Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Monday, 21 May 2018


RAAF C-29J Spartan
And now for something completely different.

Politics is more boring than usual, the media is full of rubbish reporting about some wedding somewhere, and I've had it up to here with the self contradictory drivel routinely emanating from Washington.

Therefore, gentle reader, I'll post about warbirds.

There is an annual event in God's Waiting Room (Toowoomba) called the David Hack meet. It's supported by local Rotary, the earnings go to a range of charities, and is named in honour of David, whose passions were cars and photography, and whose life was cut short in 1998 by Non Hodgkins Lymphoma (Leukaemia).

I have attended for the last few years, and displayed my MX5, but more about that over at MX5 Mutterings. 

This post features some of the warbirds on display. I'm not as au fait with warbirds as I am with motor cars, so forgive me, gentle reader, if I get some of the identifications wrong.

Better still - comment and set me straight if you see an error.

Whatever you do, don't mention Vietnam.........

North American T-6 Texan

Yak - 11

North American T-28 Trojan
Kiwi Harvard
CAC Winjeel
Wirraway motor. Noisy when it's running.
All the details......

And that is what it looks and sounds like in motion.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Baby and Bathwater

A basic form of cashing-in on NAPLAN. The media are much more sophisticated.
 The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) has been in the news of late.

The program was introduced in 2008, three years after I had retired as a school principal, so my personal experience relates to encounters with it from the point of view as a consultant - an adviser with no direct responsibilities for student results.

In addition, I was focused on students with disabilities, so my perspective was a mite unconventional.

Whatever, I have certainly developed some opinions based on my experience.

My first encounter influenced by NAPLAN was when I was supporting a student with a physical impairment enrolled in a small (15 student) rural school. The principal asked me how she would go about securing permission for this student to be exempted from the test.

When I enquired as to her reasons for this, it became clear that she was worried that his under-performance on the test would lower the average of her whole school performance. This was a real issue for small school principals. When you have an enrolment of 15, one bad performance makes a great deal of difference to the whole school result.

When your enrolment is say, 500, not so much.

NAPLAN was always an issue for small schools.

 Given my post-2005 experience in the Queensland system, I also noticed other issues associated with the emphasis on literacy and numeracy demanded by NAPLAN. The curriculum is crowded, and teachers generally prioritise areas that are assessed.

So do school administrators. If school staffing resources are prioritised (as they always are) literacy and numeracy take precedence. This is reflected in the way specialist teachers who operate outside the literacy/numeracy area treated. Music and Art teachers find themselves used as relief teachers when push comes to shove as a result of staffing prioritised. Their curriculum areas are inevitably dismissed because they are not part of the program. This is despite the fact that for many students, art and music provide the real colour and movement in the curriculum and the best chance for enduring engagement.

I’m aware of a number of specialist teachers who felt so abused by the practice of disregarding their subject areas that they left the profession in disgust.

Then, of course, there’s the media’s use of the NAPLAN data. They exploit it mercilessly. It is, after all, God’s gift to declining circulations. Everybody wants to read about the relative performances of their child and their school.

There have been calls for the abolition of the scheme. To assess whether this has any merit, it’s important to consider the real reason for its introduction. My belief is that they were political, rather than educational.

The government in power at the time wanted to show that it was DOING SOMETHING ABOUT EDUCATION. When you think about it, NAPLAN was supposed to answer a question that nobody who knew anything about teaching and learning actually asked. Schools and teachers know how they are performing. They are told so every day. Schooling and teaching are the most public and visible of professions.

The league tables that have developed on the back of media coverage of the results have had an enormously destructive influence on schools, teachers and students. It is impossible to identify one positive outcome of these tables except for the above-mentioned boost for the media.

But to terminate the program on the basis of these negatives? I wouldn’t do that. The problem is not the collection of data, but the way in which it has been misused. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The solution is relatively simple – make the data available only to those directly involved – the students and parents – the teachers and the apparatchiks in the state systems.  The media could be kept at bay by press releases that provided system-wide data, but left school data out of it, to prevent school by school comparisons. Real penalties could be applied to any individual or organisation that leaked information.

This should remove the pressure cooker environment that has developed around the program.

There would be wailing and gnashing of teeth from the media of course – I can see the headlines about “denial of accountability” and “cover-up”, but if all sides of politics supported an embargo on league tables, the political sting would be removed.

Let’s have a reassessment of NAPLAN – not in terms of what data is collected, but what is done with it. Leave the data in the hands of those best positioned to use it rather than misuse it. Use it to inform resource allocation, teaching strategies, and staff support, not to score political points and set one system against another.

Let’s make sure NAPLAN doesn’t become Napalm. I saw what that stuff did in Vietnam.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Oro Se do Bheatha Bhaile

Sinead O'Connor has been having a tough time of late.

Sad - she's a wonderful performer, and always surrounds herself with top musicians.

This is an example - sung with passion.


Thursday, 3 May 2018

Sales and Service

One of the few advantages of advancing years, gentle reader, is that I've lived long enough to observe some megatrends*.

*(Fancy speak for a major trend or movement).

Back when I first joined up, my mutual bank was a very pleasant institution. It was smallish, friendly, and we were on first name terms with the staff.

Apart from the normal banking transactions, they helped out in times of crisis. They may not have had much bling in their shopfront, but they certainly understood and practiced a service culture.

A few years ago, the credit union became a bank, and then last year it merged with another mutual - a motorists organisation.

At first, not much changed. Then the branch was relocated to a you-beaut new shopping complex (where you pay for parking) and was no longer open on the weekend.

I guess penalty rates aren't corporately correct. (I reckon I've invented a new acronym there - let's see if it catches on).

Then, slowly but surely, the culture began to change. An acquaintance who worked there left because he couldn't hack the sales targets, and the emphasis on merchandising everything that wasn't nailed down.

From the customer's point of view, the interactions with staff became formulaic and almost scripted. Spontaneity disappeared, and any smiles observed (and there weren't many) were forced.

We still bank there, but I'd like to find a mutual that actually behaves like one. Wish me luck.

The current outrage surrounding what has been revealed by the banking royal commission, hasn't really surprised me. After all, it's the end product of a corporate culture driven by geed - not profit.

Profit is fine - greed and exploitation - not so much.

Unfortunately, gentle reader increasingly service is passe. The market rules.

Now remind me, who was it that drove the merchants out of the temple?

These days, the temples are generally in the CBD, and the occupants worship a God very different from the one I was brought up to understand. 

Monday, 23 April 2018

A Poor Fit

Destroyed bridge - Song Rai - March 1970

Wednesday is ANZAC Day.

As usual, I'll be marching. I march to remember and honor the men I served with in Vietnam.

There is for me, a very poor match between my service in Vietnam, and the ANZAC story. With the wonderful hindsight that history provides, we understand now the political deception and sad futility that was characteristic of that conflict..

To state that - to put it out there - does not dishonour the diggers. They did their duty, and we owe them.

We also owe my father who fought in the RAAF in the New Guinea campaign, and my great uncle Clarrie, who served in France in WW1, and every other digger who enlisted or was conscripted.

It seems that there's a set of public statements about ANZAC Day that are acceptable, and anything not PC or departing from that creates outrage. Just ask Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

I'll take that risk, gentle reader. I'll make some non-PC comments, and to hell with the outrage.

After I returned from Vietnam, it was fifteen years before I marched on ANZAC Day. The first time was in 1985 only because I felt I owed a gesture of respect and thanks to the local RSL, who had donated $500 to my school. I was the principal of a Special School at the time.

I'm still not sure how they knew I had fought in Vietnam, as I had worked hard to keep it quiet. Being identified as a Vietnam veteran before the Welcome Home march in 1987 was not necessarily a good thing. 

Looking back, apart from avoiding the persisting public rejection and disregard of Vietnam veterans which pretty much began to evaporate in 1987, I hadn't marched because I felt my experience in Vietnam had very little to do with ANZAC Day. I still feel the same, but marching these days gives me the opportunity to share something with fellow ex-servicemen and women. Long Tan day (August 16th) has greater significance for me than ANZAC Day.

What we share on these days is difficult to put into words, but it revolves around mateship, compassion and pride. We were fighting for each other. The bond that develops around this shared experience is uniquely strong.

When you look at the ANZAC myth, and compare it with the reality that was Vietnam, I reckon my early misgivings were justified.

In the first place, I was a conscript. The ANZAC myth doesn't fit well with conscription.

I was a soldier not because I was sacrificing everything for Queen and Country, but because it was a better option than being jailed - hardly a noble motivation. If I had resisted my call-up, I would have fronted a magistrate and probably spent the next couple of years in Boggo Road. As a beginning teacher at the time, that would not have been a good career move. Teaching was incompatible with a criminal record.

Reality - poster - WW2
Rhetoric - poster - Vietnam

Our country was at peace at the time of my service. Unlike during WW2, there was no existential threat. There was no Imperial force at our doorstep. Darwin hadn't been bombed.

The relatively recent experience of WW2 was, however, cynically exploited by the politicians of the time. They needed those DLP preferences to hold on to power. Echoes of the "Yellow Peril" rhetoric used under threat of Japanese invasion were carefully resurrected during the Vietnam era. After all, the Vietnamese and Japanese were Asian. For the fearful and pig ignorant - that was enough.

Fighting in peacetime when there is no existential threat is not a good fit with the ANZAC myth.

Like it or not, I was part of an army of occupation. We were "invited" to participate only after the corrupt South Vietnamese government was pressured by our government at the time to do so. The ANZAC myth promotes the notion that we were fighting for freedom. The Australian people were sold that narrative in reference to Vietnam. 

I question that. I doubt very much that most Vietnamese at the time welcomed us. Given their history of resisting in sequence, the Japanese, the French and the Americans, welcoming Uc Da Lois would have been an historical aberration. All the Vietnamese wanted, after forty years of conflict, was peace.

Diggers in Vietnam maintained the ANZAC tradition in terms of how they conducted themselves. The same can't be said of our political leadership at the time - reference the poster displayed on the right above.

The ANZAC myth is rich with references to throwing out occupying armies, especially during the Pacific campaign. Along with most of SE Asia,  the Japanese occupied Vietnam for a while. Ironically, twenty years later, so did we. I wonder how that sits with the ANZAC story?

And of course, Vietnam became a lost cause. Mind you, so was Gallipoli, but at least the young men who fought so well during Churchill's excellent adventure, were volunteers. It's worth noting with the celebration of the centenary, the mythological attention seems to be morphing away from Gallipoli and towards the Western front. The myth is obviously malleable.

Not only is the myth malleable; it is also corruptible. A few years ago, I was asked to deliver an ANZAC Day address at my old high school. I researched the task thoroughly. After all, as a teacher, I wanted to deliver something engaging, but most importantly, historically accurate.

To my amazement, when I visited the ANZAC Day commemoration website, I discovered that I had actually volunteered to fight in Vietnam. This did not sit well with my recollection, nor, as it happens, with the National Service Act.

I phoned the Commemoration Committee number as advertised on their website, and was told that my memory was wrong, and that every Nasho who served in Vietnam was given the chance to escape service in Vietnam in what were called "opt-out" parades. 

I found that revelation amazing, as I was never present at an "opt-out" parade. When I asked the men from my rifle section if they had participated in such a parade, their memories concurred with mine. Perhaps my unit (7 RAR) was exceptional?

I then went to the AWM website and checked the record. If you have enough time and motivation, every CO's parade is recorded and you can check the detail. No "opt-out" parades were recorded for my unit in the six months prior to embarkation, so I began to check other Infantry units.

After many hours, and much frustrating searching, I found no reference to such parades and gave up.

Subsequently, Mark Dapin's work which has debunked so many romantic generalisations has clarified the range of experiences of Nashos. What he has written has pretty much confirmed my recollection, but there are diehards who continue to maintain the opt-out myth. At least the Commemoration committee has corrected the record.

The campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan sit better with ANZAC than Vietnam, as do the various peacekeeping actions, mainly because ADF members were volunteers. Iraq is a stretch. The invasion of Iraq was justified by a lie after all, but that does not diminish the sacrifice of the diggers. 

In summary, our involvement in Vietnam has four characteristics at odds with the ANZAC myth. 

We were part of an army of occupation.

It was peacetime.

Many of us were conscripts.

Vietnam was foreign soil.

Admittedly, some of the other conflicts had elements of these characteristics, but all of them?

Vietnam was a sad anomaly.

It's worth acknowledging that the Chocos who fought so well on the Kokoda track were also conscripts, but they were fighting in Australian mandated territory. Vietnam was not that. 

By the time I was there, victory was a lost cause, a reality that the US administration knew and understood, even as they continued to send conscripts to fight and die. You could be charitable and believe that our government at the time was not aware of the import of the Pentagon papers, but a call-up that avoided political blowback by taking a small proportion of young men was far from charitable.

None of these four exceptional factors characterising the Vietnam conflict sit well with the myth of noble self-sacrifice, or with the Australian experience of other wars.  

So I will continue to march, but but I will do so as as a mark of respect towards my fellow ex-servicemen and women. I will remember those who did not survive, and march with those who did.

I will march with a mix of sorrow and anger, and with the fervent hope that there will be no more Vietnams.


Sunday, 15 April 2018


The Sponsor's pig

Yesterday, gentle reader, was our local agricultural show.

I wandered along, not because I have any strong interest in matters agricultural, but because of the photo opportunities it usually presents. I wasn't disappointed.

Sideshow alley.

Sideshow alley is these days an anachronism. Perhaps the sparse crowd was an indication. Having said that, those that were there were having a great time on all the usual rides, and the shooting galleries persist.

The signs were entertaining.
Creative use of language - French or English?
Guns actually go bang.
Maybe this is the future - nerf guns instead of 22s?

Attendant looking bored.

Getting your ducks in a row.

Everything is possible at your local Ag show, even your hand in wax.

Show bags are still a thing. I can remember when they were called sample bags, and were free.

Where would we be without China?

There were celebrities (Costa Georgiadis)

There was the occasional Alpaca.
And a camel or two.

Produce was displayed.

Send in the Clowns.

The Dagwood Dogs were there.

And a ferris wheel.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

I'm Over It

The one in the middle is our next head of state. (Getty images)

I don’t know about you, gentle reader, but I’m over it.

The “it” being the Commonwealth Games (abbreviated to “Comgames” by the usual suspects in the media.

And when you think about it the media is the raison d’etre for this boringly repetitive event. Like the Olympic Games, the whole deal is rapidly approaching its use-by date.

After all, the narrative is always the same – the endless promotion prior which seems to begin years ahead;  the stories about the athletes’ accommodation; the conjecture about the flag bearer; the Sally Pearson will she/won’t she story; the success/failure of the swimming team; the “how do you feel” questions for both winners and losers; the African athletes who scarper; and the opening and closing events stories.

We also get the odd royal out to open the show. We scored Charlie. The royal family are all a bit odd, of course, but Charlie is right up there.

Pauline Hanson found something to be outraged about. The state government over-reacted to the transport problems, and the volunteers’ training programme was criticised by the leader of the state opposition.
In other words, we’ve heard it all before, and none of it is news or inspiring.

The athletes, of course, deserve the rewards for their hard work and effort, but they’re athletes, for crying out loud. That’s what they do.

There is one bright spot. The paragames are being run in conjunction.

That is one organisational aspect that the Olympics could duplicate.

And don’t forget, gentle reader, you and I are paying for it.

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