Incompetent and corrupt


When Tony Abbott was Prime Minister, I never thought in my life would I witness a worse government or leader or the country. His government did a lot of damage to this country by unwinding reforms and cosying up to the mining and fossil fuels industry with the resultant legislation. Abbott was almost a complete fool, but if he had a virtue, it is that he was true to his convictions. Unfortunately, his convictions are almost entirely nonsense, but he was an authentic fool.

Here I am, just a few years later, revising my opinion. This is the worst government we’ve ever had, and Morrison our worst PM.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why the ALP doesn’t hammer the point again and again, in every interview and public appearance, in parliament and out of it, that this is the most corrupt and incompetent government in Australian history. It’s true.

It’s a government full of untalented hacks and opportunists. They haven’t an original idea between them and no rigour in anything they do. Essentially, I think it’s a lazy government full of dozy ministers who don’t have the energy, aptitude or desire to put in the hard yards. They govern by a narrow and discredited ideology, happy to spout outdated slogans and take the short way to any outcome.

Then there’s the corruption, which seems indisputable. They’re a venal lot. I don’t know of a single minister who puts the people’s interests ahead of his own. They’re happy to pocket the millions of dollars from interest groups to peddle their policies in parliament, to the country’s detriment (mining, fossil fuels, superannuation, etc.). They elevate tired old party hacks to positions of influence and power, to look after their own, and to perpetuate their power base.

Democracy is a grey area when it comes to the LNP. Since they’ve gained power, they’ve loosened the checks and balances that keep our society healthy and fair. They’ve acted unconscionably in lying or obfuscating about matters of public interest and altering the record to their advantage. Transparency is at an all-time low because it suits the government. Much of this is reflected in Australia’s fall down the rankings in the corruption index.

The very manner they conduct themselves has had a terrible effect on Australian society. There’s no accountability and no consequence for the litany of misdeeds and bad behaviour numerous ministers have been exposed. It undermines trust and respect, and it sets a terrible example to society as a whole. There was a time – believe it or not – that to be a minister in an Australian government was a position of merit, and they were paragons of behaviour. Fuck that, not any more.

This extends to their conduct in parliament, which is deplorable. The so-called leader of the land, Scott Morrison, will regularly turn his back on the opposition when they stand to speak. It’s the sort of disrespectful behaviour I would expect from a juvenile. More seriously, a government member will frequently call to the speaker that an opposition spokesman not be heard, thus quashing inconvenient dissent and killing the democratic principle, bit by bit.

I’ve never despised anyone as much as I despise Scott Morrison. He hasn’t even got the virtue of conviction. He’s a hollow, cunning character whose only interest is gaining and maintaining power. He’s a soulless, shallow being without conscience or integrity. I suspect, deep in his heart, that he knows that he’s a fraud – and because of that, he’s all talk and announcements and little consequential – or effective – action.

This is now being exposed to wider view. He got away with managing Covid and was even applauded by some sections of the media, when in fact, he did very little. He handed over the responsibility for managing the outbreak to the states, who ran with the ball. The other policies of note, such as jobkeeper, were pushed by the union movement principally and the states, to which the government grudgingly acquiesced.

Now, in light of the disastrous roll-out of the vaccine, the government is proving how incompetent they are.

We were promised 4 million vaccinations by the end of March – there were 700,000. It continues to crawl along with many essential workers and elderly still without vaccination, and winter on its way. Their latest prognostication is that all first-round vaccinations will be completed by October, but even that seems wildly optimistic.

Around the world, vaccinations are going gangbusters. We’re on the bottom of the table by a fair margin. We bought time by keeping infections to a minimum but have squandered it with our incompetence. For the life of me, I can’t understand how you can fuck it up so badly when you have so much time to prepare – and the experience of other nations to draw upon. The blueprint for this should have been drawn up months ago, and all the necessary pre-work checked off well in advance. And yet, here we are.

The problem is that the government views and responds to everything within a political context – how does this make us look, and how can we leverage this? They overlook the practicalities because that’s not their priority nor, apparently, their skillset.

We’ve seen this in their terribly botched, insensitive response to the accusations of misogyny and sexual harassment. It’s all about the appearance of things, unwilling at any point to accept responsibility or take action. It’s all talk and poorly done, at that.

They can’t get away with spin when it comes to vaccinations. It’s their responsibility, and though they’ve tried to blame the states, the states have bitten back. They just don’t have the competence or the structure* to deliver such an important piece of national health.

Bizarrely, the slow pace of vaccinations means that the opportunity to re-open borders is delayed because we won’t achieve any form of herd immunity until well after most countries.

I just hope the Australian people wake up to how terrible this government is. Slowly, I think they’re coming around – and even the media is beginning to stir. It’s up to Labor to do the rest.

*This is a discussion for another time, but I suspect that many of our problems are because the public service has been gutted (and politicised in part), and so much now been outsourced. Bad policy all around, but true to ideology. Schmucks.

Stages of life


I finished a book last night, which I think must be the best historical fiction novel I’ve read. Augustus, by John Williams, is the story of the Roman emperor by the same name. It’s told from multiple points of view in letters and diary entries and feels as authentic as anything you’re ever going to get in this genre. I’ve read a few books like this in the past, and though some are entertaining, they generally feel a bit contrived and as if the author is putting words into the mouth of these famous characters.

Williams is doing the same, except that it reads as if these are genuine documents, and each voice unique and individual. It helps greatly that Williams – who also wrote Stoner – is a very good writer. He’s dealing with the historical record – the murder of Caesar, the civil war with Marc Antony, the various controversies and conspiracies of the age – but to re-imagine it so vividly, and with such convincing realism, is a great feat.

If you like this sort of stuff then you should do yourself a favour.

Near the end of the book, Augustus is ruminating in a letter to a friend as he feels his life coming to its close. He reflects on the people he’s known, the friends he’s had and lost, the great moments of history he was part of. He writes as a man, as Octavious perhaps, as he started, rather than the great emperor Augustus history knows him as.

There’s a passage there which feels very true and wise, and resonated with my experience of life to this point:

“The young man, who does not know the future, sees life as a kind of epic adventure, an Odyssey through strange seas and unknown islands, where he will test and prove his powers, and thereby discover his immortality. The man of middle years, who has lived the future that he once dreamed, sees life as a tragedy; for he has learned that his power, however great, will not prevail against those forces of accident and nature to which he gives the names of gods, and has learned that he is mortal. But the man of age, if he plays his assigned role properly, must see life as a comedy. For his triumphs and his failures merge, and one is no more the occasion for pride or shame than the other; and he is neither the hero who proves himself against those forces, nor the protagonist who is destroyed by them. Like any poor, pitiable shell of an actor, he comes to see that he has played so many parts that there no longer is himself.”

― John Williams, Augustus

I certainly experienced and felt the full force of the first stage, that as a young man. It’s all about adventure and questing and insatiable appetite and curiosity and proving yourself. Life is a wondrous mystery.

I’m in the middle of the second stage. Parts of life feel tragic. I look back upon my earlier days, and I’m amused by my naivety, though impressed by my idealism and sensual gusto. I wonder at the value – and futility of it all. I’m much more measured, looking at things from the outside rather than within them. I question the point of it.

I look forward to the final stage as described here – seeing life as a comedy. I can believe in this. I feel as if it’s close now and as if I may already have experienced some of this. It would come as a relief to shed the burden of the belief I carry – though that seems harder to believe. It seems to me that if this stage is true, then it explains why they say the last 20 years of life are often the happiest. It’s a letting go.

I don’t think I can ever completely let go – and I don’t think I want to. But then, I’m still in the middle stage.

The thinking man


By chance, I happened across the following quote by Blaise Pascal soon after posting yesterday:

“The human being is only a reed, the most feeble in nature; but this is a thinking reed. It isn’t necessary for the entire universe to arm itself in order to crush him; a whiff of vapour, a taste of water, suffices to kill him. But when the universe crushes him, the human being becomes still more noble than that which kills him, because he knows that he is dying, and the advantage that the universe has over him. The universe, it does not have a clue.

“All our dignity consists, then, in thought. This is the basis on which we must raise ourselves, and not space and time, which we would not know how to fill. Let us make it our task, then, to think well: here is the principle of morality.”

It’s relevant to what I wrote yesterday, how it is thought, awareness,

I write this, yet even in the hours since I wrote yesterday, I have felt the tingling allure of instinct alone. There’s a rawness that is seductive. It is in thrall to age-old reflex and knowledge that feels pure at times: I feel, and I do as I feel.

In times like these, part of it is that it seems unfiltered, uncensored, and therefore more untainted and honest. There’s a physical form to it, at least my experience of it – though I am a sensualist. I can feel it in my bones and muscles, in the stretch and exertion, the strength and bounce, the latent power in me that, in the end, goes beyond the body.

There’ve been occasions that I’ve felt as if I should return to that self – to the animal inside me. When you’re as thought-addled as I am, something as simple as just being can be intoxicating. And on those occasions, I recall the sense of living – being – within my sensations, shining with my pure self and feeling it all the way to my pits.

I always used to say that my life was ruled by a combination of ascetic thought and excessive indulgence, and it would take turns.

What Lawrence wrote of in his book was not addressed directly to that excess (though I think he knew it well), but rather to the pathway to it. The Australians he wrote of possessed the shining health of working beasts – uncomplicated, casually indifferent, possessed of an easy strength, and without the burden of history. That was then perhaps, and explains why in that war and the one that came after the Anzacs were such good soldiers (I am reading a book of Australian war correspondence currently, which is why this analog comes to mind). It seems to me the characters in his book were an extension of the diggers in the trenches – happy warriors with a ruthless, intimidating edge.

Not all of that is true any longer. Nor is there much use for such a character these days. This returns us to what Pascal said and what he claimed as the basis of morality: thought. It’s thought that elevates us beyond the beast of burden; it’s thought that makes a world for us, now and into the future.

To give way to instinct and passion is tempting, but it’s the thinking man this country needs now – as many other countries do also.

Reflections on a rainy Saturday afternoon


It’s Saturday, and I’ve been for my long walk with Cheeseboy and the dogs, and Rigby has had his swim. A steamy morning has become a wet afternoon, ideal for taking it easy and relaxing with an old movie. That’s what I’ve done.

The movie is not so old – 1986 – but it’s a movie I’ve been thinking about watching since I discovered it on Prime a month or so again. It’s an Australian movie – Kangaroo.

I think I’d seen the movie before, in the nineties perhaps, but it’s the book I remembered better. It’s perhaps one of D. H. Lawrence’s less known works, however, it’s an interesting novel, especially for an Australian reading about his country through the eyes of a famous English novelist. When did I read it? I’m not sure. The mid-eighties, maybe. I can picture the paperback in my mind – I have it somewhere – an old Penguin edition in white.

I read the book with the fascination of a young Australian male wanting to discover something of the identity I belonged to. Much of the history I knew – Sydney in the years after WW1 – we had studied it at high school. I knew about the New Guard, which is reflected in this piece, knew of the history to come in a period after the novel – de Groot slashing at the ribbon on the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the colossal figure of Jack Lang, the premier of NSW when the depression came along.

I read it with the fervour of a young man wanting to soak up and learn as much as I could. This was an era when I also read many of the existentialist novelists like Sartre and Camus when I searched through the words and works of great authors for something I could believe in. Kangaroo was more personal because it spoke to the place I had come from.

There was much I recognised in the novel, though not all of it pleased me. It’s in the movie, too, though with less articulation and none of Lawrences’ intense mental ramblings.

The book’s main character is Richard Somers, transparently a proxy for Lawrence himself – a controversial writer with a German wife who exiles himself from England, coming to Australia for a new start. All this Lawrence did also. In the book, Somers encounters a neo-fascist organisation of ex-diggers led by a charismatic former general code-named Kangaroo.

They seek to draw him in. They intend to re-make Australia, do away with the unions and the socialists, and make a world something loosely based on mateship and sacrifice.

There is something in Somers that is drawn towards this. Kangaroo demands love from him, and there’s something seductive in such an entreaty. In the end, he can’t, as we know he cannot, and nor does he join forces with the union movement on the other side. Ultimately he departs the land.

The politics of this I found less interesting than the human elements. The world at that time was rife with such movements – fascists in Germany and Italy and other places doing battle against socialism and those who had betrayed them. There was the New Guard in Australia, though it never amounted to much; the spin on it in this version is that it was based on brotherly love.

More interesting to me was the coming together of Somers with his Australian neighbours. He rejects the country on an intellectual level but is drawn to it sensually by fascination and desire. It’s the vitality that captures him, a sun-bronzed physicality that is essentially practical; a sensual, unassuming masculinity. Like many who live in their mind, he is attracted by those who act – and the Australian men he portrays in this are all of that type. They’re canny, robust characters with blunt natures, though capable of sophistry. To do comes easily to them, to act and be, even if it comes down to violence. They are raw spirits, as seen through his cultivated eyes. (Jack Calcott, as played very well by John Walton in the movie, embodies this).

Reading all those years ago, I recognised the type, and it made for a conflict in me. Much is admirable in that character, and it’s a character the world has come to love – easy and amiable. It’s what is lacking from it that dismayed me.

I share some of those attributes being an Australian, and I’m glad of many of them – the directness and honesty, the casual masculinity, I think. But, very clearly, I’m someone for whom the life of the mind is precious.

It’s all very well to be peopled by men of action, but it’s the thinkers that take us forward. It’s what fails Somers in the end – there needs to be more to it than this. We need more than instinct – there needs must be thought and reflection also, and imagination. I read it back in the eighties and recognised then the suspicion of anything fancy or intellectual – as if they were a bit dodgy, a bit soft.

We have moved on from then, and it’s not as pronounced now perhaps, but it still dismays. How I wish we had an intellectually curious culture like France or Germany. I’d love for us to engage with ideas and make the discussion of them a public affair. I yearn for that personally, and I believe it’s what we need as a nation at a cultural and intellectual level.

This movie triggered me for those reasons, but mostly because it got me thinking of our government. It has been a deliberate ploy from the day that Howard assumed power in 1997 to discourage that kind of curiosity. I think John Howard, a very stiff and proper type, felt uncomfortable with such things, but there were also excellent political reasons for it.

If people don’t think they won’t question. If we pander to their appetites and speak in their language, they won’t stir to make trouble. If we give them someone to vent their fear and hostility against, they won’t turn it on us.

With this current government, we have reached the apogee of this. It feels like a betrayal of what we could be and should be, and Morrison ultimately a subversive who is prepared to pander to our baser selves to the detriment of our cultural soul. He cares nothing for that, perhaps because he is without qualities himself – a shallow, opportunistic man who seeks only power, not justice. Like many, like Cheeseboy today, I hate him. I hate him because he is mediocre and selfish and without a skerrick of true patriotism.

I hate him because he is deliberately anti-intellectual and is happy to mock such pretensions as if they were unworthy. He plays to the simple mentality, and it suits him if we aspire to nothing more ambitious or worthy than a comfortable living. Our leader should be seeking to elevate us, as a nation and as a people, but such a nation would have nothing of such a superficial nonentity as him (and much of his party), and so instead, he manipulates opinion to his own ends. He is deplorable, as so many recently have been.

We deserve better leaders than this. We deserve to think and wonder for ourselves. We deserve to live in a country enlarged by possibility and the excitement of becoming more as a people. A true leader would encourage us to become bigger, not smaller.

I think ultimately, the likes of Morrison will be found out. I think we live in a time when many established attitudes are being challenged and turned on their head, despite the likes of Morrison. Bit by bit, old ways of being and thinking are being chipped away at, as they must be. We live in a time when leadership has come from below because there’s such a lack of it at the top.

As an Australian and someone who always wanted to be proudly known as an Australian, I hope this movement catches here as well, as there are signs that it will. In the end, we need the leadership from above to seize the moment to allow for all of us to be better. Right now, that’s just hope, but I live for it.

Funny, I started off writing about an old book and movie and turned it into a diatribe. Everything is political these days.

Open voices


Leading into January 26 this year, Cricket Australia announced that it would drop the Australia Day marketing from the fixtures on the day, referring to them simply by date. This was a progressive and welcome gesture in my book, but the PM took issue with it, trotting out the time-worn cliche that CA should stick to cricket and leave politics alone.

Anyone possessing any sense of irony would know how silly – and hypocritical – a statement that was. How many times have politicians sought to associate themselves with sports and sportsmen? How often has sport been used as a bargaining chip or for leverage? It’s so ridiculous it barely rates a response.

Yesterday, a number of sporting clubs posted messages of support for the growing community for whom January 26 is a day of mourning. It was a mark of respect and compassion, though many saw it differently. I was glad that my footy club was one of those who made that gesture, though I read commentary from many others who threatened to tear up their membership because of it. Many others urged the club to concentrate on the footy and to stick to sports.

There’s a couple of things I want to address here. I’m happy that more organisations have acknowledged the grief the day entails for so many (including many of their supporters). It doesn’t disown history but recognises that history is not all tales of glory.

The other thing is something that has bugged me for more years than I can remember. How many times have you heard someone suggest that so-and-so should stick to sport (or whatever), and steer clear of politics?

Take a gander at Twitter. Every man and his dog has an opinion and are happy to share it, often quite violently. But as soon as a sportsman or an actor or a sports journalist and so on voice a dissenting opinion they get piled upon as if they’re not entitled to share it.

Is it because of some prejudice that common folk hold that such public figures don’t have worthy opinions? Is it simple dissonance when their opinion is different from yours, and therefore offensive? Or is it from fear that someone with such a profile might ‘unfairly’ influence others? (Funnily, it seems to me that many who complain are otherwise those who squeal loudest about their right to free speech.)

Whatever the reason, it’s bogus.

This conversation plays more generally into the discussion around free speech. It’s not a simple discussion because as a right it’s been elevated to a higher plain. Not everyone who asserts this right fully understands what it means, or what responsibilities come with it. The banning of Trump from multiple social-media platforms underline that.

Mine is just another opinion. By and large, I believe free speech should be paramount, but it comes with responsibility, and some caveats.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Within limits, everyone is entitled to express it – even the idiots I disagree with. The limits are important because they’re one of the elements that make for us a civilised society. That’s why we have laws and why we recognise boundaries and come to know – mostly – the difference between right and wrong.

I think many see free speech, and similar ‘rights’, as absolutes. That’s simplistic and dangerous and mostly unrealistic. Most reasonable people would agree that, as a society, we should be protected from those who would elect to incite hate or violence. Likewise, we’ve seen the danger when people and organisations claim lies as truth.

In an educated and rational society, we would be capable of discriminating between lies and truth, between reason and unreason – but that’s utopian. If it ever was, it certainly isn’t the case now. If responsibility cannot be guaranteed, then there must be checks and balances to maintain a civil discourse, more or less. With that caveat, I think most of us still enjoy 99% of what free speech portends.

Getting back to my original point, a sportsman or an actor has as much right to an opinion, and expressing it, as anyone else. To claim otherwise is either stupidity or prejudice. I welcome anyone who has a thoughtful contribution to make, even if I disagree with it.

The change that must come


Yesterday was – depending on who you spoke to – either Australia Day or Invasion Day. Me, I’m not calling it anything, as both labels have such negative connotations these days. Much like Cricket Australia, I think of it as January 26.

Every year we have these bitter debates over the date. Every year there are protests on the one side, while on the other, rabid fringes seek to inflame tensions further. It’s an ugly, combustible mix that can’t continue. That it’s notionally our national day is an absurdity – how can you have a national day that so bitterly divides its people? It must change, if only for common sense.

Many Australians now recognise this fact, not only those on the progressive left and our First Nations people but also others, too, of moderate and sensible persuasion. For many, this is a political battle; for others, it’s just about what is right.

It’s inevitable the date will change, to what and when is the question. Too what is hard to say. I’d like to say the date that commemorates us becoming a republic – but as that hasn’t happened yet, who knows? As to when I’m pretty comfortable in saying it won’t be while the LNP is in power.

Changing the date would be a positive step, but if there’s one thing this whole conflict has highlighted, it will take much more than that to heal our society. Clearly, there’s some deep-seated antagonism and trauma. That’s what must be addressed – we must seek to redress and heal. The first step is acknowledging the damage and injustice done, then positive and active steps in becoming a more inclusive society.

We actually started on that path nearly 30 years ago. Mabo was a big moment in Australia’s history and should have marked the moment we started to come together truly as one people. It was an act of good faith and justice, and for a while, it felt as if the wounds might begin to knit – and then John Howard came along.

When Howard was ousted as PM, there was another moment of reconciliation when Kevin Rudd issued his apology for the wrongs done to this country’s original inhabitants. But then, Labor was swept from office, and all of that (as well as decent climate policy) was forgotten and/or discredited by the Luddite government of Tony Abbott.

There’s no doubt that the LNP has had a destructive influence on this country’s cultural life. If we were but a little smarter we might feel shame at that – we might even do something about it. Hopes for that are diminishing, however. If we were a little smarter, we would never have permitted it in the first place.

There’s no doubt the ‘culture wars’ continue. The honours awarded to Margaret Court yesterday represent a fresh offensive by the arch-conservatives looking to make a political point. There’s no way that the date will change while the LNP remains in power, and no possibility of any meaningful reconciliation, because – they don’t care.

The good news is that more and more Australians on the ground do. There’s widespread condemnation at the decision to further elevate Court, a vocal bigot (though once, in ancient history, a great tennis player). No-one I know believes that Australia Day should remain on January 26 (though I move in more elevated circles). There’s widespread recognition and understanding, even compassion. For the rest, it makes pragmatic sense.

Personally, I’d be happy to avoid this annual debate around an occasion which should be celebratory. Quite obviously, our national day should embrace all Australians.

As it happens, I saw a movie yesterday that highlights the divide.

High Ground is a new Australian movie, and it’s excellent. It’s set in Arnhem Land in the period after WW1. It starts with a massacre of a tribe of aboriginals by white farmers (and unwilling police) by the side of a billabong. Nothing is done about it. A dozen years later, a cop who was present and disgusted by what he saw is asked to track down a rogue pack of aboriginals who have been raiding settlements. He’s a marksman, and the implicit instruction is that they should be wiped out.

The rogue pack is led by a survivor of that initial attack. The marksman sets out with a young survivor by his side. The marksman is sympathetic and has no intention of killing anyone. I’ll leave the details of the story there. Suffice to say that while the landscapes depicted are often breathtaking, this is a bleak and sometimes depressing tale that seems familiar. As a white man in the audience, I found it confronting, but beyond understanding.

There’s tension throughout because you fear the worst and hope it won’t come to be. Of course, there’s a reckoning, the upshot of which is that there are no winners. It seems a true commentary in general, and true of the fracas over Australia Day.

These things happened. This is history, more or less, and many of the attitudes portrayed true of the times – and true for many now also, I suspect.

We can’t go on living as a society like this. Great wrongs have been committed. We bear responsibility for that. As time goes by, the wounds become deeper because those with the power to do something about this, do nothing. A treaty would be a great start, but it’ll take more than that, and years still until we can truly feel one people.

Holding back the tide


I’ve just returned from the cafe, where I had two flat whites as I contemplated the world. It’s a lovely morning. It looks like being a lovely day. I headed to the cafe on restless impulse, wanting to break the workday routine. It’s surprising I don’t do it more often now that I’m working from home. I might grab a take-away coffee a couple of times a month, but much less often do I sit down to enjoy one.

I followed on a few work conversations on my mobile while I was there, and otherwise took the time to touch base with people I hadn’t spoken to for a while, sending them messages. Mostly though, I just sat there watching the comings and goings in quiet thought.

It’s something I’m quite adept at. I know many people need to be doing something to feel occupied, but I’m happy to just sit there. There’s always a lot going on in my head, and I’m happy – perhaps too happy – to indulge it.

As I walked in the sunshine towards the cafe, I reflected on how I was still fit and relatively healthy, and to the eye presented a robust figure. For some reason, I thought of a time, 20 years into the future perhaps, when I’m not quite so robust, and when the clothes I wear today would hang off a reduced frame. Though, perhaps not.

It doesn’t seem a happy thought, but there wasn’t much emotion in it. It was more a reflection on the nature of time, of how things change, about transition. It’s in-line with a lot of similar reflections lately, though from a different angle. It seems random, but I think this came to mind today because of my dad, who I spoke to yesterday.

I don’t know how true it is that you grow into your parents. In theory that would mean in 20 odd years, I’ll be the man my dad is today. I’m not sure how true that is in reality. We look alike, more or less, but otherwise, I’ve always been a bigger, more muscular version of him, and though there are other similarities in character, our personalities diverge.

With that said, I remember him as a man of constant motion, not busy but measured, as well as a man of constant motivation. There was a point to everything he did, and his activities directed to an outcome. He had a successful business career, but the abiding mental picture I have of him is bustling around bare-chested and in a pair of shorts busy in the garden, or with some piece of home maintenance.

I hardly see him these days, but the picture presented by his words – and on those few occasions I do see him – is starkly different. Objectively, and statistically, you’d think he has only a few more years in him.

I asked yesterday about his health, and he filled me in, though without complaint. He’s a practical man who doesn’t believe in self-indulgence. He’s getting by well enough, except that for a few years he’s been beset by a range of ailments. He has auto-immune complaints generally, which include chronic arthritis in his legs. He had kidney stones removed last year. He also has Sjogren’s disease, which sounds nasty. He’s not nearly as active or mobile as he used to be, though he remains mentally agile.

You listen to such things and can’t help but wonder if it’s a forerunner of what you, as his son, can expect. Maybe, but I tend to regard it as a warning. It pains me to see him like this, and it feels wrong, though I know that’s how life goes – how time takes us from one state to another. I’m making active efforts to become fitter and healthier lately, and it seems to be working, and it’s fear of that decline that drives it.

When the sun is shining, as it is today, when you feel fit and well, when you’re at your ease sipping on a second flat white, it all seems very distant – and somehow surreal. How does one thing become another? Gradually, is the answer, in ways you hardly notice at the time until one day you look in the mirror.

My ailments have settled down. I feel better, and look it too, and the physical signs are improving. I expect that will continue. From here on in it seems sensible to be more mindful of many things that once you accepted without a second thought. It seems that’s one thing you learn as you go along, though every day has something new.

But there is now. And in the next month I’ll be having lunch with dad, and tomorrow night I’m having cocktails in the city and on Saturday off to a steak restaurant. Things might change, but we always have the moment.

What comes next?


Yesterday was one of those strange, in-between, days. I’m still on leave. I had the TV on, switching between the cricket and coverage of the events in Washington on CNN and the ABC. In my lap was my iPad, and I doom-scrolled through many comments and updates on Twitter. That was most of the day.

The day after it seems strange still in many ways. I still don’t know what will come of this. I was amazed to see so many Republican senators uphold their objections to the election results when they were certified last night. If nothing else, it’s an abysmal reading of the room. And what did they hope to achieve? Surely – not even they – can hope for the results to be overturned and for Trump, magically, to be restored?

The only answer I came up with is that they’re playing to their deplorable base – the terrorists who stormed the institutions of democracy yesterday, and the 45% of Republican voters who supported it. This is their signal to them affirming that they’ll continue the fight, no matter the fight is foolish, futile and destructive. It’s all about power.

It doesn’t inspire one with hope. Where now with the GOP? Trump has ruined them, near enough, as a coherent political force, but I still think they can do a lot of damage. The hardline conservatives will continue on their path, bolstered by the support of the sort of people that stormed congress yesterday. They’ll give hope the radical right and be a voice for them. It won’t go away, and I expect they’ll be a thorn in the side of any attempts to re-integrate America into a single nation.

There are moderate Republicans, but they seem in the minority and will likely splinter from the party’s rump.

The good news is that the Democrats are back in control come a fortnight. Things can only improve across the board. Common sense policy-making and decency will make a return, and the hope is that it will filter across the world, especially here to Australia.

There’s no doubt that Morrison has modelled himself and the party behind him into a version of Trump-lite. He uses many of the same tricks as Trump – the open, brazen lying and corruption; the refusal to face scrutiny; the undermining of discourse and commentary by refusing to engage, and deflecting it as false news; and the sheer arrogance of pursuing an agenda that suits the party and his mates ahead of the national interest. And they’re just as lazy as each other.

It will be harder now for Morrison with Biden as president and setting a much gentler tone for the world. He risks being marginalised in a policy sense, and his style grating when politics becomes more accountable. That’s my hope, but in the meantime, the Labor party, and Albo, have to step up, and I have little belief that will happen.

But back to America. I think one of the big problems they face goes to their very soul. They have been inculcated with American exceptionalism from the day they’re born, but there’s little to justify it. America is great by virtue of its size and (waning) power, but the moral edge Americans have claimed has never really existed.

It’s an exceptionalism that is now at odds with events, and it’s the conflict between belief and reality which has caused so much grief. Trump campaigned on a slogan of making America great, and those who invaded Washington yesterday are firm in their belief that America should be top-dog.

The world has moved on. America is an insular country and for the most part, has no idea of how proclamations of greatness are so tiresome and ridiculous for the rest of us. It sounds so often like immaturity, claiming at something without complete conviction.

Watching from far away I’ve always found it curious some elements of American culture that appear naive to my Australian eyes – the reverence for institutions, both political and religious; the rituals and ceremonies that litter American public life; the love of high-flown rhetoric and sentimentality in general; and the need to advertise their patriotism. Perhaps it says more about Australians. We’re a pragmatic, sceptical and unsentimental race, and I find so much American culture both foreign and endearing.

This is not an attack on America. Some of the very best of us are American – but so too, as we have witnessed, are some of the very worst. I’ve consumed American arts and commentary all my life. I love American literature. There are some great thinkers come out of that land. But, so it is for most places, without the scale or the fanfare. We are all individuals.

I think the overt nature of American patriotism clouds reality. It is automatic and unquestioning, a reflex without real consideration. Events are cracking that facade now. Like someone who has belonged in a church all their life with unquestioning faith confronted by evidence that casts doubt, this is a time for Americans to examine themselves and what they stand for.

They don’t need to be top-dog. I think that’s gone anyway. As they say, be the best version of yourself and leave everything else alone. This is a time for humility and reflection. I believe the commentators who claim they can put this right – but they need to address the blight at the heart of their problems. They have to say it out loud and own it. Only then can they overcome it.

That’s what I think.

Magic and wonder


I read this morning that the author and naturalist, Barry Lopez, had died.

I’ve read a lot of his stuff over the years. He was a luminescent writer with a keen eye and an open heart. He’s known for his writing on the natural world, but he also wrote more conventional stories. In either case, his prose was sensitive and drew you close inside the essence of the tale.

I think this happens when you have an extreme sensitivity to the world about you – not as something you travel through, but exist within. As a naturalist, he was drawn to detail and understanding context, and the result of that was naturally spiritual.

When you realise that everything has a life and purpose, that the world around us and we within it co-exist within layers of dependencies, then you begin to see a depth of meaning that eludes most of us, most of the time.

I was always found his writing illuminating, and often enlarging. He had a way of showing the wonder in enchanting things. He was one of those writers I would occasionally set aside midway through just to contemplate what I’d just read – to feel it full in me and abundant, to capture some of the truth of it and hold it in me for a while. And that was true for his stories as well as his naturalism.

He was 75, which seems relatively young, but I envy how he saw things, and the delight it must have filled him with.

By chance I’m reading a book by another naturalist right now, Richard Nelson.

He shares with Lopez a lovely lyrical gift of seeing and describing that is almost spiritual. It seems to me to be truly close to the natural world is a humbling and spiritual experience, and it’s there in their words. There’s a weight of meaning that is the very opposite of superficial. In all cases, a forgotten virtue – respect – is essential.

Reading this book, I’m reminded of the years I would go camping with my step-father and hunt for game. Mostly, we’d be far from civilisation. We’d stop in places where we were the interlopers and surrounding us raw nature. I would feel it every time I heard the call of an animal in the night, or see their tracks in the morning, or see the great gusts of cockies fly through the air before settling to cackle at us. The nocturnal thump and scrape, the movement in the bush felt as much as seen. And the owls in the trees looking on, hooting at their desire, and the wedge-tailed eagles majestic high in the blue sky as they circled and swooped.

We visited some out of the way places – out past Narrabri in the hills, the back of Bourke in red soil country, in scratchy brush and drought lands and places green and rugged. Just being there felt eye-opening, because it was a life very foreign to what I knew and understood in the city. I was a sensitive kid, and I felt these things, sitting in the fork of a tree overlooking it, or later by the fire with the scent of wood smoke in the air and deep night beyond the circle of light. Often it felt wondrous and bigger than anything I had ever understood.

There’s a morality to that world you can touch when you’re awake to it. You fit into it. That’s very present in the words of Lopez and Nelson, and most naturalists I’ve read. There’s an innate humility when you realise that life is all around you. I wonder if part of my problem is that I’m feeling an increasing disconnect from that sense of morality.

We live in an age of rampant hubris, and when our arrogance has become so extreme that we are destroying the environment we are part of and killing our future. This is what happens when you feel you are above all life and the environment is there to serve you. This happens when there is no balance or perception, when life is consumption, without magic or wonder.

Re-alignment


On the way back from the shops earlier, I stopped by the local cafe to get a take-away coffee. As I paid for it I told them to charge another one to me and to gift a coffee to someone deserving of it, their choice.

I’ve never done that before, but it felt like something I needed to do today. It’s quietly therapeutic to give, and good for the soul in general, I reckon. It’s underrated, but after a tough year, it feels entirely appropriate.

I’m better today than yesterday, though a long way short of being just right. I still feel vaguely nauseous, and still feel vaguely tired. I figure the nausea will go away in due course, but the tiredness won’t unless I do something about it.

As I’ve said before, I reckon as much of it is psychological as it is physical. I spent ah hour in bed last night thinking about it. I felt in a bind, but at the same time felt as if I’d reached a point that there was no possibility that the old ways could work for me. I’m not who I used to be and I have to adapt to who I am now – but there’s the bind.

I suspect many are feeling some variation of that after the year we’ve had. I spoke to Donna yesterday and she reported much the same as I did. She’s intelligent, vivacious and a high-achiever, but it was months since she’d felt motivated, she said, and had little interest in what she was doing. I’d said that I no longer had the will to do the things I did before, and she leapt on that – yes, the will was gone.

For me, that’s a hard one to swallow. As much as anything, I defined myself by my willpower. I would make things happen. I was a man of steel and iron will. I would persist, I would defy, I would prevail. It came to me quite naturally, without effort. I think many still see me as that man, but I’m not anymore. I’m still determined, I still have some attitude, but I don’t have the hunger anymore, nor the belief, and certainly not the purpose. The will to be more and do more has lapsed.

That’s a hard one for the ego, but perhaps it comes with age and a certain maturity? I don’t know – this is the first time for me. Perhaps it is part of a re-adjustment that most of us have to make at some stage?

The challenge for me, and for Donna, and for all I know, for countless others, is managing that adjustment – and knowing what we’re adjusting to. If the will is gone, and the hunger and desire that drove you before, then what takes their place? There has to be something else if the old things and old ways no longer work for you. What are those things? What feels that hole?

With lockdown passing and a return to the office next year imminent, perhaps this little crisis will pass. I expect that’ll be the case for many. They’ll just slot back into the old groove and be grateful that it’s so easy.

I doubt that’ll be the case for me. I’m a more complex dude, and I’m at the stage of my life where these junctures are significant. To be honest, I don’t really want to go back to how it was. It feels false now. Inauthentic. And I guess that’s the proof that I am a different person now.

I don’t have the answers. I never do. I’m worn-down and impatient and just a little sad, but I can’t push it. It’s something I need to negotiate my way through. Get my strength back first, mental and physical, and then figure out what I’m meant to be doing.

A new year is an apt occasion to re-align, thought I don’t think it’ll be anywhere near as easy as that.