Tuesday 21 May 2024

In Praise of Podiatry


Pic courtesy West Ryde podiatry

There is an amazing variety of medical specialities, and podiatry is just one of them, although until last week, I had never in my 77 years, seen a podiatrist.

That was until I broke a toe, as a result of foolishly forgetting that I was now in my seventh decade, and indulging in a social volleyball match. This had a bad outcome. The company was good (mostly service veterans), but the physical consequences were not.

I finished up with a very painful left foot, which combined with a neuroma (Google it) needed attention. It wasn't healing, and I was becoming tired of limping about, so my GP referred me to a surgeon, who decided to try podiatry.

I was referred to a very senior podiatrist, almost as old as I am, and he worked wonders. He prescribed an orthotic insert, which immediately improved my gait, and eliminated the other complications of a disordered gait. I'd seen plenty of this during my career teaching kids with physical impairments.

He also discovered my painfully ingrown toenails, which I've put up with since infantry service in 1969/70. Ten minutes of minor surgery has made an amazing difference. It's great to be able to walk without a pain (which I became so used for over fifty years) that its absence is a revelation.

Podiatry forever!

Monday 6 May 2024

The Australian Ballot

Pic courtesy Australian National Audit Office

Sometimes we take the best aspects of our country's institutions for granted.

One of the clearest examples of this is our "Australian Ballot". This country has pioneered many aspects of nineteenth and twentieth-century adult suffrage. 

Victoria and South Australia were the first administrations (at the time British colonies) to introduce secret ballots in 1856, and that method of voting was called for many years "the Australian ballot".

The Australian ballot spread to Europe and the United States to meet the growing public and parliamentary demand for protection of voters. 

Apart from the secret ballot, so many other aspects of our system are either unique to Australia, or were pioneered in Australia.

We vote on Saturdays, and often have fundraising stalls and sausage sizzles (the famous democracy sausage) present at the booths. Voting on the weekend frees up access to the process, and is far from universal elsewhere. The Americans vote on Tuesday, for example, an historical remnant of the horse and buggy era when it took an average of three days to get to a booth at the end of the week.

Saturday, Sunday and Monday were the travelling days. It's a commentary on the bizarre nature of US culture that the practice that made sense over two hundred years ago, remains.

It resembles the quant logic behind their gun laws, or the lack of them.

The casual friendly atmosphere of the sausage sizzle is a reflection of our voting culture, which sees the task as being part of the responsibility of citizenship, but at the same time something that is socially enjoyable. We don't take ourselves seriously enough to vote with either fervour or long faces.

The votes are counted by hand, for simplicity, and there are scrutineers present. When I was younger I often worked as a polling clerk. The pay was good, and the atmosphere congenial. It was not unknown for opposing scrutineers to share transport to and from the booth, and perhaps a cold ale afterwards, if voting was done before closing time. In small bush booths, this was always possible.

Preferential voting is another positive aspect of our system. To win a seat you need 50% of the vote plus one. You rank the candidates on your ballot paper from one to whatever. The votes are sorted according to first preferences, and then counted. 

If no candidate has sufficient votes to have an absolute majority, the votes of the candidate with the lowest number of votes are distributed according to their second preferences. This process continues until one candidate has 50% plus one. 

Some candidates will win their seat without any need to distribute preferences, but for those who have to go to preferences, this process means no one is disenfranchised. 

Many don't understand how the system works, but if they took the time to examine it, and the principles it's based on, they might appreciate the respect it pays to every voter. Preferential voting together with the compulsory ballot, means nobody is disenfranchised.

Voter suppression is a non-issue, unlike many other countries, including the USA, where it remains a problem. The Queensland Electoral Commission practice of mailing out voter IDs to people on the electoral roll is designed to facilitate the process, and counter claims of fraud, which have been largely influenced by American trends.

I'm old enough the remember the Gerrymander that persisted in Queensland during the Bjelke-Petersen era. On average, the Country Party needed only 7,000 votes to win a seat, compared with 12,800 for a typical Labor seat. That was remedied in 1989 through the Fitzgerald reforms, but it had successfully kept a Coalition government in power for decades.

The Electoral Commission reviews boundaries every five years, and because the AEC is a commission, and not an elected body, political influence does not apply.

So the Australian ballot is a bastion of our democracy.

Long may it remain.


Saturday 27 April 2024

The One Day of the Year

At the cenotaph 25.04.24

It took me fifteen years after returning from Vietnam before I marched on Anzac Day.

There were all manner of reasons for this, but foremost amongst them was the reception we received in the early seventies if identified as Vietnam veterans. I was never personally called a "baby killer" but the atmosphere of  indifferent hostility (particularly on the campus of the University of Queensland where I was undertaking a Department of Labour and National Service rehabilitation scholarship) was absolutely clear.

So I put the whole experience on a shelf, worked and studied, got married and became a father.

In 1983 I was the principal of a special school in a Northern Brisbane suburb. On Anzac Day of that year the local RSL club donated $500 to the school. 

I'd previously had nothing to do with the RSL, but was obliged to meet with the local president to organise a presentation of the donation on Anzac Day, and he became aware that I was a returned soldier. I refused his offer to join the RSL, but accepted an invitation to march.

It was only after the Welcome Home in 1987, that I felt free to march again. Whilst interviewing many who had served in Vietnam for my thesis, I discovered that this behaviour was typical.

For about a decade and a half (from 1972 until 1987) we were personae non grata. Then came the Welcome Home march, the song, and a change in the public perception. Unfortunately it was too late for some.

So now I march. 

This year I went to Sydney and marched there with two blokes I've known since June 1969, when we were marched into 5 Platoon, B Coy, 7 RAR. We went through six months of intensive training which culminated with a couple of weeks at the Jungle Training Centre at Canungra and a pre-embarkation exercise at Shoalwater Bay near Rockhampton.

Together we embarked for Vietnam on HMAS Sydney on 16th February 1970.

We served together through operations Finschhafen and Cung Chung, and all three of us were involved in an assault on a bunker system on 22nd April. B Coy took one KIA* and two WIA+ in that incident, and a soldier from 4 Platoon died of dehydration the day prior to the bunker contact.

You can read about it here.

Then, coincidentally we were all re-posted out of 5 platoon in June 1970, more or less simultaneously and for a variety of reasons driven fundamentally by manpower requirements which tended to decide the fate of most Nashos, another fact I discovered during my research.

We're all in our mid-seventies, so marching may not be possible for much longer, so I took the opportunity to travel to Sydney to march with them, probably for the last time.

There were only about thirty of us left to march from a unit that had seen thousands pass through its ranks between 1965 and 1972.

Perhaps, if there are no more wars, nobody will be left to march in the future.

I live in hope.

*Killed in Action

+Wounded in Action

Wednesday 24 April 2024


Pic courtesy Jetstar

I thought I had retired, gentle reader, but now I’m working for Jetstar.

I haven’t flown with them for a while, and the last time I did they were full of surprises.

That hasn’t changed.

Last time I was ignorant of their baggage policies, and I received an expensive surprise when I had to shell out for carry on baggage which I’d wrongly assumed was covered in my fare.

This time, the issue was timing. When you book a flight, There’s a golden window within which you have to tag your bags, weigh them, and go through security.

Because of an accident on the Warrego highway, my bus got me to Brisbane domestic five minutes past the closure of this golden window. The first I knew of this was when the infernal robots refused to accept my already printed boarding pass. 

The robot told me to find a Jetstar staff member, which was a task in itself. The orange garbed people I found must be trained in avoiding eye contact.

Eventually I found a polite young man who seemed to know about as much as I did. He sent me off to the Jetstar help desk. My problems were beyond his pay scale.

I had to pay an extra $85 to be booked on a later flight, even though the one I was originally booked on was sitting on the tarmac, and wasn’t going to depart for at least another forty minutes.

I got in line with my newly minted boarding pass issued by a gentleman, who was polite, but with an accent so thick that it defeated my damaged hearing.

I mimed my way through.

And whilst I was waiting for the later flight (three hours I won’t get back again) I realised that I was now working for Jetstar.

I had printed my own boarding pass, tagged and weighed my baggage, and done all of this without training and supervision. It is the perfect industrial model, and beats paying for staff to complete those messy procedures.

Instead of being paid for these tasks, I had been billed the above mentioned $85 administration fee.

I guess I could regard that as union membership.

Sent from Outlook for iOS

Monday 15 April 2024

The Forgotten Men

The Canberra billet which I guarded in 1970. Taken in 2006 with an extra floor added. Excuse the blurry shot. 

Between November 1964 and December 1972, 804286 twenty year-old Australian men registered for what was euphemistically called national service.  

Of these, 63735 had their birthdates drawn in one of the sixteen ballots and were enlisted into the Australian Army. They were conscripts, although that word is generally not used.

Perhaps the notion of conscription does not sit well with our national narrative. History would suggest that, which may explain the endurance of the euphemism. 

Of that conscripted group, a minority (15381) served in Vietnam. I was a member of that minority. The remaining forty thousand plus served out their two year obligation in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Borneo or Malaysia. This post is about those who didn't serve in Vietnam, and as a consequence are forgotten. They had no "Welcome Home " in 1987. Nobody wrote a song about them.

Those 63735 men had a number of things in common. They were taken away from their employment and income, their homes and families, and their reasonable expectations of a future on the basis of a lottery draw. Meanwhile their unballoted peers continued with their lives unmolested.

All shared recruit training at Singleton, Puckapunyal or Kapooka depending on their state of origin, but once posted to corps, they had very different experiences. Their postings frequently had them sent to bases great distances from their homes on the Australian mainland, and in many instances overseas. 

These overseas postings included Borneo (where two died) and Papua New Guinea (serving as 'Chalkies" - teachers) in Education Corps. Service in Borneo and PNG is not considered "warlike", so these men have no entitlement to benefits accrued through active service.

Towards the end of the Australian commitment, the period of the National Service obligation was reduced from two years to eighteen months. The National Service Termination Act 1973 used the "exceptional hardship" expedient to legally process this. Towards the end of the period of National Service, these soldiers had almost become an embarrassment. 

During my Vietnam service with 7 RAR in 1970, I was posted to Saigon for about ten days late in my tour to be part of a Saigon guard. My normal situation (when not patrolling on operations) was the ATF base at Nui Dat. These guards were routine, and involved serving Infantry personnel providing security at the Australian billet in Saigon, called the "Canberra". Infantry soldiers were flown to Saigon from the ATF base at Nui Dat. The billet was attacked  during the 1968 Tet Offensive when coincidentally 7 RAR was providing security during its first tour of Vietnam.

During that quite pleasant interlude, I learned a little about the conditions of those ADF members serving in Saigon. They slept in a comfortable bed in what was a middle class Vietnamese hotel, had their laundry done by Vietnamese workers, and ate food prepared for them in the hotel kitchen. They also received a Saigon allowance meant to cover the expense of living in a comparatively expensive environment. 

Compare this experience with a national serviceman posted to an infantry battalion in Borneo. For much of the posting this soldier would be sleeping on the ground, patrolling through jungle with weapon and full kit, and completing piquets at all hours of the night. The Chalkies serving in PNG would have experienced more comfortable conditions, but were still serving in challenging tropical conditions.

Yet the soldier who served in air conditioned ATF headquarters in Saigon and slept nightly in a secure guarded billet is entitled to all the benefits accruing to a soldier on operational service. 

Those who served in Borneo, Malaysia, New Guinea and at home in Australia do not.

That is, to say the least anomalous. 

It's time it was fixed. There's not much time left. These men, like me, are in their seventies.

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Near Miss

I'm posting this dashcam grab, gentle reader, in the vague hope that it might be instructive.

At about 1:10 in you'll notice a very dark grey Toyota Yaris approaching on a downhill sweeping curve, and getting into a lurid oversteer situation. 

I was a bit lucky, as the slide hadn't developed sufficiently to get into my lane until she (was a female driver) had passed me. She did end up in my lane, behind me, facing the way she had come.

Fortunately, there was no other traffic at that instant, the road was wide, and there was nothing to hit.

I stopped, and walked towards the car to see if she was OK, but she took off. Embarrassed, perhaps? Anyway, the instructive bit refers to damp roads, downhill bends, and driving to the conditions.

My car was the Rondo I have just acquired.


Image courtesy Slideserve

 Now that Easter has come and gone, perhaps it's a fitting time to consider the story of redemption. 

It's been a part of my upbringing and life as a practicing Catholic as long as I can remember, although to be honest, I haven't really given it much thought.  

Essentially, it's a story about hope. Everyone, no matter how evil, can be redeemed. That's an amazing concept. We can each be saved, not by what we do, but by what someone else does for us.

I saw one side of that as a soldier where I witnessed fellow diggers putting their own lives at risk to save others. It was a profoundly moving experience.

Unfortunately, there is a flip side to the redeemer narrative. It's about scapegoating.

You have only to access social media for a short time to witness frequent and consistent blaming, and it's a very short step from blaming to scapegoating. 

That scapegoating is generally pretty mindless, and mostly consists of labelling anyone or anything that is mildly different or novel as being responsible for all the evils in the world. The attacks on people who identify as non-binary is perhaps the clearest example.  

Social media has become the temple in which this phenomenon is worshipped, and perhaps it's time for the story recounted by Matthew (21:12-13) to be repeated in that space. 

The new ACMA powers are a great start, but there needs to be much more extensive activity if our country's future is  to be assured.

In Praise of Podiatry

  Pic courtesy West Ryde podiatry There is an amazing variety of medical specialities, and podiatry is just one of them, although until last...