It’s our house


This week we’ve had the unfortunate spectacle of a couple of Melbourne inner-city councils deciding not to celebrate Australia Day because of the offense done to the indigenous of Australia, supposedly commemorated by that day. In response the federal government has repealed those councils rights to citizenship ceremonies. Naturally there has been much controversy and comment as a result.

I wish this wasn’t the case. I understand the argument put by the councils, though I don’t entirely agree. I’m sympathetic to a government who wants to maintain the integrity of our national day, though believe they’ve been typically heavy-handed. Above all I wish this debate could have been conducted in an intelligent and thoughtful way, which is now impossible, as it probably always was. All of this makes it unfortunate. It can’t end well.

I understand why the councils have made this decision. Disquiet over Australia Day has been brewing for years, which is also known as Invasion Day by those who oppose it, which explains the rift. One the one side you have the conventional, traditional and officially endorsed view that Australia Day celebrates the founding of the nation, the day the first fleet sailed into Botany Bay. The contrary view is that this is the day the indigenous peoples were dispossessed of their land by white ‘invaders’.

I can understand both perspectives, and if it was left to me would happily shift our national day to another date. The day itself means more to me in popular culture than it does historically. It’s a day of barbecues and citizenship ceremonies and cricket. It’s a happy day when you look at it like that, which is the symbolic. I don’t think much about the historical significance of the day, and the fact that it marks the day when some leaky ships turned up is a matter of general indifference to me. What has happened in the last 20 years is that it has become less symbolic and more literal. As such I can perfectly understand the cultural insensitivity of the day.

Having said that, I think there is a lot of simplistic groupthink in those who choose to oppose the day. That local councils choose to embrace that groupthink is no surprise given the historical mediocrity of said administrators. Ultimately it’s more about appearance than it is about action.

I liken it in my mind to two rival families bidding at auction for a property. Inevitably one family will be successful and the other will miss out. Australia Day in a way is a celebration of the winning bid, but in so doing offends the losers.

Most of us are reasonable people. We might be thrilled to have the winning bid, but know better than to celebrate in the faces of the losers. This is what Australia Day does, however.

Now of course the indigenous will say, well wait a minute, that was our house! That’s the crux of their argument, and hence what has been historically viewed as a settlement is in aboriginal eyes an invasion. And this is what the councils are supporting in their refusal to support the day.

Personally I find this semantically tricky territory. I don’t think it’s as simple as a black ‘nation’ being invaded by a white people, but I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole today. And as a white person of Anglo-Saxon stock living in Australia it is problematic and complex regardless. The very people who decry the day would not exist if that day had never happened. I would not exist. I may be sympathetic to those indigenous who see January 26 as a commemoration of dispossession, but as someone who has a personal stake in the historical record I’m glad it happened, and it would be hypocrisy to claim otherwise.

This is one reason I feel this is a simple-minded, feelgood gesture by the councils involved. This is a conversation we had to have, but this is not the way to have it. Ideally this conversation should come from the top down. Our government should engage with this, in the same way it should engage with notions of republicanism. This, of course, is unlikely, even impossible in the current environment, but there was a time when it was a part of the zeitgeist, and it will be again.

Unfortunately the government has doubled down on this issue with their punitive actions against the councils concerned. It’s pathetic really, and unedifying on all sides.

What we need is a national day that is inclusive of all. We know Australia Day is not. It’s a big leap for an Australian government to make that change, but it must and will happen, later if not sooner. My preference is that our national day is the day we declare ourselves a republic finally.

That’s a truly inclusive event, for all Australians, regardless of background or colour. Forget the posturing. This house is big enough for all to live in.

Signifying what?


It’s a lovely morning and as always I caught the train into work. I found a seat by the window, slipped my headphones on and looked out the window as the train filled up about me. U used to get off at Richmond to catch a connecting train through the loop, but lately I’ve stayed on the train to ride all the way in to Flinders Street. It makes a change, and that’s reason enough, but the exercise I get walking the extra distance to work is a bonus.

And so at Flinders Street I alighted the train and joined the crowd exiting the station. I took the underground tunnel from mid-platform that runs under the tracks and exits at Degraves Street. It’s a very well-worn route for me, reminiscent of other times, other jobs, other journeys. It’s been a while since I travelled that way, but was gratified to see the same busker in the tunnel as there was nearly 10 years ago. Things don’t change as much as you imagine them to.

I’m in a blue suit today with tan shoes and belt, and a pale blue shirt. The shoes are slip-on, but only because my lace-ups need a cobbler. I come out of the tunnel, up the stairs and into Degraves Street. The cafes there are busy with people having breakfast, some before work, but most probably tourists. I wend my way through the crowd and through another familiar arcade to Collins Street. The sun is shining, though they say it will rain later. I feel the part in Collins Street. I like wearing this suit, being this man.

I like being in the heart of the city this time of day too. It is a smidge past 8am. The cafes are doing a roaring trade, but otherwise the plethora of retail stores are still closed, or just beginning to open. It feels new, like a bud about to burst. Later there will be people everywhere and buskers playing and advertised specials, for this moment I can still hear the ring of my shoes upon the stone ground.

It’s good to walk to work like that. It feels an appropriate entry to the day, and especially to work. The walk gets the blood pumping and idle thoughts transition to vague intentions.

On Elizabeth street the trams trundle down the road as I walk through a near empty mall and past the old GPO building (now it’s a H&M store). Soon I’m approaching work. I’m mellow, but feel something coiled in me. There always is.

This is the man suited up and with a game face slowly forming. Earlier I was more naked in my self.

As I did a couple of months ago I dreamed about the Irish girl again last night. The first time was a surprise, the second times feels meaningful. I dream all the time, but what is different about these dreams (and select others) is that I wake with fond affection. That’s what surprises me, and what I try to interpret. Is the Irish girl symbolic of something, as I believed last time, or is it her?

There’s not much to say about the dream except that in it I like her a lot. We are friendly, but there is nothing between us. I want to get closer to her, and perhaps she is willing, but I find it hard to bridge the gap. I’m shy and uncertain in the dream, almost bashful. I’m not the man in the blue suit. It’s a familiar feeling to me, though not felt for a very long time. I think most people have felt it at some time. It may be awkward, but its’s a good feeling. It’s good because it contains hope and gentle yearning and welcome humility, and it’s good because it signifies something real.

That’s what I wake with then, the residue of that feeling, and I wonder: what does it signify now?

How odd is it that I dream of the same woman twice now in very similar ways when I have not seen her for years and rarely – if ever – found myself thinking of her in my waking hours? I wish I knew these things.

The dream, I think, worked out okay, and immediately after waking, when I was getting myself ready for work and putting that blue suit on I wondered if I should contact her? Was that what it was telling me? Would that be appropriate, or creepy? And what would I say?

I worry that there is meaning to this that I don’t act on will lose. I’ve lost things before, and sometimes because I’ve been too much blue suit. Wht the fuck does it mean?

Cracked up world


Tell you what, in my lifetime there’s never been a crazier patch of politics than what’s going on now – and crazy is putting it kindly.

Trump continues to do his Trumpish things, but still manages to plumb new depths. It affects all of us, and the world sits in a precarious place now because of him. There was a patch of about 10 days when I’d wake up in the morning wondering if world war 3 might have erupted overnight. It didn’t, or at least hasn’t yet, but no-one’s going to feel safe until he’s out of the job. Nutters like Kim Jong Un are a fact of life, but we expect – and need – leaders on our side of the fence to be more measured and intelligent. That hasn’t always been the case, but never in my lifetime have we suffered such an incompetent, unpredictable and downright nasty leader as Trump. Not even close.

Then this week gone we have seen the eruption of very ugly racist violence in Charlottesville, condoned more than condemned by the president. It’s a terrible state of affairs.

As an Australian I feel some existential threat knowing that someone as erratic as Trump has his finger on the button, but I’m probably safer than most. I really feel though for the great majority of Americans who are decent, compassionate and reasonable. They’ve had their country hijacked and their identity subverted by the values that Trump espouses and supports. They must ache with the loss and a sense of futility, but for all our sakes they must keep up the good fight. What it takes though is for Trump to be toppled. Until that happens the poison he preaches will continue to spread. All our best hope is that the Mueller investigation hits paydirt, but I no longer have faith that it will be a killer blow, even if it does. Even so, how much damage has been done? If he goes tomorrow, what damage has he done to the fabric of the nation? How much cannot be reversed?

I was shocked the other day to see footage of the ‘militia’ in Charlottesville patrolling the streets with semi-automatic weapons on their shoulders. These are basically racists, Nazis and Ku Klux Klan. How is it even permissible that any man, let along organised groups of them, let alone racists with guns, can walk the streets with impunity. That’s not a civilised society, but America started down that path many years ago and seem incapable from straying from it. Now, with Trump in the top job, it’s got a menacing edge. The extremes have been empowered, and are flexing their muscles.

By comparison Australian politics is just about comedic right now. You could run the Benny Hill music as a soundtrack to the ridiculous happenings in Australian parliament and it would be absolutely apt.

Any lingering doubts about the future of the Turnbull government have been dispelled in the last week. They’re done, and so they should be. Any credibility they had is long shot, and now their judgement has exposed as inept and totally divorced from reality.

Where does such a thing start? This government has been a travelling disaster zone for months now, perhaps years. No matter what he says Turnbull has proved he’s anything like a strong leader, and he’s the hostage of the party conservatives, afraid of doing anything constructive for fear of upsetting them. There’s an intelligent, sophisticated man inside Turnbull, but he’s disconnected from the man we see on our TV screens. The man we see has decided political survival trumps national benefit. The result is compromised policies and the promotion of initiatives against the will of the people, and counter to the national good. Effectively a hard right wing rump of the party dictate national policy according to their own conservative beliefs, and in just about every instance against what most people want. Our parliament is representative only in that idiots now get a more than reasonable say.

This combination of terrible judgement, cowardice and intransigence has been on display in the last couple of weeks.

First there was the pathetic decision to conduct a postal plebiscite on marriage equality. By itself it’s hard to have respect for any government who chooses such a weasel approach. In the wider Australian community this is no longer a thing. We have long accepted – and supported – the concept of marriage equality. There is majority support in the community, and I would guess majority support in parliament. Unfortunately, the moral conservatives who hold the whip hand wish to dictate their will on the people, and Turnbull, as always, was cowed into supporting an inadequate, and ultimately non-binding plebiscite to determine the next steps. Rather than just getting onto it Turnbull has allowed the dinosaurs of the party to put every obstacle in its way. Any chance of me ever voting for Turnbull disappeared at that moment.

Then there’s been the ridiculous series of pollies discovering that they’re dual citizens. At first it was a couple of Greens senators, who did the right thing and resigned. They were predictably mocked by the government until, surprise, surprise, that they had a few of their own in the same boat. Naturally they haven’t done the right thing, and have continued on pending a high court ruling. It has now got to an absurd stage when daily it appears another government minister is in trouble. It does little for their reputation.

It hit a crescendo the other day when it was discovered Barnaby Joyce was a Kiwi citizen. In the wash-up Julie Bishop – a minister I had come to respect and admire – launched into both the Labor party and New Zealand, claiming conspiracy. It was funny. I know it was meant to some attempt at turning the tables, but it was pathetic, and the only damage done was to the Libs.

They made the mistake, and to get hysterical and begin to blame others reveals both desperation and an utter lack of political judgement. I doubt there’s a single reasonable voter who bought that spiel, and for most it would only have confirmed the dire incompetence of the government. They can’t go on. They won’t go on. If they can survive that long the next election is still a while away, but if there is anything like a dead man walking then it’s this government.

And that, folks, is the cosy world we live in today.

Doing counts


About a week ago I had a showdown with HR. I’d applied to have my role re-classified, backed by my manager and her manager. HR had responded that after reviewing they saw no reason why it should be changed. That was unsatisfactory, and so a meeting was arranged to discuss.

I went into the meeting armed with facts. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I know in this I’m 100% right. I’ve worked in this industry years in a variety of roles. As I told them, I’ve actually employed people to roles similar to what I’m in now. They have an external, generic view of the function, whereas I’ve got an in-depth and intimate knowledge of it from having been hands on for many years. All the same, I knew I had to play to their rules. I couldn’t force the issue, I had to persuade them.

Fortunately, the HR rep I met with was reasonable and happy to listen. She admitted from her reading that the grading seemed justified, but willing to be proven wrong.

The problem, as I saw it, was that they at the role from the perspective of the award, rather than looking at an award from the perspective of the role. These awards are broadly defined and many of the terms and stated responsibilities very general. It’s very easy to tick things off because there is little – if anything – specifically defined.

Now it’s my belief that a role like mine doesn’t really belong in a standard award – I’ve worked within bands, but never before within an award. Even so, if it has to be then the award should be defined by the role, rather than the other way around.

I explained the discrepancy between what the award states and what I actually do. I said the award by intent is prescriptive: there’s a nail, here’s a hammer, now go to it. My role is much more architectural than that. I’m fully autonomous and the role is almost entirely discretionary.

I brought with me some random materials, evidence of things I had created from scratch. It was a hodge-podge of stuff: requirements docs, flowcharts, a business case, a proposed policy document, another a process proposal, some reporting and analysis I’d built, and so on. I made it clear that often I’ll have to take a lead on things, from project management to managing staff. There’s a huge amount of analytical work, and an awful lot of brain. I’m defining the structure that the hammer and nail is used to build.

I told her to re-think how my role should be viewed – basically as a business analyst, or business process analyst, and at the more senior end of that spectrum (not that I expect those sorts of dollars – that’s more than they’ll ever agree to). My manager was in attendance and basically supported everything.

At the end it was decided that my classification would be independently reviewed. I was sent my PD and invited to add in those elements I think missing from it. Like most PD’s it’s heavy on vibe and light on specific details and, as such, can be interpreted in different ways.

I added in the specifics, focusing on the project management elements – clearly a higher rated function – as well as the analytical and sheer creativity of the role. I made it clear that I acted independently, and even the hierarchy I was a part of was more dotted lines. I did also correct an important error. They had my role reporting into a more junior role when nominally I report into management.

We’ll see what happens now. I think I have a good case, and I can’t see how they can assess it otherwise. Problem is, even if they agree, any changes have to be approved up the line, right up to the CEO – which is clearly ridiculous. Every extra stage reduces the chances of it being approved, and certainly delays the process. I’m not holding my breath.

If I get knocked back then I’ll go to them with a counter proposal. Terminate my FT employment and re-engage me as a contractor or consultant, and at those rates. I doubt they’ll go for it, but it’s worth a try.

I continue to look for other work, and I’ve resurrected the start-up I put on hold 18 months ago. I believe in it, and I need to do something for myself. Doing counts. Problem is I don’t know how, but I can find out.

They’re watching you…


The last few weeks I’ve been making a call to a community organisation that isn’t in my phone address book. The other day scrolling through recent calls there was the number recorded, and underneath it Probably…followed by the specific name of the individual I’d been talking to. I’d never seen that before.

I puzzled over this, Fair enough had it recorded the name of the organisation, they’re in the phone book after all. But in an organisation containing dozens of people how does it know the specific person I’ve been speaking to?

Like many, I’m very aware of my online presence and identity. The idea that I’m being watched, that every move I make is tracked, is abhorrent to me, and more so since the Australian government legislated that ISPs must retain the metadata of its customers. It’s a privacy issue, but I also see it as an infringement on my civil liberties.

In my book you’re crazy if you’re not connecting online through a VPN, but even so that only limits the damage, it doesn’t eliminate it.

I read the other day about how Google is extending its online reach, to the point that they will soon know every site you visit. Like most people I have a Gmail account. Foolishly, as it turns out, my I use my Google ID (and occasionally my Facebook) to login into different online accounts. It doesn’t matter if I’m VPN if that’s the case. The solution is to browse incognito through a VPN, and don’t accept cookies, but that’s hard work. And even still…

We’ve all experienced targeting marketing whereby an ad will flash up on screen relevant to a recent search or your browsing history. Once they have that on one source it spreads to other online sources – I get those ads now on my phone, and even at work.

I compound the issue by having location services switched on my phone, as most people do, I’m sure. That adds a another very precise layer of tracking which I could easily turn off, except I track my steps, and of course use navigation and search for nearby handy locations. We are seduced into being tracked by the convenience of the functionality it offers.

At this point I’ve made a compromise – basically I’m allowing them to view a lot of my activity, but not all. I wonder at the wisdom of that.

But how does that explain my phone entry?

The only explanation I have is that it’s cross-referenced my email by my call history. I’ve sent and received emails from that person, and my phone has put 2 and 2 together and come up with 4. That’s scary.

These are the times we lose what we had


Seems like most Saturday mornings these days have become tribute sessions in my home.

I do the same thing pretty well every Saturday. I’ll head out the door near 10 and walk the short distance to Hampton shops where I’ll do the bulk of my weekly shopping – groceries, bread, and the few meat veggies I haven’t previously bought at Vic Market. I’ll come home, unpack my groceries and clean the kitchen while I listen to music through my Apple TV.

Lately, I’ve been returning home and playing the music of recently deceased musicians. A couple of months back I played the music of Soundgarden and Chris Cornell back to back. A few weeks back it was Linkin Park’s turn after the death of Chester Bennington. After hearing of his death yesterday I’ve played the select few songs of Glen Campbell this morning.

I don’t have a lot of songs by Campbell, but they’re great songs. Wichita Lineman has to be one of the most poignant and evocative songs of all time. He has such an easy voice that yet expresses the yearning the song expresses. Beneath it is the strumming of the guitar that sets the pace of the song and somehow allows you to picture the windswept, lonely plains the song evokes. This is in my top 50 songs, and this an ideal version (though the Clouds did a great cover about 20 years ago).

The other song I have of his is Galveston. To me, this has a similar quality. I don’t know if I imagine it, but I always picture a man about to go off to war and an uncertain future and looking back towards his hometown, and the sweetheart he has there. He sings with a melancholy hope that he may yet get back to what he realises he really loves. We never find out if he does.

See, that’s the power of the music. The words of the song suggest the tale but don’t tell it, yet the combination of voice and music and tone create that sense. That’s how we come to love music, how it plays to our memories and inspires our imagination, our longing, our own sense of wonder and belief.

Both these songs are Jimmy Webb classics. He must be one of the most prolific and successful songwriters of all time.

These are the only two songs I have of Campbell, though I have a wider appreciation of him. I was never a fan of Rhinestone Cowboy, but I might have had Where’s the Playground, Susie? on my playlist.

The deaths of musicians and actors and those others who have regularly featured in our life always make us reflect. It’s like a little bit of your own history gets buried with them. When you get to my age you begin to see the long trail. Glen Campbell was 81, and from an era earlier than mine, but I felt it keenly when Chris Cornell died at the same age I am now.

One memory that popped into my head yesterday was curious. I had a random recollection of flicking through my bohemian aunt’s record collection sometime in the eighties and coming across an album by Glen Campbell. I must have paused. I knew some of his songs, and his smiling, handsome face was familiar to me, if only by viewing True Grit.

My aunt will be dead near 15 years come next year, but memories like this remind you that other lives have come before. Whatever trials I experience, or you, whatever joys or whatever simple pleasures we experience others have experienced before. We hold it close to ourselves, but it’s common experience in different guises, generation after generation.

Once my aunt must have picked up that album and thought to buy it. She worked, she played, possibly she loved. She was a woman of strong opinion and independent ways, affectionate and adoring to us as children. She must have played that album looking out over the harbour from her apartment in Watsons Bay, which is when I would have found it.

It wasn’t there years later after her death when I packed up her house. What happened to that album? I don’t know. She went on for a while, and then she didn’t, and all she had was scattered to the winds. But I remember.

 

Re-connecting


Last Saturday I went to the MCG for the big game against Carlton. Nothing unusual in that, except this time I met up with my two nephews and niece.

It’s coming up to a year since my sister got her nose curiously out of joint and decided to disown me. That’s been no great loss for either of us, except that it means that I’m not invited to family functions, and opportunities to catch up with my nephews/niece – who I do want to see – have been few and difficult.

Up to Saturday I hadn’t seen any of them since May last year, bar the eldest, B, who I caught up with for lunch about five weeks ago. I kept in contact with my nephews by social media, and on one occasion with my niece. I send them birthday cards and Christmas presents. I try, but I’m not an active part of their life.

Despite that I’ve got a good relationship with my nephews. The eldest is a quirky character, but is both decent and sensible. The younger, R, is more sensitive and vulnerable. He’s a little bit lost and so treasures I think the tenuous link to me. Both of them know very well what their mother is like. I don’t know how much they know of my split with her – it’s not something we talk about – but as they have witnessed, and been the subject of her volatile, spiteful temper, I suspect they both well understand.

It’s different with my niece. It’s tricky for me as she’s going through a stage where a lot is changing for her. From a little girl she is slowly becoming a young woman. I’ve missed most of that and so haven’t really known how to interact with her remotely. On top of that she’s a girl while I’m a grizzled bloke, and there is less common ground between us than there is with her brothers.

It was great then to see them on Saturday. It was my eldest nephew’s birthday yesterday. Last week I contacted him to discuss it. He’s a Carlton supporter so in passing I suggested that perhaps we could go to the game together on Saturday, and his brother too (who is an Essendon supporter). He was keen on the idea, and later came back to ask if it was okay if their sister could come too. I could see my sister in that request, but of course, it was fine.

So we caught up outside gate 3 at the MCG just after lunch on Saturday. The first thing I noticed was how much my younger nephew had grown. They’re tall boys. The elder is my height, maybe a smidge taller, but has stopped growing I think. R is a couple of inches taller than me at 16, and still going. He’s a good looking boy as well. All he needs is a bit of confidence and he’ll be a knockout. That’s what I try and give him.

My niece was taller too, but still the bright and cheeky girl of before. She was dressed up in her Blues gear and all afternoon we would tease each other as the game ebbed and flowed, typically calling each other, and the other’s team, pooheads. As you do.

It turned out to be a great occasion. It was an ugly game at times, but turned into a thrilling contest. The kids were enraptured, more or less, as the fortunes changed. The older of my nephews is self-contained and undemonstrative, but I caught him getting excited, then groaning as the game turned. The younger was infected with joy as our team charged back to win a game we looked likely to lose. For all of them it was a rare and memorable experience.

We parted after the game. I’d have liked more time to sit and talk with them – the footy is too noisy for that – but at least we re-connected for a while. There had been the risk of becoming a stranger to them, but was alleviated Saturday.

Still, as the family go out to celebrate B’s birthday tonight I won’t be there. It’s sad, but hopefully I’ll be there for him for many years to come.