Weather and readings and possibly half-baked ideas…

In other words, welcome to a typical blog entry.

Currently I am reading:

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… which links to the very clever accompanying website. The Guardian review:

Opening Reif Larsen’s The Selected Works of TS Spivet brings to mind that useful old instruction of Mark Twain: "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." Larsen wants to transport his reader to something like the world of Huck Finn, that place of adventure where adult codes are suspended. To this end, he places us in the head of Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet (TS for short), a 12-year-old prodigy with a compulsion to make maps of the world in order better to understand it.

Spivet lives on Coppertop Ranch in the wilds of Montana and it quickly becomes clear that the cartography he is interested in is not the stuff of the Ordnance Survey. His co-ordinates are all over the place: he maps the flight paths of bats around his house, the dynamics of his sister shucking corn cobs, the spread of McDonald’s in northern Montana, the rising waters of the local lake, which he believes is set to inundate the town. Many of these maps illustrate the margins of his story, along with all sorts of other digressions and diagrams.

The result is a wilfully original and diverting book, full of carefully penned ephemera, a bit like Schott’s Miscellany written as a confessional novel. In design, it appeals to the same contemporary nostalgia for the niceties of between-the-war text books and all things Baden-Powell. There is, of course, a reason for Spivet’s mapping….

I did have two difficulties with it. The first, slightly unfair one, is that if you take away the brilliant typography and illustration, the story clunks, particularly toward the end. The second is that at no point did I feel that this was at any stretch the voice of a 12-year-old boy. Even the New Yorker’s resident outlier Malcolm Gladwell wouldn’t have sounded like this at 12: "Last year, I did an illustration for an article in Science magazine about a new technology at ATMs and automated kiosks that registered not just the tone of the customer’s voice but also his or her facial expressions."

Much of the wit of the book arises from this disjunction, as in the moment when Spivet is faced with a rattlesnake and falls into an existential reverie: "Was there an acknowledgement – beneath the assigned roles of fear, predation, territoriality – of our shared sentience? A part of me wanted to reach out to the rattlesnake and shake his invisible hand." But it also courts a deadening kind of irritation. In one chapter, Spivet anatomises, rather riskily, the "five different kinds of boredom": from "anticipatory boredom" (where the looming presence of something in the near future prevents you from being able to concentrate on anything) to "let-down boredom" (where an event or activity is expected to be a certain way only for it to turn out differently)….

I have just passed the rattlesnake incident.

The October Monthly is out. I am drawn by quite a bit there — Linda Jaivin, Waleed Aly, Paul Kelly…

And Mungo MacCallum being very sensible:

In ‘Junk Politics’, Mungo MacCallum laments the cult of character, which has seen personal attacks and gossip supplant debate over substance and, heaven forfend, the merits of actual policies. In the wake of the wall-punching allegations against Abbott, MacCallum searches for the genesis of this fixation and finds both sides of politics culpable.

Then there is Marcia Langton, to whose views I am rather inclined, unfashionable as that might be. A few years ago she wrote:

IT SEEMS ALMOST axiomatic to most Australians that Aborigines should be marginalised: poor, sick, and forever on the verge of extinction. At the heart of this idea is a belief in the inevitability of our incapability – the acceptance of our ‘descent into hell’. This is part of the cultural and political wrong-headedness that dominates thinking about the role of Aboriginal property rights and economic behaviour in the transition from settler colonialism to modernity.

In this mindset, the potential of an economically empowered, free-thinking, free-speaking Aborigine has been set to one side because it is more interesting to play with the warm, cuddly cultural Aborigine – the one who is so demoralised that the only available role is as a passive player. The dominance of the ‘reconciliation and justice’ rhetoric in the Australian discourse on Aboriginal issues is a part of this.

The first Australians are simply seeking relief from poverty and economic exclusion. Yet, in the last three decades, rational thinking and sound theory (such as development economics) to address the needs of Indigenous societies have been side-tracked into the intellectual dead-end of the ‘culture wars’. This has had very little to do with Aboriginal people, but everything to do with white settlers positioning themselves around the central problem of their country: can a settler nation be honourable? Can history be recruited to the cause of Australian nationalism without reaching agreement with its first peoples?

Paradoxically, even while Aboriginal misery dominates the national media frenzy – the perpetual Aboriginal reality show – the first peoples exist as virtual beings without power or efficacy in the national zeitgeist. Political characters played by ‘Aboriginal leaders’ pull the levers that draw settler Australians to them in a co-dependent relationship. The rhetoric of reconciliation is a powerful drawcard – like the bearded woman at the old sideshow. It is a seductive, pornographic idea, designed for punters accustomed to viewing Aborigines as freaks. It almost allows ‘the native’ some agency and a future. I say ‘almost’ because, in the end, ‘the native’ is not allowed out of the show, forever condemned to perform to attract crowds. The debate that has surrounded the Emergency Intervention has been instructive. It has exposed this co-dependency. It has also revealed a more disturbing, less well-understood fault-line in the Aboriginal world. The co-dependents in the relationship seek to speak for the abused, the suffering, the ill, the dying and those desperately in need who have been left alone to descend into a living hell while those far removed conduct a discourse on rights and culture.

The bodies that have piled up over the last thirty years have become irrelevant, except where they serve the purposes of the ‘culture war’. But in the meantime, the bodies of real people continue to pile up, human lives broken on the wheel of suffering. How much longer will this abuse of Aboriginal people be tolerated?

In the October Monthly she writes about the recent Northern Territory election.

In the recent Northern Territory election, Barbara Shaw was the Greens candidate for Braitling, one of the electorates in Alice Springs. She is Aboriginal and strongly opposed to the Northern Territory intervention.

To southerners, this may well seem a natural arrangement. Shaw won friends on the east coast by helping to contest Jenny Macklin’s housing intervention in the Federal Court, and thus stopped the building of houses in the Alice Springs town camps for several years on the grounds that residents had not been properly consulted. Shaw’s activism also saw her play a role in the Australia Day melee in Canberra earlier this year.

Her efforts did not go unnoticed in Alice Springs. On 25 August, Shaw received just 9% of the vote. The swing against the Greens in Braitling was almost 6%. Territory-wide, the Country Liberal Party (CLP) gained 56% of the two-party preferred vote, enough to win 16 of the legislative assembly’s 25 seats.

Few commentators picked the conservatives’ victory…

But the most significant factor was the Aboriginal body politic itself. Strong local leaders have worked hard to bring economic development to indigenous communities where welfare has turned residents into perpetual mendicants reliant on the state. Time and again, native title groups have spent years getting an agreement with a resource company over the line, negotiating income streams that might shift indigenous people from the margins to the centre of regional economic development in return for land access, only for a ragtag team of ‘wilderness’ campaigners to turn up with an entourage of disaffected Aboriginal protesters to stop development at the eleventh hour.

While the federal Labor government likes to feign shock at the more flaky antics of its coalition partner, Aboriginal people have known for years that the Greens are no good in bed. Their notions of economic development in remote Australia, which chiefly involve employing Aboriginal people as wilderness caretakers, are inspired by children’s books and anarchist tracts. As I’ve been saying for 20 years, this concept of wilderness is nothing but a new incarnation of terra nullius. With luck, the NT election represents a tipping point. The time of dismissing Aboriginal aspirations for economic development is over.

You know, she just could be right.

Meanwhile, with a kind of relevance to the above, but not necessarily endorsing anything I have said so far, visit Redfern and South Sydney via the October South Sydney Herald (PDF). It is worth it.

This issue of the SSH includes a feature on the Schizophrenia Fellowship NSW, which emphasises the importance of supported in-community care. Peter Maher’s faith column on sexual abuse by clergy, and the aftermath for the mental health of victims, is harrowing and essential reading…

Which brings me to the weather, as here in The Gong we are already into 30C+ and it is just October! El Nino is back, it appears.

The past week has provided a pretty good preview of the long, hot summer in store.

Temperatures soared into the thirties, with Albion Park recording the highest temperatures in the region of 31.6 degrees yesterday, and 31.2 degrees on Wednesday. The southern suburb also hit a top of 33.7 degrees last Friday.

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Jane Golding said October is usually the month when we start to see some warmer weather on the east coast, and this year didn’t disappoint.

"We’re still getting westerly winds coming across the ranges which are dragging the warmer air from inland Australia," Ms Golding said.

Temperatures were expected to stay pretty warm last night – at 18 degrees, which is five degrees above average – but things should start to cool down today.

"A change will be coming through the Illawarra during the middle of the day, with a south to south-easterly change keeping temperatures a couple of degrees cooler, in the high 20s," she said.

"That cool change will remain throughout the weekend and there’s a chance of showers on Saturday, which may develop into thunderstorms later in the day.

"However, the warming trend is set to return mid-to-late next week".

Meanwhile the State Emergency Service (SES) has warned NSW residents to brace themselves for a slew of fierce summer hail storms.

More than 50 severe storms are predicted to hit the state’s east over the coming months, with some of them likely to be as damaging as Sydney’s eastern suburbs hailstorm of 1999.

Hail stones as large as cricket balls caused more than $1.5 billion of damage during the intense, long-lived thunderstorm.

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Yesterday in West Wollongong – hot

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