a number of interesting posts. He often digs up things that I haven't seen or wouldn't go looking for. Cinema Asia is a case in point. Loved the shots of the old Chinese women.

From India, meantime, Ramana has also had some interesting posts. In Story 15. One Of The Apples Of My Eyes., I was interested not just in the story but in in the kinship customs that Ramana talked about. I think that I understand, but I'm not sure.  Perhaps Ramana could explain in more detail sometimes.  Staying with Ramana, following my post Sunday Essay - the Turning, Ramana purchased a copy of the Tim Winton book, so I'm waiting for his reaction.

I have always been fascinated by cultural differences, including changing language. In a way, this links back to the point I was further exploring in Monday Forum: marcellous on history. A friend brought up in another country started browsing one of my Mary Grant Bruce books. She found it reasonably incomprehensible. It's not that the English is complicated, but rather that the terms and some of the underlying ideas are alien.

I find something of the same thing in talking and writing. I draw from my my own experience and reading, using a mixture of words and concepts that have become part of my way of thinking over the years. Every so often I am forced to pause because of the blank looks I get; the common cultural base that I took for granted is no longer there even among those that I might have expected to share it.  

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The economist flock wheels as the US Government shuts down

The US Government shutdown has begun, with both sides in entrenched positions. Meantime, the fight over the debt ceiling looms. A friend chose to visit Washington just at this time, and her Facebook page is full of photos of the places that she had wanted to visit, now shut!

So far the markets are taking all this in their stride; we have been here before, after all. The immediate damage done to the US economy will depend on the length of the shut-down. There are varying estimates here, from .1% to 1.4% of GDP. The debt ceiling is more important, for US default would be a first.

Here in Australia, the economic commentary on the performance of the Australian economy is best described as confused. And that's without taking into account the US position. China is up, or is it? Australia has an incipient property bubble, or does it? Australian manufacturing is still declining, or is it?  Each statistical release is studied, reacted to; the reporting and commentary flocks, circles, breaks away, depending on the number; not everybody has the same interpretation, birds in a flock adopt different positions, but the flock as a whole wheels in a common way.

For my part, I am the bird sitting on the nearest tree or telegraph pole watching the whole thing. I see little point in rushing to rejoin the flock; too much effort. I accept that many of my fellow birds have no choice. They have deadlines to meet, advice to be provided, income to be earned, bets to be made. For my part, I am trying to focus on the longer term directions, setting the parameters for that flight south - or east, or west, or whatever!

We live in interesting times, and shortly I will have to provide some longer term advice. But for the moment, I stick my head under my wing and try to peck that annoying insect causing irritation.