We’ll ride with you

Like most of Australia yesterday I was gripped by the unfolding events in the hostage siege at Lindt, in Martin Place, Sydney, an area I know well. When I first heard I thought it was a common old hold-up or something that would soon be resolved. It became very clear very quickly that it was something more than that.

I went about my daily business with the TV on in the background more often than not. Every station had reporters on the scene and had interrupted their regular programs to broadcast this. I came and went, checking in on the developments of which there were few. The TV coverage padded it out, calling in experts, repeating earlier interviews, speculating on the causes and what it all might mean.

At that stage we knew that the hostage-taker appeared to be a middle-aged Muslim. He had somewhere between 10-20 hostages, 5 of whom managed dramatic escapes during the day. The tabloids and the gutter media made much play of these scant facts. Headlines screamed death cult and ISIL. Shock-jocks claimed there were bombs littered around the city rigged to explode, and that they had spoken to some of the hostages. It was irresponsible and reprehensible, journalism at its worst – but what we have come to expect.

The crisis extended into the evening. By now it seemed pretty clear that he was a lone wolf nutter, not a ISIL terrorist as so many had claimed. He was Muslim though, which made him more than just a hostage  taker. He was a Muslim terrorist.

Like so many right thinking Australians I feared the worst of what this would mean. Abbott had been reasonable in his comments, but had alluded to terrorism. The tabloids had gone off, figuring that extreme headlines would drive sales and hit a sympathetic nerve. it’s what I feared to, and almost expected, for the right to exploit this to advantage, and for the uneducated haters to take this as  another excuse to hate. But then something surprising happened.

In the last few weeks there have been two social media movements which have deeply moved me. #putoutyourbats when Phil Hughes died was a poignant and heartfelt tribute to him. Last night someone, someone with the same fears as I had, and with a sense of community beyond I could imagine came up with the hashtag #Illridewithyou.

Australian Muslims all over the country reasonably feared a backlash after the yesterday. It’s  happened all over the world in the wake of events like this, and happened here. Mosques are trashed, everyday Muslims abused and mistreated. It’s the same stupidity that has been repeated for centuries: if one is evil then all are evil. It’s easy and lazy and dumb, and overlooks the fact that any Muslims are here because they are fleeing the same extremists the rest of us fear.

This woman tweeted, if you are afraid of going to work tomorrow then come ride with me – I’ll protect you. Within minutes it was picked up and repeated, not just in Sydney, but all over Australia, and then the world. Strangers revealed their travel routines, look for me, I’ll be there for you. It went of like a bushfire, capturing the imagination and touching our collective compassion.

I watched it develop on my twitter feed and felt overwhelmed with gratitude. I was so proud, and so glad that these common people would reach out at a time like this. It was absolutely the right thing, but it was also absolutely the unexpected thing too.

It became a twitter phenomenon. Not surprisingly perhaps there were some who came to question it later. Some called it patronising, others, misplaced. Many of those complaining were the usual sourpuss and right-wing stooges. It had caught everyone by surprise, even ourselves I think. I believe this was one of those moments that touched a chord in liberal Australia. There was a sense of no more.

The Murdoch papers had gone hard on this, believing I think they spoke for the people. They were wrong, and are wrong. I think people have had a gutful of the toxic politics being played out daily. WE have been represented shoddily by politicians playing with refugees lives, and with the vocal right wings ratbags. The liberal middle has been silent throughout this, and disregarded. Last night it stood up, enough is enough, this is not right, this not what we believe, this is not who we are.

The cynics claim that this movement is a typical product of the latte drinking set. I think it’s the spontaneous reaction of good Australians who want to do right.

Unfortunately there was no such happy ending to this crisis. Overnight three people died, the hostage taker and two hostages. It seems at least one of the hostages died bravely trying to overcome the hostage-taker, and the other was a highly barrister and mother of three. The awful thing about moments like this is that anonymous people become known for all the wrong reasons.

There have been a lot of claims since this went down. What happened was awful, but I reject that this is our loss of innocence as some are saying. Nor is this a sign that we are under increased danger. There are people in the world who will kill us on sight, we know that. This man was a rogue operator though, a man disaffected by life it seems driven to extremes. No more should be made of this than that.

Some of the media have been good throughout this, but some terrible. I hope we don’t forget those who trade in tragedy like this, which includes Rupert Murdoch himself. The NSW Premier Mike Baird was outstanding throughout in a tough position. He  said all the right things, and with sincerity. The police were excellent as well.

Are we different after this? There are claims to that effect. Only time will tell. If there is a  difference I suspect it may be in a positive sense. We have become activated as citizens. We’ve been made to consider what we believe. The government would do well to consider that.

For those involved in this nothing will be the same again.


The perils of frontier society

It’s a boring job sitting behind a reception desk waiting for people to come in to serve. I wile away the hours on the small tasks I’ve set myself, and surfing the net. As you see, I’ll take time to write the odd lengthy post in this joint. The rest of the time I’m either wandering around – inside the shop, and more often standing outside it; or reading.

I’ve got three books beside the reception desk. The first is the book of Hitchen’s essays I mentioned a few weeks back. The second is a book of critical essays about the classical era – Ancient Greeks and Rome, etc. The last book is called The Speeches That Made Australia. The name says it all.

I’m been dipping into this book over the last week, reading from front to back. The speeches are arranged chronologically, but within thematic sections. The section I’ve been reading is entitled Nation, and records speeches made on the subject of the country itself.

The earliest speeches in this pertain to Federation – why it should be, how, and celebration of it. The speeches are surprisingly good in general, and occasionally rousing. It’s funny, but it seems so long ago that you seem hardly to expect that. They were made by some of the great names in Australian history, Parkes, Deakin, Barton…

What struck me as I read these speeches was the urgent passion of these men as they sought a more ambitious place for Australia among the nations of the world. They were articulate and urgent in their appeals, and gracious in ways that have gone out of fashion. They became real to me not just in their words, but in their common aspiration.

It seemed quite natural in reading their opinions to then reflect on how the Republican cause these days has stalled.

It’s a source of significant frustration for me that the republican cause has gone backwards in the last dozen years. Much of that is because of conservative governments actively talking it down. It coincides with the rise of Gen Y, whose focus is more individual than those before. And, though it seems awfully shallow, photogenic and friendly royals have seduced many into the royalist fold.

I need not explain why I’m such a devoted republican. It embarrasses me to read the words of our far-sighted forebears in context of the world today, in comparison so often trivial and superficial. There’s a wont of vision and energy today when we compare to Australia pre-federation. Life is easy, even banal. There’s little adventure in how we think, and barely any hunger. Perhaps it is that then we were still looking to build, to become something, and that those in charge of that were emboldened by the challenge.

I think that the challenge remains true, though less clearly defined. We have become something, but you do not stop having reached a point. It’s more a process of becoming, ever and eternal. In a comfortable society such as ours and with many diversions notions of identity and meaning either become lost, discounted or derided as the fatuous ramblings of out of touch intellectuals. There is the illusion that we have arrived – what need then to become a republic?

Unfortunately this is a view promulgated as well by recent conservative governments.

This leads nicely into the next speech I read (Creative man in a frontier society). This was by Robin Boyd, among other things a vital cultural critic from the middle of last century.

It’s hard to say exactly what he spoke of, though his thesis was so very well put. He spoke of modern Australia and the different perspectives – one settled, conservative, suspicious of the new and different. This is the traditional Australia, laconic, unambitious, more concerned with doing than talking. Practical minded, honest, friendly, but unwilling to contemplate too much beyond immediate view. They are predominantly the ‘doers’. In truth Australia was built upon such men.

The second Australia he spoke of was something only just emerging – his speech dates from 1968. This is the outward looking Australian who looks to engage with larger ideas. It’s a more cosmopolitan and creative Australian with the native curiosity to look beyond our history and the limits of our own boundaries and culture. It’s a perspective that encompasses art and literature, and questions as to our identity. This person may or may not be a doer as well, but for certain they also dared to dream.

He clearly identified himself as one of the latter, and in fact much of his critical career was focussed on this very subject. Back in 1968 he was hopeful of this emerging class, and looking ahead saw it guiding Australia towards a more thoughtful society.

In many ways he was right. We’ve come a long way since 1968, and in many aspects flourished. There’s no doubt that there is a greater appreciation of the artistic now than there was, and, though it remains patchy, more of an intellectual edge. The external cultures we have absorbed, and ultimately embraced, have enriched us. Our quality of life is second to none.

At the same time it’s a sad truth that this second Australian he spoke of then has in more recent times been disparaged with the mocking term of ‘elites’ – as if to say, too good for the rest of us. It’s reprehensible that it has been our own leaders responsible for the put-down, and the ambition-deadening intent behind it.

I read the Boyd piece and there was so much I identified with. It’s a wise, learned, and slightly sad articulation of national being. I felt very much the model of his second Australian. I share his ambition and hope, and belief. It’s my view we need more like Boyd, but unfortunately, and for many reasons,  we live in a time of simplification and dumbing down.

Taken together these readings create a picture. In reality the men who made federation happen made their careers on doing, but they would never have achieved this without dreaming first. Few dream like that any more, and in its place is prosaic and luxurious lifestyle. It’s seductive, and sold to us by marketers and media and ultimately a government that prefers us relaxed and happy and out of harms way.

Makes me sad to. Does it have to be like that?

Clark Kent to Superman

Coming into this Ashes series I was more optimistic than a lot of people. I generally am. There seemed genuine cause for that, though not everyone agreed. There had been very promising signs in England through our winter, though we still lost 3-0 – a scoreline that flattered England. With the return bout in Oz I knew the cionditions would suit us – it’s tough going for visiting teams playing on Australian pitches and in the Australian summer. On top of that ‘Boof’ promised a return to Australian values – attacking cricket with bat and ball, a strong competitive edge and in your face agression. Perhaps I looked at things through rose coloured glasses, but I tipped a 2-1 series win to Australia, and the return of the Ashes.

Here I sit though, surprised at how it has turned out. The Perth test has just concluded and Australia have the Ashes back here where they belong. We lead the series 3-0, and on track for a 5-0 whitewash.

It feels like a return to the good old days. This is how cricket has been pretty well for a lot of my life – Australia on top and playing ruthless, bruising, often exhilarating cricket that leaves opponents bewildered and intimidated. England haven’t had a sniff. They’ve been walloped in every match.

There have been some outstanding contributors, none more so than Mitch Johnson, who has become a phenomena. He’s copped a lot of flak over the years, but he’s always been one of my favourite players – because on song he is so fucking good. For a long time he has the potential to be the best player in the world with his exhilarating combination of gifts – sheer, violent, unpredictable pace, and a natural ability with the bat. Right now he is the best player in the world, and already in this series carved out a big place in Ashes history. His spell in Adelaide last week was just about the most thrilling piece of bowling I can recall for many years. Right now he is the spearhead of a great bowling attack.

Clarke has been great, but we expect that – he is the best batsman in the world. Haddin has experienced an Indian summer though, and David Warner rebound from the dramas and controversies of early in the year to be the best batsman of the series – dominant and rampant. There have been no dud performers.

It’s a nice feeling this. Not just winning, but to win like this. We lost our way for a while, and one reason for that is that we weren’t true to our nature. We attempted to play scientific cricket, casting aside our innate attitude. We become just like any other team though when we do that, which seems foolish. Our success over time has been in playing to our strengths – to attack, to follow our instinct, to be true to that competitive edge bred into us from childhood. We tried to be Clark Kent when we’ve generally played like Superman.

Another fuck-up

This is a terrible government. I said that before. It’s worse even than I feared. You hope to be pleasantly surprised, but instead find that the incompetence, intransigence and misjudgment runs deep. We’re stuck with this lot for another 4 years.

Last week we had the appalling situation where Abbott went to Sri Lanka and gave them a couple of our patrol boats to help prevent asylum seekers ever reaching Australia. It’s a ridiculous solution in any case, but what makes this particularly rotten is that the Sri Lankan leader has been legitimately accused of war crimes. We’re giving weapons to a guy who has used weapons against his own people. What does that say about us? What does it say about our government? Instead of looking to represent justice our government instead pursues pragmatic political objectives, and if that means giving guns to the bad guys then so be it. It’s a long time since these guys had a moral compass.

This week the furore is all about claims that Australia spied on Indonesia, and in particular bugged the phones of the Indonesian president and his wife. Naturally this created an uproar. This too has been handled terribly.

You may not like it, but I think most people accept that spying goes on, and in fact is necessary in many cases. I don’t object to Australia carrying out espionage, though I do question the value of bugging these mobile phones. Regardless, that’s not the real issue. The real issue is in how it is handled. This kerfuffle follows on from a near identical controversy weeks ago when the US were exposed to listening in on European conversations, especially those of Angela Merkel. Obama came out and did the right thing. He rang up Merkl directly, he apologised to her and said it wasn’t happening or wouldn’t happen again.

You have to play the game. Indonesia may get it’s knickers in an official knot over this episode – as they must be seen to – and the appropriate response from our government, and from Abbott particularly, is to do exactly what Obama did. The theatre plays out, mea culpa given and accepted, the public sated, and in all likelihood the spying continues.

That’s not what Abbott did. You see the workings of a simple and obvious mind: everyone spies, why do I need to apologise? Well, because you’re a national leader dealing with another, and that of our nearest and most important neighbour. Because that’s what they call diplomacy. Abbott fears, I think, being seen weak. That’s the lack of subtlety in his thought processes. Taking leadership on an issue like this and acting quickly is not weakness. It did Obama no harm.

In failing to act appropriately Abbott has allowed this situation to degenerate rapidly. The Indonesian president is now – quite authentically – offended by the inaction and the comments made since. Indonesia has withdrawn its ambassador, has ceased any joint actions, and is threatening to pull out from diplomatic agreements. In Indonesia itself the people are strongly behind their president and now rabidly anti-Australian. Ratbags on the right here make comments that further inflame the situation. At best this is an impasse; at worst a diplomatic disaster.

Abbott has now made this much harder for himself. I think he must act to apologise as he should have right from the start. If he does that then I think something can be salvaged on the diplomatic front. Unfortunately the damage beyond that is beyond repair I think.

You shake your head at the absolute lack of judgement in this farce, not just by Abbott, but by his advisors. His foreign minister, perhaps fortuitously, is nowhere to be seen.

I’m just a regular dude who lives in the suburbs of Melbourne. I’ve travelled a bit though, and have some idea of cultural sensitivities. It’s no good Abbott trying to be manly and dealing with this on Anglo-Saxon terms – even Obama, dealing with a western culture, knew better than that. If the situations were reversed there would likely be a few rumblings, a couple of headlines, but it would die down. The average guy will chat about it a bit before shrugging his shoulders, shit happens – which has essentially been Abbott’s response. It’s different in Asia.

There’s the very real concept of ‘face’. Australia transgressed in spying, intruded privately, and robbed Indonesia of face in doing so. I understand Yudhoyono being personally aggrieved at having his, and his wife’s, mobile phones tapped. He’ll get over that, and quickly had we acted promptly. Indonesia is a big country, with a culture and religion poles apart from the culture here. We’re a western country, they are not. And so on. The fact of it is that the cultural differences make for cultural sensitivities, none of which we seem to be considered in our response.

The diplomatic fences will be repaired in time, but the cultural damage will linger much longer. In the eyes of the common Indonesian this episode is an example of Australian arrogance.* We’ve disrespected their leader, and their sovereignty, and they have taken fierce exception to that. They believe we think we can do what we like; our failure to express remorse has only confirmed that. It’s ham-fisted diplomacy at the very best; at worst it’s a cultural sore that will take years to heal.

*I’m forever amazed how people are blinded to the fact that so much we do as a western culture is offensive to others. We can’t be apologising for who we are, but some neighbourly sensitivity is only courteous. The fact is that so much of the violence of the last 15 years stems from resentment at what is felt to be western imperialism. That’s a sensitive subject since so much of the world, at one time or another, was subject to western masters. That’s not forgotten. It means sometimes the things we do are misunderstood, and that our cultural blunders are magnified. As westerners we are blithe about what we do, rarely understanding the consequences of our actions, and blind to how pervasive – and sometimes invasive – our culture and conduct is to others.

Advance Australia

There was a report in the newspaper the other day about some graffiti found in an outer suburb: “Fuck Australia Fair”, it read. I doubt the person responsible for this did so with irony in mind. Most likely it was an angry, perhaps even bitter, riposte to the great Australian dream. Perhaps it was scrawled by a disaffected migrant who has discovered the reality does’t match up to the dream.

As a reasonably patriotic Australian I might have felt some umbrage at the impertinence at the comment. I didn’t. In fact I was happy to see it reported. Today is Australia Day, and amid all the well founded celebration it’s good to be reminded that all is not pristine, we are not a perfect society, and that there is still work to be done.

I’ll celebrate like most Australians, might have a drink or two, and every chance will find myself at a barbecue this long weekend. When I reflect it will be with some quiet pride. Notwithstanding angry graffiti I believe Australia is a great place to live, that we have much to be proud of, and that, most importantly perhaps, the common Australian is a decent individual who wants a better world.

What I don’t like is cheap jingoism. I have no patience with mindless celebration. Slogans and addled notions of ‘what it means to be an Australian’ should be disavowed. I think it should be practically illegal to drape yourself in an Aussie flag (uncouth as it is), and that the bogan hijack with its chauvinistic overtones should be rejected outright. I’m just one member of this society, but that’s not my Australia, the Australia I know and love.

I read an interview this morning with Micky Arthur, the South African coach of the Australian cricket team. He spoke of how impressed he was with the spirit of community in Australia, and the tradition of ‘active citizenry’. He cited as an example the selfless volunteers all over the country fighting bushfires and working to salve the distress and loss of the poor victims of it. It’s a good example. I think every Australian looks up to the CFA, and other organisations like that, but we also take it a little for granted. We laud it, but we expect it also, because it has ever been that way. There is that tradition of service, of helping out, of mateship, that I think on the one hand is a central component of our culture, if not identity; but at the same time is overlooked. It is not seen as being as unique as what it is.

It takes a foreign eye sometimes to report back to us the differences they see. We live immersed in this, and fail to see anything unusual. It’s such a common theme though over many years – remember how the volunteers were lauded at the Sydney Olympics? – that perhaps we should own up to it. We have something special there, particularly when the chips are down. As a nation we’re healthy and wealthy, more so than we’re prepared to admit, and enjoyed good fortune foreign to so many other societies in the world. There is a lot that annoys the bejesus out of me, particularly politically, but I’ve had no reason to doubt that this is the best place in the world to live as a citizen. And more now than ever before.

It’s remiss, however, to accept only the good, and refuse the not so good. Perhaps Australia Day is not the time to dwell on those things, but I hope that if we are to continue to thrive and grow that we don’t neglect to work on the things we can do better. That’s why a piece of graffiti in outer Melbourne is so important. It reminds us that we are not there yet, and that there are many still who have yet to enjoy the fruits of our society. There’s a lot to do, but foremost heading into the years ahead is to bring those others into our embrace. To be inclusive, to listen, be compassionate, above all, to be honest and up-front. Isn’t that an Australian virtue?

Sporting Nation

Watched a terrific program last night on TV hosted by John Clarke, New Zealand’s greatest export. Sporting Nation is all about Australia’s love of sport, both a look at the historical narrative and an investigation into both its origins and why Australia has so often been so dominant. Being a John Clarke program it was spiced with his wry, occasionally absurdist, humour and perspective. He might have been born a Kiwi, but he’s very firmly entrenched now as a commentator on things Australian.

The program featured among others one of my favourite ever athletes, Herb Elliott. His is a great story. One of the most dominant athletes of all time he retired at his peak at 24 having never been defeated over a mile. Great athlete, strong minded, and an interesting, intelligent man to boot. One of the famous stories about him is how he was trained on the sand dunes on the peninsula by his famous and eccentric coach Percy Cerutty. Percy trained the body hard, but he also moulded the mind. His athletes were tough mothers.

Elliott for me is one of those curious examples of super-human athletes who become one of us. I used to see him regularly about town going about his business (as I did one of the Oarsome Foursome, James Tompkins), and once on a summer holiday down Anglesea way he was a few towels over from us, just an ordinary dude enjoying the surf, though still wiry and fit.

I learnt something else last night. Shane Gould was one of the Olympic athletes interviewed. She won 5 medals at Munich, including 3 gold, all of which I knew. What I didn’t know is that I went to the same school she did, though a few years later. was I ever aware of that? Not that I remember. There’s a film clip of her, and another gold medal winning THS student, being welcomed back to the school. The film is in black and white, and in the background the familiar site of the centre quadrangle and the sixties era school buildings, double story and rectangular. She was 15, 16 then. I reckon I started there no more than 5/6 years after she left.

Anyway, the program continues next Sunday night. Check it out.

The comedy no-one laughs at

I caught up last night with one of my favourite shows currently on the box. The Thick of It is the TV spin-off (or possibly the inspiration for?) the movie that came out last year In The Loop. It’s sort of an updated Yes, Minister, just as cynical, but much less polite, with Peter Capaldi playing the unforgettably in your face political advisor with a potty mouth that is corrosive and hilariously inventive. He’s one of the great characters. I loved the movie. It was one of the funniest things I watched last year. The TV series is patchy-ish but just as funny at it’s best. It’s one of those few shows that makes me laugh out loud – or LOL, if you prefer.

While I’m happily tuning out watching this fictional political world the usual melancholy combination of political incompetence, terrible judgement, and insane nonsense is playing out in Australian politics. I’m politically engaged as a very general rule, but I don’t want to have a bar of what is going on here. Much as it sounds defeatist, Australian politics is just too miserable, bitter and depressingly low-brow for me to even contemplate it. Yet here I am, oh Magoo, you’ve done it again.

It really is quite hilarious to witness the depths of sheer ineptitude our elected representatives descend to. If it was TV comedy you’d tune in every week to have a laugh, grateful that real life isn’t like that. That’s the problem though: we’re now living the comedy, and no-one’s laughing.

I do try and steer clear of politics. Oh I do, really, but it keeps dragging me back. What I’d give for a sedate and sensible government, and an opposition with scruples. Foolishly idealistic, I know, but I fear I’m getting an ulcer just living in this place now, sort of by osmosis – and that’s while refusing to read or listen to the latest ridiculous report on government bloopers, the corruption, the misjudgements, the grandstanding, and, in the case of Tony Abbott, the evil. It gets me anyway. Give up H, you can’t win.

I’m hoping one day that things will improve to the point that we look back upon this era and think of it as an aberration. We have a government, well meaning I’m sure, and generally insincere, but laughingly incompetent. They’re just not up to it. It’s like we’ve elevated the council of some remote locality to govern on behalf of 20 odd million people. You shake your head more in pity than anger. What makes it even weirder is how talented they are at shooting themselves in the foot. Their aim is unerring. Had perhaps they sought to govern on principle rather than convenience I reckon they would have avoided half the shit they’ve dropped themselves in. There’s a depressing moral in that somewhere, very much like some cynical TV screenwriter might come up with. The irony: by choosing to do the wrong thing for what they believe are the right reasons (political advantage) they manage to make themselves look weak, and fuck it up anyway. Had they chosen to take the high moral ground and govern on principle (even unpopular principle) then at least they would have appeared to have some resolve, even an identity, and might even gained the respect they so desperately lack.

I’m being harsh perhaps. The carbon tax, dreadfully communicated and sold to the general public, at least has some merit – it’s good policy I think. But then we consider the backdown on the supertax in the face of ignorant general opposition, and a Liberal opposition more interested in scoring political points than doing what is right for the country. It was a weak backdown and has cost this country badly – and it did nought for the credibility of the government.

In the last few weeks we’ve had the controversy erupt about Craig Thomson’s credit card rorting (alleged). I don’t give a toss if he went to a prostitute – that’s not my business. If he’s engaged in corruption though that’s another story. Regardless of outcome it’s a dispiriting episode. You wonder how someone as clearly dumb as Thomson can get elected to parliament.

Then of course there’s the latest setback on the so-called Malaysian solution. It makes the government look like a bunch of clowns. Maybe it’s time, given the big hairy balls they so clearly lack, for the government to make a stand. Asylum seekers and refugees are not an issue. It’s fucking stupid to think that a mere 5-6,000 a year coming here on boats can cause so much controversy and angst. Let them come in! For christs sake, we possess one of the biggest land masses in the world, sparsely populated. Let’s return to the humane Australia I grew up in. Enough of demonising these pitiful people for political gain. Let’s tell it as it is: that we get a mere fraction of what half of western Europe gets for example; that no-one gets in the a leaky boat for the pleasure of it: these poor people are general fleeing from poverty, oppression, misery – why would they not seek greener pastures?; that we can easily absorb them into our community and make of them productive citizens, as has happened time and again; and that there are many more ‘western’ tourists here illegally on expired visas than ever get reach our shores as illegal immigrants. Finally, it’s time for society that these are people too, not abstract symbols as they have become. They might speak differently, look different, but they are families, parents, children, they have the same desire for a happy, safe life as we do, but their dreams are smaller because they have less. We have much to offer, much too share. Why not take in these poor people and give them the shelter and support they crave? That’s the story that should be told. A brave government might do it. This government has to begin standing for something worth believing in.

What a place we live

It was not long into the return trip home today I felt like stopping to admire the view. I was travelling along the crest of a hill on a dirt track. To my left the ground fell away. The sky was blue and the sun shone down upon a network of ravines between the hills, mysteriously shrouded by the mist that seems such a feature of this place. It feels a remote place even though it is not that distant from the city. It is rugged and beautiful and looking out upon it I thought, not for the first time, what a wonderful place we live in. IMG_0138

There are many people around the world who could doubtless say something similar about their home, the difference being that this is mine. There’s a sense of pride with this. I’m a strong Australian, I find much to grateful for and glad of in general. Still, there is a different sense to this. I’ve travelled through many different terrains in Oz, from desert to rainforest, through red dirt country where the bones of dead beasts litter the sides of dry waterholes, to alpine areas where the air has a bite to it, and the trees grow close and tall.

Perhaps it’s the same everywhere, but I always feel in the midst of all this place great mystery. There seems in some ways a knowing indifference, as if there is a consciousness that nature will outlast us. How many times have I felt a sense of wondrous awe? Many times, and it’s great to remember. It may be indifferent, but this is ours, distinct I think, and certainly unique from most of the world. It may be indifferent, but if anyone belongs it is us, and us particularly who have have come to love and respect the might of the land. The tall gums, the curling ferns, the harsh sun, the wildlife like no other place, this is ours.

We had gone for a walk late the previous afternoon down the road I had just driven, and come to an area that seemed like many others I had seen around Victoria. Here the ground had been cut away by a creek we could distantly hear, but barely see. The vegetation was thick and moist: here there was a different ecosystem from up the hill, here it was degrees cooler and in the air a sense of damp. Gun-barrel straight stringy barks grew up from the ravine reaching for the sky, the trunks of some metres and metres in diameter, majestic and quintessentially Australian. On many the bark had curled into mad and untidy scrolls that somehow clung still to the tree. Others were stripped bare, the bark providing food for the vegetation below and in the pale light looked ghostly. At the foot of the trees giant tree ferns grew amid a profusion of smaller ferns and bushes.In the still and silence a bird might be heard occasionally. By the side of the road a wombat stiff with rigor mortis lay in the channel cut by rain. We stood without saying a word, taking it in, this ‘nature’, this place, this other world that goes on regardless of what we do or strive for in the city, timeless, eternal, forever.

IMG_0141 That was in my mind as I made my journey home. I had decided to take a different route back, but already I had been forced to make a detour because of a road closure. I had the GPS and so ploughed on in the expectation that it would lead me out of trouble. The roads were quiet though. Mostly they were hard-packed mud with a bit of gravel on them. They wound between the hills, between light and shade and had I not the GPS I would have become easily lost.

As it was I wondered at times if I was not. The GPS led me down tracks that I soon turned from, unsure if my car could continue on the slippery mud earth and seemingly headed towards more remote places yet and shrouded in mist. I found myself selectively ignoring the GPS , choosing to remain on the nearest thing to a main road – a single lane road of gravel and mud. Once committed there was no point turning back.

Still it was pretty. The hills seem to go on forever. At times we would dip before climbing, the road straight for no more than a hundred metres at a time. For the most part forest grew on either side, native mostly, amid the odd pine plantation. Between a narrow track might occasionally be seen  divert into the bush, either a ‘road’ the GPs wanted me to turn in to or the driveway to a home invisible to the road, a letter box at the junction.

I drove for over 30 minutes without seeing another vehicle or person. Finally I saw a man, a farmer I presume, by the side of the road who waved at me as I passed. In time I found vehicles coming the other way, and a pensioner on a cyclist climbing the winding hill in my direction. Civilisation, I thought, must be near at hand. IMG_0143

And so it was, if paved roads and traffic can be termed civilisation. I joined in the throng, making good time on the homeward journey until 20 kilometres from home when an accident on the Monash caused a traffic jam kilometres long.

Home now, tired, well and truly overfed, somewhat bleary in total and wondering how I’m going to adjust back into real life tomorrow. Life could be harder.

Our perverse times

Well justified outrage this week after a 4 Corners report into the treatment of Australian cattle exported to Indonesia. Putting aside the irony that these cattle are heading for the cooking pot regardless, as a so-called 'civilised' nation we should demand better treatment, or refuse to do business with the Indonesians.

It's nice to see pretty much the whole country up in arms about this – no-one likes cruelty to animals – but there is a bitter irony wonderfully expressed by Tandberg in one of his cartoons during the week.


Sad. Quite happy, the rank and file, to either refuse entry to asylum seekers, lock them up, or to ship them off elsewhere, while they wring their hands over livestock exported for slaughter elsewhere. I don't mean to belittle the cause of animal rights; it just seems a tad perverse when human rights – actual people without home and generally fleeing a miserable existence – get very short thrift.

Interesting to see the Liberal immigration minister, Scott Morrison, come late to the party. Pity he has the credibilty of a snake oil salesman, and the morality. He's the sort of low-life opportunist typical of the Libs today. It's not about the refugees – he's already proved he cares nothing for them. They're a political football that he, and too many of his colleagues, like to kick around. They're not people, they're headlines. We have tabloid journalism; we also have tabloid politics.

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WC 2011

Australia national cricket team logoImage via Wikipedia

The cricket world cup begins today in India and the sub-continent. Winners of the last three competitions and with a remarkable WC winningstreak of 27 (or is it 28?) Australia go into the competition the number ranked team in the world, but aren't favourites. They may be respected still and even feared by some, but much of the shine has rubbed off after a good beating in the Ashes.

There are millions of people around the globe happy to see Australia fall from its perch. It's perfectly understandable and if I weren't an Aussie I'd probably want to be one of them. Over the last 10-12 years the Australian cricket team has won just about every major competition on offer. It's a fair call thinking it might be the turn of someone else. In relative terms I can even understand how the decline of the Australian cricketing hegemony is good for cricket; as an Australian, however, I find it hard to agree.

Though we were well beaten by the Poms in the test series I reckn we're still a strong chance to win this comp again. In characteristic style the team bounced back from that defeat to flog England 6-1 in the one day series following it. It doesn't make up for losing the Ashes, but it was still pretty impressive. There's a lot of pride in this team.

In fact I reckon it's that pride that will steer Australia a fair way through the tournament. Over the course of this contest they've been  lot of teams touted as contenders, and most have either fallen away or been bludgeoned out of the way by Australia. The stats don't lie: Australia is incredibly good at the key moments in the key tournaments. They don't blink, they just better – and they know it.

Of course Australia no longer has that plethora of great stars. I've been watching a program on the history of the World Cup. It has been great fun looking back at some of the great games and great players. Clive Lloyd for example, and Imran Khan. Then there was Wasim Akram, one of the best bowlers I've seen, and the day Pakistan beat England to the title in Melbourne in 1992. I was there.

There have been many other players, but what captured my imagination again were some of the great contests. The classics were 1999 in England when Australia down and out fought back to beat South Africa – the favourites – on the back of a Steve Waugh century to make the semi-final.

The semi-final was one of the great limited over games of all time. After posting a modest score Australia looked done for until Warne struck. The game ebbed and flowed from there until it climaxed in the most unbelievable way. How well I remember that! I lay in bed watching it on TV at about 3am with work on the next day. I couldn't turn the TV off. The last over began with South Africa needing 9 runs to win and Lance Klusener at the crease. Fleming came in to bowl the first ball and was smacked to the boundary – Klusener was a scary hitter. He bowled the second ball and Klusener did it again. With 4 balls to go the scores were tired – South Africa were a shoo-in. To the third ball Klusener miscued a drive to mid-on, and narrowly avoided a run-out. The next ball he hit hard to mid-off and ran. Donald, at the bowlers end, paused, watching the ball before running. Too late. Fleming rolled the ball down the middle of the pitch and Donald was run out. The game was over, the scores were tied – and on the strength of the previous win Australia made the final.

It's amazing to think that Australia have not lost a game in World Cup comp[etition since then. They murdered Pakistan in the fanal, as they did to India in 2003, and Sri Lanka in 2007. For every final Australia played they elevated their game to a clinical level that no-one else could match.

In 2003 in South Africa there were a few close scrapes – against England particularly, I remember – until Ponting's majestic innings in the final secured the title. In 2007 no-one came close to Australia. Never will their be a more dominant display in a tournament than that. In the final in Gilly's swansong he scored 149 to kill the contest.

Over the journey there have been all time great players – Ponting, Gilchrist, Hayden, Warne, McGrath, the Waugh brothers, Lee, Symonds, Bevan and so on. In this two tournament only two remain: Ponting and Lee.

What do I expect? Firstly that Australia will extend it's winning streak to beyond 30, never to be surpassed. I'd be disappointed to if Australia doesn't make the semi-finals at a minimum. Injuries, and perhaps interesting selections have not helped Australia, but the team remains formidable. In our way I think are India – potentially frail playing at home in front of their crowds; Sri Lanka – very talented, but possibly not quite ready; and South Africa, the antithesis of Australia in many ways. They are always contenders, but in the opposite of Australia have always choked on the big stage. It's heavy baggage, but I think they may overcome that finally. This is their time if they take it. Hopefully it is Australia again who will stop them.


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