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.
Anything that is four times older than me, and still standing, is entitled to lean on the ground, instead of standing all the time. A sure sign of resilience is the ability to rest on an elbow and still stand. We see examples of this in this ancient plant, the Moonah. . The prevailing wind will sculpt and prune it so it is taller on one side than the other. When the wind is too strong the bough will resist until it bend to and meets the ground. There it will rest and send forth new growth.
In my home town we have a few remands of ancient scrub that were old trees long before William Buckley lived amongst the Wadawurrung people. (William Buckley was an escaped convict who was rescued and improbably lived with local tribal for 32 years before he resumed his former life and was pardoned.) The tribes people he lived with had great respect for this tree they called it Plenty. It gave plenty back to the tribe in nectar and medicinal properties. Botanists have named it Melaleuca lanceolata. (Lanceolata reads as if it is a “lotta” plant actually the word refers to its lace like leaves). Its long abundant flowering season from October to February is rich in pollen and a food source for bees.
The tree in the photo stands on the Esplanade at the Eastern end of Gilbert St. It should probably be recorded as a tree of significance – however this is unlikely; first as it is one of the last wild trees left on that part of the Bluff, and secondly it would bring attention to it in the summer when the town is overrun with all manner of individuals. Some, likely as not, uninterested in plants. The trees are not endangered, so I suppose that is another reason it stands unnoticed and alone.
The Moonah tree is known throughout the country as a strong plant, well capable of withstanding salty wind and rain. Indeed in many parts of the country it is planted as a tree good at fighting salt degradation – as we observed in many over-farmed mallee sites. It helps to lower the water table and in doing so draws salt deeper into the subsoil.
Of all the wonderful plants I love I have chosen to write about the Moonah because it is not showy. It is not really splendid despite its delicate tiny flowers. After living 300+ years it is often just a stubby black tree with twisted branches, prickly tough leaves, and flowers almost too small to be noticed. Yet this tree is tough. Farmers find its wood makes everlasting fence posts. It makes a wonderful wind break. (Not even the wind will get through it’s tight canopy). As a result it is a popular tree for birds to roost in. Possums love to sleep through the day hidden among the mess of its branches.
Commonly we find it growing in masses of thick undergrowth where it seldom gets much taller than four metres. Along the Anglesea estuary it adds stability to the shallow, poor soil. Under the canopy – at the proper time of year the undergrowth hides the most spectacular native orchids: the Fairy Orchid grows underneath the moonah others grow nearby, the twisted Sun Orchid, the Sharp greenhood , the Wax Lip Orchid.One hundred kilometres away the tree survives in the undergrowth of the Manna Gum – a favourite of the Koala.
In Torquay we are lucky to have at least one streetscape where the trees (photo included) where trees stand 10 metres tall. This stand (also a remnant) is inland, about 100 metres from the surf beach. Here, the tree are protected from the the inshore wind and they reach up to 10 metres into the clear sky. Because they have been protected they are tall and have grown without the handicap of neighbouring plants holding them back.
Like all plants of the Melaleuca family the flowers grow from a filament that when spent remains on the flower stem as a little hard nut like growth. As the plant grows “nuts” from previous flowering’s remain.
The Plenty Tree
The twisted Moonah tree turns is back to the wind hunkers down low, resting on heavy limb in the dusty dune. Perhaps the Wadawurrung sheltered beneath this bough the day a possum skin became a ceremonial cape. Even so it grows. Annually flowering millions of petals so bees use this generous pollen store as food we harvest.
I was born in a coastal city yet fish was not a big part of our diet. The number of times we children ate fish was limited. The fish we ate at home was fillets of smoked cod. When mum prepared it she cooked it in a white sauce with some onion. Another common name for this sauce is Mornay Sauce. To the French it is know as Béchamel sauce. Not that the milky substance Mum cooked was anything like a rich Béchamel common to French cooking.
In her case I imagine it’s role was to act as a filler. For, as history tells us, it’s original common name was Glue sauce. Served as it was the sauce disguised the salty fish we were dished. Cooked this way the smoked fillets were boneless and tender. When it came to fish our preference was to eat fillets because served that way bones were eliminated. On a rare, very rare occasion, we ate fish from a Fish and Chip shop.
Fish and chips were the most popular takeaway meals one could buy in the 1950’s. Nearly every town, or hamlet, had a local Fish and Chip shop. The fish was nearly always fried Flake served with a handful of potato chips (three pence worth of chips.) When the family ate this way we possibly had sixpence worth. (Potatoes were most commonly cheap. It was only in times when farmers failed to grow a decent crop the shopkeeper more carefully budgeted the chip amount).
When cooked, the Chipper, would pour the fried food on a single piece of white butcher’s paper and wrap the lot in a bundle of used newspaper. (The newspaper was used as an insulator to keep the meal hot until it was consumed). As soon as we got outside we would tear a hole in one end of the paper and pull the chips from the gaping hole and eat the meal using our fingers aa eating utensils. (When old enough to have money of my own I would sometimes sell a bundle of old newspapers to the shops for a few pennies).
It is surprising in 2020 to note how little we valued the riches of the sea years ago. For instance, as kids walking around the rocks of Lady Bay we had no appreciation the migrant families that picked wild mussels and oysters from the rocks later enjoyed a free gourmet meal. Worse, by the time we appreciated what they had feasted upon it was a banned activity. (Only once have I enjoyed the pleasure of harvesting wild oysters from the sea. This was at an Army Reserves camp in Tasmania around 1970).
In Victoria the Fisheries Department stocked local streams and lakes with trout. In season, and with some childhood luck, we ate Rainbow salmon trout sometimes and lots of wild eels. The eels were easily caught but most difficult to manage when landed. Their writhing slippery skin allowed for a dangerous moment or two before they were bagged. For the boy fisher, who tried to kill and extract the fish hook in the half light of dusk on the grassy edge of a local creek the battle was dangerous. The eel would wrap its body around an arm or leg, and with a hook protruding from its mouth it was also capable of a nasty bite. The fish caught this way was eaten as a trophy but otherwise unappreciated because each had unfamiliar bones that required caution when eating them.
Unusually at our Education Department run hostel, “Hawthorne”, at our final meal before graduation in 1961, we were served what the Army would call a Mess Formal Dinner. The meal started with soup, followed by a course of Crayfish (Australian Rock Lobster.) Our main dish was fillet steak. I have no recollection of what came next. The point is back in 1961 Crayfish was plentiful. It wasn’t cheap but it was plentiful and considered enough of a delicacy to form part of of our final college meal. (Within a few short years crayfish disappeared from Australian tables. The fishing fleets along the southern coast disappeared with them.) (To buy Australian Rock Lobster , in 2020, one competes with the rest of the world and pays what is asked)).
It was not until I became a regular Friday night diner at the Nicholson dinner table, did I regularly eat bony fish. Marie’s choice was Barracouta. This was served as fried steaks with mashed potatoes. The Barracouta (now renamed Australian Snoek) is a tasty fish. Unlike the delicate bones of trout the fish has darning needle thick long bones. Hundreds of them. (It too has almost disappeared from fish mongers. Either it was over fished, or with global warming has moved to colder climes).
All along the south western coast of Victoria it was possible to find a fleet of the wooden Couta boats. Many of these places had no natural harbour, or poor berthing places, (Lorne, Port Campbell, Peterborough, for protection the boats were hauled out of the water at shift’s end and rested high and dry on the pier.)
Over the years I have had my taste palette trained to enjoy the fruit of the sea. An example is octopus. As a school boy a text we read was A Pattern of Islands by A. Grimble. This book tells in great detail how the indigenous people of the Gilbert and Ellis Islands (Kiribati) caught and ate the fish. Grimble an Englishman was appalled how people could eat it. After a couple of trips to Greece I now ask how could they not?
Today many local people attempt to catch fish as their forefathers did and they fail. They fail to catch their local fish because they have been over fished, or the condition of the water has changed and the fish have moved away.
It is a curse of international fishing that schools have been over fished. (Sometime the fishing lines are hundreds of kilometres long. The goal of these fishers might be one variety, yet all varieties of fish are caught. The unwanted fish are released as by-catch corpses thus wasting every other species.)
The ecological problems are many. The oceans are full of indigestible plastics. Fish farms feed confined fish fish meal that requires antibiotics to kill harmful pathogens. Species have been lost and fish is considered the property of every body at the expense anyone living in water indigenous to them. My final word is if we are to continue to enjoy fish as a food we must only take what we can eat – today.
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.