Frank Povah – LikeTheDew.com https://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Wed, 24 Apr 2019 10:14:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.1 https://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png Frank Povah – LikeTheDew.com https://likethedew.com 32 32 A bit of a gripe from Down Under https://likethedew.com/2016/05/27/a-bit-of-a-gripe-from-down-under/ https://likethedew.com/2016/05/27/a-bit-of-a-gripe-from-down-under/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 11:38:42 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=64132
Johnny Depp in immaculately styled rugged hat

Johnny Depp has been generating a lot of free publicity back home in the US. Free for him that is – Australia is paying for it.

You might remember that in April of this year Mr Depp and his wife, Amber Heard – or is it “then wife”, I don’t really follow what passes for the lives of film and TV stars – brought their two pampered mongs, Pistol and Boo, on a little jaunt to Australia where their daddy was filming yet another blockbuster aimed at children and adults under 15. Problem was, Mr and Ms Depp didn’t bother getting the paperwork done that would allow their trend-setting ornaments to enter our country.

They might have pulled it off if their pups weren’t so desperately in need of a grooming after their gruelling flight from the USA in a private jet that they had to be innocently smuggled in a handbag to a dog beautician. And would you believe it? Some lousy Australian provincial dobbed them in.

Enter The Honourable Barnaby Joyce, MP, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. Barnaby is also leader of The Nationals, a right-wing minor party with a rural power base, though now increasingly dancing to the fiddles of mining and agribusiness interests and alienating many of the younger generation of farmers, the constituency it purports to serve.

Barnaby Joyce, MP, possibly thinking before he speaks
Barnaby Joyce, MP, possibly thinking before he speaks

The Hon. B Joyce is not stupid – despite what Mr Depp thinks – though he could be described, and not too unfairly, as about half way between oaf and buffoon on a sliding scale of such things. But he is informed, politically savvy, knows his constituents and most importantly is the Minister for Agriculture charged not only with looking after the interests of what is arguably our most important industry, but also with keeping Australia safe from many of the ills that beset agriculture in the rest of the world. Among diseases of mammals, rabies, foot and mouth disease and rinderpest are absent, while anthrax, next to foot and mouth perhaps the most feared of all, is confined to one small area and there has not been an outbreak in years. That is why we are very zealous about our quarantine laws and swift to act when they are breached.

Barnaby does suffer from frequent outbreaks of foot-in-mouth disease, being prone to opening his mouth before his brain is in gear, but in this case he meant well and acted properly, even if his tone was a little florid. He does have the power to order the destruction of animals or plants that might be harbouring exotic diseases, but in the case of the dogs Depp there would, I am sure, have been regard for the fact that as far as was known, they hadn’t been in contact with other animals, Mr Depp aside. A proper court hearing would have been held, a hefty fine imposed, a warning issued, an order to take the dogs from the country immediately, and that would have been that. Neither did the attitude of the Celebrity Depp help.

And here at last I come to the root cause of my outrage. None of this happened. Why? Because Mr Depp is a celebrity and therefore above the rules that govern the poor bastards who made him rich and famous among what appear to be hordes of barely pubescent, Hollywood gossip-website addicted children.

I am not famous and neither am I a celebrity. That is why, when I returned to Australia after five years in the US, the three cats I brought back with me – at a cost of about $18,000 – could not even be picked up from the house without paperwork allowing them to leave the USA, let alone enter Australia. When they got here, they spent three months in quarantine before I could take them to their new home. If the paperwork had not been done, they would never have left the States. If by some chance they had got to Australia without those papers, I would have faced a fine in the tens of thousands and the cats destroyed.

So how did Amber Heard – not Depp, he wasn’t charged with anything – get away with a “three-month good behavior bond”? And, like all true celebrities, when their crime was uncovered (yes, it was a crime, punishable at law) the Disdainful Duo immediately blamed an underling who they “thought had done all that stuff”.

To add arrogance to insult, the Depp/Heard combo made a clip for TV in which they “apologised” and said what a “wonderful place” Australia was. The film was dripping with sarcasm badly disguised as satire, which I doubt they understand anyway.

Ever since, poor put upon Depp has been doing the rounds of the TV channels back home, raising heaps of laughs for his cleverness and wit and his opinion of mere Deputy Prime Ministers of countries who would seek to criticise people of his elevated status.

One replay I saw last night took the cake. The host, proving that his ignorance of the wider world was equally as profound as Depp’s, raised heaps of laughs by noting that Australia’s laws are as stupid as America’s. Depp flashed his wit and scientific acumen by noting that Joyce looked like he was inbred with a tomato and he thought he would explode. Great stuff. Inbred? The result of a cross you mean? Ah, what’s the bloody use.

I hold no brief for The Hon. Barnaby Joyce, MP – in fact I hate his guts in the way that you hate a politician’s guts not really meaning him any harm, but I’d like to put y’all straight here. I don’t know if Depp occupies the same spot on the oaf/buffoon scale as Barnaby Joyce, I’ve never spoken to him, but he is a celebrity – and that’s something that if I had a daughter I wouldn’t want her to marry. He is a mug lair, with a head like a boarding-house cup of tea, i.e. big and weak.

He has insulted me. Despite my dislike of the system and the often mindless authority that greases its cogs, I’m clever enough to know there is need for some of it and so strive to do the right thing.

He has insulted one of my grandfathers – a member of Australia’s Light Horse (mounted infantry) during WWI – and his thousands of comrades-in-arms who at the end of the war had to shoot the horses that had served them so well and faithfully during those terrible years, because they couldn’t take them home and wouldn’t leave them to be starved and beaten in hawkers’ carts.

He has insulted the USA and its people by acting as though he is above Australian law, though I’d like to remind my fellow Australians that he’s probably equally as obnoxious back home.

And he has insulted my country by thinking that it is his part of his own personal fiefdom, to act in as he pleases.

But what makes me really angry is the fact that both major political parties in this country support legislation that treats refugees like criminals, condemning children, women and men to life in what are to all intents and purposes concentration camps in foreign countries. Even if they are proven to have legitimate refugee status, they will not be allowed to settle in Australia, but will be given the “opportunity” to settle in countries such as Cambodia and Papua New Guinea. Failing that, they will be returned to the hell from which they fled – a hell in large part created by military actions in the Middle East in which Australian troops were ordered by their government to participate. We deny these people, but allow the Johnny Depps of this world open access. Hope y’all gits bit by a rabid ’coon, John-boy.

A quick guide to Australia’s main political parties and the environment within which they operate

The Nationals is in reality a minor party – it gets many fewer votes than the Australian Greens – but Australia’s preferential voting system keeps it in government in coalition with the Liberal Party, whose name is increasingly an oxymoron, thanks to the influence of the flat-earthers who worship the unlamented ex-Prime Minister, Tony “Mad Monk” Abbott, a copped-one-punch-too-many amateur boxer, failed seminarian, serial groper, misogynist, xenophobe, racist, England-born all-round wanker who favours Lycra and budgie smugglers as informal wear, and reintroduced knighthoods. He only handed out three – one to the Jook-Embruh would you bloodywell believe – before the outraged howls of the vast majority seemed to herald a tar and feathering, causing him to desist. I say ex, because Tony was so hated by Australians of all stripes that the multi-millionaire, Malcolm Turnbull did a Brutus on him in September of 2015 and took over as PM.

Malcolm Turnbull was seen by many – well most – as a breath of fresh air. The Libs were elected after a few years of inner turmoil saw the governing Labor Party voted out of office. As an aside, it was a constant bombardment of vicious attacks on Australia’s first female Prime Minister orchestrated by the Mad Monk and his allies that was responsible for much of that turmoil. Parliamentary protocols were thrown aside, vile accusations and statements were made about the PM which, if she had been a private citizen, would have seen the slobs who made them in court charged with sexual harassment, libel, slander and probably a few other things beside.

So intense was the Monk’s hatred of Julia Gillard that on attaining the office of PM, he scrapped the National Broadband roll-out she had implemented and began a new one. Dubbed “fraud band”, it’s allegedly cheaper (it’s not), and better (it’s not, it’s third rate) and has seen Australia slip from among the best in the world for internet access and efficiency, to below the position the USA held when I was living there. It will not serve us in the future and will be astronomically expensive to rectify. But that doesn’t matter. Abbott got rid of a woman who had the temerity to become PM and to tear strips off him in the best anti-misogyny speech I’ve ever heard.

The Greens? If people could only stop and think, they might come to realise that the Greens are the only voice of reason left in the bleak waste that is Australia’s political landscape. Labor is as deeply in thrall to the giant corporations – miners included – as the Coalition, with the added burden of having to satisfy the trade unions, some sectors of which are as corrupt as any of their political opponents.

Murdoch’s newspapers are shrill, untruthful and downright biased in their support of the Liberal/National Coalition and denunciation of Labor and the Greens, but hate the Greens so much that they actually expressed sympathy for a Labor candidate whom they had previously portrayed in a front page cartoon as a Nazi and against who the Greens are standing. That should tell you something.

Malcolm has turned out to be a dud; “Tony Abbott in a top hat” to quote one politician. He has turned his back on the progressive policies he once espoused and has continued with Abbott’s lunacy for fear that the farther right will rise again and strip him of his position.

Australian politics is Stalinesque in its brutality and, as we the great unwashed have always known but are just being reminded of by the few journalists who have at last decided to kick over the traces, as corrupt as any in the Western World. It has been so since the days of Captain Bligh and the Rum Rebellion when those who owned the rum trade – the New South Wales Corps, the troops charged with policing and protecting – owned the colony and with impunity bought and sold officials at all levels and in all branches from the Governor on down. The owners have changed, but the methods have not.

There is one faint glow on the horizon – there is a sudden and growing rise in the number of those who believe that political donations by vested interests is corruption by another name. Bring it on.

For the non-Australian:

  • drongo is a backward person, one who never learns or tries.
  • mong cf mongrel.
  • mug lair a braggart, a show off, an obnoxious person with an over-inflated ego.
  • copped means to receive and also to accept (as in cop it sweet). Tony Abbott seems to be afflicted by symptoms of boxing-induced brain damage. He has poor coordination, walks with a gait often seen in ex-boxers, and repeats phrases in a way that suggests he has trouble in forming cohesive sentences.
  • wanker is someone addicted to masturbation. It probably stems from the Victorian belief that “self-pollution” damaged the brain.
  • budgie smugglers are skimpy swimming trunks, the Speedos worn by lifeguards and some shiny-arsed surfers. Budgies is the Australian name for budgerigar (US parakeet), our smallest native parrot. Wildlife smuggling is a big problem in Australia, our native birds and reptiles are in demand overseas and criminals use all sorts of ruses to smuggle them and their eggs out of the country. Do you get it now?
  • Jook-Embruh Queen Elizabeth’s husband. The Mad Monk truly justified his nickname when he knighted him.
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It’s hard to be an Australian right now https://likethedew.com/2014/03/04/hard-australian-right-now/ https://likethedew.com/2014/03/04/hard-australian-right-now/#comments Wed, 05 Mar 2014 02:37:35 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=54913

An open letter to my elected, so-called representatives

This present Australian Government is trotting dog-like down the path to destruction behind its conservative counterparts in the US and elsewhere, bent on transforming us into a society where the environment, the economy and the national social conscience are left to the tender mercies of the free market and corporate “self-regulation”.

Stockpiles of coal at the Hay Point coal terminal are a source of coal dust particulate pollution, Queensland, Australia. Captions and Photo source: ©© Greenpeace / Hamilton
Stockpiles of coal at the Hay Point coal terminal are a source of coal dust particulate pollution, Queensland, Australia. Captions and Photo source: ©© Greenpeace / Hamilton

Already under threat from human-induced climate change, the Great Barrier Reef now faces the added burden of an assault by coal producers. The hard won – and publicly supported – World Heritage areas of Tasmania are facing fragmentation, and for no appreciable economic benefit. In Western Australia we are witnessing the greatest act of cultural vandalism ever perpetrated by one culture against another and the eventual destruction not only of a priceless legacy of art, but of an entire archipelago. We expressed horror when the Taliban destroyed effigies of Buddha in Afghanistan but the miners and industrialists have been given carte blanche to destroy numberless ancient petroglyphs in Australia’s north-west and an archipelago that was once a coral garden and a breeding ground for whales, dugong and sea turtles.

And, as if to deliver the final blow to a people’s aspirations for the country that cradles them, in a few short months we will again have to wait while politicians, beguiled by the blandishments of financiers and industrialists, debate the future of what remains of Australia’s fisheries. The gem fish have largely gone, the orange roughy, the barracouta, the huge runs of sea mullet and blue swimmer crabs have followed them, and the men and women who fished them have faded into the masses of people displaced from occupations that once meant something to them, their boats rotted onshore, broken up for the timber or bought as collectible trophies. Now life in our deeper, offshore waters is at the mercy of self-regulating fishing vessels owned by interests whose definition of sustainability only extends to boardroom mega-bonuses and share dividends. Allowing super-trawlers to strip our waters of life and wreck the sea-floor in the process will bring very little return to Australia. Replacing fillets with fishcakes in the national diet will do nothing for the national economy and add to the country’s already declining collective health.

We need to say no to unsustainable industry, to the hedge and equity fund managers who have seized control and take back our country for its rightful owners – the ordinary people, the populi whose vox TV producers and politicians pretend to care about.

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Free speech: freedom for whom? https://likethedew.com/2013/12/31/free-speech-freedom/ https://likethedew.com/2013/12/31/free-speech-freedom/#respond Tue, 31 Dec 2013 14:04:36 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=54202 Freeing Free Speech once again set me thinking about my own attitudes to this thorny issue. It's a difficult one for me; on the one hand I’m pretty much against censorship and all for free speech, on the other I despise those who sneer at ‘political correctness’ for no other reason than that it curtails their right to be offensive to people who are different from them.]]>

three monkeys and a special one isolated on white backgroundThe thoughts so well expressed by Mike Cox in Freeing Free Speech once again set me thinking about my own attitudes to this thorny issue. It’s a difficult one for me; on the one hand I’m pretty much against censorship and all for free speech, on the other I despise those who sneer at ‘political correctness’ for no other reason than that it curtails their right to be offensive to people who are different from them.

I can see nothing offensive in nudity – male or female – and scoff at the double standards of news sites when subs (do they still have subs?) write screamers like [Insert name of celebrity] DARING TOPLESS PICS­ over photos that have black bars hiding the supposedly daring bits, but I am enraged by what amounts to the kiddy-porn that is the stock-in-trade of Toddlers and Tiaras. I support the right of people to make and buy pornographic films featuring supernaturally appendaged adults but would like to see life-sentences for those who exploit the powerless to produce it. And why in the name of Old Harry would any local or state government waste police time setting up sting operations to catch prostitutes and in the same breath resist efforts to regulate the industry? In my five years in the US I never ceased to be amazed and amused by the attitudes of the general public and the self-styled arbiters of public taste towards anything that may have been contrary to what appear to the outsider as ironclad laws of irrational national etiquette.

I’ll never forget Mike Williams on NBC warning people that a book under discussion “contained the word [Bleeeep] in the title” then showing the offending volume on camera to prove that the jacket did indeed bear the word “Hell”, but at least we hadn’t heard it from him and this dreadful breach of NBC’s standards – formulated I presumed to protect the delicate ears of a militant Christian minority – was the author’s. On PBS’s ‘Mystery Theatre’, female corpses on mortuary slabs in British detective shows had their nipples and pubic mounds blurred, but you could see their horrific wounds in HD. If that was still too offensive, why, just change the channel to watch ‘family entertainment’ featuring two-year-old girls in heavy make-up, feathers and pre-kindergarten versions of g-strings strutting and shimmying in ghastly parody of 1920s burlesque queens and presided over by a gay man who either has no conscience or is as thick as two short planks. And I’ll bet those same parents who push their baby girls on stage to strut and shake imaginary breasts no doubt gasp in horror when an artist exhibits pictures of her own naked children and want all paedophiles summarily castrated before they are executed.

One day in a supermarket, checking the price on a ‘leg’ of lamb caused me to undergo an involuntarily lapse into Australian dialect: “jesus-bloody-christ, forty bloody dollars!” (Australians pronounce that bloke’s name, and his dad’s, without capitals). A fat man in camo gear, face turning purple, turned on me and wagged a fist in my direction: “Y’all are goin’ to Hell sah. To suffah fire and damnation f’evah.” I replied that he might want to leave my vicinity in case “…the old feller’s aim with the lightning was a bit off,” then instantly regretted it as the devout gentlemen seemed about to suffer a stroke. Yet on teevee I could watch the preachers and politicians that many fat men and women who wear camo gear admire seemingly ejaculate in their designer underwear as they drooled over phrases such as ‘homoseksyooal child molesters’ and ‘godless A-rab Moozlms’.

And can you tell me why people in the US, well teevee ‘personalities’ anyway, use ‘ass’ and ‘butt’ and the even worse, ‘buns’ with gay [oops] abandon, yet rarely ‘boobs’ and never ‘tits’, and in a serious discussion about offensive language insist on alluding to the “N word”, usually with those stupid finger gestures that have replaced voice inflection? What’s worse is the opinion often expressed by people who should know better that it is all right if “they” use the “N word” to describe “themselves”. No it isn’t. No matter who utters it, nigger is horrible and is offensive – at least used in the way it is today – but if you want to dissuade people from such vile name calling, then coy euphemisms aren’t really going to help. And used like that, “they” is damn near as fraught with offensiveness as “N word”. Let’s call a spade a spade, but of course I won’t – or shouldn’t – in this context because I’m intelligent enough to know that there are people without my vocabulary or ability to read or interpret who might be offended by it and others who will think it funny and still others who would deliberately use that time-honored saw precisely because they know it will offend just about everybody, allowing them to shed crocodile tears over political correctness and its interference with their the right to free speech.

Sadly, Australia is once again following the Confused Right of US politics. Our new conservative government is led by Tony Abbott (yes, that’s his name), a Lycra-wearing, Catholic, ex-seminarian xenophobe who seems to have problems relating to women in anything other than a subservient role. It replaces one which, when led by a woman, was ranked fifth in the world by Forbes, apparently so deeply affecting the Mad Monk that he has appointed just one woman to his cabinet, as Foreign Minister, and she a simpering sycophant who has now been the token Exhibit A female in two conservative governments. Her name? Julie Bishop. It doesn’t get much better than that, now does it? The Abbott also recently appointed to his Priory of Fools a commissioner of human rights who has vowed to replace political correctness with the right to free speech, i.e. the right to belittle anyone not a member of the privileged, white, anglophile elite. His argument – and presumably his boss’s – is that public opprobrium will be a greater deterrent to racially offensive and inflammatory language than any legislation could be. Yeh? Pull the other leg, mate, it plays In the Sweet By and By.

Among the strongest ramparts against xenophobia, racism and countless other isms are a broad-based education, a broad mind and a well-worn passport. I was absolutely stunned by an audience’s collective gasp when as part of a public performance in Western Australia I told a Kentucky joke about ’coon hunters. Coon is a derogatory Australian word for an Aboriginal but the audience should have been sophisticated enough to have known that it has other meanings elsewhere. Not one of them would have thought twice about telling someone they had a caught a wog when referring to a cold, but would never in a million years use the same word to describe an immigrant from the Mediterranean. It seems that education is now so narrowly industry-focused that general knowledge is becoming a thing of the past, deemed unnecessary by the Lords of Finance and Industry. It is apparently deemed simpler to edit offensive words from Mark Twain novels than educate people about the era in which the books were written.

When we are told that a group of ignorant, bigoted, bible-thumping homophobes are allowed to obtain perverted sexual gratification by intruding on the grief of mourners and expressing joy at the death of their loved ones by exercising their rights to free speech, then perhaps the concept needs redefining. When the pursuit of happiness impinges on the rights of our fellow citizens to go about their lives in peace, then maybe we’re getting too much of a good thing.

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The Povah award for World Citizen of the Year https://likethedew.com/2013/08/01/the-povah-award-for-world-citizen-of-the-year/ https://likethedew.com/2013/08/01/the-povah-award-for-world-citizen-of-the-year/#comments Thu, 01 Aug 2013 17:18:10 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=52765

Until we get the clearance for the cats to fly into quarantine in Australia, we can’t book our own flight and things are just going wrong. The vet this end made a mistake in her paperwork; the transport company in Australia didn’t query quarantine staff about delays till 20-something days after the usual time for processing had elapsed, then, to top it off, the container holding our chattels was pulled by customs in LA for a random inspection – unprecedented in her 40 years in the game, according to the agent handling our stuff.

President George W. Bush examines the details of a Yirrkala Bark Painting during a tour on September 6, 2007, of the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney. Wikipedia commons/USWhite House sources.
President George W. Bush examines the details of a Yirrkala Bark Painting during a tour on September 6, 2007, of the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.

Is this what I get for airing what I think needs improvement in the US of A? Did NSA read my last post for Like The Dew? Probably not. Did I take the god of America’s name in vain just one time too many? I doubt it, I’ve been very circumspect during my time here and wouldn’t have let a “jesus” slip more than 30 or 40 times. However, if said god can let me know I have offend-ed hym, then I’ll do something about it. I won’t take it back, but I’ll apologize – what’s sufficeth for Weiner and his ilk surely sufficeth for me.

There’s that bloody Celtic thing again – can’t just come straight out and get to the point. So here I am killing time, trying to avoid ——’s compulsive organizational frenzy – the suitcases have been packed for three weeks – and wondering why the world has gone mad.

To dispel the gloom, allow me to introduce you to Jeffrey Lee.

Mr Lee is an elder of the Djok, the clan whose land, Koongarra, was given to them in the Dreaming and is therefore held by the people in sacred trust. Jeffrey is its senior custodian, keeping strong and alive the rituals and ceremony needed to ensure its well-being until the end of time beyond time as it turns within the great cycle of its Dreaming. However, Koongarra is close by the world-renowned Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory, a region rich in the uranium so coveted by the modern world that governments often turn a blind eye to the methods mining companies will employ to gain rights over it.

For twenty-odd years Jeffrey Lee has been fighting to have Koongarra – with its precious burial sites and priceless rock art, and home to his people for tens upon tens of thousands of years – listed with other sites of World Heritage import, and in February this year he succeeded. Sacred Koongarra is now part of Kakadu in the white man’s eyes. To Jeffrey, of course it always was.

This little story would be to most of us remarkable enough, but to put it in terms that the bankers and economists of this world would understand, I’ll add just a little more. A mining company offered Jeffrey, and by extension the Djok, five billion Australian dollars – that’s A$5,000,000,000 – for the land those Dreamtime ancestors bequeathed them. Jeffrey refused it. To paraphrase this wonderful man: Money, he comes and he goes. You can always replace money but you can’t replace your land.

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Farewell https://likethedew.com/2013/07/15/farewell/ https://likethedew.com/2013/07/15/farewell/#comments Mon, 15 Jul 2013 18:51:04 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=52398 Like The Dew is always a great read and just as I’ve enjoyed contributing, I’ve enjoyed the many and varied passions of its contributors. But these past few months I seem to have been visited by that come-and-go ennui that seems from time to time to plague anyone involved in creative pursuits, but the packers have been and gone and with them the mood that has prevailed over the past few months.]]>

Warning: This article is not only long and possibly tedious, it contains many isms that are part of everyday speech in Australia but frowned upon elsewhere, particularly in the United States. If you are easily shocked, read no further.

Foreign commentators are often shocked when they hear Australians “call their best friend a bastard and pronounce Jesus Christ without capital letters,” and I suppose that might be seen as terrible in some quarters, but it’s the way we speak. An accident victim might be referred to as a poor bastard, while a villain is described as a snide bastard and someone beneath contempt is a lousy bastard. On the other hand a best friend may have put one over on his boss and be admiringly called a crafty bastard. It’s all in inflection and context.

A few colloquialisms may need explaining: Golden Syrup and its darker, heavier cousin, Treacle, are forms of liquid cane sugar, lighter than molasses. A Cocky was once a struggling small farmer, but has since come to mean any farmer other than a grazier, or pastoralist, the terms for owners or managers of the vast outback grazing properties. Golden Syrup was used by many poor people as a cheap alternative to sugar, hence Cocky’s Joy. Of course the Yanks – a collective term for all US Americans – were probably pouring maple syrup over their pancakes, but that didn’t matter, it was foreign and horrible.

PBI was the “poor bloody infantry,” and the pay and food enjoyed by their US equivalent were the cause of much envy among the Australians, and not a little jealousy, truth be told.

It seems donkey’s years since I’ve put finger to keyboard to contribute, and I don’t really know why. Like The Dew is always a great read and just as I’ve enjoyed contributing, I’ve enjoyed the many and varied passions of its contributors. But these past few months I seem to have been visited by that come-and-go ennui that seems from time to time to plague anyone involved in creative pursuits, but the packers have been and gone and with them the mood that has prevailed over the past few months.

The packers? Yep, in three weeks or so we’ll be stepping onto the tarmac at Hobart International Airport and walking the 50 yards to the terminal building to wait for the baggage cart to drive into the passenger lounge where Quarantine Beagle will give it the once over before we can grab our gear off the trailer. In other words, I’m going home – not to the state in which I was born, but to the island state I love equally as much.

It’s not without great sadness that I’m leaving. I’ve enjoyed my time here in Kentucky and forged many friendships that I know will stand the test of time – or what’s left to me of it anyway. I think I’m finally admitting to myself that I’m getting older, though a lot of what remains of my brain may still be stuck somewhere between 1960 and 1980. I also feel that I’ve got to know many of you out there; though we’ve never met, you’ve said some nice things about me from time to time.

I’m going to miss the great jam sessions I’ve had close to the source of the music I so much love: the mountain ballits and dance-tunes, and the blues and jug band music that once flourished in the south, all of which appeal to the brooding Celtic genes my forebears passed on to me. I came with eight guitars, an autoharp, two ukuleles, a set of small pipes and a piano accordion; I’m returning with three of the guitars, the ukes, the accordion, the small pipes and autoharp, and a custom-made mountain dulcimer and an open-back banjo bought two months ago and on which I may one day be competent. You’ve got no idea what it feels like for me to put that banjo in sawmill tuning and play Pretty Polly close to the hills that for a century more kept it from escaping back to the wider world from whence it came.

And I’ll be able to boast that I met an old feller named Deward who was once in demand to play fiddle for dances, and how we sat on his porch fronting a narrow road hidden in the woods and I accompanied him with guitar and voice while he played Leather Britches and Handsome Molly on a fiddle whose friction tuning pegs had been replaced with ones made for a guitar because Deward had a “tetch of the roomatics” in his fingers. He would say: “Thisun’s a hay chord,” and he’d start in on her and I’d pick her up and he’d yell, “You got ’er there boy, you got ’er,” and away we’d go, buckin’ and skippin’ over the hills and far away into that bright, gravity-free nirvana that musicians sometimes reach. We’d play Oh the Dreadful Wind and Rain to summon the shades of Celts long dead and then he’d change the mood, the battered old fiddle calling on Old Jimmy Sutton to dance for us, hearing him in our souls as he flat-footed on the ancient boards of the porch.

Always be remembered will be the family gathering I attended up in the mountains. Asked to sing a song I played Crow Black Chicken and was at first taken aback at the shocked faces, relaxing when the expressions changed to ones of delight as some of the guests began dancing.

I’ll also miss the green moistness of Kentucky, especially when I’m back to nursing a vegie garden through yet another Australian dry spell, but I won’t miss the frost and snow, nor the guilt I feel every time I mutter, “All right Hughie, that’ll do for a bit” when the rain gauge is full yet again. I’d better explain that last bit. Hughie is the bloke who sends Australia rain and hail and makes his presence felt in violent thunderstorms. From an early age I was taught never to wish the rain to stop because it just might, and you never know how long it’ll be before it starts again.

I’ll look back with fondness on the polite way my stories about life in Australia were received. Even though I know a lot of what I said was taken with a grain of salt, people still listened – they were after all the ones who asked the questions. But after nearly five years here, the disbelief is understandable.  The other day I told a Good Ol’ Boy that his Chevy Silverado would cost him just shy of $126,000 in Australia, and that the repayments on the nifty little V-Dub van I drove back home were nearly twice as much as what I’d pay on a Cadillac here. He shook his head and said, “Lawda mercy,” but I could tell what he really meant: “Pull the other leg, it plays Jingle Bells.

The talented surgeons who undoubtedly saved my life will always have my gratitude, for not only did they save me, they were incredibly kind to my wife through a very trying few days. I know that if I had died there would have been no meaningless platitudes but genuine sympathy and that’s comforting. If ever you badly need a heart surgeon you could do a lot worse than Dr Hamid Mohammed-Zadeh

Oh, there’s lots of nice stuff I’ll miss, but there’s also lots of stuff I’ll be shaking my head over for years. When you’re a foreigner living in country that apparently is only second-rate or at least not the best on earth, you know that the USA Hollywood and Teeveeland like to show you isn’t true. I mean, fair crack of the whip, cobber, I’m not as green as I am cabbage-lookin’. Not everyone lives with five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a swimming pool, two cars, perpetually clean shirts and permanently fixed-in-place hair, but movies and teevee have been telling you most of your life that it’s the land of golden opportunity where anyone can become president and there seemed a ring of truth to that.

You grew up listening to your Dad and his mates, whose first experiences of “The Yanks” were during World War II. They told you how shocked they were when they saw what the GIs ate for breakfast: “Bloody Golden Syrup on their bloody bacon for chrissake!” The fact that a country could be so generous as to feed its PBI bacon was astounding enough, but to see those same footsloggers pour what the Diggers at first thought was Cocky’s Joy over it, well jesus, mate, strike me bloody pink, you just wouldn’t credit it, would yer? Then in the next breath you’d detect thinly disguised awe as your Old Man – who had done his four-and-a-half years in the Forward Field Workshops in the Mediterranean, Africa and the Solomons – describe how if the “…Yanks’d want an airstrip, they’d throw everybloodything at ’er. Our mob’d still be workin’ out if the requisition forms should be in triple- or duplibloodycate and the Yanks’d have bombers landin’ on theirs. Fair dinkum. Couldn’t beat the bastards at that game.” Then the mood would darken. “Their officers did the same thing with their bloody men. Threw ’em at the Japs like there was no bloody termorrer. Bastards. Like the Poms did to our blokes in the first big stoush. Lousy bastards.”

So when you get here you know it’s not going to be like Hollywood or Disneyland, but everything you’ve ever read or heard hasn’t prepared you for the reality that is the USA, the Great Idea, in the 21st century.

It’s the apparent opulence that hits you first, the abundance of everything that makes you want to rush around and buy up the world: autos, tools, clothes, giant meals; all ridiculously cheap and easy to buy on tick at rates so low it’s hard to believe. After a while you begin to slow down to your usual pace and look around a bit more. As you move around in your day-to-day life, the varnish begins to crack a bit, peeling off here and there as the poverty becomes a little more evident. You begin to see the families and older, single people living in decaying trailers stuck on tiny lots right on the road verges in rural areas so beautiful they’d break your heart. You see the evidence of poverty – and its handmaiden ignorance for lack of education – everywhere in the supermarkets where food and drink that’ll poison you is less than half the price of fruits and vegetables shipped in from all over the US, Mexico and China. Not that a lot of this food’s much chop, picked so green that it’ll rot before it ripens, denying many of its benefits. (Sadly, this result of factory farming is becoming increasingly common in Australia. A couple of generations have now grown up without ever having tasted ripe fruit.)

After a while you begin to pick up on the “National Mood” – a generalization to be sure, but palpable nevertheless. The contempt in which the poor are held still shocks me – as does the national attitude to welfare and anything else that might suggest a social conscience, the latter seemingly confused with socialism à la the Nazis. On the national news, I may have heard Native Americans mentioned maybe twice in the almost five years I’ve been here and I’ve heard and seen coverage of heaps of protests about the war on coal, but none at all on the social plight of families in Appalachian coal counties. When the mountain folk are mentioned, it’s usually to reinforce the stereotype of shack-dwelling, drug-crazed, incestuous, gap-toothed, banjer-playin’ dumb yokels but nary a word about why their society is in crisis and why it is that the coal counties of Kentucky and West Virginia, producing a commodity allegedly “vital to the national economy” are among the nation’s poorest. As long as I live I’ll not forget a local teevee channel’s 6pm bulletin. The bright young thing opened with: “Three coalminers have been killed in a mine accident in Eastern Kentucky and we’ll return to that soon, but first our Big Story…” then proceeded to rabbit on about the latest doings of the UK Wildcats basketball team.

It’s also hard to believe that anybody with most of their screws reasonably tight would vote for politicians who claim to believe a god created the world and that this should be presented to students as an alternative to evolution. That journalists would treat such people as credible candidates for any office – let alone the presidency – and devote hours of space and time to them hardly bears thinking about.

And I’ll be glad to have my freedom back. Living under a Constitution that insists on a citizen’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of and from religion gets a bit harrowing at times. The number of times I have been chastised in supermarkets for forgetting where I was and slipping into Australian dialect have not been all that many, but they have been unsettling. Sometimes, when looking at prices, an Australian jumps into my mouth and I’ll let slip with “jesus bloody christ” or something like that. One bloke demanded – demanded – of me that: “You fall upon your knees sir, and ask the good lord to forgive you before you are struck dead.” When I told him he’d better rack off out of it if he wanted to avoid the heavenly bolt himself, I thought he was going to call the cops. I once asked a political canvasser if he was aware that the god-bothering bastard he represented was concerned about freedom from union interference but apparently didn’t care about the Peabody rip-off of miners’ pension funds. He told me I was going straight to hell, which to me is a good thing if heaven is populated by his candidate’s ilk. Mention taxpayer-funded universal health care, compulsory wearing of helmets when riding a motorbike or pushbike and a near-total ban on private ownership of handguns, and the response is nearly as bad.

Another great puzzle to me has been the attitude to sex – or anything that suggests it – and anything viewed as profanity. Who sets the standard? I once saw, with my own eyes, on ABC’s 6.30 news, Brian Williams apologize because “children might be watching” and he was about to mention a book title containing the word hell. PBS is currently airing an English police drama that is sometimes, to my mind, a little too gratuitous with the gore. But that’s seems not to disturb whoever’s job it is to worry about such things. Instead, English vernacular as mild as “tosser” and “arse” are bleeped out and bare breasts and bums are a definite nay sir – even dead ones on a morgue slab are blurred out. Look at the “news” clips on even the upmarket sites purveying news. ———‘s [insert name here] topless bikini too raunchy for San Tropez (pictures). No blurring here, just a big black bar straight out of the 1940s. On the other hand, we can turn to cable teevee and watch 4 year olds dressed and acting like, at best, ghastly parodies of Las Vegas showgirls or, at worst, $20 bagswingers moonlighting as 1930s burlesque queens.

Lest I be thought churlish, I am painfully aware that I am returning to a country almost totally in the clutches of the mining industry. Not long ago, the presently governing Labor Party had a rush of blood to its collective head and appointed as Prime Minister someone who should have been held up as an example to the world – the child of working-class Welsh immigrants, irreligious, intelligent, in a caring relationship though unmarried and a woman. Instead she was held up to the same sort of insults, scrutiny and opprobrium that have plagued President Obama and for similar reasons. She wasn’t the status quo and she wanted to change things and industry and the establishment weren’t happy with that.

Despite the fact that Australia is getting ahead of it’s green energy targets, that it has a national debt less than 25 per cent of GDP, that it has experienced 21 straight years of economic growth despite the horrors of universal health care, subsidized education and a reasonable pension in old age, despite all this she was sacked and replaced by the man she herself replaced, a wishy washy Christian who backed down on the carbon tax that will now probably be repealed and who suggested, but lacked the guts to push through the nationwide fibre-optic roll-out that Ms Gillard got going.

It is possible that the Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – laughingly calling itself the Liberal Party and led by Tony “The Mad Monk” Abbott, a charismatic Catholic – may win the imminent election, so in anticipation it has been in talks with Rupert Murdoch to discuss the introduction of policies that have proved popular in the US, e.g. allowing corporations to make covert donations to political parties, changing media ownership laws thus allowing mining magnates to own a greater share of the press, teevee and radio and presumably allowing Rupe to at last accomplish what he has always wanted to do – own a larger share of Australia’s media, previously forbidden him by law and so motivating him to take up residence in the  USA and Britain, the consequences of which are painfully evident – and other progressive measures.

I know all this and it saddens me that it’s what I’m going back to, but it’s my country and my fight. I’ll be able to write angry letters to the editor based on my experience of life in the USA and getting up the ratbag politicians for wanting to go the same way. When at political rallies someone claims that corporations have the same rights as individuals, I’ll be able to yell “If America’s so bloody good, why don’t you go and live there?” and have the moral authority to do so.

800px-Gulgong
Main St, Gulgong, New South Wales (Conollyb at en.wikipedia)

In New South Wales, near the little farm I once lived on, is a well-preserved and vibrant 19th century gold-rush town named Gulgong, site of the last of “the poor man’s rushes”. It was my watering hole in the days when I drank and I used to sing every year at its Folk Festival. My dear, dear, entertainingly alcoholic friend, the late Jules Sackville lived there and I followed the horse and dray that bore him up Mayne Street to the cemetery where, at his request, I sang Go To Sleep You Weary Hobo” over his grave.

Gulgong’s facades and most of its buildings have been preserved as National Heritage and among them are two of my favourite things, two wooden facades fronting stores built in the 19th century. One bears the legend “The Wonder of the World” and close by is the “American Emporium”. Whenever I looked at them, for some reason I thought of John Steinbeck and America. To me, John Steinbeck was America and America was the Wonder of the World, the Noble Experiment, the Great Idea, democracy uninhibited by monarchy and class. Where is the America of my imagination? As an Australian I feel crushed by the dead weight of the religious bigotry and money-based caste system that are holding this country back. You, my dear American friends, may not be able to feel it, but as an Australian born and bred I do, and it scares me.

I was once a fervent anti-monarchist and hoped to see the Old Brown Land at last truly free of the English in my lifetime. Australia’s parliamentary system is a mix of both England’s and the USA’s and now I’m not sure if it doesn’t work better than both of those from which it drew.

I hope that this is only temporary, a blip in the continuum, and that soon the people will rise-up to reclaim their heritage, to stage another revolution, though bloodless this time, to reiterate what the first one sought: equality for all.  Even better, perhaps my inborn Celtic love of sweeping, embroidered oratory has so clouded my thinking that all this is mere imagination, the hoop-de-doodle so frowned upon in the Palace Flop-House and Grill. I hope so, I truly hope so, because there is so much about this country and its people that I love. So, if you’ll allow me, when I’m not busy fighting to change Australia’s stupid bloody flag or railing at some other insult to the country that bore me, I’d like to drop you all the occasional line.

Farewell, my friends, and a thousand thank yous for making me feel so welcome.

 

 

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America has the best (fill in the blank) in the world https://likethedew.com/2012/10/24/america-has-the-best-fill-in-the-blank-in-the-world/ https://likethedew.com/2012/10/24/america-has-the-best-fill-in-the-blank-in-the-world/#comments Wed, 24 Oct 2012 12:54:03 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=43190

Boy, will I be happy when this election is over at last – though I use “happy” with qualifications. If Romney manages to crack it, I’ll be decidedly unhappy, if Obama wins I’ll be relieved more than joyful. Unless of course he at long last begins to assert himself and force the neo-reicht into revealing what they actually are: fascists in Christian hedge fund manager’s clothing, though that’s possibly a tautology.

To touch briefly on Monday night’s debate, I have to admire Governor Romney. His ability to stand in front of a nation and keep a straight face while contradicting just about every statement he has ever made is just awesome –Mitt the Oxymormon. But he wasn’t lying, one of the commentators on msnbc told us he was merely exercising flexibility. It put me in mind of a former Prime Minister of Australia and admirer of George W Bush, John “Bonsai” Howard who, when it was pointed out that he’d broken more than 100 election “guarantees”, said that they were “non-core promises.”

You may, or may not be interested to know that two opinion polls recently held in Australia revealed that an overwhelming majority prefer President Obama over Romney. Each survey polled 1,000 people and the results in the President’s favour were 72 per cent and 80 per cent. Lest that that seem meaningless, let me say that US trade and foreign policies have a profound effect on Australia, though you never hear about that here, of course.

President Obama could also do worse than have a decko at a recent speech by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in which she attacked the Leader of the Opposition, Tony “The Mad Monk” Abbott, for his sexist attitudes and the misogynistic view held by many members of his party. The Prime Minister held the Parliamentary floor for more than 15 minutes in response to Abbott’s attacks on her links to the Speaker of the House who has been forced to resign over extremely sexist text messages. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say the PM did indeed back the former Speaker’s appointment but The Mad Monk is a close personal friend of that now ostracized individual. I’m told by friends back home that the video has gone viral.

How did I get here? What I started out to say was that when this election is at last behind us – I don’t want to think about the aftermath – perhaps I’ll hear less of: “America has the best health-care system in the world.” I’m sorry, but it’s just not true. I owe my life to US medical technology – probably the world’s most advanced – but the system that delivers it – or doesn’t, as the case may be – lags a long way behind that of most developed nations.

I am bringing this up because I’m pissed off about a recently received summary of the latest round of services for which my insurance provider had relieved me of the need to pay, a service delivered on October 1, 2012. Great, except I haven’t seen a doctor at any time this month. So to save myself a long wait on the phone – and the accompanying blandishments – I decided to register on the website and deal with the enquiry that way. I’m pretty confident on a computer, I have to be, but I couldn’t enter my chosen password. The drop down gave me a list of about eight forbidden characters, so I hadn’t used them, the sidebar told me that I should use a mix of characters, numbers and symbols and I had followed its instructions to the letter (sorry), but no joy. A phone call to the help desk informed me I couldn’t use symbols. So much for the website. When I did finally log on, the page I needed was “unavailable at this time.”

Back to the telephone, where I was told the matter of the latest summary would be “looked in to.” In frustration, I called the office of the alleged service provider. The young woman on the other end of the phone assured me that I had indeed seen the doctor on that date but I pointed out that that was impossible and why. She got quite shirty and told me that the good doctor had indeed seen me on October 1 at the hospital. On the verge of dummy spit* I retorted that I hadn’t been at that hospital in 12 months and asked was he just getting around to sending out his bills. She looked again: “Oh, it should be 2011 and we have already been paid for that. I’ll pass that on to the lady who deals with things like this.”

We’ve been confronted with evidence of what appear to be at best billing errors ever since my brush with the ugly old bastard with the fern hook. One was a large charge for emergency room services which I just did not receive. I went straight from the operating theatre at one hospital to the operating theatre in another (well almost straight, they had to keep me on hold at the local hospital for the best part of a day until a team was available at the hospital in the big city). Others were for doctors who neither my wife – who, for the time I was off with the Old Ones in the Milky Way was constantly at my side – nor I recollect seeing, but it was the emergency room charges that got to us and a couple of other apparent double dips.

We called Medicare, the hospital and the insurance company but the end result was nothing. Medicare and the insurance company intimated that there wasn’t much they could do and the hospital…well there’s a lot I could say about the hospital but perhaps I’ll leave that for another time.

*In Australian English a dummy is what you call a pacifier. To “spit the dummy” is to throw a tantrum or erupt in outrage. It is akin to “coming down off the ladder” or “getting off your bike” but not quite as subtle as “chucking a deepy.” Oh, to chuck is to throw but not to chuck up. The latter is to spew, call for Bert, chunder, or have a technicolor yawn.

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Australia: the good and the bloody outrageous https://likethedew.com/2012/09/30/australia-the-good-and-the-bloody-outrageous/ https://likethedew.com/2012/09/30/australia-the-good-and-the-bloody-outrageous/#comments Sun, 30 Sep 2012 14:04:12 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=42437 I’m going to tell you a little bit more about Australia and its peoples – good and bad – but first, as promised earlier, I want to list a few of the things that have been accomplished under the leadership of the much-maligned Julia Gillard. As I wrote last time, Ms Gillard is ridiculed in many quarters and from what I can see it’s simply because she doesn’t fit the mould, but under her gritty leadership the Labor government is now forging ahead with projects that her predecessors lacked the guts or vision, or both, to push through; notably:

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I’m going to tell you a little bit more about Australia and its peoples – good and bad – but first, as promised earlier, I want to list a few of the things that have been accomplished under the leadership of the much-maligned Julia Gillard. As I wrote last time, Ms Gillard is ridiculed in many quarters and from what I can see it’s simply because she doesn’t fit the mould, but under her gritty leadership the Labor government is now forging ahead with projects that her predecessors lacked the guts or vision, or both, to push through; notably:

  • From July this year, major industrial emitters of CO2 have paid a tax of $A23 per tonne. Revenue raised will be used to reduce income tax and increase pensions and welfare payments to cover expected price increases, and to pay compensation to some affected industries. The fixed price is set to rise by 2.5% a year, until the switch to an emissions trading scheme in 2015–16 when “pollution permits” will be limited in line with a pollution cap.
  • The beginning of the National Broadband Scheme entailing the roll-out of fibre-optic cable where feasible and the launch of 2 Ka-Band communications satellites to cover the whole continent – the earth’s most sparsely populated – with two very close orbital slots so that users can change satellites without moving their receivers.
  • Investment in sustainable electricity generation of over $A5b. 2,500 schools have so far been fitted with solar panels and eligible householders have received help to install 100,000 solar panels and 170,000 solar hot water systems. One state, South Australia, has already reached the national target of 20 per cent renewables and last year, with a generation surplus of 25 per cent, exported green power to its neighbour, Victoria.

These are the ones that get the most coverage (and cop the most flak), but there are thousands of others underway: major investment in water recycling and harvesting including capturing stormwater run-off in major cities and towns; income tax allowances of up to 50 per cent on the purchase of laptops, text books, etc. for each child and the provision of 300,000 new computers in schools; tax rates down by between 26 and 8 per cent for low and higher income earners respectively; and the creation of 711,000 skills-training places. The number of national infrastructure projects completed or underway is about 44,000.

Not bad for a government led by a barren, female sinner for whom, according to one teevee pundit, every day is a bad-hair day.

Of course a lot of this has been made possible by a mining boom that has lasted for more than a generation now, a boom that has many critics, including me. Despite the great short-term benefits that are accruing, I fear that future generations will be paying the price for as long as the human race lasts upon the face of the earth – and that probably won’t be all that long. Without some radical changes in attitude and thinking, I give society as we know it about two generations – maybe three. The human race may last a century or so longer without these changes.

Petroglyphs from Save Dampier rock art
Ancient petroglyphs at Murujuga (From: Save Dampier rock art)

The mining boom, ah the mining boom. To finish this instalment I’d like to tell you about the greatest act of vandalism ever committed by anyone, anywhere – bar none. You’ve probably never heard of the Burrup Peninsula – or to give it its proper name, Murujuga – and probably never will unless it makes the US news because of some catastrophic accident at the giant petro-chemical plants that will be built there.

Once an island, Murujuga juts out into the Dampier Archipelago from the West Australian coast a bit over 1,000 miles north of Perth, the State Capital, as the crow flies. In the eyes of the first Europeans to see it, it was a harsh, forbidding wilderness, rocky, arid and with little redeeming value. One of the island groups in the archipelago, Monte Bello, was once used for nuclear tests. As an indication of the first whites’ feelings for the region, Murujuga’s southern neighbour, North West Cape, was known colloquially as Madman’s Corner.

So what’s so special about this place? Well it’s not the vast deposits of natural gas, nor is it its suitability as a port for iron-ore shipments – not to my eyes anyway. Its beauty and value lies in the legacy created by the hundreds upon hundreds of generations of Aboriginal people for whom this place is an embodiment of the Dreaming, of the Earth; of the Spirit made tangible.

Murujuga has been described by Australia’s National trust as “one of the world’s pre-eminent sites of recorded human evolution and a prehistoric university” and is a record of the spiritual and temporal life of the area’s indigenous inhabitants from more than 10,000 years ago – probably much more – to the recent past. It is the repository for the greatest assemblage of petroglyphs ever created; perhaps one million works, including the earliest known depictions of the human face and depictions of animals extinct on mainland Australia for millennia. And it may disappear in just a few years of this century.

Since the 1960s, indifference, bigotry, ignorance and collusion on the part of successive state governments has seen the destruction or disruption of a little under 25 per cent of the site. In more recent times, while the state government was “assessing” the impact of petro-chemical plants, developers happily put the bulldozer through 100 acres or so of the “rocks”. The less that’s left, the easier to denigrate the site and what the dozers leave, the acidic pollution from the petrochemical plants will finish off.

Despite the pleas, Murujuga remains on the World Monument Fund’s list of the 100 most endangered places on earth and while the Federal government pays lip service to its importance, successive State governments remain callously indifferent. In my personal opinion, Murujuga should be defended by the United Nations and Australia and the companies involved should be made to defend themselves before an international court.

So there you have instalment two – the good and the bloody outrageous. As I have written previously, Australia is a land of paradoxes.

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A not so brief introduction to Australia https://likethedew.com/2012/09/20/a-not-so-brief-introduction-to-australia/ https://likethedew.com/2012/09/20/a-not-so-brief-introduction-to-australia/#comments Thu, 20 Sep 2012 15:01:54 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=42309 You can blame Tom Ferguson for this one – in a response to my take on the Democratic Convention, he asked if I might consider giving a run-down on events in Australia, the land that shaped and nurtured me from the time of my conception. It’s probably not a bad idea, Australia is a mystery to most Americans – it still mystifies me sometimes – so I’ll give it a burl and see if I can’t occasionally give you the oil on what goes on in the Old Brown Land, politically, socially and culturally.

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You can blame Tom Ferguson for this one – in a response to my take on the Democratic Convention, he asked if I might consider giving a run-down on events in Australia, the land that shaped and nurtured me from the time of my conception. It’s probably not a bad idea, Australia is a mystery to most Americans – it still mystifies me sometimes – so I’ll give it a burl and see if I can’t occasionally give you the oil on what goes on in the Old Brown Land, politically, socially and culturally. For this, the first of what, if interest warrants, will be an occasional series, I should give you a rough guide to Australia’s political system and its current Prime Minister.

First, though, I’d better slip in a bit of a disclaimer. Australia has changed since I was born, mostly, but not entirely, for the better. Cultural and social changes have been accompanied by changes in attitude; a gradual shift away from the old-style Australian-ness. However, many Australians of my age and background retain the mores of past generations and I am no exception. Shaped by the stories and experiences of my forebears, I grew up as Australia’s isolation from the rest of the world was coming to an end but was fortunate enough to have spent my formative years free of the influence of teevee. So if you can take the word of a bloke from a nomadic, working-class family of very limited means who grew up at a time when Australia was on the verge of great changes, then read on. If not, no sweat – she’ll be apples.

Australia is a country of paradoxes. The first Europeans to settle there were horrified by what they found. In their letters home and in their diaries, they said it was a land created by Satan, full of bizarre creatures and trees that shed their bark and not their leaves and which, when under stress from drought, had a disturbing habit of dropping giant limbs on unsuspecting Christian English gentlemen. Not only that, the seasons were back to front, it was either downpour or drought, the soils were thin and poor, many of the major rivers ran inland and it was inhabited (unofficially, but more of that later) by people who, according to James Cook, were bereft of any property or goods yet seemed not to want any and appeared perfectly happy to be that way. Of course it was only the officials who kept diaries: soldiers, public servants and the Governor himself. Those in their charge, the majority of the first settlers, were prisoners fresh from the prison hulks and gaols of London, limited in both ability and opportunity to write. This formed the soil in which the first seedlings of a national character took root.

There I go, widdershins again, but it might go some way to explaining why Australia and Australians are the way they are. Back to the government.

My homeland was first settled some 60–70,000 years ago, give or take a few thou here and there, by what are thought to be the first people to leave Africa. Under the English it evolved as a collection of  colonies, each under the control of a governor appointed by the Crown (the English Parliament and the ruling monarch) and by custom a member of the Peerage. In 1901, after a long political battle, it became a Federation of states and territories. Until 1927, when Parliament House in the specially created Australian Capital Territory was opened, the Federal Parliament sat in a borrowed building in Melbourne. Officially, Australia is said to be the world’s 6th oldest democracy, but that is not quite true; it has always been a benign monarchy and Aboriginal people were not counted citizens until the 1960s.

The head of state is the reigning English monarch, represented in Australia by the Governor-General (and in each State by a governor) who is appointed by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day. Parliament is bicameral, combining elements of the English Westminster system with the federalist senate of the US congress. The Prime Minister (Premier in the states) is appointed by the party in government and not by popular vote. Voting in federal elections is by the preferential method, by which candidates are voted for in order of preference. This can give rise to a lot of “donkey (informal) votes” and because it can, among other things, lead to the election of candidates from minority parties is often reckoned a Bad Thing by the losers in an election. At present the major players in Federal elections are the Australian Labor Party (ALP), the Liberal Party and the National Party, these last two have been in coalition since 1944 which, thanks to preferential voting, has often given government to the conservative Liberal Party (Libs). The Greens are increasingly a force in Australian politics and influence elections at both state and federal levels. Australia-wide they hold 34 seats. The next minority in rank, the ultra-conservative, xenophobic Katter’s Australian Party, holds three.

Australia’s is currently governed by the Labor Party with Julia Gillard as Prime Minister. Born of working class parents in Wales in 1961, Ms Gillard emigrated with her family to Australia in 1966. She was appointed Prime Minister in 2010 after Kevin Rudd stood aside and in elections that year she led the first minority government since 1940.

Julia Gillard has no children, is unmarried, lives with her partner Tim Mathieson and is not a Christian. Asked about her religious beliefs, she told a reporter: “No I don’t … I’m not a religious person … [I’m] a great respecter of religious beliefs but they’re not my beliefs.” All this, coupled with the awful truth that she speaks with a broad, working-class Australian accent and is not a fashion plate see her subjected to malicious attacks from some quarters, an echo of attacks aimed at the Obamas in this country. One of the most hair-raising slurs against her was made by an opposition MP who said that “a barren woman” could not possibly govern.

Despite the odds, she has, in my opinion, led Australia in some great advances – the greatest in decades – and unless I hear from you to the contrary I’ll outline a few of them next time. As I said at the beginning, if you want someone to go crook at, Tom Ferguson’s your man. I’ll get out of your hair now.

PS: Microsoft Word does not know the difference between emigrate and immigrant.

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The Norman Scale https://likethedew.com/2012/09/18/the-norman-scale/ https://likethedew.com/2012/09/18/the-norman-scale/#comments Tue, 18 Sep 2012 19:29:37 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=42228 In a comment on one of my pieces, a reader opined that he or she suspected I may not be a fan of American Football. That reader was right, and I suppose I could have just admitted the fact and left it at that. But I didn't, it's not in me, and I've had to get off my bike and say so even at the risk of tarring and feathering and possible loss of my Green Card the application for which asked me if I was intending to overthrow the Government of the United States. If Mitt the Oxymormon gets to see this, I'm buggered.

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In a comment on one of my pieces, a reader opined that he or she suspected I may not be a fan of American Football. That reader was right, and I suppose I could have just admitted the fact and left it at that. But I didn’t, it’s not in me, and I’ve had to get off my bike and say so even at the risk of tarring and feathering and possible loss of my Green Card the application for which asked me if I was intending to overthrow the Government of the United States. If Mitt the Oxymormon gets to see this, I’m buggered.

Greg Norman at the 2008 Open Championships, Royal Birkdale Golf Club
Greg Norman at the 2008 Open Championships,
Royal Birkdale Golf Club (Steven Newton)

No, H-town,  I am not a fan of American football. It is as slow as golf but made just a shade less boring by the make up tastes and hair styles of the ra ra girls and the fact that the referees feel obligated to explain their decisions to the crowd. I hasten to add that I find soccer laughable – nor am I a devotee of Rugby League or its cousin Rugby Union, aka cross-country bum-sniffing. No, it’s Aussie Rules first, last and right up the comic cuts.

I am presently working on a graduated scale by which to rate sports. Based on the metric Helen Scale, more of which later, it compares the sport being graded to golf and for this reason is to be named the Norman Scale, the Australian Greg Norman being among the most unremittingly boring exponents of one of the most mind-numbing sports on earth. Being based on golf, it is arse about and would operate thus:
One round of the US, British or Australian opens is 1 Norman (N); A college football match would be 1 centinorman (cN) or one tenth as boring; pro football 5 millinormans (mN). A “Highlights of the US Open” reel would be 1 kilonorman (kN); “Highlights from St Andrews” 1 meganorman (MN) and “The Shark: The Public Philanthropy of Greg Norman” would rate 1 giganorman (GN). The World Cup of Soccer would be around 60N, slightly less if it featured an Australian women’s team with a Muslim goalie.
The inspiration came from the Povah/Robinson Helen Scale of Beauty, conceived by these intellectual giants when they were still in their early teens. It was based on the assertion that Helen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships, therefore a face that would launch one ship was rated at 1 millihelen (mH). Tony rated my sister Kerry – who was, and is,  beautiful but my sister – at 5H, I gave her 5mH.
Blame H-town: he (or she) asked me.
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Conventional wisdom https://likethedew.com/2012/09/10/conventional-wisdom/ https://likethedew.com/2012/09/10/conventional-wisdom/#comments Mon, 10 Sep 2012 15:46:15 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=42084 Well, I’ve now seen my second US political convention, live on HD teevee, and I’m still a little shell-shocked.

Before I go any further, let me say that in Australia I have always voted on the so-called left side of the political fence. From voting age till the 1990s I was a supporter of the Australian Labor Party (note the US spelling, it has an interesting history), until its stand on environmental and immigration issues and its gradual caving in to the demands of giant corporations gave my vote to the Australian Greens.

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Well, I’ve now seen my second US political convention, live on HD teevee, and I’m still a little shell-shocked.

Before I go any further, let me say that in Australia I have always voted on the so-called left side of the political fence. From voting age till the 1990s I was a supporter of the Australian Labor Party (note the US spelling, it has an interesting history), until its stand on environmental and immigration issues and its gradual caving in to the demands of giant corporations gave my vote to the Australian Greens. Labor’s other opponent, the Liberal Party has, like its US counterpart the GOP, moved even further right and is far more willing to embrace the religious (read Christian) extremists – fortunately still a very minor player in Australian life – and other groups also to a greater or lesser degree removed from reality.

So how do the two sides stack up in my mind? I tried very hard to be objective while watching both televisual extravaganzas, but having disclosed my political leanings, accusations of bias (and foreign bias what’s more) are sure to surface, but I’ll press on regardless.

At both events, of course, the speakers were preaching to the already converted and I do understand that the main objective of all this lavish spending is to enthuse fundraisers and vote-gatherers. However, from the little I have seen, they are also reaching out to the populi whose vox is always being sought by teevee reporters-on-the-street and -in-the-diner.

Having said that, at last week’s convention, I think the politicians’ speeches were better, more of what political speeches should be. No one of sound mind expects bald facts to be laid on the table at any sort of political rally, the objective being to arouse sentiment and fervor, to sway the mob and sweep common sense aside in favour of anything other than what the opposition has to offer and Bill Clinton, the President and other politicians of varying degree certainly did that. I also think that the Democrats’ choice of supporting speakers was much better. They spoke with more passion and in most cases were more erudite, reminding me, if no one else, that the alternative offered by the Republicans is even more ghastly than the reality we have now. One issue was noticeable by its absence. I had expected someone to get up and give some sort of undertaking to get stuck into the financial interests that have brought this country – and most of the world – to the brink of an abyss, but apparently all is forgiven and nary a word was said on the subject.

On immigration, the Democrats won hands down in my book. Ethically, to deport young people whose parents brought them to the USA illegally is wrong, and economically it makes no sense at all, but there is another aspect to the Dreamer issue that seems to have escaped everyone, or that politicians are afraid to mention lest they be thought tax-grabbing socialists. All over the developed world, birth rates among long-established populations are falling, while those among immigrant populations remain high for at least a couple of generations. It is the Dreamers, and their descendants, who will prop up the tax base and provide a good deal of funding for the social programs that today’s elderly and disadvantaged cherish and, increasingly rely upon. Cynical? Bloody oath, but since when was politics not so?

And, as I feared, religion influenced the proceedings, though admittedly not to the extent it did at the Republican bun-fight. When is someone going to have the guts to stand up and say that religious belief is a private and personal thing and has no relevance or place in politics? In summary I found both events very entertaining, though puzzling, and worth watching – even if only for the wide variety of costumes on display. It was sort of like an evangelical revivalist meeting though slightly more entertaining and slightly more believable.

So what do I think? America really needs Senator Bernie Sanders to change his mind and run for the office of President and is in dire need of another Walt Kelly.

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I’d be boggled if I had any mind left https://likethedew.com/2012/08/30/id-be-boggled-if-i-had-any-mind-left/ https://likethedew.com/2012/08/30/id-be-boggled-if-i-had-any-mind-left/#comments Thu, 30 Aug 2012 16:07:49 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=41889 Most Dewbies probably know that I'm an Australian, so they may understand my bogglement upon viewing for the first time a teevee broadcast of a US political party's convention. Well that's not exactly the truth; back in Australia news broadcasts will be showing clips of the proceedings as part of the coverage of the US elections and no doubt Australians will be shaking their heads and muttering "Bloody hell – only in America."

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Most Dewbies probably know that I’m an Australian, so they may understand my bogglement upon viewing for the first time a teevee broadcast of a US political party’s convention. Well that’s not exactly the truth; back in Australia news broadcasts will be showing clips of the proceedings as part of the coverage of the US elections and no doubt Australians will be shaking their heads and muttering “Bloody hell – only in America.” And even that is not exactly true.

For a little while there, back in the 80s as I remember, some PR-wallah had a rush of blood to the head and decided it would be great if an Australian political campaign featured funny hats and pom-pom girls and stuff like that. He thought it would be a good idea, but a lot of his fellow Australians didn’t and the reaction sort of toned it back down again from then on, though I will admit Australian political rallies are now as choreographed as their US counterparts seem to be – only supporters show up and any hecklers that do sneak in are removed. But back to my intro – there’s that bloody Celtic widdershins again – it’s the first time I’ve seen bits of a US convention from only a few hundred miles away and live on teevee.

RNC 2012 Speakers Paul Davis Ryan, Jr., aka Paul Ryan, is the U.S. Representative for Wisconsin's 1st congressional district and was selected by Mitt Romney to be his Vice Presidential running mate.  Addison Mitchell McConnell, Jr. aka Mitch McConnell is the senior U.S. Senator from Kentucky and the Republican Minority Leader.  John Randolph Thune aka John Thune is a Senator from South Dakota and Republican Policy Committee Chair.  Randal Howard Paul, aka Rand Paul, is the junior United States Senator for Kentucky.  Condoleezza Rice served as the 66th United States Secretary of State in the adminstration of George W. Bush.  The source image for this caricature of Paul Ryan is a photo in the public domain available via Wikimedia.  The source image for this caricature of Mitch McConnell is a Creative Commons licensed photo from Gage Skidmore's Flickr photostream.  The source image for this caricature is an image in the public domain from the United States Senate via Wikimedia.  The source image for this caricature is a Creative Commons licensed photo taken by Gage Skidmore available via Flickr Mind you, I can’t watch much of it. In the almost four years I have been here I seem to have been exposed to almost constant bombardment by teevee, newspaper and roadside advertisements from would be saviors of humankind (if only we’d elect them); saviors in the guise of sheriffs, magistrates, congresspersons, senatori – the list is endless. So forgive me if I can only take just a few minutes of the televisual feast that is the convention each night, even if it is on public television.

What I have seen though, is pretty enlightening. For instance, Mrs Romney – I’m sure she’d prefer Mrs over Ms – seems not to much value women who aren’t Moms. According to the woman who would be the First Lady of the USA, it’s Moms who hold this country together. She included single Moms  – very brave – but not women who are (gasp) unmarried and childless or married but (oh, horrors) without issue.

One of the pundits told me that the opening speeches were to give me an idea of what Romney, the man, was like. He expressed surprise that  I hadn’t been given more information on the largesse that the candidate bestowed on charity, namely his church. Since when has a multi-billion dollar operation such as that – and Mr Romney’s church is not alone in this category – been considered a charity?

However, it was early in last night’s proceedings that I received a real shock. I discovered that Mitch McConnell is possessed of a demon. Was anyone else terrified by his icy, bone-chilling stare? Or perhaps he’s not possessed, but a closet Scientoligist who last night attempted mass hypnosis on a nationwide scale? I’m not sure if I really want to know. I’ve never liked the man, nor his so-called solutions to problems, but he has never until now terrified me.

Will the Democratic convention be as enlightening? I’m sure it will and I only hope I have enough courage and stamina left to watch it

Good luck America – you’re going to need it.

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Who is my brother’s keeper? https://likethedew.com/2012/07/16/who-is-my-brothers-keeper/ https://likethedew.com/2012/07/16/who-is-my-brothers-keeper/#comments Mon, 16 Jul 2012 18:08:43 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=40725 We’d lost Dan by the time he was six; even at that age I reckon he’d already decided society really didn’t have much to offer a kid who had to wear an iron and leather calliper on one leg, and if he couldn’t keep up, then no-one was going to wait for him. Problem was, by the time he was three or four years old, Dan, like so many kids in his position, had already experienced enough pain and mental anguish to last a lifetime, though no one seemed to notice. Problem was, Dan’s Old Man, like so many others, had not long been back from five years in the “Big Stoush” – World War II – and had his own demons to fight.

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Dan and his big brother, c. early ’50s

We’d lost Dan by the time he was six; even at that age I reckon he’d already decided society really didn’t have much to offer a kid who had to wear an iron and leather calliper on one leg, and if he couldn’t keep up, then no-one was going to wait for him. Problem was, by the time he was three or four years old, Dan, like so many kids in his position, had already experienced enough pain and mental anguish to last a lifetime, though no one seemed to notice. Problem was, Dan’s Old Man, like so many others, had not long been back from five years in the “Big Stoush” – World War II – and had his own demons to fight. Problem was, unlike his old man, he didn’t have the companionship of mates with shared experiences. Problem was, even had he been aware of their existence, there was no network connecting him with the millions of kids all over the world who were going through the same terrible, spirit-grinding mill and whose parents, like his, didn’t have the wherewithal to engage the services of flash doctors or world-renowned clinics. So Dan had to battle through it pretty much on his own. And he tried, he really tried; Dan is nothing if not game.

Sorry, I’ve got ahead of myself. Daniel is the third-born of the five kids in our family and this year he’ll be around 65, though I find that difficult to believe – just as I have trouble understanding how the years have managed to sneak up on me. Just yesterday I was belting out How Long Blues on a stage somewhere, and the day before that I was walking through the door of an already old building in Fremantle, ready to begin an apprenticeship with the Fremantle Printing Company Pty Ltd; but back to Dan.

One morning in 1948, on his first birthday, Dan began whimpering and refused to sit up or be comforted. Face flushed and in obvious pain, he was getting worse by the hour. I don’t know what moved Mum to act as she did. I know the Old Man was away working somewhere – Tasmania if I remember rightly – so there would probably have been no ready cash in the house, making a doctor out of the question. Maybe Peg didn’t want to admit she was broke, maybe she wasn’t thinking straight. Who knows? Whatever her reasons, she picked Dan up in her arms and with Kerry – at that time the middle kid – and me in tow she set out from Austin Street to walk the two miles or so to Princess Margaret Children’s Hospital, on the way asking our closest neighbours to let our relatives know where she was going. News must have travelled fast because they were at the hospital not long after we got there.

Dan was literally dragged from her arms and taken somewhere into the hospital, Mum was ushered to a waiting room and we were instructed to wait outside with Bernie, presumably so as not to disturb the calm of the Great Institution. An age passed, an aeon, until at last a sobbing Peg emerged to tell us that they weren’t sure what was wrong but they were going to “keep him in.” What it turned out to be was polio, infantile paralysis, and Dan was just another casualty of the great epidemics that all-too-often swept Western Australia – and the world – until Dr Salk’s vaccine became readily available.

The next few months were hell for us and worse for Dan. The expert view was that it would be better for him if he weren’t to see us during what was going to be his long stay in hospital; reminders of home would only upset him. During the early stages of his treatment Mum was only allowed to peer at her youngest through a glass screen, as she had done when he was a newborn and the first of her children not to be born at home and the hospital was closed to his brother and sister. It was very effective. On the first day he came home I returned from school to find a complete stranger crawling around on a blanket spread on the grass in the front yard and it was a couple of hours, I’m told, before they could convince me my brother was indeed back among us. Sometime later he was fitted with a calliper of iron and leather attached to a cumbersome boot with a thickened sole and heel that was supposed to minimise the limp but I think served mainly to brand him as different.

Time passed and we moved to another house a few miles away and right next to what was then known as Butler’s Swamp. Dan had started school by then and one day came home with a long note from the headmaster accusing him of being uncooperative, a vandal and badly behaved; in short, a budding criminal. He had, the letter went on, so badly damaged a fellow pupil’s pushbike as to render it inoperable. I already knew that. On the day the atrocity occurred, I was waggin’ it – playing hookey – and in my circuitous route to a hideout in the swamp had seen my brother using his booted and callipered limb to smash up the spokes in someone’s bike. That night I’d asked him why he’d done it and he told me that the bike’s owner followed him around the schoolyard every day, imitating his limp and knuckling him, all the while taunting him with “limpy, gimpy.” Mum was mortified – the Old Man was away again – and offered to pay for the damage over time. To this day I feel guilt over not revealing what I knew, fearful of the wrath I thought would descend on Dan for his rage and me for my truancy. Now I know it probably wouldn’t have done Dan much good. The prevailing attitude back then was that kids should withstand the knocks of bullies, should stick up for themselves. Of course if they did there were often repercussions, but the philosophy held strong. No excuse though, and I still feel the guilt.

More years flew by and though Daniel grew stronger, tougher and more withdrawn, he was still full of great affection for his mother and siblings – affection he wasn’t afraid to show – though his run-ins with the Old Man were every bit as spectacular as mine. He had long ago given up on the leg iron with the consequence that his foot turned under and he walked on the ankle, causing intense pain. To remedy this, a plate was inserted in his leg and the ankle joint fused – it seemed to work.

I left home and began my rambling years, wandering the length and breadth of Australia and New Zealand with only sporadic contact with my family, mostly in the form of letters written when the urgings of my conscience triumphed. One day, like a kick in the guts, I received a letter postmarked Fremantle Gaol, the old convict-built hell-hole that is now a major tourist attraction: “My Dearest Big Brother,” it began, “I suppose you’re wondering why I’m writing to you from between these four walls…” that’s verbatim, it’s as clear now as the day I opened the envelope. Dan went on to tell me that he’d been sentenced to eight years for car theft and subsequent burning of the car. That was it. I was too stunned to take much notice of the don’t worries, and I love yous. It was the eight years; eight years! For car theft? Even with the arson added ite seemed to be coming a bit strong.

I telephoned my sister to get the full story, a story later corroborated by others. This was the early 60s and the always conservative and pro-establishment West Australian press was expressing concern about the evil ways intruding from the Eastern States. Rising crime rates, violence, underage drinking, car theft, rock and roll, bodgies and widgies; all could be laid squarely at the doorstep of the Eastern States and must be stamped out. The judiciary must act. So Dan got eight years for a first offence. His accomplice, who had prior form, was given a much lighter sentence but, the wig said, he would make “an example” of Dan.

There was one positive outcome. Her Majesty’s representatives were duty bound to take care of Dan’s health while he was a guest in one of her prisons and a routine X-ray revealed that his fibula had been split by the screws holding the plate in place (Dan later told me it had hurt like hell for years) so they amputated his leg below the knee. But life was never easy for my brother. One day during his recuperation, a wheelchair-bound Dan was taking his allotted hour in the sun of the exercise yard. That was the day that the long-suffering inmates of Freo had chosen to begin a food riot or, more correctly, an anti-food riot. Everyone, including Dan, was locked out and firehoses were later used to quell the rioters. In the aftermath, all parole credits were revoked. A few years later, a more enlightened administration allowed Dan to finish his sentence at a community prison in a town up the coast a few hundred miles. Mum, the Old Man and the two youngest kids had moved up there a couple of years before.

I made the long trip back to WA to visit him there which led to my first meeting with my youngest sister – then five years old – but that’s another story. I stayed six months and Dan and I rekindled our affection for each other but soon the road called and I was off again. I should have stayed, I know I should have, but I was young and the home State felt stifling after the freedoms I’d found. I could have found them there, too, of course, but you don’t think like that when you’re a kid.

A few years later I heard from him again – this time he was in Grafton jail, one of Australia’s toughest. Apparently he’d picked a fight with a walloper and come out of it best – bad on two counts, previous record and winning a stoush with a John Hop. After that things ran a little smoother. He went back to his roots and worked as a stockman – cowboy – on a big cattle run for a while. His plastic leg was a hassle at first, he said, but he soon worked it out and there weren’t too many horses could put him on his arse on the ground, he said. He got a job with a State forestry department and that went really well until a tree he was felling busted his good leg up pretty bad. With his compensation payout (the arbitration judge wanted to know why the department had allowed a one-legged man to fell trees alone in a forest. I could’ve told Hizzonner there was no way they could’ve stopped him) he bought a house and a motorbike and took up leatherwork and later became an illusionist. I was singing on the festival circuit a lot in those days and we saw each other often, Dan always had a concession stand at the major festivals. This surprised me a bit; given the way the world had treated him I thought the bike might have led to a life with a gang but now I can dismiss that as an unworthy thought, Dan liked people too much for that, he was too human.

We’ve neither seen nor heard from Dan for years. He may be dead or he may have decided at last to withdraw from the world, which would be sad, though understandable. At night, when the old ones come visiting in the soft dark, I can’t find Dan among them, no matter how hard I try. I like to think he’s found someone whose company is all he needs to heal the wounds; it makes me feel better though it doesn’t wash away the guilt.

Why am I putting this out there? Perhaps I needed to get it off my chest in the hope the guilt might go away, but I think not. I’ve always liked to pick and probe at my psyche in an effort to understand the what and the why of me and it’s getting worse as I get older. Dan’s life is a not insignificant part of the fabric of my own. His experiences reinforced an already jaundiced view of the education system of the times and strengthened my own Australian-ness, that vanishing culture that beatified Ned Kelly* and wrote irate letters to editors when the police, in collusion with a former Prime Minister John Howard, mounted a campaign to blacken his name. The old Australian-ness that still holds a gut-searing yearning after home rule; that calls its dearest friend a bastard and pronounces jesus christ in lower case.

I have heard it said, both here and in Australia, that everyone is a radical until they turn 40, when they gain maturity by realizing the establishment was right all along and so become sensible conservatives. I’ve never believed that but, if there is a glimmer of truth there, then the thing that calls itself the establishment is doing its level best to give the lie to its own smug, self-serving platitude. And I’ll never change – Dan helped make sure of that.

 


 

* Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly is arguably the most revered of the Australian bushrangers – outlawed highwaymen. Of Irish descent, like so many Australians of earlier generations, his exploits have come to symbolize defiance of the anglophilic establishment and are legendary. As kids, we played Ned Kelly and the Troopers vigorously and often. Hanged at Melbourne Gaol on November, 11 1880, it is often claimed that his last words were “Such is life”, however, evidence suggests he actually said “I suppose it had to come to this”. Whatever the truth, when the sentencing Judge – the much reviled Redmond Barry, donned the black cap with the obligatory …”and may God have mercy on your soul”, Ned replied: “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there when I go.” Visiting her son in the condemned cell, his mother told him: “Mind you die like a Kelly, Ned.” His name lives on in the Australian expression “Game as Ned Kelly” and when an Aussie Rules forward “swoops on the ball like Ned Kelly.”

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Somebody please pinch me – it has to be a bad dream https://likethedew.com/2012/05/21/somebody-please-pinch-me-it-has-to-be-a-bad-dream/ https://likethedew.com/2012/05/21/somebody-please-pinch-me-it-has-to-be-a-bad-dream/#respond Mon, 21 May 2012 21:57:35 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=39390 Things get in the way. This morning I was going to write the second installment of a story begun last week but it wasn’t to be. On Friday last, the postie – that’s Australian for mailman or, in my case, mailwoman – delivered a piece of junk mail that saw Rabbie Burns’ Law kick in. The Great Scot’s ghost was still hovering about the house when I read a Dana Milbank (Washington Post) piece in the Opinion pages of Sunday’s Lexington Herald-Leader, and is looking over my shoulder today as I listen to UK’s public radio station WUKY. I was going to ignore it, but it’s just no good to try...

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Things get in the way. This morning I was going to write the second installment of a story begun last week but it wasn’t to be. On Friday last, the postie – that’s Australian for mailman or, in my case, mailwoman – delivered a piece of junk mail that saw Rabbie Burns’ Law kick in. The Great Scot’s ghost was still hovering about the house when I read a Dana Milbank (Washington Post) piece in the Opinion pages of Sunday’s Lexington Herald-Leader, and is looking over my shoulder today as I listen to UK’s public radio station WUKY. I was going to ignore it, but it’s just no good to try; part two will have to wait while I get this off my chest. I’ll deal with Burns’ mischief-making in reverse, beginning with this morning. Here goes.

Rand Paul demonstrating that you don’t have to listen or even see constituents while talking to them. Photo Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons.

This morning WUKY reported on the results of a study into the eruditeness, or rather lack of it, among lawmakers in Washington. The study found that the level of debate among federal legislators is now about equal to that of middle-school students. I will, however, say it’s probably a world-wide phenomenon: I know Australian parliamentarians aren’t much better. What has happened? Back in the very late 19th century, when Australia was gaining nationhood, the following exchange* was recorded in the Parliamentary Hansard:

The Hon. The Member for Yarra: The Honourable Member opposite has got the brains of a sheep.

Hon. Members: Shame, shame. For Shame.

The Hon. The Member for Ballarat: Mr Speaker, I demand the member for Yarra withdraw that remark.

The Hon. Speaker of the House: Yes. The Hon. The Member for Yarra will withdraw that remark.

The Hon. The Member for Yarra: Mr Speaker, I apologize and withdraw. The Hon. Member opposite does not have the brains of a sheep.

How many of the current crop of politicians anywhere would get the joke, let alone be capable of a repartee anything like it? And so to Sunday’s paper.

According to Dana Milbank, Sen. Rand Paul, most eccentric of the Tea Party’s Mad Hatters (my words), told a meeting in Iowa that he wasn’t sure President Obama’s view of marriage could “…get any gayer.” According to Milbank, Paul – I won’t dignify him with a title because he, along with many Republicans and teevee ‘journalists’, denies the President that courtesy – wants to cut Social Security benefits by nearly 40 per cent, slash defense spending to “catastrophic levels” and end Medicare for current and future recipients within two years.

Paul, Milbank goes on, also will eliminate the departments of commerce, education, energy, housing as well as gut homeland security and programs for the poor while reducing the top tax rate to 17 per cent. (I know that Paul also opposes government oversight of home-schooling and wants to get rid of the EPA because it is “anti-coal”.) Paul doesn’t have to get it. He is the joke.

I am of the firm belief that my clothesline picks up a satellite signal equally as well as my HughesNet receiver.

And now to one of my pet gripes: telecommunications and the ISPs and teevee service retailers who allege they give us blisteringly fast internet and unsurpassed programming. Among Friday’s mail was a flyer from my ISP, HughesNet, urging me to make the most of my service. Dripping with hyperbole about the wonders of its technology and the assurance that there are “so many reasons to love” my service, it told me that Gen4 is getting closer. My ISP’s “bold new service” will “revolutionize the world of satellite internet” – its bolded type, not mine. However, within the spiel for this “dramatically faster” service was revealed the reason my internet service is so crappy: HughesNet doesn’t know where its satellites are. According to the blurb, the new satellite is on its way to a rocket launch site in French New Guinea.

That’s right, my ISP is sending a satellite to French New Guinea, a country that doesn’t exist. From this I can only assume the company has done this on previous occasions and, because its whizzkids don’t know the exact orbits – other than somewhere in the southern sky – its earth stations only manage to pick up intermittent signals from other satellites, hence the patchy service in Stamping Ground, Kentucky.

Can’t you hear the conversation in the shipping line’s boardroom? “We’ve got another booking from HughesNet. They want to send a satellite to French New Guinea this time. Where did the last one go? Scottish New Caledonia, that’s it. Just tell the captain the same thing; sail around the South Pacific for three months or so then drop it off on an island somewhere. Should do wonders for the bottom line.”

Like Rand Paul, HughesNet is lost in space. It’d be funny if I wasn’t paying for both of them.

 


 

*I can’t remember the seats the members represented and couldn’t find the reference in which it is recorded, though it’s in my shelves somewhere, but I’ll vouch for the accuracy of the dialog.

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An idyll of Butler’s Swap https://likethedew.com/2012/05/17/an-idyll-of-butlers-swap/ https://likethedew.com/2012/05/17/an-idyll-of-butlers-swap/#respond Thu, 17 May 2012 21:21:52 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=39336 Butler's Swamp has gone. Confined, sanitized and renamed Lake Claremont, it has been incorporated into a ritzy housing subdivision with its own golf course.

I once covered every square foot of that old swamp in a tin canoe, exploring its reed beds and mud-bars, looking for water rats and reed-warblers' nests and hoping against hope to encounter a norn – a black tiger snake – lying in wait for some unsuspecting frog. At dusk, squadron upon squadron of little black and little pied cormorants flew in from the Swan River to roost in the paperbarks and drowned gums.

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Butler’s Swamp has gone. Confined, sanitized and renamed Lake Claremont, it has been incorporated into a ritzy housing subdivision with its own golf course.

A prizewinning Old-Style Saddleback Muffed Tumbler shown by Mr George Fontaine. Photo: NPA/Layne Gardner

I once covered every square foot of that old swamp in a tin canoe, exploring its reed beds and mud-bars, looking for water rats and reed-warblers’ nests and hoping against hope to encounter a norn – a black tiger snake – lying in wait for some unsuspecting frog. At dusk, squadron upon squadron of little black and little pied cormorants flew in from the Swan River to roost in the paperbarks and drowned gums. During the spring their untidy nests clung precariously to limbs along with those of herons and egrets, while along the shores and in the cumbungi and tree hollows, grebes, swans and ducks nested. There were quolls there in those days, living in the thick scrub and remnant gum forest, and the water abounded with snake-necked turtles and sooty grunter. On hot, summer nights, thousands of moaning frogs counted down the hours to dawn with their incessant “wh-o-o-o-ooooop, wh-o-o-o-ooooop”, sliding up the scale a tone and a half on the final “oop”.

Why am I telling you this? Well as anyone who has read or listened to any of my tales will tell you, my Celtic and Australian genes endow me with a propensity to approach every tale widdershins – this one doubly so. I was going to jump straight in, boots and all, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, and as is usually the case with me, one thing led to another. So to add insult to injury, I’m going to introduce the story with a poem – doggerel I suppose in some eyes but in the tradition of a bygone Australia – and allow the main narrative to writhe and bubble and smoke in my brain until I write the next instalment. It will be a story about Australian childhood, about backyards and swamps and sleepouts (that’s a noun) and chickens and pigeons, or at least in this stage of its fermentation it’s shaping that way. So here’s the introduction.

The Butler’s Swamp Pigeon Society

More than 50 years have flown, since the kids next door and me,
Formed ourselves a little club, with a membership of three;
We argued long about a name, all choices seemed to rub,
But the name seemed more important than a rulebook or the sub;
And so we tossed it back and forth in youthful anarchy,
Till we settled on The Butler’s Swamp, Pige-on So-cie-ty;
The rules were few and simple – no trouble to live by:
We’d breed the nicest birds we could, and let them out to fly.

Now the boys next door weren’t short of cash, their father ran a book*,
And their pigeon lofts were built to spec, whatever cash it took;
My birds, on the other hand, were in a hut of flattened tin,
That leaned against the bigger shed Ma did the laundry in;
But the BSPS didn’t care, about parental dough,
Or the cost of coops, the clothes you wore, it didn’t want to know;
It was pigeons first and pigeons last and pigeons do or die,
We lived our lives with pigeons, and we let them out to fly.

The breeding stock was varied, when first our club began,
Unusual colors, crests or muffs, that’s where the fancy ran;
One member bred just black and white, that’s all that he’d give space,
While the other two would argue that, all colors had their place;
We’d trap a few on railroad tracks, where we also scrounged for wheat—
Peas were hard-earned luxuries, kept to give a treat—
And trade for birds we really liked, ones that caught the eye,
Then wait impatient for the day, we could let them out to fly.

You’d do some fierce trading, for birds you liked back then,
One day I went to bargain for a pretty little hen;
A sort of dunnish-yellow with a dainty, rounded head,
A short, sharp beak and little muffs, a real knock-‘em dead;
She strutted round her owner’s loft, a kid from miles away,
His price, a dozen glassies†, he wasn’t there to play;
But I loved her from the moment that her antics caught my eye;
And I hoped she wouldn’t disappoint, when I let her out to fly.

I put her in a cardboard box and strapped it to my bike,
Then pedalled home like fury – about a ten-mile hike;
I couldn’t wait to get her back and lock her in a box,
With a red and black peak-crested mate, the favorite of my cocks;
And show her to the membership (who said that pride was sin?),
To recount the gripping story of the haggling and the win;
But right deep down inside my heart, and here I will not lie,
I knew I’d be a nervous wreck, when I let her out to fly.

And so at last the day came round, when the little hen,
Could go outside and stretch her wings in freedom once again;
I opened up the sliding trap to let the birds outside,
So they could climb and circle, in their world blue and wide;
And watched in nervous wonder as the kit began to climb
Led by the little yellow hen, that costly jewel of mine;
The other pigeons levelled out to circle in the sky,
But the little hen kept climbing, when I let her out to fly.

My heart was thumping in my chest, I thought that she was lost,
Returning to the other loft, where I’d bargained at such cost;
But as I watched she clapped her wings, and held them like a sail
Above her head, as she rocked back, while fanning out her tail.
She repeated the maneuver, three times or four in all,
Then like some magic clockwork toy, my hen began to fall;
She tumbled over backwards, dropping through the sky;
That bird was pure amazement when I let her out to fly.

And though the day’s so long ago, I still can see that hen,
Tumbling there above my yard, then climbing up again;

All through my life, it’s ups and downs, the wild times of my youth,
The birds have been a constant, a refuge and a truth;
When I am down or troubled and my spirit feels boxed in,
A kit of soaring pigeons can free it once again;
So when I leave this world I love, if you want to say goodbye;
Just watch a kit of tumblers, I’ll be with them as they fly.

 

*A licensed on-course bookmaker. My fellow-members’ father specialised in country race meetings. The “senior” member of the club was a budding artist and made good pocket money by accompanying his dad to the smaller race meetings and painting portraits of the winning horses.

†Marbles made of clear glass with a swirl of different color at the core; hard to come by and much-prized in the early 50s.

© Frank Povah, Stamping Ground KY USA

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Be alert – and afraid https://likethedew.com/2011/12/13/be-alert-and-afraid/ https://likethedew.com/2011/12/13/be-alert-and-afraid/#comments Tue, 13 Dec 2011 11:58:42 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=34053 Last Saturday night I found myself watching the farcical teevee extravaganza euphemistically titled the GOP Nominees’ Debate – or something like that anyway; it’s difficult to remember the title thanks to the breathtakingly inept performances by everyone concerned, not least the producer, who obviously has no idea of what a debate actually is.

As an aside, I viewed this revelation of political thought and process at the home of some good friends. Australian Americans and fellow devotees of Spike Milligan and the Goon Show, they saw this presentation in the same light as I did – lacking the pathos-tinged humor and intelligence of Milligan but equally close to sliding over the edge into lunacy. Am I alone in thinking that no one in their right mind could possibly take any of them as suitable candidates to lead the nation at a time when humanity is facing possibly its greatest challenges ever?

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Last Saturday night I found myself watching the farcical teevee extravaganza euphemistically titled the GOP Nominees’ Debate – or something like that anyway; it’s difficult to remember the title thanks to the breathtakingly inept performances by everyone concerned, not least the producer, who obviously has no idea of what a debate actually is.

As an aside, I viewed this revelation of political thought and process at the home of some good friends. Australian Americans and fellow devotees of Spike Milligan and the Goon Show, they saw this presentation in the same light as I did – lacking the pathos-tinged humor and intelligence of Milligan but equally close to sliding over the edge into lunacy. Am I alone in thinking that no one in their right mind could possibly take any of them as suitable candidates to lead the nation at a time when humanity is facing possibly its greatest challenges ever?

It  wasn’t a debate, it was a fiasco. Not once did the moderators moderate or hold the contenders to the questions asked of them. The only attempt at any sort of control was the occasional vague gesture at a set of colored LED panels – we had been told they would warn participants when their time was up – accompanied by equally vague reminders to the candidates that time was passing them by.

It was a fiasco, revealing nothing of substance – or sense. Did Newt Gingrich think he was trying out for a stand up comic spot on late-night teevee or were those  “hello, sailor” winks aimed at someone in the audience? Another romance in the wings perhaps, especially now that he’s let us outsiders know that you only have to beg God for forgiveness and it’s all okay. He was bad, the others were worse, though that’s relative; it was all so abysmal that none of them would earn the title “Best of a Bad Lot”. Nothing meaningful was said, nothing new suggested by the participants. No solutions but plenty of vague promises.

Mitt Romney wore a blue tie – why didn’t we get deep and meaningful analysis and noddies about that? It would have been more entertaining than the moralistic mouthings over the sin of betting.

Diane Sawyer let us know she had been to a pharmacy in Iowa – why she didn’t say – though her rambling questions and almost unintelligible speech suggested it was actually a bar. The bloke occupying the other seat at the table (I can’t remember his name as he hardly said a word all night) was wearing a better suit than Ron Paul.

It wasn’t a total loss, though. It did provoke a couple of thoughts to take to bed with me. The first was that hopefully no one would be misguided enough to vote for any of them; the second was profound gratitude that I didn’t learn history at the feet of Newt Gingrich. His assertion that the Palestinians are an “invented people” is breathtaking. He obviously needs to spend a little more time reading and a little less turning out the potboilers he loves to plug.

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