Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Racism - a Family Perspective

The usual conflict entrepreneurs are exploiting the Adam Goodes controversy for all they're worth. They're driven by the adage - Never let an opportunity to sell a paper or attract a mouse click go by. There's a dollar in it, dontcha know........

The fact that there are real live human beings on the receiving end of it all - whether a thirteen year-old and her family, or a champion footballer; makes no difference.

They're simply expendable sacrifices on the altar of media banality.

The controversy made me consider my experiences of racism, as I've lived and worked in a wide range of communities in metropolitan, regional and remote Queensland.

I was brought up in North Queensland, and one of my earliest memories of my mother (a teacher) was when she donated a set of my clothing, including some treasured shoes, to an aboriginal lad in her class (at Carmila) who was doing it tough. He was about my size, and the clothes fitted him well, as did the shoes. Shoes were a big deal in those days, as we went to school barefoot, and the shoes were Sunday best. I was more than a little miffed.

Mum was colour blind. She saw only a small person who needed help.

Later, when I was a bit older, we moved a bit further North, to North Eton, where the school had a seven stone seven league team. I played wing - I wasn't able to do too much damage in that position. There were a mix of kids, at the school, including offspring of Maltese and Italians who had migrated to the area as cane cutters, worked hard, saved their earnings and bought cane farms.

There was also a scattering of kids of Islander and Torres Strait Aboriginal heritage, plus a few who were descendants of Pacific Islanders who were pressed ganged in the late nineteenth century to work on the cane. Back then they were called Kanakas, but that term can be offensive, so I'll refer to them as South Sea Islanders.

Some of the Aboriginal kids were good players, as were the South Sea Islanders, although the former usually played in the backs (they could run and kick like nobody's business) and the latter in the forwards (they were built like the proverbial brick outhouses).

Unfortunately for my team (called North Eton when we won and Eton when we lost) these Aboriginal and Islander kids generally played for Mirani, and they usually beat us. When this happened, there were always complaints directed at their racial origin. Many of these complaints were shouted at the player s in the form of abuse from the sidelines. The players were children aged from eleven to fourteen - and about the same age as the thirteen year-old who yelled abuse at Goodes.

I wonder whether we've actually made any progress. Back then, this abuse directed at kids whilst frowned upon, but tolerated. These days, when an Indigenous player calls a teenager out for vilification, he's condemned. Both are examples of racial abuse, and both are/were unacceptable. 

In the intervening decades (with the exception of my time in the army - more about that later) I had little to do with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people until I was appointed principal of a special school in Townsville. This school serviced a community of kids with severe disabilities who lived in a local nursing home. Over 40% of them came from the Torres Strait Islands, and once sent to the nursing home rarely if ever returned to their communities. They were a unique group of "stolen children". The reasons they never went home (even during the long summer break) were complex, but in the end were down to the fact that their communities lacked the confidence and resources to get them home.

I see much of the same phenomenon now, in 2015, where children with disabilities in remote communities languish without proper treatment for similar reasons. At least now they're living with their families, rather than in sterile nursing homes. But I digress.

Back to the late nineties when I had a programme manager's job in Mt Isa, responsible for educational support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. There weren't too many Islanders (bluewater people) in the North-West, but lots of Murris (brownwater people) in the schools.

One of the issues we had to address was the suicide rate amongst Aboriginal teenagers in the area. The availability of firearms, and the lack of counselling support were contributing factors. We couldn't do much about the firearms (although the Port Arthur gun buy back that happened at that time may have helped a little), but we were able to improve the counselling support.

During this time, I was the guest of the Dajarra State School on their speech night. Dajarra was 90% Aboriginal enrolment - probably still is. I took my two sons with me to provide company of the long return trip, and they had the experience of being in the minority - two of about four white faces in a school of Aboriginal kids. The conversations in the car on the way back to Mt Isa (when we weren't counting wallabies and roos) were interesting.

For the first time in their young lives my sons knew what it felt like to be in the minority. This is an experience that has been denied to many Australians, and given what we've observed around Adam Goodes, it partly explains the controversy. The bigots screaming abuse would not have a clue about how it feels to be racially vilified, as they've never been on the receiving end.

One of the few positives about the army (at least when I was a member) was its institutional colour blindness - an attitude not unlike my mother's. The only thing that mattered on active service was the way we looked after each other on operations. If your skin was going to be saved, its colour was irrelevant, as was the colour of the skin of the digger watching your back. 

My section had a West Indian Corporal - one of nature's gentlemen, and another member of my platoon was a Murri, one of the funniest men I've had the privilege of knowing. The other Aboriginal digger in my platoon from the Alice was badly wounded when we hit bunkers and returned to Australia in April 1970. Another, (in my company, not my platoon) committed suicide in 1979 when in custody.

I wonder how the likes of Bolt and Jones regard these men?

As far as the current controversy goes, and the hundreds of thousands of words written or spoken - I reckon Marcia Langdon sums it up pretty clearly -

I am sick of pig-ignorant bigots saying it (Goode's spear dance) means war. How dare they purport to represent our culture".

In reality, that's what gets the bigots wound up. They simply aren't prepared to concede indigenous people the power to own and interpret their own history and culture.

But as noted above, it sells lots of newspapers.


Monday, 27 July 2015

Submission to Brutality

So Labor has finally lined up with the Coalition in a craven act of bipartisan brutality.
Pragmatically, Labor didn't have much option, since that day of infamy, 29th August 2001, when a weak Prime Minister, sniffing the political wind with an election approaching (an election that he looked like losing) picked up the whiff of fear and loathing, and used it.

The politicisation of the issue, and exploitative refinements such as demonising vulnerable people and conflating fear of refugees with the great fear - terrorism, has fatally poisoned the debate.

Emotion has trumped reason, and any political party ignoring this situation is committing electoral suicide. Both major parties share blame. There is nothing that exposes their collective lack of leadership more starkly than this episode.

Amongst other historical absurdities such as excising our territory, our defence forces will continue to be misused doing the dirty work of the arch cowards in our political class. This political class puts expediency before humanity and has reduced itself to the level of the apparatchiks who were out and about in the days of the Third Reich.

Let's face it - a detention centre is a concentration camp under another name. About the only material difference is that Australian detention centres (they are Australian, whether in PNG or on Manus) don't have gas chambers attached.

The refugee debate post Tampa has become one of the most shameful episodes in Australian history. My country has gone from a point where it was a bastion of compassion and humanity to what is effectively a civil rights backwater in the short space of fourteen years.

It did not have to be so.

Wind the clock back to 1975, and the fall of Saigon. This event was the trigger for one of the greatest exodus of refugees in the history of our part of the world. Between 1978 and the late eighties, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese boat people arrived in refugee camps in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong.

The boat people comprised only part of the Vietnamese resettled abroad from 1975 until the end of the twentieth century. A total of more than 1.6 million Vietnamese were resettled between 1975 and 1997. Of that number more than 700,000 were boat people; the remaining 900,000 were resettled under the Orderly Departure Program or in China or Malaysia.

The Geneva Conference of June 1989 produced the Comprehensive Plan of Action, which, over time, saw the ordered settlement of the bulk of these refugees, many of whom went on to become valued citizens of their adopted countries. Australia took 130000. Countries involved included Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.

This multinational conference was an example of international cooperation, free of the tyranny of national politics, driven only by compassion, and provides a template for the humane management of similar migrations since. It was people of the calibre of Sérgio Vieira de Mello (sadly assassinated in Iraq in 2003), who had the courage, drive and wisdom to pursue the international agreements.

Perhaps the absence of individuals with his vision and intellect in our national political scene  is responsible for the squalid mess that has become refugee policy in Australia.

Forty years ago, we had a bi-partisan approach to asylum seekers during which we settled Vietnamese here. Now we ship them back to be exposed to whatever tyranny awaits.

That's progress?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

What a Man

There's been far too much dour political commentary on this humble blog of late, gentle reader.

It's time to lighten the atmosphere.

Nobody is better qualified to do this than Jessica Mauboy and friends.

The clip captures the atmosphere of a Saigon soul bar in 1970 pretty accurately.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Comparisons - Guard Vs Bolt

This brave young man's attitude reveals why promoting conflict (something that opinionistas like Bolt and Jones do for a living) is so dangerous.

You can promote conflict - or you can attempt to dampen it down.
He does the latter - Bolt (especially) does the former.
These shock jocks are a much greater threat to our collective security than the terrorists.

His name (by the way) is Paul Guard, and his parents (from Toowoomba) were killed when MH17 was shot down.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Last Straw?

I listened to an interview on ABC Southern Queensland this morning with the head honcho from one of the regional councils on the Downs.

The issue was the granting of public accommodation licences to mining companies whose accommodation facilities were emptying rapidly as they transition from exploration to extraction. They reckon they can make a quid by getting into the Grey Nomad market.

This mayor, when asked about unfair competition with existing motels, said that was not part of the submission process.

I wonder how the moteliers in these towns feel about this.

The fact is, many are on the verge of bankruptcy as occupancy rates drop to almost zero, after they have invested heavily in extensions, refurbishments, and in some cases, new facilities in anticipation of the boom that never eventuated.

The local government authorities seem to be in league with the mining companies in a quest to destroy the communities that pay their salaries.

It's more than shameful.  

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

I Dare Not Speak Its Name

There was a time when I used to comment on Sinclair Davidson's Catallaxy blog.

It is a refuge for a weird bunch. Regular contributors include bitter ex-service personnel who never left Australia, raving imperialists, absolute nutters, and the occasional psychopath, but it was always excellent entertainment.

Then I was banned.

The reason for this was my mention of the fact that mining companies receive a rebate on diesel fuel costs, which amounts to a fair old whack (it will amount to $14 billion in the next four years). This was in the context of complaints about the taxpayer subsidising alternative energy investment through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

This issue is being kicked around again. Metronome Tone has thrown a tanty because he has been unable to shut down said CEFC. The senate won't let him.

The point is, the extent of subsidies to the mining industry to those with a finger in the pie like Davidson is censored information. You dare not speak its name. There are too many irons in the fire - too much vested interest. The truth spoils the narrative.

The report of the Australia Institute is lengthy, but this extract from the introduction gives you an idea of the extent of the taxpayer support for these profitable enterprises -

This paper is the first attempt to put a dollar figure on the value of state assistance to the mining industry. It shows that over a six-year period, state governments in Australia spent $17.6 billion supporting the mineral and fossil fuel industries. Queensland’s assistance was by far the largest of all states, totalling $9.5 billion, followed by Western Australia’s at $6.2 billion.
State government assistance to the mineral and fossil fuel industries appears substantial even when compared to big budget items, such as health, education and law and order. For example, Queensland’s expenditure on these industries in 2013-14 is similar to the amount to be spent on disability services and capital expenditure on hospitals. Queensland will spend as much on supporting the mining industry as it does on supporting some of its most vulnerable citizens. Similarly, industry assistance in Western Australia is substantial when compared to police and health, and in New South Wales, it is comparable to other important budget items such as managing the state’s national parks and providing accommodation for those with disabilities.

If you are interested in the history and quantum of these subsidies, read this. 

You'll need to put some time aside. It's 70 pages long.

The amount of these subsidies is eye-watering.

But, whatever you do, don't speak or write about it in public. 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Of Canopies and Things

Ute & canopy Adelaide bound (Hay plain)

Since moving to the dark side, and buying a ute, I've been intrigued with the idea that owners of these useful appliances have something to learn from those who disport themselves in two-seater roadsters.

As I've pointed out before, my Commodore ute has much in common with my dearly departed Mazda MX-5 roadster.

Let me count the ways -

They are both 2 seaters.
They both have removable covers installed as standard (on the roadster, it's the hood, on the ute, the tonneau).
They both have front engine/rear drive configuration.

Where they differed is/was in detachable hard covers.

I bought a detachable hardtop for the MX-5, and after getting it painted and installing the locking points, ended up with a stylish and secure enhancement to its functionality.

Remembering that, I began to think about enhancing the same security and functionality for the ute. There is no doubt about it, the ute was a handy device when it came to shifting house. Ever tried to move a fridge in an MX-5?

But problems remained, particularly security. On a number of occasions I'd parked the ute at a shopping centre, only to return to find that someone had lifted the corner of the tonneau to have a peek to determine if there was anything worth nicking in the tray.

The family Blue Heeler wouldn't get in the ute for love nor money - she's funny like that - so using her as a guard dog would not work.

Then I began to think about a detachable canopy. One of the advantages of the hardtop on the MX-5 was that it was held on by over-centre catches and could be removed by two people in 10 seconds flat.

Problem was, nobody makes detachable canopies. Hours spent researching on-line through all the usual suspects proved that nobody actually made them so that they could be removed quickly. All were bolt-ons.

I had owned a ute with a fibreglass canopy back in the BC* days, and remembered my bride and I struggling with it when we wanted to remove it. I needed 20 minutes with a spanner to unbolt it. It wasn't all that heavy, but was hard to remove without trapping fingers. There was nothing to grab it with. This lack of grabbing points was a major issue.

The solution was obviously to take a lesson from the engineers at Mazda, and use over-centre catches, and the installation of handles would also make the whole thing more practical. The "whole thing" being the removal and replacement when large items needed shifting.

It took about two weeks of phone calls and visits to find a canopy manufacturer who was prepared to make something to these specifications.

Basically, they took the regular Commodore canopy, and attached handles. Then they riveted over-centre catches to the existing fixing attachments (6 in all) in the ute tray. The tricky bit was getting everything to fit so it would be water and dust proof, but there is plenty of adjustment in the catches, and it wasn't difficult to set it up properly.

By way of a shake down trial, I did a brief trip to Adelaide and back (only 3798 kms) to help No 2 son move house. The canopy performed exactly to specifications. We took it off twice to shift beds etc, and put it back on to carry smaller stuff securely.
Over-centre catches - six in all.

It's pretty light, and the vehicle behaves much the same as it did bareback. There's a light inside, and it's wired for 240 if I ever have the need to camp in it.

That setup has to be certified by an electrician.

240 wiring

And strangely the Heeler (and her little Koolie mate) are very happy to travel in it. There's no accounting for dogs.    

I reckon I should patent the concept. I'd call it Kliponkanopy..........

*Before children

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