Through retracing response Narration Primarily Recitation Alone
Philosophers Lived Somehow For Odds Naive
What we Question Nevertheless Return Moved
Frustration Recalling Boarders European Roamaticised First Hand
I have been reading seriously. To lighten my distracted mind I have attempted to create something neoteric in the manner as AI programs might. Let me explain – from Dr Nick’s thesis I chose one random word from each of the next 28 pages starting at page 16. My questions are: Does speed reading help us distil meaning? Or, Does choosing random words enable us to provide novel ideas?
Dr Nick is our son. Like his siblings he makes us proud by overachieving. (Not sure where the overachieving gene comes from – pleased our children have it.) Just the same I hope he forgives this trivialisation of his study.
Yesterday the Chairman of AMP David Murray stood down at the request of major shareholders. David Murray was the former Managing Director of the Commonwealth Bank. On his retirement from the bank he became a respected go to leader. His reputation was unimpeded so what went wrong?
In simple terms he failed to understand a company has to have a greater ambition than to make money for its shareholders. Shareholders make it clear they want their directors to make money for them. This is something he concentrated his efforts upon so what went wrong? David Murray lost sight of the fact that a business also has a social responsibility. It also has an environmental responsibility all of equal weight to profit.
It is a pity for David Murray he did not pay more attention to the work of John Ellington’ theory of the Triple bottom line: People, Planet and Profit. It has been taught for years in business schools. The shareholders should not have been surprised David Murray decided governance for profit was his aim as he was a known skeptic of Global Warming and Social responsibility.
This is not to play the man. I do not set out to demonise him. He is simply a man of his time. He is out of time. A director must keep up. A nation must keep up. Our nation is demonstrating an inability to keep up. It has announced plans of change to the funding of university courses. If a student chooses to study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics ) the courses will be cheaper. If the student chooses to study the humanities, (philosophy, literature, history, politics, economics, sociology) the course will be more expensive. Worse, if the student fails to pass the first year of study they will lose federal funding.
Many successful people are able to point to failure in tertiary study being the catalyst for them to choose a more appropriate area of study. From their “failure” they became better – more dedicated students. It should surprise no one ones youth is not a good indicator of how a person might grow through life. Sometimes failure is the wake up call an individual needs to reassess their goals. Cutting funding creates an unwanted economic barrier. It is short sighted.
It is short sighted to direct students into STEM subjects because universities are not training establishments whose job it is to train work ready people. Their job is to educate people in the higher skills of learning, synthesis, critical thinking, and evaluation. These are all things I have written about previously however they do need to be reinforced because when it comes to evaluation of education and company performance the bottom line is multidimensional.
To return to a hobbyhorse of mine it is important companies look to their social responsibility. I have a total dislike of the lack of social responsibility big tech show.
Here are some examples.
If you want to know something, anything, the common thing to do today is to Google an answer. The smallest state in the world is something Google knows. The last match played between football teams – when these two teams last met the scores were identical – Google throws up the answers in a fraction of a second. We have come to learn Google will tell you the answer. The last time Google paid tax in your country is the only one that stumps it.
One thing it can tell you with ease is , Jeff Bezos’s wealth increased by $637 billion in the first six months of the Covid 19 pandemic. That is because he is the largest shareholder of Amazon. Amazon in the wink of an eye is the largest distributor of products in the world. It’s largest competitions Alibaba – ebay and Tencent are not minnows either. Because normal shopping is disturbed people are spending more time online and these businesses are now the preferred locations search for goods they want.
In their company we find Apple, Facebook. These companies may pay a modicum of tax but here in Australia we have a Who’s Who of companies each with turnover in excess of AU$1b that pay No Tax. A company of the size of these companies avoiding tax is not living up to its social responsibility. They argue they remain within the law in country out of country across the globe, in each they escape the taxman’s grasp. Many of these companies have greater wealth than sovereign nations. The same nations unable to tax them are powerless. The only thing that can stop them is shareholder pressure. It should not be feint hope shareholders revolt at their inaction to accept they operate with a social responsibility to their countrymen. The time has come for shareholders to redirect their boards to the principles of the triple bottom line. To pay tax where the money is earned. To think globally and reject profits earned from environment damage.
If it helps you identify culprits here is a partial list from which to start: Chevron, Exon Mobil, Energy Australia, Santos, Amcor, Peabody, spotless group, Ford, Nissan, Healthscope, Foxtel,
Oh the list runs on And on.
If David Murray upset some shareholders because the firm promoted a man proven to be a sexual abuser, where are the upright shareholders of the miscreant companies? If the shareholders are so addicted to dividends they refuse to look how their money is earned then it is time to double tax them if the company uses loopholes to avoid tax.
The superb blue fairy wren is a busy bird. It flits from shrub, to twig, before it lands on the ground, hops to an insect, swallows it, and darts to the arm of a chair of the outdoor setting. It grabs a crumb and zips across the courtyard. The dull brown lads and lasses hop about on the soil banqueting on gnats unaware the boss is busy protecting the flock. Their blue leader -with an eye on the sky for kookaburras, currawongs , and butcher birds ready for an azure tidbit – is prepared to whistle – Danger!
Spoiler alert, this note is about maths! Do not be afraid.
Our grandchildren were never troubled by the absurdity of the catch phrase Buzz Lightyear, the star character used in the film Toy Story when he called out,
To infinity and beyond.
My knowledge of maths is no better than their infant understanding of Buzz Lightyear’s absurdity.
I write at the intersection of several anniversaries. It is 75 years since the end of the War in the Pacific. Concurrently science is fighting Covid 19, and the university of New South Wales (UNSW) has announced the world’s first undergraduate course in Quantum Physics Engineering.
The dark days of WW11 drove some soldiers to delve into their memory and work out ways they could communicate their miserable conditions in War Prisons to the outside world. In many places they went back to building crystal radios. On these forbidden implements they listened in to world news and when it was safe to do so they communicated their state to the world.
When I grew up boys, myself included, would build our own sets. I never had the patience to make a hobby out of this like some of my classmates. The making of these crude radios like our fathers, or uncles had made was a simple way of boys understanding parts of the real war.
Normally when medical scientists make a drug it takes up to ten years of trial by experiment until it is released. When it is – the drug spreads about the body in a chaotic manner. Today scientists are using nano technology to examine if they can be more specific with the administration of drugs. This is especially true of drugs for cancer. (There is no value is killing a cancer if it kills the whole organ). With nanotechnology they think they can kill cancerous cells specifically thus leaving other organ cells untouched.
I assume a vaccine works differently to a drug for cancer yet the speed of the first 179 groups progress searching for a solution for the pandemic has been amazing. (The world is living in hope success is not far away).
Normally an announcement of the kind the UNSW made would not register with me. This time it has because it promises jobs. I make no pretence of understanding Quantum Physics but in this lockdown world of mine the thought some young people have the to opportunity to study and gain work when otherwise we are on the edge of a long lasting depression it is good news.
My Television set is a seven year old LCD smart set. Someone purchasing a set today can buy a Qled system that produces a better picture than the one I have happily been using. The Q in Qled stands for quantum. There – that is practically all I know of the subject.
Fortunately learning is built on the learning of others. When I learned to build a crystal set and copy the skills of war prisoners I could not imagine nano technologies and quantum physics. The scientists who built the first lasers could never imagine their invention could be developed to read my Visa card. They had no understanding of how their invention might be used. When the UNSW offers a course in quantum physics it doesn’t understand how many of the undergraduates qualified to repair Qled TVs will continue their studies and invent new applications. They simply predict hundreds of new jobs will follow. I think they are right.
It is a common enough ambition of school leavers. After all when a student is near the end of his/her secondary education it is a common question, What do you plan to do after school? The student will answer “x” or “y”sometimes with great conviction. And if you should meet them eight or nine months later will the answer be the same?
The answers might be, It is terrific. I am learning so much. I love it.
Another student will not be so positive, It is nothing like I imagined. I am transferring to do a course “n” next year because it leads to “ z”.
A third might answer, I have dropped out. I am so busy with my hobby I haven’t got time to study. In this category we have people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as examples.
In most likelihood within a decade many will say, I am glad I did “b” but honestly it has nothing to do with what I am doing today. In all likelihood many find they are working at a job unrelated to their initial study. I will leave you to do your own research.
My concern is for you, my grandchild. I hope you do not get lost in despair the job you would love to do is no longer available when you go searching for it. With the pandemic of COVID 19 my vision of the future looks grim. My friend Michael Linehan asks, Why do I worry? He says, your grand kids have the same chance as all kids. Pandemic,or not, they have an equal chance because they all face the same future.
One thing that is certain – hardship should not define your future. Standing up when you were down is what you had to learn before you could walk. Hard times are awful. They are dark and spiritless, but they pass, and in passing you can change and become stronger. Hence the call to, Never give up, is worth remembering it helps you build resilience.
Our hero is the one with the stamina to stay the course.
A job is something we do to earn a living. It can define you, but it need not. All you really need in life is something to fill your days. Since I started these essays I hadn’t read more than I was required about philosophy. I figured it was beyond me to understand. What I did know? With the passing of time I think philosophy does have answers though.
Today’s writing was prompted by the death of Barry Capp. Barry was the chairman of the board of directors of this unlisted public company. It was a subsidiary of a British underwriter for corporate bad debts.
Before the stock market crash the job of director was a simple reward of sinecure to loyal old fellows. They were not expected to actually do anything but add gravitas to the company. The market crash made companies more aware someone had to carry the responsibility, The old boys no longer wanted a title if it might rebound on them, and from that moment the professional director was born. It became a job of importance for the non executive director to provide governance to company via the management team.
Accepting he had the courage needed Barry had taken a handful of similar directorships. Some hard – some easy, like our company. His managing director of us was Vic.
Our company had lots of clients but all of them came to the business through a handful of brokerages. Our competitor was a minnow but the brokers, desperate for new business in troubled times, were rejecting us in favour of our cheaper alternative. Vic decided if they wouldn’t remain loyal perhaps they might alter their mind if he offered some direct competition (me).
They did need us however because our company was the only one outside the government offering comfort on overseas sales – and they didn’t pay brokers a cracker. Hence the relationship was fraught, especially with me in the middle of domestic sales cover.
Many of the cogs in our business were women, with children, husbands, or parents that needed them to rush home after work to their domestic lives. On his way up in the company Vic used to invite all staff to remain, at work after knock off. It was compulsory so he could crow about how well the company had gone in the previous quarter. The longer he was MD the longer these after work meetings used to run. The secretarial staff (women) would get distressed the longer they stayed, counting missed train after train that could carry them to their after work life.
Barry and Vic turned the fortunes of our business around. Ultimately Vic was rewarded with the CEO’s job of the parent company. Barry served a few more years and he retired. When his death was announced there were messages of condolence from his old school and his family gave lovely tributes but not one of the companies he had saved from collapse remembered him.
There-in is my lesson. Despite all work being meaningful – at life’s end it is unlikely any place you spend your time working in will remember you. That is fair, because leader,or follower, the work you did was but a time filler. This is especially true if you were a cog in the business like the women Vic made stay after hours, or like Barry, Chairman of directors. Work for most of us is to make a living but it doesn’t make a life. Perhaps that is why the tributes to Barry, and in time his secretary, are not work related but measured in the loving words from the people that knew them. (Know you).
Since writing to you I have attempted to understand my life in relation to current events. I am glad I did not know of Michael de Montaigne and his essays on life until now because if I had I would not have had the courage to write to you. He did it so well.
Michael L was right to tell me not to worry.
Someone once wrote, You will receive the lessons you need when you need them.”
Here we are in the State of of Disaster. It is one year since I began this blog. When I started I had no ambition but to record my reaction to the moments of the day in relation to my past lived experience. I thought twenty or thirty years from now my grandchildren might like to compare their experience of life with mine. (I realise this reads as a narcissistic reason but given they will have no way to communicate with me – it motivates me. They can read my “voice” and measure it with what influences them).
In these last 12 months the world has changed. Six months ago no one spoke of Covid 19. In these last few months nearly 18 million have been infected and nearly 700,000 have died. Businesses have collapsed. People are unemployed and our State has reached the nadir of disaster. The advice on how to stay safe seems simple: stay home, keep a social distance when outside, wear a mask, wash your hands, stay safe.
I am not an outgoing personality. Indeed I am shy until I get to know you, however this forced isolation is foreign. I like to embrace my friends and it is strange to nod instead. Now we enter a period of six weeks without any social contact save social media and the phone. It will be weird.
I keep typing away and I see trends where none previously existed. My drivel has attracted 600 different viewers. One out of every ten readers have decided to follow me. (Only you know why). You now inspire me to keep this going. I hope you do not stop. I have a request. If you like my words then pause and tell me why they interest you. Together we can expand our universe with simple asides. I would like to get to know you.
It was rare for anyone to call us by phone but when they did if they were from out of town it became a thing involving others. From their place they rang their local telephone exchange and asked to be connected to Camperdown 232. The telephonist replied, “Connecting to Camperdown”. Our local telephonist ( one of the many women employed in the job) would pull out a weighted cord, and connect it to a port housing our number. Our caller needed just three numbers – 232 – to enjoy the service of calling our home. It rarely rang – maybe – once a month.
Our family practise was to make eight calls a month. The first call was to the taxi. Each week Mum would book a taxi to take us all off to church. On Thursdays Mum would phone the grocers Moran and Cato. Before doing this she would have prepared a list of the necessities she needed. The list may have read something like this.
8 oz of tea,
1 Lb Plain Flour
1 Lb Self Raising Flour
8 Oz Sunshine Marie Biscuits
1/2 Lb Brockoffs Crisp biscuits
1 Lb Butter
1 Lb John Bull Oats
2 Oz Vegemite
8 Oz Sultannas
8 Oz Weetbix
1 packet Kraft Cheddar
1 packet Pattie Pans
1 bar of Solvol
1 Lb Sunwhite Rice
1 26 Oz. Bottle of Vinegar
1 bar of Velvet soap
(It really didn’t matter. The list was simple but when she rang she had specific things in mind. The grocer did not sell fruit and vegetables and if you wanted meat you needed the butcher, not the grocer).
List at the ready she walked to the hallway, where the phone lived – bolted to the wall. She reached up and took hold of the ear piece. She stood in front of the phone and twirled the magneto handle, listened, and spoke.
“Camperdown 75 please.” (A little wait and then she would recite her list. A few hours later the grocer came with a box of the goodies she ordered. (None of it appealed to a hungry young boy).
At the end of her call she replaced the ear piece on the carrier at the side of the wooden Oak box that was our telephone.
Most of the household communication was by letter but once a year Dad would contact a brother in Duns Scotland and they would share a minute or two talking. After that time the operator would interrupt the call and enquire , “Your time is nearly up. Do you want to extend the call for another minute?” Frequently thrift determined the call would cease. On the second, the operator would disconnect the lines and the call ceased.
The Post Master General ran the operations for the Federal Government. Homes were connected to the network of copper wires crisscrossing the country, wired to their insulators on poles, and stretched across the countryside five metres from the ground. If you didn’t like the PMG you had no alternative. An army of PMG workers spent the day fixing broken lines, telephones, and exchanges because all the emergency services depended on the system working.
(In writing this I am reminded how the telephone lines ran beside the railway line between towns and sidings. As a steam train passenger, in my experience, smoke from the engine would blow past the window, the train clickedly – clacked as each wheel ran over the joints in the line, and the telephone lines would fall and rise between each post in rhythmic movements. The whole effect was mesmerising.)
It was years before it was commonplace for homes to have desk telephones. For few homes were large enough to accommodate an extra telephone table and chair. In time phones became smaller, smarter, and they came in a variety of colours with a single hand piece – to listen to – and capture the speaker’s voice. The off site operator disappeared and the home owner was able to dial directly from the phone with a rotary dial connector to anywhere else.
When more people connected the number of lines multiplied each year. To save time – people kept a teledex of the numbers they most frequently used handy to save them searching through the phone book for them.
As a teenager I didn’t call my friends on the phone. We had been trained to consider the cost of a call. My sisters didn’t make calls either. I was in my fifties before I had a mobile phone. It was provided as a work tool and as the book – keeper monitored the usage it was limited to essential calls regarding appointments.
The ubiquitous use of phones is relatively new. One surprising thing is how quickly they become redundant. Last year Samsung took over from Apple as the most popular phone. Today I read China’s Huawei has eclipsed them. It seems only a few years since no one had anything but a Nokia.
The modern Miss or Mister could not imagine anyone using a fifty year old phone except as a stage prop in Arsenic and Old Lace like we did.
Certainly Alexander Graham Bell must be restless in his grave if he ever thinks of what he unleashed.
The poet wishes well to the divine genius of Purcell and praises him that, whereas other musicians have given utterance to the moods of man’s mind, he has, beyond that, uttered in notes the very make and species of man as created both in him and in all men generally.
Have, fair fallen, O fair, fair have fallen, so dear To me, so arch-especial a spirit as heaves in Henry Purcell, An age is now since passed, since parted; with the reversal Of the outward sentence low lays him, listed to a heresy, here. Not mood in him nor meaning, proud fire or sacred fear, Or love or pity or all that sweet notes not his might nursle: It is the forgèd feature finds me; it is the rehearsal Of own, of abrupt self there so thrusts on, so throngs the ear.
Let him Oh! with his air of angels then lift me, lay me! only I’ll Have an eye to the sakes of him, quaint moonmarks, to his pelted plumage under Wings: so some great stormfowl, whenever he has walked his while
The thunder-purple seabeach plumèd purple-of-thunder, If a wuthering of his palmy snow-pinions scatter a colossal smile Off him, but meaning motion fans fresh our wits with wonder.
The clown Peter Sellers bought Purcell to the attention of the masses that loved the Goon Show he also introduced them to Henry Purcell in the Trumpet Volunteer 1958. (You can find it on YouTube. Hopkins is a favourite poet. Yesterday it was the anniversary of Gerard Manley Hopkins birth. 1844 – 8/6/1888
Today it was also my mother’s birthday 29/07/1913 – 5/11/2017 Time seems to fly but some memories remain constant.
Campus frames soul growth Fine minds built by exercise Read, write, question why.
When I became a teacher Australia had a post war economic boom. Millions of displaced persons came to the country on assisted migrant programs. In turn that created a housing boom as new suburbs grew on land that once housed orchards, market gardens, vegetable plots, and small dairy herds. The new arrivals came with young families. School classes were at bursting point. Women who had occupied almost every job class in the country during the war were forced to give up their jobs to the returned soldiers. Within a few years the education department called many of the female teachers back to the classroom but they still had a need for more teachers, more schools, and more classrooms.
As a schoolboy I had no idea of the job I felt inspired, some of my classmates. Most knew they would go back to their farms and work on the family business. Some choose to learn a trade and become a leading tradesman after their apprenticeship. Some became bank tellers. Jobs were plentiful, so many left school early and took the first job they were offered. Me? I was slow to even think about it. It wasn’t until I had been at secondary school I was forced to think of it. Elizabeth, my sister had chosen to teach. In my case I had no idea. In my last year I applied to become a Patrol Officer for the government in a remote territory area. (The role of the PO was to be the administrator and peace keeper in an otherwise uncontrolled area). Fortunately I realised I was unsuited to the work when I was asked what I knew about the remote areas of the Northern Territory and Papua New Guinea. I had done no research about the work – it simply seemed romantic. I had no idea of the places I would be expected to govern. The rejection did not hurt. At that stage I applied for entry to teacher training.
Straight from school I entered a crammed learning program to become as one of the first group to commit to two years of training. (Many male teachers in the time before I started had only one year of preparation). Our day started at nine and finished at four pm. We had a break of 45 minutes for lunch, otherwise we went from lecture to lecture. After ten weeks we had a three week practical period in schools. Each evening we had to write up our two 45 minute lesson plans for delivery the next day to the class for our supervising teacher. Our year was broken into three dense terms like this.
Because teaching materials, like everything else in schools was scarce, we were expected to produce a pile of teaching aids to be used in the school of our first appointment in our spare time. It was a busy period for everyone. Periods of reflection and self development must have happened – yet it was unlike the education universities offered. We were better prepared than the school monitors of the nineteenth century – but not much. We had developed none of the higher learning skills required of students at university level. We had no experience in analysis. We were not expected to synthesise what we hand been taught. Our means of evaluation were limited, and we were not encouraged to create new ways of the teaching. Our testing was to examine whether we had mastered the lower levels of learning, to remember, to understand, and to apply our learning.
As it happened. I enjoyed teaching and as a registered education department teacher I need never have studied again. The exception being – in the wisdom of administrators, it was determined one had to do further study to improve ones pay grade. Some chose to accept that was good enough. It didn’t take long to realise spending money was no way to improve your financial situation, and you could not do that unless you were paid more. The department had post graduate honours course for first and second grade teachers. To progress you had to qualify at the lower level before attempting the next. The units of study were of a very pragmatic nature and slow to attain because only one or two subjects a year were encouraged. We were expected to read and comprehend a text book and then sit a three hour examination of our learning. It was a soul destroying way to learn. Fortunately it was possible to jump to the top level if you passed an undergraduate degree.
As luck would have it Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister within the first ten years of earning my Certificate of Education. One of the changes he introduced was to make University courses free to all eligible students. This was my relief from the drudgery of the Ist and 2nd Honours program.
I could enrol to study off campus. It meant I could study after hours and get a degree. So many did the University course it enabled it to set up tutor groups all over the country. This was my first experience of actually discussing what we were reading and develop the higher learning skills I really needed to be more effective.
We did have three hour exams but we also had lots of developmental assignment work and I found, for the first time joy in learning, and the confidence to aim for high distinctions rather than settle for a pass.
If I had gone straight to university I probably would not have done at all well but I was settling into the academic life in a way I could not imagine. I did a post graduate certificate and was almost finished a Masters course by units when I was hit with PTSD and turmoil. It took another thirty years to resolve this matter. The more I studied the more I came to realise I was heading down a narrowing lane of specialisation with less and less to do with the practicality of my work so I stopped. I guess I lost the plot.
Like me, in the past forty years universities have changed. Last year, and for many years before, more women have graduated than men. Many fewer had reached university than men when I closed my books. Getting to and staying at university is an economic burden the individual now carries forward for many years. To have so radically changed is a sign the country lost its way. The contribution an educated population makes to the country is huge. Why burden the smartest group of people with the discouragement of debt?
By adopting the Americanisation of education, where the user pays, has had other detrimental affects. Universities, decade on decade, have had to find more private money to survive. Not only do students compete with each other so do universities. The better funded they are the better sought after are their students. It is a dog-eat-dog race.
The pandemic has highlighted just how warped this thinking is. Our government has been generous to all businesses that have lost 25% – 50% of their turnover. It has paid allowances to these companies so they can give their staff $750 per week to keep them notionally employed as Job Keeper employees even though there is no work for them to do. Except they have not done the same for universities. There, up to 80% of the former employed staff are women on sessional payments. Without the same number of students (overseas students cannot return yet) they are without work and unpaid. We stand to lose some of our sharpest minds to stupidity. To spell it out. Why are so many academics on sessional contracts? (It is insecure work and therefore it is cheaper.)
To make bad matters worse I read our top ranked university programs are no longer seen as the best places for learning. Three recent examples of this have come to my attention in the last week alone.
Our government is going to charge students extra unless their undergraduates degree is a STEM course. (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics). They have given into the business model of learning where vocational training becomes more acceptable than the growth of the human mind through a history course, a course in literature, arts/law, art/commerce degree. It is pathetic to move back to the low levels of education like mine was before at teachers’ college. I say this after my study after retirement at Swinburne. I did a short course on Carbon Accounting. The unit work was not as taxing as any I could recall from my past experience.
James Lovelock recently celebrated his 101th birthday. He is a polymath. The man is a genius with a mind more able than people a fifth of his age. He says he was the first British academic to get work with NASA because he was a puzzle solver. He says he is an optimist and I cannot now remember his comment so I will leave you to study his achievements rather than misquote him. (Given my previous reference to William Golding, (Billy Bunter) you might be interested on his recollection of discussions he had with his neighbour, Golding, and how he accepted Gaia as a good name for his theory).
Secondly Daniel Kaufman of Missouri State University says in the podcast, Problems in Philosophy – Big Ideas.
The university of today is not a viable model. More and more technical more and more isolated
Designed to educate elites it has been turned into a system of mass education – it is too expensive to play that role because of unbridled capitalism. The University is turning itself into a white collar voctech. Staff need to move to more public intellectual work. The people who are holding us back are in the institutes that are best ranked but least progressive – meaning those with the better ranking are stifling change. We cannot globalise everything People need to work. Automation is going to make sure people will not have jobs.
It has been a deliberate attitude when writing these entries never to make it entirely autobiographical. Today I seem to have been more forthcoming but I will draw back from naming names and record we were involved with Equippe).
At one stage in the last 56 married years we, Jennie and I, became involved with a group of church lay leaders. The group involved many of the intelligentsia of Melbourne. When we were but undergraduates when we were noticed and invited to join it’s leadership even though we were “country cousins/bumpkins. Equippe included academics and other professional people, a smattering of Jesuit leaders, and an archbishop. So although no match intellectually with them, they became our peers, indeed – friends. It seems right not to name them because as a group they were older, wiser, and practised long after we had no faith in matters of belief.
At that stage Professor C and others among us had lifetime university appointments. What a funny state we have reached.
You do not easily adapt to change. It took years before you settled into Torquay. You hated the suburban life preferring the holiday feel of the coastal village down the road. It is surrounded by a national park, heathland , and the uninterrupted expanse of the Southern Ocean. It is a true – Gods Waiting Room. It is filled with old folk. Most of the people living there only need to know three telephone numbers; the doctor, the ambulance, and the undertaker. As for the rest they spend a few weeks each year escaping the madness of the city in their holiday house that sits alone in the scrub week – in – week out. It too hates change.
You know deep down it has changed in the twenty years of your retirement. The old fibro homes, ( the homes made of asbestos fibre sheets), have almost all been demolished. The sharp architecturally designed buildings replacing them have bought a cardre of youthful tradies, builders, plumbers, electricians, plasterers, glaziers, and concreters to town. It has all happened in a mere heartbeat since the town was cut out of the tea tree. Before then the former visitors left little evidence they too came and went for centuries.
They were the Wadawurrung. The first people of this country. If your roam along the cliff top walk above the ocean you will find evidence they found the land plentiful. The middens they left are the feasting spots of old. In these places hundreds of generations of people sat and celebrated the generosity of the sea. They ate their fill of shell fish and discarded the shells and formed mounds of shells where they ate. Their presence today is all we need to be reminded of them.
Concurrently in the twenty years of my retirement our civic leaders have recognised our indigenous past. Civic functions commonly commence with a Welcome to Country celebration. I have thought it tokenism until now because it is new. Twenty years is no time at all. Even things that happened fifty years ago are new to me. To accept new things I find hard, almost impossible immediately. And here is notice: I, me, you, do not embrace change – so spend a moment and accept sometimes others have good reasons to rebel when change is foisted on them.
Your lifetime is but a blip in universal time. Double the length of your life and the Wadawurrung lived on this land uninterrupted as they had for thousands of years. Your predecessors were granted leasehold or ownership of the land without consultation with any of the tribe. This tribe, the dozens across the state, and the hundreds of different tribal groups all over this land never gave sovereignty to the people who day by day, year on year, took ownership from them.
It is well documented at hundreds of sites across the country people were massacred. The wells they drank water from were poisoned. The man who killed the sheep, a timid beast unrecognised as a native animal and was easily slain, that man was hunted by the squatter and he and his family were shot. The warrior that stood his ground and threw a spear to defend himself was driven off a cliff. These things were often sanctioned by the state. A state that listed its native people as Flora and Fauna until 1967.
This happened despite these people generously enlisting as soldiers in foreign wars to fight for the country. Their reward was to be ignored when they returned from conflict. Despite this Australia has throughout the years acknowledged hundreds of our original inhabitants as great countrymen and women. If the person : boxed, ran, swam, or played football, we acknowledged them. We did/do the same for artists. We honoured former footballer and preacher Doug Nichols as a state governor. These stories we absorbed in the media and in lessons without question.
Our lessons never included an accurate history of the people. It has taken until the publication of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu for our first peoples to receive any sort of acknowledgement they lived quite sophisticated lives lightly in the environment. Our lessons spoke of simple tools and weapons. It never acknowledged the hundreds of aboriginal languages the people lost. It never told how they were massacred.
My reading of literature included Catherine Susannah Prichard’s book Coonadoo. It was written in 1929. The language Prichard used to describe the aborigines is dated, however she did message in her book a respect for indigenous customs and rites. The book carried themes including social justice but the book was very much written from the perspective of the white settlers of the country. One character Hughie did acknowledge his temper led him to behave as a white slaver, an attribute he detested. Another white writer was Xavier Herbert. I read his novel Capricornia at school. He wrote with a deal of empathy and understanding of the life of the downtrodden living in the north of Australia. My reading never really ever embraced the reality of native life which I admit I remain profoundly ignorant of to this day.
In my lifetime the last of these free people emerged from the desert. In the beat of a single heart beat we live or die – they chose to live among us. The people of the desert came to be displaced as all others had. Some were relocated in unnatural groupings in aboriginal reserves. Others clung to the edges of their homelands in broken mobs until the High Court of Australia awarded them native title to their homeland. The notion of Native Title still causes unease because all manner of people, motivated by self interest, want to mine, frack, or destroy the ancient heritage. They pervert its meaning, if the cause suits, to say our homes are at risk of being taken from us.
It is in thinking about the circuitous route of my understanding of aboriginal life I come to examine more thoroughly my thoughts about the Welcome to Country message now in common usage. At first I thought it was tokenism. It is not.
Just over 45 years ago people with hippie aspirations (University students) were celebrating life at the Aquarius Festival in Nimbin. (An Australian Woodstock type event). Activist Gary Foley challenged the organisers to get permission to hold the festival on their land. This was not called by it’s common name then but it seems it was the first occasion a group of non indigenous people entered aboriginal land with permission. In the years since, more local council areas have come to acknowledge as they did, although aborigines no longer own the land the land, it was once was theirs.
When we recognise the prior ownership of our nation was once owned by many different indigenous mobs (as they commonly call themselves) a great injustice will be partly corrected. In 2017 after many years of debate their leaders produced the Uluru Statement From the Heart asking the government to acknowledge aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples were the original owners of the country. In one sentence former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dismissed their request without debate.
Belatedly I have reached the decision the debate must be held. Just as it is a lot more than tokenism to accept the right of aboriginal people to expect we acknowledge them in a Welcome to Country speech. As a nation we have a terrible record in the manner our first people have been treated. It is time to acknowledge Black Lives Matter and theft of property did occur.
I welcome your comments for I know I make errors in my writing. You will help me write more accurately if you tell me where I have erred.
The Bill Ryan I knew was a dairy farmer. His dairy was on a hill. The paddocks his cows fed upon were all on lower ground than where he milked them. As king of all he surveyed you could expect him to be the ruler of his mob. (He was married to Helen (Ella) and he was Jennie’s uncle.)
It is not unkind to record he did not rule over this land. Instead he was one with it. He accepted the challenges it gave him. A major challenge was the way the ground he bought to farm shrank under his ownership.
Logically it makes no sense. How did his land shrink? The reality was the perversity of the weather. Throughout the 1950s it rained. Rainy months were followed by more rain. In that rain Bill trained his dog to fetch the cows feeding on the abundant grass growing on the productive grassy banks of his property. It was no mistake when he called his land Lovely Banks. The ground was Lovely.
By the time I got to know Bill he had reared his family on that land. The rain that fell in the wet years filled the lake. Lake Corangamite flowed over the flat area at western foot of his land. By the time of my first visit, the lake surface was punctuated by fence posts that once defined the border of his property.
Bill may may have felt aggrieved by the loss of land yet he retained a stoic attitude to the hand he was dealt and he farmed the remaining ground as best he could. His farming, like many agriculturalists of the time, followed a simple routine dictated by the seasons. The busy fertile spring determined the size of the summer harvest. The dry days of autumn were punctuated by the returning wet days of winter.
Twice a day, Bill tended his herd of cows in a life lived without fuss. He made one concession to a macho image. He always had a hand rolled cigarette hanging from his lower lip. As he talked the smoke flipped up a down in fascinating rhythm to his utterances. That fag was a fixture. At some stage of the day the exposed end had been burnt – however all these years later – I don’t think he ever smoked that thing because I never saw it alight.
I remember Bill at this time in my life because he was a born philosopher, and I turn to philosophy to wrest reason where none exists. Like the rest of the family he was a Catholic from birth and a man disinclined to sin in any way the church enumerated, yet I have to say philosophy determined his attitude to life. I have written he was stoic. (The Ancient Greek Stoics accepted the hand they were dealt with – with resilience. They were confident and calm.) Bill never said things that were better left unsaid because kindness was also a feature of stoical lives. Of course his training in the field of philosophy was never formal – it came from the simple way he lived.
Another natural philosophy Bill lived sprang from a saying he frequently voiced. He had a habit of saying, “The faster I go, the behind-er I get.” I could have learned sooner in life many things if I had thought more on this saying. To live life purposely you don’t have to be ambitious. You don’t have to please everyone. You don’t have to do too much. I have found when you study “isms” , and look at the work of philosophers, none gives an infallible road map of how to live your life. Just find something you must do and do it as well as you can.
Better to be like Bill – keep busy but not so busy as to lose a way to make your life meaningful. And ponder on my experience. It seems true enough. When you wondered aimlessly about the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, and stood beside the grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, was it serendipity alone it took to remind you of existentialism?
Yesterday, Roger and I had a dress rehearsal for our first dry sail of Inshore Lady. Her companion, Micro Scoot, has been fishing already and proved she is a good tender vehicle. She too has a Spritsail as opposed to the Gaff Sail the plans call for.
The larger sail may make for better sailing but we figure the Spritsail will be a safer boat for our grandchildren to manage. Principally this is because it does not need a boom. (Many sailors will tell how they have been hit on the head by the boom as a yacht tacked starboard to port, or vice versa. Maybe they will not tell you – few admit a mistake of this kind.)
I have some minor finishing to do and our chilly winter water is uninviting so she will remain indoors for a while yet. However she is ready for a dip.
Roger made the sail from a small tarp as the designer John Bell suggests. This is a useful repurpose of the fabric.
In case my use of sail names is confusing the photo below is of a model we made beforehand. The sail is a gaff sail. It has a boom. The boom holds the sail firmly – just above the head of the sailor – and when the boat changes direction (tacks) the boom swings across the boat to catch the wind as it turns.
I have a friend who has a dollar note, sitting in a frame on his wall.
When asked. “
Why do you keep this note?”
His answer is, “It was part of my first ever pay packet.”
My experience with money has been different. For a start the first money I saw as coming from my job, as opposed to payment I received in exchange for my time helping out as I grew up, was given to me – or so it seemed. My first payment wasn’t even cash. It was a paper cheque with my name on it. As payment it was practically useless because I couldn’t buy anything with it until I had paid it into a bank account.
I was handed my cheque on a Thursday morning. The nearest bank was about 2 kilometres from the college I attended. The bank would be closed by the time I finished lectures if I did not rush off to the bank at lunchtime. So, at lunch time I scarpered off to the bank. And so did my class mates. (All accept John who always had a £10 note (our largest note at that time). John got so used to flashing his £10 note – only to be told – “It’s too big for me to cash luv. Have you got anything smaller?” He made money out of having too much. When going to a dance – it might have cost 2/3d to gain entry – he would say, “ I have only got £10 can you pay for me?”)
I chose the Commonwealth bank in Moorabool St Geelong as my bank because it was the nearest bank I knew of in this new city. (To start an account today you have to provide a list of items that certify you are who you are.) I had none of those hassles. I had the cheque. I knew my name – possibly I had my driver’s licence. Within a few minutes all my money was in the bank. But I needed some of that money to buy the things I needed for the next 14 days. How much?
I had no idea. (My accommodation and my food was paid. It formed part of the allowance I was paid, but it was never shown as a separate amount. My cheque was for approximately £11. 4. 6p ((I am only certain of the £s I was paid a fortnight after expenses.))
How much. I didn’t need much. I didn’t drink. I had no transport costs to pay. I didn’t have to pay for utilities. Perhaps I could go to the cinema, treat myself to a coffee, buy other treats.
“ I will need £2.”
So I withdrew £2 in cash. (Within a year or so the banks insisted the cheque clear – at least 3 working days – before I got access to the money the government paid me to learn.)
I left the bank with a bank passport in my name. It showed how much I deposited and another entry showed how much I had withdrawn. The final column showed how much money I had in the bank. Any money I had, apart from the cash in hand was always in the bank. Once I had spent my £2 if I wanted more I could only get more going back to the bank between 9 am and 3pm on a Monday to Friday (excluding holidays). What a pain that became.
I have always hated carrying cash around. Yet if anything was needed the only way to buy it was to have cash at hand. If I wanted to go home (I didn’t) I needed cash to buy a train ticket. I attended church. To give to the service of the church I needed cash. Fortunately I was well, but if I needed a visit to the doctor, or dentist I had to have cash with me. The money in the bank didn’t count because unless you planned beforehand how much you might need you couldn’t get access to it after banking hours.
So I soon discovered the benefit of having a personal cheque account of my own. This meant people would trust your signature scratched on a piece of paper was worth what you said it was.
Cash was needed to go to a dance, or pay for a meal, but visits to the doctor, or dentist – when you were unsure how much they charged could be paid by cheque. Providing you had sufficient credit in your bank account. Sometimes you would read about a person who had deceived another by passing a worthless cheque to them. You would read stories like that in the newspaper yet it possibly happened only once to me – if it happened at all.
The truth is no one but a crook would pass a worthless cheque because no one used credit to buy things. They used their own money, or they borrowed money from their bank – knowing they would have to pay it back £ by £ each month as the agreement stated. Or they did as most people did and they went without until they could buy what they wanted for cash.
In 1966 Australia adopted a whole new currency. In time we got used to handling our new cash. In 1969 the banks introduced instant credit. Anyone could go to their bank and the bank would give them a Bankcard with up to $500 of credit. We didn’t because we were accustomed to paying by cash,or cheque, for the things we wanted.
The banks were on to a good thing. They continued to profit from Bankcard until Visa Card and MasterCard took over their business. Interest rates on credit cards rise, even in these days of near zero interest charges. Pay day lending, and other forms of instant credit, are available almost everywhere. People are addicted to credit.
The Covid 19 crises has now almost killed cash. Many stores now require people to use plastic cards to pay for their purchases. People with cash complain their money is legal tender and must be accepted as fair exchange, but in fact the stores have the upper hand. It turns out – so long as they display their terms of trade – they need only accept electronic forms of payment. The purchaser cannot insist they accept cash. Go figure.
That chap with the first $1 he saved now finds we have moved from paper$1 . As if nothing will ever change. It does. Cash is no longer king.
During the Cold War over seventy nations put their political differences aside and planned a series of eleven major scientific studies of the globe in 1957/58. Those eighteen months were called the International Geophysical Year. From that Australian scientists played a major role in the advancements of knowledge of the globe. Specifically our work was perhaps more successful than the six nations that joined with us to study Antartica. The success was due in a large part to our foreign affairs department. It agreed for our scientists to set up bases in the country in the years before to trial equipment and materials. In those years our scientists were able to refine their knowledge to work in such an inhospitable region. (Post that period other countries have perhaps fared better.)
I have several reasons for retelling this story. The first is it is a reminder of Vic. ( I don’t remember his full name) but he was a young fellow Rev George Mutten mentored. The young man was an infrequent visitor to the vicarage and I met him only a handful of times. George took pride in saying he had spent time at Antartica during the IGY. I learned he was tragically killed a short while later in a car accident on a notorious bend in the Stoney Risers. His leader in the year he spent at Casey Base was Dr Phillip Law.
Phillip Law was a very respected Australian who made academic contributions to the growth of this country. He was born in 1912 ( a year before my mother). His is the second reason I recall this time. He led an interesting life, that has been documented in at least six books – including three autobiographies. The few pararagaphs I give to him relate to his adventures in Antartica. Where he first visited in 1949.
Law was born in Tallangatta. He grew up in Hamilton and went to the Ballarat Teachers College. He taught at secondary schools in Hamilton, Geelong and Melbourne Boys High School before he gained an MSc in Physics at Melbourne University. During WW11 he was involved with war projects at the University. ( I had my own time working in some of the same localities but that is as far as the similarities go.)
After the war Law gave up his secure job at the University and was appointed leader of ANARE (Australian National Antarctic Research Exhibition) by the Department of External Affairs. He was the leader in charge of bases at Macquarie Island and Antartica from 1949. He held that position until 1977 by which time he had personally led exhibitions to Antartica twenty three times.
Consequently he was leader in the years of planing leading up to the International Geophysical Year.
The learnings that came from the eleven major studies of the globe in those eighteen months have had a profound influence of our understanding of the universe. For instance, in the years leading to the study period America announced it would launch a satellite into space. The intensity of achievement was ramped up to such an extent America was beaten in the space race. They did not launch their rocket until the USSR had startled the world with Sputnik one , in 1957,, and Sputnik two. In all, over seventy countries had tens of scientists study the globe in wonderful cooperation.
If there is a good sign we are prepared to listen to scientists. It is now. This the first time in three generations science, and the word of scientists are being sought out.
Which brings me to another reason for tapping away at this screen and recording my thoughts. Some years from now people will ask those living today, what was Covid 19 like? What did you do?
I am not a diarist but here are some thoughts on the matter. The most astonishing thing is the virus quickly developed across the globe in three months. The lives of most people have been turned upside down. Millions of people are sick with a disease for which there is no cure. As a result thousands have lost their lives. Millions that were employed one day are unemployed the next. All over the world people have been affected. For example, our Government realised our hospital system was inadequate to manage an influx of desperately ill people, and its usual workload as well. so all but the most urgent operations were cancelled to free up hospital beds.
Initially one of the obvious signs was, the messages were confused, and people panicked. Supermarket shelves were emptied of basic necessities. People sought out information on self management skills that were almost forgotten: How to cook bread, How to grow vegetables, How to husband poultry. They did these things because they were unsure the state would be able to look after them. The government loosened spending and made available unparalleled government aid. Much of this aid was directed at business in the hope that life would “spring back” to normal when the initial panic subsided.
Now here we are three months down the track. Business people are arguing commerce will never recover unless the chains of lockdown are loosened. Immediately forgetting of course there is no cure. The Advance Australia group and the IPA are applying pressure on the Morrison government to lift the Lockdown and get back to business
This new pandemic age is certain to provide scope for dozens of future PHDs to study how it should have been approached, as every day we hear new reasons for and against social distancing. President Trump says America is not supposed to be closed to business at a time when many of his people are dropping dead like flies. He has also withdrawn funding from the World Health Organisation to take attention away from his own inadequacies
The truth is business is not going to bounce back as some businesses may never recover. Today Virgin Air excused itself from stock trading while the debt burdened company looks for a white knight to bail them out of trouble. Failing that aide it is just one of many.businesses unlikely to live on.
The evidence each country is fighting Covid 19 in its own way has made life more uncertain. Government’s around the world are making knee jerk responses to this hidden deadly threat. Many health officers are reporting progress is being made in treating it while they struggle behind the scenes to make beds and ventilators available for their sick.
It is not as if administrators were unaware a pandemic threatened mankind. In recent years we have had several near misses with SARS, and Ebola, but is the madness of mankind not to worry about future threats until we have to deal with them. Right now we can see the foolishness of this behaviour. Yet we procrastinate soothed by the words of business lobbyists.
How have we denied the warnings about global warming from similar learned people is beyond comprehension. This is yet another reason for speaking out. In my mouselike way my words are silenced except for recording , “What is happening is not happening in my name”. Perhaps it his is more difficult until one has lived through many awful life events and observed it hasn’t always been so easy. My hope remains world leaders will put aside the nonsense industry people spread and instruct their scientists to advise them.
My last point is contentious. I want billionaires to donate all but their pocket money to science. If I pick just one I will start with Bill Gates. I cannot decide whether he is a saint or sinner. His charities do such a lot of good yet the question remains, was his wealth legitimate from the beginning? Leaving that question aside.
I want him to abandon the idea that big business will help agriculture and global food supply. I think water and soil and seed, that isn’t owned by business, and organic fertiliser, again unowned by business, is all farmers need to produce food locally. Food has been produced that way forever. Monoculture is not good for the planet. If you are unsure of this get the scientists of the world to study food production with no thought of patents and licences. Just do it for the hell of it like was done in the IGY back in 1957/58.
Here is an interview with a very old Phillip Law. (He was 97 when he died)
These are words. They do not represent my thoughts at this terrible time. The only way they do is it is hard to understand the mind set of the people rushing liquor outlets and gun shops now they have emptied grocery stores of food.
My thoughts are with those who have lost their jobs due to enforced business shut downs. They are also with the families grieving loved ones lost to Covid 19. I am grateful to all the responders and all those still turning the wheels of society. Thank you. Stay safe everyone.
History is often cruel. Pascoe (1) put it succinctly when he wrote, “Invaders like to kill….” My observation is that in these circumstances, we remember murderers, not their viictims. In 1839 they murdered >35 indigenous people in the early hours of a day in October on the banks of Mt Emu Creek. No first person contemporary records exist. Secondary sources recorded the evidence of these murders over a period in the months and years following. Proof, these events actually happened.
To go back to the start of my interest in this tale, I think it necessary to know why I have a developed this interest. I spent my formative years in Camperdown. My father was the curator of Gulfoyle’s (sic (2)) historic botanical gardens, and I grew up on the site. He established them in 1869 on a hill between Lake Bullen Merri and Lake Gnotuk. (3)
On a clear day from that vantage point, a Scott, like my father, could see far into the distant hills of The Grampians, (Traditionally known as Gariwerd (4) where his countrymen had settled 100 years before. Mt Emu Creek wandered its way past on its way to the sea, in the middle ground and far into the distance. The advantage of that from that prominent place we could see, and hear, almost anything that might have disturbed the peace of the countryside. For instance, on the day in 1950 a 57 day railway strike ended. We heard the hoot of the first train to run between Melbourne and Port Fairy in weeks, long before it reached a spot where it could be seen on the plains below. In summer, we saw smoke drift up from a distant fire lit to burn grass along the railway tracks.
The same would have been true for any spectator in 1839 scanning the ground below from that hillside eerie that October. The sound of gun shot is heard with clarity on a still day. When, two days later the killers returned to burn the bodies, smoke drifting into the air would have marked the spot. As the smoke rose high in the air the terrible crime they were attempting to cover was signalled far away. No class I attended mentioned aboriginal people had lived here for thousands of years. That is despite some mention, from time to time some children had been to the shores of Lake Colongulac, or Lake Condor, and bought to school a trophy stone axe they collected on the shores during a weekend visit. Although, the school displayed many souvenirs of found indigenous life.
Worse, no teacher ever mentioned the life of a terrified native woman, Bareetch Chuurneen. She survived that horrible carnage of 1839 and fled with her infant child. She is reported to have made her way to the eastern bank of Lake Bullen Merri and sought shelter at the property known as Wuuroung. (5) The teachers took not a moment of my schooling to tell what Wangegamon, another native survivor of the massacre, saw. (6) He witnessed the event from the shelter of long grass on the opposite bank of the creek. He told of the awful loss of his wife and child. He recognised the body of his wife when her body cast into the water with other the dead, but he could not find the body of his child. Wangegamon witnessed the horrible cover-up the cruel killers resorted to when they returned and burned the bodies. He also recognised the killers as they shoved burnt bones into bags and took them away.
The old man I have become does not blame his teachers entirely because I know they were following a curriculum that was possibly written in the 1930’s or earlier. The second World War saw to that. However, history curriculum has always been political, and it was never more evidently so that at present as Mr Trudge (7) sets out to change its teaching curriculum yet again.
I have grown to understand the importance of Aboriginal people as a race of survivors in a hostile world, (8) Perhaps that is why I intend to spend some of my remaining days to delve deeper into a subject of fleeting importance to textbook writers, journalists and other scribes to record the lives Bareetch Chuurnmeen, Wangegamon, Larkikok, Woreguimoni, Karn, and Benadug,. Their clans-people deserve recognition more than their killers Taylor, et al. (9)
The question is, why was the wealth of aboriginal history rarely mentioned at school? This is a question increasingly asked by other non-aboriginal people. The singer Mark Seymour has penned a new song asking the same question (13). I find a compulsion to add to this local story Professor Lyndall Ryan (10) has recorded as “Colonial Frontier Massacres Australia”. The study has been going since 2000. It has found great praise and awful criticism. The criticism of Michael Connor (11) for one, where, for instance, he called Murdering Flat a murder, not a massacre site. As if one death is more important than another. This has riled me to answer forcefully.
Not so long ago I was involved in a local history project to recreate an example of a bathing box – once commonly seen on the foreshore. The boxes were removed in the 1960s, yet some remained in the neighbourhood until quite recently. After all these years none now survived, and that is why we began our project. If only we had had the skill and foresight of the Chinese architect Wang Shu we could have made something wonderful.
The difference between the town of Ningbo and Torquay are unalike, yet similar. Both places are victims of modern growth programs. For sometime the Chinese government has overseen a massive modernisation of the country. When they decide to modernise, whole districts are bulldozed. Everything in the path of development is removed and the people are rehoused in new multi-storey apartments. Here farmland is sold off, roads are formed, and much needed single story housing is built “out of ticky-tachy and they all look the same” like it says in the words of the song.
In China Wang Shu reclaimed the materials from the villages dismantled to make way for the new. In so doing he demonstrated architectural leadership because he planned and built the Ningbo History Museum from the repurposed material. He used an old Chinese technique of Wa Pan to do this.
He didn’t just recreate something old. From his imagination he materialised something new.
The former villagers now have something to remind them of the 3,000 year old village, and the people, that once lived there.
The museum is substantial. It is a building of some 30,000 sq metres. Wa Pan has been employed by builders throughout the ages. It means to repurpose existing material and to reuse it in a new way. As I say, in the western world, Romans used the same rocks as the Greeks had in ancient times. Here in Ningbo Wang Shu did the same thing where he could, but he didn’t just re use bricks from the Ming dynasty he used lots of concrete. However the concrete he used was given a unique Chinese treatment. Bamboo, a traditional building material, was used to create the formwork for the concrete. The textural shape of the bamboo became a new building texture found on the walls. The walls are not solid though because they contain fragments of old tiles and other ancient matter in their fabric.
The skills once needed to build with traditional materials was lost to the new age builders. This meant that in order for the work’s creation the tradespeople had to be taught how to use old methods to build this new museum. These new skills have proved valuable to the employees engaged.
The building created in the Yiazhou province is much more substantial than the little bathing box I was involved in recreating. In our case our little project had to meet a set of regulations that did not exist when the original beach lovers built their humble shacks from found materials. All our building has is a familiar silhouette in a garden a long way from the beach. The people of Ningbo live in a city that did not exist a few years ago yet they have examples of ancient materials and forgotten skills as a constant reminder of their lost village.
Did Mies van den Rohe make a lasting contribution to architecture when he built the entrance pavilion to the German section of the 1929 Great Exhibition in Barcelona? After all, the space’s purpose was to house innovative products of the nation. He gave it an entirely different purpose. He sited the building away from the other halls. He used expensive materials and added unexpected refinement to a temporary building at a time when Germany was still reeling from repaying costly WW1 reparations.
I propose to argue he demonstrated a keen understanding of the architects that preceded him and he added a great deal of knowledge so those who followed him could learn.
The site chosen for the pavilion was deliberate. He reasoned, visitors would appreciate a mental break from the onslaught inspecting thousands of new ideas, new products, and new ways of doing something old. The use of site was to become a signature of his. When he later moved to Chicago and earned the commission to build the Seagram building he deliberately set it back in a court, back from others along the street.
It could be argued that, to have busy people held up in a building without any quickly reasoned escape route was a folly. But that doesn’t appear to have been a problem.
Mies worked in the office of German Architect Peter Behrens, the man responsible for the AEC building. This giant building borrowed something from Greek architecture in that it had an enormous base. Van der Rohe borrowed this idea from Behrens. Although this building, by comparison, was tiny he gave it an enormous base. And to enter the building the visitor had to climb a set of stairs. By climbing the base the structure of the pavilion was disclosed, step by step. Through this simple choice, the building reveal added to a sense one was moving into an important area.
To climb up a very large base and find so little there was a risk Mies was prepared to take.
The reveal must have been extraordinary. Once on the plinth the guest was presented with something new. Instead of a building enclosed by walls. This building had voids. For a start it couldn’t all be seen at once as you might if you walked into a hall. There you could run your eye around the enclosed space and see the dimensions of the walls, the floor , the ceiling and the ornamental features. This had all of that but your inclination led you through the building much like it does when in a labyrinth, despite it being a series of 6 stone walls of straight lines. At every turn you were directed to examine the extraordinary detail of this neo classical industrial building. The surfaces were reflective. He had terrazzo floors throughout. Your eyes met stone, onyx, marble, travertine, large panes of glass, clear, white, green and black. There was water in a small pond and a much large one. Under the ceiling ones eyes met chrome metal pillars.
One of the most common pieces of steel, is steel “angle-iron” it has ubiquitous uses because it is strong and light. It is never used as it was in the pavilion. Van den Rohe when bolted, or welded, four pieces together in a cruciform and sheathed it in a chromium wrapper he gave it new life. He used the steel as eight columns to hold up the roof. The thin flat plane of the roof also used hidden steel to give it the strength enable it to appear to float above the space below. To resolve the need for stability the solid block walls, hidden behind reflective stone veneer, perform that function in a perfunctory manner.
The notable features of the building are the mixed geometry of the horizontal planes of the floor, the ceiling, and the roof, and the vertical planes of the walls and glass. In an apparent trick to give lightness of it. A trabeated system as seen in Greek buildings existed in this building although it is not noticeable. The building’s roof formed a flat beam resting on columns.
Were the materials used as efficient as it might have been if the walls had been wood? Would a better solution have been to use the Gropius method of hanging glass, as he had in the Fagus shoe factory? After all Gropius had also worked with van der Rohe so he could have used similar methods to make the pavilion yet her preferred his own solution. Had he used an arched roof would it have been more appealing to the eye? I think not.
The Barcelona Pavilion was only supposed to be a temporary building. To build so innovatory a structure demonstrated how new materials, glass and steel, would carry architecture into the new century. Like all artists van der Rohe borrowed from the past, he used what he wanted from his contemporaries and he found new answers to the age old problem of providing shelter with what was available.
The Postscript is that a century after his birth, and 56 years after it was dismantled and sold off as scrap to partly pay for the exhibition, a reconstruction was opened on the same site in recognition of his conception. The new building has the same ornamentation as the sleek steel chairs designed by his collaborator, Lilly Reich, and Sculpture Morning by Georg Kolbe in an outer small pond.
Age is considered good for cheese and wine. Drinkers prefer to nibble on aged cheese and drink mature wine. Beaujolais and cottage cheese have their place. But for something special cheese aficionados prefer an aged Gruyere or Cheddar to Mascarpone. The same applies to wine. If you can afford it kudos comes from drinking an aged French chateau wine.
We struggle with old people. The walking stick, the dribble, the befuddled mind, are the archetypes that spring to mind. We have reached the period in this State even young people feel old. This is our fifth lockdown and people are fragile. It needn’t be so.
If I am, I am unaware of how you see me. The cover you see above is of a book of my recent writing. I plan to give to my grandchildren at my birthday party (if lockdown rules allow) later this month.
Finally, as an early 80th birthday present for myself I have enrolled in the course below. This should take care of lockdown ennui.
Tom and his mate Tahlia were spending 2021 traveling around Australia, taking the long route. They were moving clockwise, using the outside of the road. Tahlia had just celebrated her 21st birthday, as had Tom. By now they understood this a vast land. You can drive for a thousand kilometres in this land and the highlight of your day is the chance to fill the fuel tank of your vehicle at a service centre. Most of these serve very unappetising fried food and little else. As, a vegan traveller, Tahlia must have gagged every time she entered one of these outposts.
Correctly, after crossing the Nullabour they turned left when they reached Norseman. And they drove their converted delivery van, now a smart camper wagon, to the beautiful city of Esperance. After days spent looking at scenery, that barely changed hours after hour crossing the continent, the water views of the seaside town are remarkably restful. Being more venturesome than this old fellow, they learned the islands offshore were easy to get to by ferry. As a result, they had a merry time at an off-shore bar where they could share travel stories with other young folk, and learned something about the mysterious road ahead.
The trip from Esperance to the capital of Western Australia one need not hurry. So they took their time visiting the wine area of Margaret River and swimming at wild ocean beaches. The great Jarrah and Karri forests, and the distant remnants of the whaling industry of Albany are only some joys one finds south of Perth. The long seaward protrusion of the Busselton Jetty was another place they visited. But the distant voices from home reminded Tahlia others would like to celebrate the significance of her twenty-first birthday back in Melbourne. A day away on the other side of the continent if you fly. So they called in favours to park “Van Morrison” in Perth and headed back home by air.
What should have been a happy home-coming break held a COVID-19 twist. Their plane had barely landed when health authorities announced Victoria had a new virulent community outbreak of the virus after over three months of being infection free. The State authority announced it would again enter lockdown that evening.
Just home, the young couple drove immediately back to the airport with a view to escape the Lockdown and resume their circumnavigation of the continent. They made phone calls to Western Australia health officials to find out if they could avoid fourteen days of enforced quarantine, as they had not been near the areas known to be infected, they simply wanted to return to their mobile home. Officialdom, being what it is, deliberated to the point of the plane’s departure time and came down with a judgement. Their home had no fixed address and the only way they could reenter the state was to do as all other Victorians must. That is it required them to enter quarantine. They sat out the Lockdown.
The reality was hard, too few in the population had been inoculated, the seven-day lockdown was extended and interstate travel banned. The outcome for Tom and Tahlia? Viruses are true egotists and they infect whomever they can.
I am currently wrestling to write something based on this (bad) transcript of the podcast listed below.
Joanna Murray Smith playwright, artistic royalty and
Michael Cathcart, ABC RN broadcaster discuss art.
Can you enumerate some of the artist’s challenges?
I mean what would be the top of the list, what is the common challenge that all artists face?
I suppose it is emotional engagement with the audience. It is not so hard to form actual engagement with the audience you can engage audiences quite easily with ideas but it is hard to engage them on an emotional level. If you don’t engage them on an emotional level then ultimately you’re not succeeding. And learning how to master that is the great journey for any artist. It is how you harness ideas to an emotion and get them in the right balance . And you use the emotions to get the ideas — to harness the emotions and get them in the right balance. And use the emotions to make the ideas powerful. As an audience member if only my head is engaged something is missing. As audience members we know that if only our head is engages then it is boring.
Fortunately, it is not only the artists responsibility, it includes the venue, and the audience and their willingness to come to engage with the work.
When I opened the door, I could not believe my eyes. In my absence, the room I understood had changed. I knew we had few possessions, (married six months), but I remembered we had a new unused television, record player, radio in the front room. A very up to date three in one appliance it was. It was there, standing in that vacant space. I missed it. Had anything else gone? The cash from the sale of some charity raffle tickets, a few other odds and ends, had also gone.
I remember it as if it was yesterday (it was almost sixty years ago). The things didn’t matter in the long run; we knew we could replace them with an insurance claim. What really hurt was the violation, losing privacy and the invasion of our little home.
Imagine if we lost our home, our land, our way of life? 1,000s of Australians have experienced this in the last twelve months the imagining has been their reality. Events of this type have reoccurred for nearly every year of the past 250 years of Australian European history. What have we learned as a people?
Is history an excellent teacher? Observers continually remind us if we take no notice of the past it binds us to make the same mistakes. My recent holiday to the Apple Isle of Tasmania has reminded me of the history lessons I took as a child, mainly because life has taught me how inefficient those lessons were.
Previously we have visited Port Arthur prison village. My school lessons taught me about the severity of the punishment metered out at that awful place. I had not imagined so many as 2,000 convicts housed in Hobart itself.
They taught us the Isle discovered by Abel Tasman, first called Van Diemen’s Land, was a superb place to send miscreants who filled British gaols. Therefore, from 1807 until 1868 74,000 people were transported to Fisherman’s dock in Hobart. On the dock today stand four bronzes of young women and a boy to represent the 14,000 women and children who were transported to the island. People like: Margaret 27 for stealing thread, Sarah Emma, 29 for vagrancy, Anne, 19 for stealing wheat, and Rose, 23 for murdering her children. Children like Toby 10, and a list of other waifs like, Joseph Robbing 10, Sarah Thomson 12, Louisa Gannon 3, Ann James 6. (What crimes could these children have perpetrated that required them to be shipped to the other side of the world?)
The city sitting on the edges of the broad Derwent River is a very attractive modern city. It is the last destination of one of the longest open water yacht races. Each New Year’s Day, the competition leaves Sydney. Daily the media reports on the yachts as they make their way to Constitution Dock at Fisherman’s wharf Hobart.
Tasmania therefore has a long association with the mainland. We know it for its fish, its apples, its milk, wine, mining and whisky. It is also the home of the extinct Tasmanian tiger, the thylacine. They captured the last animal in 1930 and it lived a miserable, solitary life in a wire cage instead of in the wild forests it was born for.
My school lessons told of its awful last years. They also told how the migrant settlers had rid the land of the wild indigenous people. (Missed was the story of the murderous behaviour of the people with guns hunting them like animal and massacing them for the sake of their beautiful timbered land. It told of Truganini.)
Little by little the inaccuracy of the things I learned at school about Tasmania and its peoples has come to my attention. The most recent improvement came from this visit when we visited the Museum of Tasmania. In confirmation of my class lesson, the museum has a bronze bust of Truganini on display. It also has a UNESCO recognised treasure as a recording of Fanny Cochrane Smith singing. Fanny out lived Truganini, who died in 1876 by 30 years. They considered Fanny the last fluent speaker of her language. Thus the Palawa or Pakana people supposed lost to history unlike the thylacine remained. Fortunately, the bloodline of these people survives.
Our journey took us down the river Derwent, past the suburb of Risdon, that place that houses the women prisoners of today to the Museum Of Modern Art, MONA. MONA is the private art gallery of the eccentric collector David Walsh. This man has contributed wonderfully to the people and the State of Tasmania. Tourism to his museum is one compelling reason to visit the state. An off shoot of his artistic endeavour is Dark Mofo. This annual winter event is in the last stages of planning after the museum was closed because of Covid 19.
The Spanish artist Santiago Sierra had requested the aid of local indigenous people and asked them to donate blood to him to help him create his additional art work. His gimmick was to soak a British Union Jack in their blood. David Walsh thought nothing more of it. I thought it reasonable as well. The idea of ruining a flag with aboriginal blood seemed at first to represent the struggle the people had had to keep their land.
Fortunately, the artwork will not proceed. Sufficient people pointed out aboriginal people have lost enough blood over nearly 250 years and this is not the time to lose more. David Walsh apologised. I apologise. I understand, enough is enough.
Which brings me back to my home burglary. I easily replaced the property I lost. The point is just a matter of conversation, whereas when the British colonised this land the people that lived here lived productive lives based on the knowledge of 60,000 years of continuous occupation. The colonisers did not consult them, and they did not cede land to them. In payment for their generosity, they were exploited. It dispossessed them of their land, their culture, their language. 500 locations mark places of massacre. The land has so many locations defiled in this way, researchers have used newspaper reports to build a map recording of the happenings at each site.
Australia has a constitution that does not acknowledge the indigenous and their long ownership of the land. Today marks the third anniversary of the well-considered statement. The Uluru Statement from the Heart.
As background, the country has discussed the issue since 1963. The From the Heart Statement came out of two years of careful consultation and they presented it to the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the morning of 26. March 2017 and by the evening of the same day he dismissed it without discussion. It is now time to recognise our people in the Constitution and acknowledge with pride how lucky we are to live in a nation with such a proud history.
Today I signed the Uluru statement of The Heart to support the aboriginal nations that made this country.