Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 9 December 2018

What has Changed?

Pic courtesy Canberra Times

I have a subscription to the Vietnam Veterans' Museum on Phillip Island, and they send me newsletters from time to time.

The most recent edition has an article on Vietnamese boat people, and I'll post it here in its entirety -

On 26 April 1976, the first boatload of refugees fleeing from Vietnam sailed into Darwin Harbour, heralding a series of arrivals over the next few years.

The vast majority of refugees from Vietnam, however, arrived in Australia by plane after selection officials in refugee camps established throughout South East Asia. Since 1976, Australia
has become home to a thriving Vietnamese community. In 2011, the national census showed that 185,000 people in Australia were born in Vietnam. By early 1975, it was apparent that the North Vietnamese forces would soon overrun the south.

Just before the fall of Saigon, the U.S. and other foreign forces evacuated the first wave of people seeking to escape. The second wave of refugees emerged as the Communist government began to dismantle the old regime. Those associated with the former government were sent for re-education, others lost their jobs or were moved to work on rural reconstruction projects.

The very first Vietnamese refugees to reach Australia were orphan infants evacuated by Operation Babylift in the weeks before Saigon fell in April 1975. Amid fears for their safety, more than 3000 infants were flown out of Vietnam, mostly to the U.S. but also UK, Canada and Australia. The Australian public was supportive of Operation Babylift, for example, the Women’s Weekly ran a two-page article that emphasised the impact of the war on Vietnamese children. The first adult refugees arrived in the 20m Kien Giang, which sailed into Darwin Harbour on 26 April 1976. 

The 20-year-old captain, Lam Binh, with his younger brother and three friends, made the 3500 km journey to find refuge. Lam was not a sailor by trade, but taught himself navigation as part of his escape plan. His original map was nothing more than a page torn from a school atlas, and while getting better charts later, it extended no further than Timor. The rest of the journey was done by dead reckoning.
The exodus of refugees from South Vietnam continued in 1977, boats carrying 21,267 people arrived in neighbouring Asian countries including Hong Kong. In 1978, 106,489 arrived, and before
June in 1979 another 166,604. These people encountered dangerous sea, overcrowded vessels and attacks by pirates and we only know about the ones that survived, countless others were probably lost at sea. 

Australia has benefitted by the arrival of these people and with their hard work ethic, they have proved to be an asset to Australia. Very often when we get Vietnamese visitors at the Museum, we sometimes give them a little badge of the crossed fags of Australia and South Vietnam.

It's a pretty fair summary of the history, gentle reader.
Recently, (in August) a boat load of Vietnamese asylum-seekers was refouled (sent back to the place they were escaping), after they managed to elude border patrol vessels.
I can't help noting the contrast between what happened forty years ago, and what happens now.
It tells us a great deal about what has become of our national psyche as a consequence of the politics of fear and loathing. Back in the seventies, asylum seekers arriving on boats were never used as a political wedge. The potential was always there when it came to the Vietnamese.
I witnessed an incident in 1978 which made it obvious that there was always a rich vein of xenophobia simmering below the surface which could have been used.

At the time, I was Teacher-in-Charge of a Special Education Unit at a High School in Brisbane's western suburbs. There was also a migrant unit located in the same school at the time, catering almost exclusively for students who were Vietnamese refugees.

I had access to a wheelchair accessible bus, and a licence to drive it. Occasionally, the Teacher-in-Charge of the migrant unit and myself would get our heads together to solve the problem of getting the Vietnamese kids out and about in the community to access a range of valuable experiences.

I would drive a combination of the Vietnamese kids and my own cohort of students with disabilities. It worked well, because the wheelchair bound kids were helped by the able-bodied migrant kids in terms of mobility and access.

There was a screening of "To Kill a Mockingbird" at a small cinema at Enoggera. The book was on the curriculum of the English as a Second Language programme at the migrant unit, and it was also part of the Year 10 English curriculum for some of the kids with disabilities, so we organised a joint excursion.

Upon arriving at the cinema, and just as the Vietnamese kids were helping the students with disabilities into the theatre, a bloke turned up and started abusing the migrant kids in the foulest terms. There was an army base at Enoggera and this character, out of uniform but identified by his haircut, was obviously army. He used the same jargon that I had occasionally heard in Vietnam.

I got the kids out of the way into the theatre (and out of earshot) and used two words (one with four letters) to tell him to take himself somewhere else immediately. He got the message, and jumped into a car and drove off. Fortunately the Vietnamese kids didn't really understand what he was saying - their English wasn't up to it - but the kids with disabilities did. They were indignant.

If the government in power at the time had decided to take political advantage of the kind of paranoia exhibited by my mate at the cinema, the flow of refugees would have been stopped cold. There are sufficient idiots in the community to make this strategy work in a close election.

Howard used fear of asylum seekers in 2001 to win what had looked like an election the Coalition was bound to lose. We're hearing the same rhetoric again, of course.

Contrast the behaviour of the Fraser government in 1978, with what we're observing now, particularly from the hard Right of the Coalition, and the nutters in PHON, and you can see how far we have fallen as a nation.

Once we were a proud and compassionate people. Now we have a government that panders to paranoia, fear and loathing to cling to power. Perhaps the "base" that the Conservatives are always referring to describes pretty clearly the instincts to which they appeal.

After the result in the recent by-election in Turnbull's old seat, perhaps the old technique has passed its use-by date.

We can hope....

Thursday, 29 November 2018


Ambush position on Song Rai - March 1970

I'm putting this on my blog not because it was posted by my son, but because it's a striking and elegant piece of prose.
It resonates with me, and I reckon many Vietnam veterans.
I think what horrifies me most about war is how it never actually ends. 
Long after the guns fall silent, the effects linger on for decades - in the minds of those who were psychologically scared by the conflict - In the bodies of those wounded. 
In the hearts of those who grieve. 
In the lands rendered sterile through discarded chemicals and ordinance. In the thousands who still fall victim to weapons left behind long after armies have stood down - to poison, and explosives, and cancer. 
To the families of those directly affected, who themselves deal with the second-hand consequences of being raised by wounded people. 
To the nations and media who lie their histories into mythologies, to the populations who forget just enough that it seems like the consequences are worth it.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Ford - My Chequered History

Cranky car
We've disposed of our last Ford.

Over the years, we've owned (in sequence) two Falcon SRs, and two Focuses (Foci???).

All except for the Focus Trend illustrated have been reliable and good cars to drive. Not so this one, and this is the reason for unloading it. We've also signed up for the class action.

It has been off the road four times as a consequence of the completely unsatisfactory dual clutch auto. Ford calls it "Powershift". Others have coined a different moniker.

The last episode was a broken half shaft, no doubt as a consequence of the juddering that was a characteristic of the transmission during most of our ownership. This last episode, occurring as it did simultaneously with my bride's discharge from hospital after breast surgery was the last straw.

The local Ford dealer (no doubt as tired of these recurring episodes as the owners) was brilliant. They loaned us a Ford Escape for the duration of the repair, which took over a week. The repair didn't cost us, as I'd taken out an extended (5 year) warranty when we purchased the car in 2014. That turned out to be a very good decision.

We traded two vehicles (our Commodore ute and the cranky Focus) on a 2016 Kia Cerato hatch. It has the benefit of a seven year warranty, and because it's a hatch is both dog and bike friendly. If I need to shift stuff, I'll revert to ute hire.

The Replacement

Kia has come a long way in a short time on the Australian market, and they make very good cars as demonstrated by their rapidly improving market share.

Ford, on the other hand, are going backwards. It's a shame, as the small Fords were always fun cars to drive.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Virgin knows Any Publicity is Good Publicity

How they do it in the USA (Pic courtesy Daily Mail)

Picture it, gentle reader.

You're queueing to get on your Virgin flight.

You're surrounded by the usual crew - bearded hipsters, sweet young things wearing headphones secured to all manner of electronic trickery, grey haired boomers and noisy kids.

An announcement is made - impossible to decipher because the airport PA makes everything sound like the auditory equivalent of shrdlu, the printers devil.

As a result of this announcement, sundry passengers, a mix of fit looking young males, and decrepit appearing grey headed types, go to the front of the queue, and board first.

Once aboard, another announcement is squeezed between the safety briefing and a promotion for on-board refreshments. This announcement asks you to show respect for the people who were advanced to the front of the queue because they are "veterans".

You're not sure whether you should stand and applaud (difficult unless you're in an aisle seat), or simply nod appreciatively.

Sound dodgy?

Well that was what was suggested by the CEO of Virgin Airlines yesterday, with the apparent endorsement of the PM and Newscorp.

We hear that it is designed to show respect. Not for this "veteran". Embarrassment would be the likely outcome.

If my fellow travellers have to be asked to show me respect, I'd rather do without.

We hear it's all the go in the USA. Perhaps. After my visit there in July, I'd be reluctant to ape their practice. I saw too many veterans begging on the streets of NYC and Washington  to suggest their "respect" is anything more than lip service.

The term "veteran" has been in use in this country for a relatively short time. Like so many other chunks of our mother tongue, it is an American import. We used to be called "returned soldiers".

I am perhaps a little cynical, but I reckon it has more to do with marketing. After all, it doesn't offer any actual benefit (upgrades/reduced fare) and it costs both the corporate sector and the government nothing.

Our new PM was a marketing guru, after all. Every time I see him make an announcement, I'm always expecting to hear "But wait, there's more.....".

Michael Pascoe sums it up pretty well.

The postscript is particularly enlightening -

P.S. It is a curious thing that the military skews right, given that it was a Labor government that provided leadership through our most threatened hours and Liberal prime ministers who betrayed our servicemen by sending them to Vietnam and Iraq on lies.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Cuddle Carefully!

You won't find much mention of family matters on this blog, gentle reader, but with this post I'm making an exception.

Like 18000 Australian women annually, my bride of forty-one years was diagnosed with breast cancer a fortnight ago.

She has had two surgeries (the second one "insurance" according to the surgeon) and a treatment plan is being devised. The may involve all of (or none of) medication, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

My bride has studiously followed the medical advice for years, having regular mammograms. Two of her sisters have had breast cancer, and one of them died as a consequence, so it's probably in the family. As we have two daughters, genetic counselling is recommended.

On the upside (if there is an upside to such a diagnosis) her lymph nodes are clear, so no spread is apparent. Also, the female radiographer who found the tumour was on the ball, as this particular cancer (LCIS) is notoriously hard to spot on the imagery.

Nevertheless, the uncertain path ahead is pretty scary. She is dealing with it using her own special brand of exasperation, stoicism and good humour.

Myself - probably not so well. I feel so bloody useless.

There are tremendous supports available these days, even in a regional centre like ours. There is no need to travel to the capital for specialist services, both diagnostic and treatment.

We (we're in this together) now embark down an uncertain, and frequently trodden road.

And after the surgery, we have to cuddle carefully.

Update: Surgery is done (including insertion of a porta Cath. Next is Chemotherapy  - weekly for three months.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Media Manipulation 101

We hear a great deal, gentle reader, about "fake news". A textbook example of this popped up yesterday on my Facebook feed.

As a Vietnam veteran I subscribe to a number of ex-service networks. On one of them, a report from the UK's Daily Telegraph, was posted claiming that students at Cambridge university in the UK had dishonoured veterans by voting against a student council motion that they should promote commemorations on the upcoming Remembrance day.

This report, predictably, generated howls of outrage from the veterans' community, and plenty were posted on the feed.

When I read it, it struck me that there was something a bit fishy about the story. I went on line to the local paper (Cambridge News) in an attempt to check it out.
What was reported there, was interesting, although you have to read way past the headline to get the full story.

The actual sequence of events was this -

1. The Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA) put a motion to the students' union council (CUSU) which read – “The council should encourage the commemoration of British war veterans on Remembrance Day across the University of Cambridge.

2. The Cambridge Defend Education group proposed an amended motion which read – “The council should encourage the commemoration of those whose lives have been affected by war across the University of Cambridge”.

3. There was a vote on both motions, and both were defeated.

4. CUCA responded on their Facebook page, writing: “CUSU Council shockingly voted against the motion that they should promote commemorations this Remembrance Day and encourage students to support the Poppy Appeal.”

5. The Daily Telegraph got hold of the story from the CUCA Facebook page and wrote their report, neglecting to mention that two motions were put up and both voted down.

What really happened was the Daily Telegraph created outrage for clickbait.

You can’t read the story until you subscribe to the paper’s website.

Try it

Donald Trump would probably describe the Tele's report as “Fake News”.

The whole thing was a stunt generated by the Cambridge University's Conservative Association.

I'd be very surprised if the bulk of Cambridge students had strong feelings one way or another about Remembrance Day.

Monday, 1 October 2018

A Blow-In

For years I've been intrigued by the various iterations of the Mazda MX5. Owning a couple of them has not resolved this fascination. 

Back in the early part of this century, two turbocharged versions of the NB were produced. 

The first (called SP) was a Mazda Australia project carried out under the supervision of Allan Horsley, but it was built by Prodrive in Melbourne, the company that builds FPV performance Fords in partnership with Ford.

The second (called SE) was an official Mazda factory version, called Mazdaspeed Miata in the US, and Roadster in Japan and other markets.

Both were relatively mild with low boost turbos, but the SP was a little more potent.

SP has decal
They were actually quite different cars. The SP is raw and comparatively rare, only 100 being produced. The SE is more thoroughly and conservatively engineered, but has up rated steering and suspension, which makes it a bit harsh around town, but a treat on the open road.
SE has badge

A couple of weeks ago I came across a 2004 SE advertised in Newcastle. Coincidentally, I was planning a visit to an old army mate in Newcastle, so combined that with an inspection of the SE.

The car was good, sporting a unique interior fitout. It pretty much sold itself.

Jasper Conran Interior

I flew to Newcastle from Brisbane, and was met at the airport by the obliging owner. Incidentally, the last time I flew Brisbane-Newcastle was on my way to Nasho at Singleton in January 1969.

This trip had a much more enjoyable outcome.

I drove the SE to Tamworth the same day, and drove Tamworth-Toowoomba the day after.

Whilst the boost is mild, it comes into its own overtaking on two lane roads. The Tamworth-Toowoomba stretch has plenty of stretches of great give and take roads.

Can't drive them both at once.

So now I have two MX5s. Given that I haven’t mastered the art of driving them both at once, the original is on the market.

Update - Original (left) is sold. It took a whole week!

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