Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Musings about Motoring

There's been lots of media attention recently about the Rudd government's announcements on the Australian motor industry.

Most of the heat generated has been about politics, rather than motoring.

As a petrol-head from way back I have a stake in the issue, and take a view as a driver, rather than a voter, although, of course, I'm both.

Most of my driving is long-distance, generally up and down the Warrego Highway. I try, where possible, to avoid driving in the city and suburbs, because it's not fun, it's frustrating, and I'm highly suspicious of those I share the road with in Toowoomba, especially those who wear hats#.

I also need to drive a vehicle that can tow a reasonably sized trailer.

Consequently, my choice of vehicle is narrowed down to something that covers long distances comfortably and safely, can tow, and is cheap to run and reliable.

The government initiatives will result in smaller (medium-sized) cars, and towing with these vehicles is best avoided. I'd assume that cars of this size will be geared lower than large vehicles (by this I mean that the motor would be ticking over at 2500rpm at a 100kmh cruise, rather than the 1800 that my current (large) car uses. This relatively small difference has major implications for fuel economy when cruising.

In terms of long-distance cruising (remember, most of my driving) the traditional large Australian car is the logical option. My 2005 Falcon gets down to 8.5 l/100km in these conditions (see photo)*. Admittedly, I drive it with a gentle touch, but it has the power necessary to get me out of trouble, even when fully loaded (or towing, for that matter).

Coupled with the fact that it has a Sequential Vapour Injection LPG installation, providing greater efficiency than the Ford factory system in E-Gas versions of the Falcon, I enjoy very cheap long-distance motoring. Given that LPG costs slightly more than half unleaded, the virtual fuel consumption in these conditions approaches 5l/100km which is hybrid territory.

Admittedly, LPG is not much cleaner emissions-wise than unleaded, but there is a slight advantage.

This is a big country. Over the years, the local industry has developed a uniquely Australian genre of large vehicles which are a very good fit to purpose. Generally, they are safe, comfortable, and eat up long distance travel with ease. They also continue to perform well when fully-laden, something lacking in medium or small vehicles.

I'd like to see one of the manufacturers (Ford, perhaps) be provided with the financial support to develop a large car powered by alternative fuels such as CNG or LPG. There would also need to be an injection of funds to support the development of fuel distribution infrastructure for these alternatives. (One of the few disadvantages of LPG is that the price escalates rapidly as you head away from "civilisation").

I'd be surprised if there wasn't a market for this kind of vehicle, and the technology developed would have a wide application.

Wasn't it Mao who said "Let 100 flowers bloom, 100 schools of thought contend"?

I have no idea whether Mao could drive, but I'm sure he would agree with me We need a variety of solutions.

# Commonly known as "Hatties" - a particularly dangerous breed.

*The photo was taken by my passenger – I don't get involved in any activity other than driving when I'm in the seat on the right hand side.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Old Diggers

I was driving to the newsagent yesterday to get the paper – I usually walk, but it was Sunday.
There's got to be a day off.
As I turned into the carpark at the front of the shopping centre, I followed a twenty-year old BMW 5 series, with a flat rear tyre. The car looked like it came from the bush, with a well-crafted aluminium roo-bar. The driver emerged – a tall elderly bloke who had the appearance of an ex-grazier. (I can pick them a mile off, and there are many retired cockies living in our part of Toowoomba. I think they feel at home on the edge of the escarpment.)

I pointed out the tyre, which he hadn't noticed. He looked at a loss, and mumbled something about getting his son. It was apparent he wasn't up to changing the tyre himself. He also looked embarrassed – probably not a bloke who enjoyed needing help. I asked him if he had a spare, and offered to help when he said he did. Between us we began to change the tyre. He was able to help, but I don't know if he would have been able to do the job independently.

The BMW was well-equipped with a fold-down tool tray, and a very sophisticated jack. The car was obviously treasured, as all the kit was as original despite the fact that it was at least twenty years old. He told me that he was seventy years older than the car, which meant he was ninety. He said "I've slowed down a bit since I've turned ninety". I hope I'm as fit as he is at that age.

We chatted a bit as I changed the tyre. It turned out that he was a veteran of the Bougainville campaign in WW2, and that his son was in 5RAR on its first tour of Vietnam in 1967. He's also lost a brother in New Guinea, who had also served in the Middle East. He'd owned a property near Goondiwindi, so I was right about him being a cockie. I explained that I was a Vietnam veteran, and that my dad had also served in New Guinea. I'd also started teaching in Goondiwindi and been called up from there.

In fact, there were a lot of connections between us – mostly related to life experience and geography.

The BMW reminded me of the two Volkswagens I'd owned, in that the road wheels were attached using studs rather than bolts, and the detail engineering was top quality. In five minutes the job was done. We shook hands and drove away. It occurred to me that it took a sixty-year old to help a ninety year-old whilst heaps of younger bods walked on by.

They don't make them like that anymore – and the same applies to the old digger. I hope he enjoys many more days of happy motoring.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Simple Pleasures

It's Christmas, and time for all sorts of simple pleasures. Our kids are all at home. I know this because the internet is slow, (the result of competition for bandwith), the fridge is chockas, and the dog barks at night from the garage because she thinks that she should inside like everyone else.

They're growing up. One clear sign is that the elder two (both male) have developed a preference for specific alcoholic beverages. (Guinness and Lager respectively - would you believe). My suggestion that they mix them to make Black and Tans was not greeted with any enthusiasm. Eldest daughter scorns alcohol, so put in an order for Lemon, Lime and Bitters. I got it wrong because I bought the diet variety. When I was her age, life was simpler and there was no possible confusion about diet varieties because they didn't exist. Youngest daughter is on a health kick (thinking about it, she's always on a health kick) and drinks water only. H likes anything that fizzes – that's how she finished up with me. I've used the Christmas excuse to stock up on a selection of Shiraz (plural?).

When it all got a bit crowded the other day (32 squares doesn't seem enough when they're all home) H and I went on a picnic. We drove the MX5 to a spot near Hampton, of special significance to me because it's near a grove of pine trees planted by my Dad before he went off to New Guinea in 1943.

It was cool shady, and quiet, and it was great to simply sit on the soft grass and enjoy the view. One glass of plonk (I was driving) helped with the ambience. I guess we could have walked 200 metres from home and found a spot equally as pleasant, but it wouldn't have been near my old man's trees. That's my excuse, anyway.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Security and Schooling

This story appeared in last weekend's Sunday Mail -

Paula Doneman (Crime Editor)

A boy, 13, allegedly told police he wanted to kill a police officer after he was arrested for menacing staff with knives at a Queensland high school. Police say that on December 8, the boy took two knives to the school, where he acted in a "threatening manner" towards staff.

One of the staff is said to have disarmed the boy, who is more than 180cm tall and called police.
No one was injured in the incident. Police charged the boy with going armed in public to cause fear and assault. Two days later, detectives interviewed the teen as part of a threat assessment and to investigate what had triggered the alleged incident. Police sources said the boy revealed he had taken the knives to school to lure a local police officer he had targeted, into a confrontation. The teen also allegedly told police he wanted to stab the officer in the neck.

The boy, who cannot be identified under Queensland juvenile laws, will face a children's court on January 28.
He has not been charged with threatening the officer and it was unclear as to why the boy wanted to kill him.
Police sources said the teen, who is in the care of his mother, had expressed delusions of being fictional criminals from television shows such as Underbelly. The police interview with the boy prompted them to contact mental health authorities to assess the teenager. This assessment concluded that the boy had an intellectual impairment and was not mentally ill.

Sources said the boy previously had been cautioned by police for street fighting and behavioural issues. An Education Queensland spokesman would not reveal further details of the boy's case, the name of the school and whether the boy was a student there. Queensland Police Union president Cameron Pope said it was important at-risk children didn't fall through the cracks of society. He said that when people, regardless of age, were identified as having extremely violent and irrational tendencies, society as a whole needed to ensure that they received the help they needed. Mr Pope's warning came after Victorian police shot dead 15-year-old Tyler Cassidy who threatened to kill three police officers.

A couple of things make it interesting –

One of the staff is said to have disarmed the boy, who is more than 180cm tall and called police.

This makes me wonder. One staff member (presumably a teacher) disarms a 180cm tall male carrying a knife.

Compare this action and its outcome with the Tyler Cassidy situation. Obviously, comparisons on the basis of a media report (particularly from a Sunday tabloid) are dodgy, but it does remind me that kids coming to school with knives and being disarmed by their teachers is unfortunately not unusual. I've been guilty of the disarming bit in my teaching days, but usually the knife (or other offensive piece of kit) was removed from what we call the school "port" in Queensland before break time. Apparently it's technically illegal to go through a student's kit without his/her consent, and I'm afraid I've been technically guilty of this.

This assessment concluded that the boy had an intellectual impairment and was not mentally ill.

This student had an intellectual impairment which suggests he was enrolled at a special education unit in whatever high school it was. It probably also goes some distance in explaining why he was disarmed without injury. Teachers in these situations are generally both patient and resourceful, and they have much more flexibility that those in regular classes.

How long will it be before we have scanners at the gates of high schools? The lead time on this will probably be about the same as it was for our police to start carrying firearms, following the US practice. It's interesting that beat cops in New Zealand and the UK still don't carry, preferring to have ready reaction squads with firearms available should the need arise.

I wonder what would have been the result had the police sent to apprehend Tyler Cassidy been unarmed.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Australians Can't Queue

You've heard that white men can't jump. I have discovered another great cliché. Australians can't queue.

I'm spending more time in shops about now, and given the season, these same shops are crowded. I'd like a dollar for every time I've stood waiting for a shop assistant in the middle of what could only be described as a meander of customers where there really should have been a queue.

There is something about us (Australians) that makes queuing a challenge beyond comprehension. It may have to do with our rampant individualism, our "jack is as good as his master" outlook, or maybe we are simply collectively lazy and resistant of any form of disciplined behaviour.

Whatever the reason, we seem to be condemned to milling around, offering endless frustration to retailers across the country, and generally looking untidy.

Join with me. I'm carrying a rolled-up sign around with the words "please queue here" and unfurling it at the right moment to great effect.

Try it – if nothing else, it gets a laugh or three.

The picture shows a queue in Vietnam. They're good at it.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Grief and Anger

(Pic courtesy Weekend Australian).
On Dec 12 Police shot dead 15-year-old Tyler Cassidy in Melbourne. This is the bleakest of tragedies for his family, the officers involved, and the community.

The media has provided blanket coverage, and no doubt plenty of newsprint has been sold. Most of the commentary has focussed on the behaviour of the police, and their use of firearms. Some have descended to second-guessing their actions – hardly productive. There will be a Coroner's inquest.

Not a lot has been written about the boy involved, and how he got to be in the obviously highly disturbed state that led to this dreadful outcome. Obviously, this incident developed an energy of its own, and was never completely under control. Given the training, background and equipment of the police, nor was this result surprising or unpredictable.

I've had some personal experience of attempting to deal with disturbed young men, and learned some painful lessons as a result. One of the schools in which I was principal had an enrolment of adolescents, mostly boys, with varying histories of violent behaviour and apparently irrational outbursts. There were a range of reasons for these outbursts – poorly prescribed medication, mental illness, and abuse – to name a few.

Generally, when a teacher lost control of a situation, the principal was called. I possessed no more training or experience (unless service in Vietnam counted in this context) than anyone else, but I guess I held the ultimate responsibility, so I was glad enough to be involved. These episodes weren't frequent, but they did occur from time to time. The most important goal was to ensure no-one was hurt – but I was also very keen for the other children and staff to continue their normal programme without interruption. In other words, my approach was always as low-key as possible, and I would work very hard to deprive the individual involved the opportunity to have an audience.

The only time this let me down was in trying to prevent an Autistic lad from running across a busy road. The rule we followed with this (fairly large) boy was "hands off", because he became very agitated if touched. Unfortunately, I had to grab him to prevent him running across four lanes of traffic, and finished up with a broken ankle as a result. Given that he didn't get run over, I was happy with the outcome.

On another occasion, an eleven-year old threw a desk at his teacher, stormed out of his classroom, and proceeded to rampage around the school trying to disrupt each class in turn. We used the intercom to warn staff who went into lockdown, and did their best to ignore him. I followed him at a distance of five metres hoping that he would eventually tire, and calm down. This he did, but not until he had picked up the Groundsman's pitchfork, and threw it at me, pointed end first. I side-stepped very quickly, and the five metres became ten.

When he had finally stopped yelling, screaming and throwing things (two hours later), he curled up in a foetal position in a corner, and sobbed uncontrollably. All I could do was to put my hand on his shoulder and stay with him until the sobbing stopped. He was calm enough then to apologise to the various teachers he'd abused, pick up the items thrown, and then catch the bus home. More restitution followed the next day, and I met with his mother. Fortunately, this was the one and only time he behaved this way.

The reason for the outburst? His much-loved father had died two months before. He had apparently not reacted. My guess was that he had bottled up all his grief until he could do so no longer, and the result was this outburst of rage. This was no excuse for the behaviour, but probably explained it. We organised for him to plant a tree in the school grounds in tribute to his dad, and he looked after it with enormous care and diligence.

This was not the first time I'd observed an adolescent boy dealing with grief, nor was it the first time that anger was a problem.

Tyler Cassidy's father died of cancer a few years ago.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


For me, today (10th December) is a significant personal anniversary. On this day, thirty eight years ago, along with other 15th Intake National Servicemen, I boarded a Thai Air Force C-123 at Luscombe Field (Nui Dat, South Vietnam). We flew to Ton Son Nuit, (Saigon).

There we emplaned on a Qantas 707 for the flight home to Australia. I'd spent 298 days in country. The 707 was very different from the choppers and Caribou that had been our routine transport for twelve months. It had cabin crew (all male), and what seemed initially to be an endless supply of VB. We left the tarmac after what felt like an interminable take-off run, and the coastline of South Vietnam quickly disappeared from view. This generated a round of applause from all on board, and the good-humoured cabin crew quickly passed around the beer.

Strangely, I didn’t feel much like drinking, as I preferred to savour the immense feeling of euphoria generated by the reality of leaving the army and South Vietnam behind. The majority of my comrades, many of whom became more than a little plastered before too long, didn’t appear to share my sentiments.

By the time we reached the coast north of Darwin, most were sleeping. It was a bloody long flight. They were woken by the captain announcing the arrival of the Australian coastline which was greeted by loud applause. We refuelled in Darwin, where the atmosphere was just as humid as Vietnam. For me, it didn't feel like home.

The Darwin-Sydney flight was long and boring, and the beer was no longer available. We were told that we had consumed every drop. I wonder whether the flight crew felt an obligation to deliver their passengers in a reasonable state on arrival, and the grog was cut off accordingly. As it was, we were a motley crew, dressed in civvies for the occasion. It was easy to develop the perception that we were being brought home in secret, almost in shame, as we arrived at three in the morning with no fanfare at all. There was certainly no brass band.

Our landing in Sydney was one of the roughest I can recall in many years of air travel, but it was greeted with loud and prolonged cheering. Perhaps the captain had been into the VB. I got the impression that even if we had come in undercarriage up, and had to slide down the escape chutes, the applause would have been just as vociferous.

There was a long delay through customs, as apparently one or two diggers tried to bring disassembled AK47s in with their luggage.

When we finally emerged from customs, my two mates and I hailed a cab and asked the driver to take us to the motel my parents had booked for me. They'd also bought a seat for me on a Brisbane flight next day. What followed was my first surprise – the cabbie simply refused to take us, saying it was out of his area. Appealing to his better nature by pointing out that we were infantry soldiers returning from a tour of duty in South Vietnam cut absolutely no ice at all. He took us to a different motel, where he seemed to have some kind of enduring relationship with the proprietor. Home was a new reality.

This was my small introduction to an understanding of how those at home viewed our service. To be honest, I had no illusions about how we would be received, but it was apparent that many of my mates were expecting to be treated like conquering heroes. My parents lost their booking deposit, but this was the least of their worries – they were just happy to see me home. The army had issued me with rail vouchers that would have seen me board the Brisbane Limited to get home, but my parents chose to pay the extra for a flight to Brisbane.

It seemed ironic to me that I'd flown free from Brisbane to Williamtown two years ago at the beginning of my army training, but after twelve months of service in a war zone wasn't considered worthy of a flight home. It was a long time ago now, but this particular journey, is, on the whole, fondly remembered. This was RTA day, and for me has been ever since.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Story that Stole Christmas

This non-story was published in Saturday's Toowoomba Chronicle -

By MADELEINE LOGAN madeleine.logan @thechronicle. com.au

Noah's Ark lesson sparks school battle.

Father of five Ron Williams has lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Commission after his five-year-old Kathleen was "illegally exposed" to bible lessons during her prep class. A Toowoomba dad sparked major controversy yesterday for removing his daughter from Gabbinbar State School after she was taught the story of Noah's Ark.

Father of five Ron Williams has lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Commission after his five-year old Kathleen was "illegally exposed" to bible lessons during her prep class. However, he insists he is "not anti-religion". The long-time campaigner against the teaching of religion in schools plans to take civil legal action against Education Queensland, principal Greg Brand and classroom teacher Trina Savio on the basis religious education in prep is against policy.

His charge peaked major media interest yesterday with Mr Wil­liams fielding calls from a New-York based journalist, in addition to several television programs. Education Queensland denies Mr Williams' claims lessons included biblical teaching. A department spokeswoman said the viewing of Evan Almighty, a Hollywood come­dy about a man who builds a repli­ca Noah's Ark, was part of a unit on animal noises. "No references to 'God' or the biblical story were made in the classroom," she said.

Mr Williams said he asked for Kathleen to be moved to an alterna­tive prep class after spotting a bookshelf full of children's biblical titles and a large cardboard replica of Noah's Ark in her classroom. He claims this request was re­fused by Mr Brand and he was thus forced to remove his child from the school. Mr Williams' two oldest children still attend Gabbinbar State School.

The boys, who moved from Middle Ridge State School when it em­ployed a chaplain, will study through distance education next year. Kathleen will attend an in­dependent Toowoomba school.

St Bartholomew's Anglican Church Reverend Richard Harris insists Evan Almighty is not a religious movie. "This incident is sad because the film is just a great story," he said. "It's got Judeo-Christian teaching in it, but it's really about the love of family and teaching people to care about others. I'm surprised this man was offended by it." Mr Brand declined to comment and directed The Chronicle to Education Queensland. The school's website says pa­rents are required to complete a form when enrolling their child giving permission for them to learn religious education.

A parent with a bee in his bonnet doesn't get his way, so he goes to the media, and finds an editor thick enough to listen. It was obviously a slow news day in Toowoomba.

There are a few parents in this town (mostly on the South side) who for reasons best known to themselves have been attacking state school principals about this issue. They are well-organised, and more than a little vindictive. They have every right to waste public servants' time in this fashion, but I am amazed at the reaction of the local media.

The scandal sheet that rejoices in the name of "Toowoomba Chronicle" put this on the front page. The report simultaneously manages to be both cliché-ridden and breathless , no mean feat for Madeleine Logan, although the heavy hand of Steve Etwell ("Editor"-in Chief) is apparent.

Etwell is best known for making snide remarks about people of middle-eastern origin and was outed in Mediawatch for this not too long ago. He obviously has managed to sleep through the first part of the twenty-first century.

You could excuse his reporter – she is relatively junior – but there is no excuse for an "Editor" to publish this type of gutter nonsense in something that pretends to be a provincial newspaper. Apart from the waste of front-page space, the last thing any school needs at this time of the year (characterised by the difficult combination of deadlines and seasonal goodwill) is incessant badgering by members of the fourth estate.

But then, Etwell is obviously a peddler of newsprint rather than a journalist if this is an example of his editorial activity.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Rites of Passage

Last weekend my youngest daughter had her high school formal. This was an event of some significance in our family, as she is the last of our four children to finish her schooling.

She attended an all-girls catholic school, and the event very accurately reflected the values of this particular school community. They actually practice what they preach.

The graduation mass in the morning was opened with a "Welcome to Country" read by one of the aboriginal kids. She was accompanied by a father playing the didgeridoo. This fellow is a local bank manager. He is not aboriginal, but has learnt to play the didge. He did a great job.

In the group graduating was a real mixture of backgrounds. There were girls from Sudan, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific Islands. My daughter's best mate is of Greek extraction.

At the formal in the evening, there was a great deal of competition around making a grand entrance. The girls managed to assemble a wide range of classic and exotic vehicles from which to alight with their partners at the designated place. The best I could do was to spruce up our family car, as my daughter's partner is still on "L" plates. Because of this, and fortunately for our father-daughter relationship, the issue of my loaning him my roadster didn't come up.

The highlight was provided by a couple of Papuan girls. Being boarders, they didn't have access to the networks of their local colleagues in terms of providing cars. They got around this by constructing a pseudo limousine out of cardboard. Two of them "drove" this replica down the street to the entrance of the hall. They stole the show.

Thinking about it, this richness of cultures is probably the greatest difference I detect between what happens now and the way the world was when I matriculated fifty-five years ago.

My other daughter lives in student accommodation in Brisbane where she is in the ethnic minority. Most of the students in her accommodation are Asian. Her best friend is Israeli. My son who studies in Adelaide shares digs with a Korean and a Chinese student. The other person is Australian, but he makes up for this by being a chef. My oldest son who also studies in Brisbane shares accommodation with two brothers who are of German descent. They're both multi-lingual. They happen to be his cousins, as their mother (my wife's sister) married a German bloke who emigrated.

None of my children see anything remarkable in this, and if you ask them, they are only barely conscious of background. They're more interested in a range of other issues, such as reliability of their roommates in terms of contributions for rent and food. One thing hasn't changed – students still live in splendid poverty.

Currently our baby is at schoolies. It leaves me wondering where the last seventeen years went..............

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Endangered Species

The following two articles were published in today's Courier Mail.

The first one is a piece about the resignation rates amongst teachers by
James O'Loan -

Teachers quit jobs - Resignations on increase

A Tsunami of Queensland teacher resignations is gathering mass as an ageing, arguably underpaid workforce continues to leave our classrooms. From 2006 to last year, resignations jumped 22 per cent and 19 per cent at primary and secondary public schools. The latest Education Queensland figures reveal a retention rate of 94.7 per cent in 2007, the lowest in at least three years. The system took 689 high school and 579 primary school teacher resig­nations from a workforce of 32,000. Queensland Teachers Union pres­ident Steve Ryan expected the flood­gates to remain open for masses of age-induced retirements and younger staff quitting within 10 years as their pay rises stopped. "But, the financial crisis will slow it down a bit I would say," Mr Ryan said. "They don't want to get into retirement mode because they're at the mercy of the markets again." Teachers constitute the third-oldest workforce in Australia. Only marine workers and timber workers are, on average, older. According to the Queensland College of Teachers, 3 per cent of registered teachers are 24 or less, while 37 per cent are 50 or more. Each year about 1000 to 1500 more teachers are registered than are volun­tarily deregistered and about 75 per cent are women. QUT PhD student Mark Keogh has for two years studied the reasons why Queensland's public high school teachers over 45 resign. "Most said it was because of issues within the school itself," he said. The researcher claimed a handful of "office psycho" principals across the state were also responsible for forcing good teachers out the door. "There are a lot of good (principals) but there are some really bad ones ... it breaks (a teacher's) heart," he said. He said bully principals often direct teachers to exclusively take Year 8, 9 or 10 classes — the most stressful. "There are ways to do it (discrimi­nate). Teachers aren't going to com­plain because principals have the right to find out who complained." Representatives from Catholic and independent schools agreed their sec­tors were also facing the prospect of mass retirements from an ageing teaching workforce.

The second by Tanya Chilcott deals with litigation -

Scissors to blame More school lawsuits

Students should not be allowed to take scissors into art classes, according to one parent who is suing the State Govern­ment for $210,000. The mother is suing on behalf of her son who was allegedly cut by scissors inside a pencil case thrown at him by another student in an art class. The incident is the latest in a string of school-based lawsuits filed against the state of Queensland. In the case, filed this week, a 14-year-old boy was allegedly injured on April 26 last year during an art class at Tullawong State High School, Caboolture. Another student was alleg­edly behaving violently and punched a second student in the head before throwing the pencil case at the 14-year-old boy, who had asked the alleged assailant to say sorry to the pupil he had hit. A claim filed by Shine Law­yers in the District Court of Queensland alleges a nerve was severed in the boy's left arm, as well as scarring. It claims the art teacher should have intervened and removed the allegedly violent student from the classroom. It also claims the state of Queensland "failed to implement a system by which students were prevented from bringing sharp objects into the classroom". The State Government is accused of breaching its duty by failing to implement a proper system for supervision and discipline. It is also accused of failing to implement a proper disciplinary behaviour and management program for the alleged attacker, who it is claimed had a history of violence at the school. An Education Queensland spokesman said he was unable to comment as the case was before the courts. Nearly 100 lawsuits were filed for injuries suffered by students in the last financial year.

Neither story is really news. Anyone working in schools, as I do, is only too aware of the situations described. The issues are wide-ranging, from behaviour management, to support for teachers, and parental expectations.

Probably the greatest degree of change I have observed since I started teaching in a bush school in 1968, relates to these issues of the mismatch between teacher capacity and the ever more demanding expectations of the community, harnessed for profit by the plaintiff lawyers.

The media also has a responsibility, because they generally sensationalise the negative aspects, and ignore anything positive. As a school principal, I remember feeling deep frustration at the local media's unwillingness to publish any positive stories - and there were plenty to publish. The politicisation of education also has a negative effect, as Principals, in particular, are aware that any decision made can land the school on the front page of the newspaper on a slow news day.

Perhaps one of the issues that hasn't been canvassed is that of the hobbling of learning communities (which is what schools are or should be) by this morass of issues. Anything that sidetracks the energy of teachers and principals away from learning and teaching imposes a cost on kids and their parents.

In the short term, we need to get behind our teachers and principals in much the same way as we support our military, irrespective of whether or not we support their political masters.

Both soldiering and teaching are noble and indispensable professions. Let's stop bashing them.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Momentous Events

When world-changing events happen, most people can remember where they were at the time.

My father woke me one morning in November 1963 to tell me that Jack Kennedy had been assassinated. I was sixteen, and as the oldest was relegated to sleeping on a verandah, as the school residence wasn't large enough for a family of six.

Dad emerged from inside the house with an expression of great distress on his face. He had been transfixed by the notion that a Catholic had been elected President in 1960, and now was devastated by his assassination.

Martin Luther King was shot on my younger brother's birthday, and by some strange twist of destiny, Bobby Kennedy died on my 21st Birthday the same year.

I was dismayed by this, as I'd held out hope that the younger Kennedy would win the Presidency, and withdraw from Vietnam before I was enlisted in the Army. I had been conscripted, and was teaching out my first year (as was the agreement) prior to call up. I believed, rightly or wrongly, that if the Yanks left Vietnam, we would follow. It was particularly ironic from my perspective that this indeed happened, but not before I had spent a year in Vietnam in 1970.

This consciousness that momentous events on the other side of the Pacific have a direct and profound effect on our lives in this country has never left me.

On 11th September 2001 (my youngest daughter's birthday) I watched the twin towers come down, with a deep sense of dread about the impact this would have on politics in this country. Few would argue the events of that day failed to shape the outcome of the next two federal elections.

Yesterday I was driving back from to Toowoomba after work in Roma, Wandoan, and Taroom. It's a long trip, and I tuned into the hourly news broadcasts that brought Obama closer to the Whitehouse as I got steadily closer to home.

The unfolding countryside paralleled my unfolding realization that nothing would ever be the same again. By Wallumbilla the networks were beginning to make cautious predictions, and by Yuleba, there seemed little doubt. I turned the radio off at Miles before pausing to have a coffee, with McCain's graceful concession in my ears.

At home last night, Obama's acceptance speech was riveting. I've emailed copies to my kids urging them to watch it, because the event will have a strong effect on their futures. Maybe they will – maybe not, but I hope someday they will develop an understanding of the broad sweep of history leading to this moment.

Hopefully, they won't have to wait to become old and cranky like their father before they understand.

Saturday, 1 November 2008


From today's Weekend Australian

(Pic courtesy of The Age).

The Rudd .Government is under pressure from all fronts, even Labor colleagues, to overturn a decision denying German doctor Bernhard Moeller permanent residency in Aus­tralia because his son Lukas has Down syndrome. The Immigration Department this week rejected Dr Moeller's application for permanent residency, saying the potential cost to the taxpayer of 13-year-old Lukas's condition was too great. Politicians, disability groups and the small Victorian town of Horsham, where Dr Moeller is the only specialist physician, were outraged by the deci­sion and have called on Immigration Minister Chris Evans to intervene on the family's behalf.

This situation would seem to put our federal government at odds with its own anti-discrimination legislation. The cold reality of this decision is that it puts a diminished value on the life a child with a disability.

Having spent the best part of forty years working with this particular group, it makes me wonder whether the people who developed our current immigration policy have been living on another planet. Apart from the doubtful assumption that this child's life will impose a burden on the community (measured by whom and how – I wonder*) it ventures into entirely dodgy territory by attempting to put a value on human potential.

I wonder how it is possible to predict the future contribution of any able-bodied child immigrant. It's entirely conceivable that an immigrant child could grow up to become a criminal and cost the community a fortune. Are potential child immigrants profiled? If they aren't and children with disabilities are, doesn't this say something about our national values?

Kids with Down syndrome, unless there is some other factor involved, are not, in my experience, a future burden. A very large proportion become independent contributing members of society. I don't believe too many go on to a life of crime, costing the community a fortune in custodial situations.

If we were to forget the economic rationalist view of the world for a moment, and apply a humanist (dare I say Christian) perspective, this policy looks completely out of step. I'd like to think we live in a country that welcomes and seeks to include all potential citizens, providing that they wish to contribute to the future of the nation to the best of their ability. This potential should not be referenced to race, creed, or disability.

*"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted" - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Snipped by Bolt

I often post to Andrew Bolt's bolt – the results provide some light relief. From time to time I get snipped by his moderators. It usually happens when I criticize his bias or style. This post contains an example. Make up your own mind as to whether this constitutes abuse. (Unfortunately, I didn't save the original post – but it's pretty close).

The snip –

No matter what the topic, you always SNIP......abuse of the host. If you loathe the host so much, why on earth are you here? Please learn to debate like and* adult or go play somewhere else. Bolt Moderators.

* Note the spelling - they must have been in a hurry....

This was more or less what I posted –


No matter what the topic, you always find a way to bash the agencies. Child abuse and neglect has nothing to do with ideology. It may have something to do with a materialism where children are seen as accessories.

Your erudite post which reports an anecdote to revive the cliché about PC will really improve the quality of life of children in care!

Can I suggest you do some research and develop an opinion from the data rather than the other way around? You might be surprised at the result.

Trouble is, this kind of analysis is not characteristic of the kind of post that pleases the ratbag right.

Try - http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi146.html

Update -

This too was snipped -

Andrew Bolt railing about bias is like Mae West complaining about innuendo.

I thought it was funny......

Update 2 -

This wasn't snipped - just not posted - in response to -


What gratuitous claptrap! Why not comment on the thousands of teachers who don't abuse students, or the thousands of Muslims who wear hijab because they have genuine faith? Bigots thrive on the sentiments exhibited by this.

Apparently Mr Bolt has a thin skin.

Friday, 24 October 2008


It's been an interesting week. I spent Monday to Friday traveling around my largest circuit which took me 700 km west. The work is largely about supporting students with physical impairments, and some of it involves visiting the families where these children live, particularly when they're very small, so that plans can be set in motion to make whatever adjustments are necessary to allow their access to school. I've covered over 2500km this week.

Because it's Queensland, the schools are almost universally built on stumps, accessed by stairways. This is a problem for kids in wheelchairs. One of my jobs is to write access audits for the principals so that they have the information they need to plan for these students. Often, because of financial planning issues, the reports need to be available many years before enrollment. So I try to make an assessment of the student-to-be well in advance of actual enrollment, and often the children are as young as three.

On Thursday, I visited the home of a three year old girl with an undiagnosed condition. She is a beautiful child, but requires around the clock care. She is tube-fed, and still doesn't sleep through the night. She is delightfully responsive, mostly cheerful and loved dearly by her mum and dad who live on a very remote cattle and sheep property accessed by a road that is impassable after a few showers of rain.

Her mother has done a fantastic job in setting up learning programs for her, ably assisted by a visiting support teacher who spends a few hours with her every week. It takes about two hours to get to the property from the nearest town, and the nearest (very small) school is about an hour's drive to the south.

There is support from health and disability agencies, but the support teacher is the only professional who actually visits her home. To access therapy (very important for this child), the mother has to take her to a health clinic. Routinely, she has to travel the 600km to Brisbane to access the range of specialist services necessary.

This is by no means an unusual situation. The devotion and sheer grit demonstrated by her parents in ensuring she lives the best quality of life possible is inspirational, but not unusual in rural communities. Her mother simply hasn't had a break in three years, since her little girl was born. She dismisses this with a philosophical shrug – for her it just isn't an issue.

On the day I was there, her dad was out meulsing, but he came in for lunch, and after a quick cleanup (meulsing is a messy activity), he and his two brothers sat down with his wife and the visitors (the support teacher and I) to have lunch. There ensued a lively conversation, and one of the issues discussed was executive remuneration. Given that lack of public funding is often given as a rationale for lack of services in the bush, it occurred, as a passing thought, how much difference the injection of some private money might make to this situation. The parents could, for example, get some respite. They could also employ someone to run a stimulation programme with this little girl so that she might develop some language skills. She's certainly showing some strong pre-communicative behaviours.

I wonder if any of the Masters of the Universe receiving packages in excess of say, 10 million per annum, spare a thought for people in these situations? I wonder whether there is any angst associated with these obscene amounts?

I guess not – Australian Execs aren't noted for philanthropy.

In any case, I find the selfless love demonstrated by these families inspirational, and you can't put a price on that.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Review of 1942

This week's review is 1942 by Bob Wurth.

I have always been fascinated by this period of our history. This probably developed from my childhood in North Queensland, and my dad's occasional stories about his time in the RAAF in New Guinea. Listening to him, it was abundantly clear to me that many Australians genuinely feared a Japanese invasion, and living in the area which at that time was considered to be under great threat also focused my interest.

There has been historical disagreement about whether an invasion of this country was intended at the time. I won't spoil any reading of 1942 for you, except to say that different elements of the Japanese military hierarchy held different ideas about invasion.

The other contending views about this dangerous time relate to the role of the Americans.

Wurth's view of this is interesting in that he describes a strong personal relationship between Macarthur and Curtin which he concludes influenced American tactics at the time. He takes a different and refreshing look at American motives, exposes some disagreement between the military and political arms of the US administration, and sees Macarthur as an ally for Curtin in his disagreements with Churchill.

This is rivetting stuff, and some of it is bound to send some of the more extreme right-wing interpreters into meltdown. Wurth's conclusion about war in general, and Japanese suffering, in particular, will raise hackles –

Japan's war cost the lives of 17501 Australians and millions of others. How many more, though, had the brash captains and the bellicose admirals of the Inland Sea had their irrational way?

Of all the foibles, war is the worst, equaled only by ignorance and disinclination to discover the truth of it.

"I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in."

George McGovern.

After the rage generated by my review of Paul Ham's article, it appears my lack of condescension to the reigning historical orthodoxy has already caused deep offence.

Wurth's research gives the story life and authenticity. It also reveals that very strong opinions and old grudges are still held in Japan over the course of events. He spent a lot of time in and around the Hashirajima anchorage, where the great ships of the Japanese fleet found refuge, and thoroughly analyzed Senshi Sosho, the Japanese official war history series on the Pacific campaign.

The book is available in soft cover at good newsagents. It's a great way to spend $34.

I'll be travelling with work this week (Roma, Morven, Charleville, Quilpie, Cunnamulla and Eulo), so will be at the mercy of Nomadnet to respond to comment, but I'll do my best.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Reviewing "Paul Ham on War"

It's time for another review – this one is looking at an article in the Weekend Australian Magazine of October 4 – 5, 2008.

I'm a fan of Ham's, having read both "Vietnam, the Australian War" and "Kokoda ". I like his work because it is a combination of thoroughly researched and objective material, with reflections based on the experience of soldiers. He lays out context with an attention to detail unsurpassed in anything else I've read. His reflections are never mawkish, but cut like a knife through the jingoism and faux nationalism which is unfortunately a feature of literature about war and conflict.

This article is no exception. I read it as a rationalization of his approach to the subject. He talks about the total impact of military conflict on all involved, and widens the perspective of the reader beyond the conventional guts and glory narrative we're used to. There is also a clear message about the relationship between the soldier and the politicians and the nation who send them off to fight. He makes a very clear and simple conclusion that resonates with my experience –

Australians' newfound enthusiasm for our martial past often fails to consider the dreadful context of a soldier's self-sacrifice, and cleanses the act in a mawkish celebration of civilian conceptions of war as "good triumphing over evil", or "fighting to defend the realm, king and country". Most soldiers scorn these interpretations: "We were fighting for our lives and the lives of our mates" seems to be the most common thread that binds men in battle.

He makes particular reference to Vietnam, and makes a strong point that connects it to Iraq and Afghanistan

Nor is it useful to see the Vietnam War as a mere setback in the Cold War. As one Australian academic stated: "It is easier now to think of Vietnam not as a war that was lost but as a losing battle within a bigger Cold War struggle that was won." It maybe easy; it is also simplistic and dangerous, as it portrays this unique human tragedy as the forgettable ephemera in an otherwise triumphant Western victory, and tends to absolve the grave political mistakes that led to it. In consequence, the soldiers' self-sacrifice is diminished, and the Vietnam War ceases to be a singular human catastrophe from which we might learn. At least our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan appears to have taught us not to attack soldiers for politicians' decisions. If we're honest, only by knowing why Australian soldiers went to war, the context of their battle honours, and their failings as well as their triumphs, can we fully appreciate the true nature of sacrifice in war.

I'd recommend it strongly. Get hold of the magazine, or find it in the library. If you haven't read any of his other works, do yourself a favour and do so.

I've also posted the illustration by Danny Snell. I hope no copyright has been breached!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Daylight Raving

It's that time again. We're hearing the usual bleating from the white-shoe brigade about the misery they're enduring because Queensland hasn't embraced daylight saving.

I can remember the last time Queensland flirted with the notion. At the time I was living and working in Mount Isa. I won't ever forget the sight of people going for "evening" walks with hats and sunscreen, or dragging the kids out of bed in the pitch dark. It was not a popular notion in a city due North of Adelaide with Summer temperatures in the forties.

Part of the problem, is the idea that the time difference is a North-South issue. It isn't – it is only meaningful in the East-West context, and this is the problem for Queensland. It makes as much sense for our far Western centres to be on South Australian Time as it does for them to be on Daylight Saving Time.

The disregard of our state's geography is common in inhabitants of the South East corner. It should be a legislated requirement for the air-conditioned boardrooms in Brisbane and the Gold Coast to have a map on the wall.

In the meantime – let the masters of the universe get up an hour earlier, and knock off an hour earlier. In the tropics and sub-tropics, the idea is a nonsense.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

And again and again.........

Today we hear of another shooting rampage in Finland - here
It occurs to me that there may be some connection between the high rate of gun ownership in Finland, and these two events.
Apparently, the gunman, Matti Juhani Saari, was a licensed shooter. This puts the lie to the cliche (frequently put out there by the gun lobby), that it's only criminals who offend with firearms.
The other argument put by the firearm freaks to justify owning a weapon is for protection. I wonder who Matti Saari was protecting?

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The Global Village

Like a lot of baby boomers, I'm a self-funded retiree and live off the proceeds of my investments. I'm fortunate to be able to do this - wouldn't want to be trying to live off the pension given the cost of living these days.
Having said that, I'm affected by the poor results on the share market post the sub-prime crisis. It's only a paper loss, but it's worrying.
When you consider the global market, it's quite clear that what happens in Wall Street has a direct and measurable outcome in our hip pockets. I remember my dad saying "When Wall Street sneezes, we catch cold"- hardly original, but he had other sayings "In the name of the almighty dollar, every knee shall bend...."
But I digress.
The reality is that because of poor regulation, an over-abundance of greed, and simple incompetence on the part of some very highly paid CEOs in the US lending market, people like us on the other side of the Pacific, cop the flak. The fact that the American taxpayer has been forced to bail out two private institutions says it all. It also says a lot about the American style of capitalism, but that's another story.
With all this in mind, I'm going to pay a visit to the US embassy, to see if I can enrol to vote at the Presidential election in November.
I'm sure I'd be welcome - apparently, many Yanks don't bother, so they'd be glad to pick up a few trans-Pacific volunteers. I'll let you know how I get on.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

A Beautiful Life

I went to a funeral yesterday - or rather, I joined hundreds of people in celebrating a beautiful life.
For many years I was the principal of a special school in a provincial city. In the same year that I was appointed, a six year-old with Down syndrome was enrolled.
She had a major heart defect, and her parents had been told that she wouldn't survive infancy. Obviously, by the time she had started school, she had already proved the medicos wrong, and during the following years, with the help of an amazing family, she continued to do so.
Winter was always an anxious time, and more often than not, she'd end up in hospital receiving treatment after complications derived from the usual seasonal viruses that did the rounds.
Come spring, she'd bounce back, and the school garden with its colorful blooms would fade in the shadow of her smile. Her resilience, and the strength and faith of her family were often personally inspirational to me, and I'm sure to those who were privileged to teach her.
I retired at about the same time she headed off to high school, with hope in her heart, and supported by the pride and positive attitude of her parents.
She was about to turn seventeen and was involved in work experience and planning a future after school, when she died suddenly from cardiac arrest.
The music she loved (ABBA) was played at the service yesterday, and this transformed it into a celebration. The hundreds who attended reflected the amazing richness of the networks that had built up around her and her family.
Hers was an inspirational and beautiful life.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Transparency in Education

Ray Johnston of Tannum Sands writes in today's Australian -

Taking poor performing schools to task and removing poor performing teachers and principals sounds like common sense. But let's unpack this. In schools where student performance is poor, surely the reason why this is happening deserves careful scrutiny. If the reason is that teachers are lazy, uncaring or plain incompetent, by all means take action.

However, I believe that most Australians understand well that there are myriad reasons why some young people struggle at school. Some come from homes that don't value education, have dysfunctional parents, were never read to when young, and so on.

In other words, an assumption that poor results come from poor teaching is silly. That such over-simplifications are still being made by politicians (who want to make complex problems seem simple) is unbelievable.

That such grab-bag, quick-fix proposals come from both sides of politics now leaves me, as an experienced high school principal, speechless.

If the same principle were applied to our political leaders, any member of parliament representing an electorate with poor out­comes (for example, high crime rates, high youth unemployment, long hospital waiting lists) would be removed from office.

Want to make a real difference to educa­tional outcomes? Try these two solutions: stop funding education on a 19th-century model of x students per teacher and fund schools on need; fix the staffing shortage in our schools, which is about to turn into a nationwide crisis. This will take money, not words.

I share his frustration. The problem is far more complicated than a 20 second grab can handle, so we're stuck with spin and glib populism. The fact that politicians from both Labor and Coalition are singing the same jingle is simply sad. I'm glad I've retired, and my kids are all (almost) through the system. The only "transparency" evident in this is the political motivation.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Moving On

For the first time in over thirty years, I don’t own a French car. My first encounter with les voitures Francais was in Vietnam in 1970. After seeing how well they stood up to the primitive conditions there at the time, I was hooked. It’s taken thirty-eight years to get the virus out of my system.

The departure of my 1984 Peugeot 505 and 1969 404, both on the same weekend, is almost too much to bear.

But in the interests of moving on – the separation was necessary.

The departure of the 404 was the biggest wrench. The “Olden-days car” – as my kids christened it when they were little, had been in the family as long as two of my four offspring. I had built it from two wrecks, (both from Townsville), and taken it out to Mount Isa where it was a reliable and comfortable second car for quite a few years.

It often took my boys (then of primary school age) and me on some epic explorations of remote places like Lake Julius, usually the haunt of the 4WD fraternity.

I used to take delight in driving it into these places, generally considered inaccessible to conventional cars in those days, and surprising the owners of expensive (and flash) 4wds. I’d always tell them that it cost me $400 (true) and then ask how much they had paid for the Land Cruiser/Discovery/Pajero. Great fun.

The big wheels, torque-tube rear axle, and enormous suspension amplitude made the 404 a very capable vehicle off-road. The worst that happened was leaving the bulk of the exhaust system behind on rocky outcrops. The boys enjoyed this, because of the much better noise that was produced as a consequence.

The 505 provided first car status for one of my sons, and he delivered pizzas in it for a time as his first paying job. The cost of the wear and tear on the car just about balanced out his salary. You can guess who was paying for the car.

I came to realise that my dream of fully restoring both was never going to happen. Besides, we needed the garage space for the MX5.
Both have gone to good homes – both collectors with an aspiration to fully restore them.

I hope they get further than I did.

My total list of French cars is –

1968 Peugeot 404

1969 Peugeot 404

1970 Renault R12

1970 Renault R16TS

!976 Renault R12

!977 Renault R12 Automatique

1984 Peugeot 505 Wagon

1984 Peugeot 505 STI

1989 Peugeot 505 Wagon

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Reflecting on Change

During the last few weeks, a couple of incidents have occurred that have reminded me of how much the world has changed since I was the age that my children are now.

The first involved my daughter who lives in student accommodation in Brisbane. This is a multi-storied block which is equipped with automatic fire alarms sensitive to the slightest amount of smoke. On the face of it, I should be happy about this. The downside is that if the alarm is triggered, automated systems take over, and the firies arrive poste-haste armed with low-tech gear (axes) and high-tech gear (walkie-talkies) irrespective of whether there is a dangerous fire or not.

This ensures safety, but the downside is the cost of a false alarm. Would you believe $941?

Last Monday night, my daughter was cooking up a stir-fry, and the (cheap) pan she was using began to smoke. She did all the right things – opened the windows and turned on the fan – but the alarm went off and the firies came. It will take quite a while to pay off the $941 call-out fee from her Youth Allowance.

Forty years ago, I set my bed on fire. I was using a highly flammable polyester bedcover I’d brought back from Vietnam, and had carelessly left an inbuilt bedside lamp on which overheated. I walked into my bedroom to be confronted by a bed well alight. My car had a fire extinguisher, so I retrieved it and put the fire out quickly, but a neighbour had seen the smoke and called the fire brigade. They arrived, inspected the damage, and left me with a brief lecture – no invoice.

On Tuesday, I had to visit a primary school in the South-West as part of my part-time Advisory work. I arrived at the school bright and early so I could plan my classroom visits with teachers before things got too busy. As soon as I walked in through the gate, I was met by a curly-headed Preschooler who ran up to me with her hands outstretched shouting “cuddle!”

I immediately stepped out of my granddad persona into my teacher role, and extended my hand to convert the cuddle to a more socially acceptable handshake saying “You don’t cuddle people you don’t know – but it’s OK to shake hands with somebody you meet at school.” I also showed her my visitor’s badge and reminded her that if she saw someone at school she didn’t know without such a badge she should tell a teacher.

Forty years ago I would have simply returned the cuddle.

The significance in these seemingly unconnected events is clear. We live in a world where rationality and risk management reign supreme. Innocence and spontaneity are as rare as hen’s teeth, and if you make a mistake – you pay.

I’m not entirely sure that this is an improvement.

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