Inspiring people: true Aussies both

Two from last night’s Australian of the Year Award – with an eye to the future.

Young Australian of the Year 2013: Akram Azimi

"This bloke is a legend already," says one commenter.

Akram Azimi is a dedicated mentor to young Indigenous people.  Arriving in Australia 13 years ago from Afghanistan he went from being ‘an ostracised refugee kid with no prospects’ to becoming his school’s head boy. An outstanding student, he topped the tertiary entrance exam scores among his classmates. He’s now studying a triple major – law, science and arts – at the University of Western Australia. Intent on giving back to his adopted country, Akram uses his leadership and pastoral skills to help young people in remote and rural Western Australia.  In 2011 he co-founded a student-run initiative I am the other set up to raise awareness about Indigenous issues in universities. His philanthropic roles have included working with True Blue Dreaming, which helps disadvantaged remote Indigenous communities. For three years, Akram mentored young Indigenous people in the Looma community in the Kimberley region, and he has mentored primary school students in the small farming community of Wyalkatchem, in WA’s wheat belt. Akram is also mentoring a Special Olympics athlete to help raise community awareness of disability issues.

See also The Big Interview with Akram Azimi.

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Local Hero: Shane Phillips

REDFERN: According to the Sydney Morning Herald’s (Sydney) magazine, Shane Phillips of the Tribal Warrior Association is one of Sydney’s 100 most influential people writes Liesa Clague in the February 2012 edition of the South Sydney Herald.

It was an immense pleasure speaking to Shane about growing up in Redfern – what has inspired him with regards to his work now, and recalling, when he was young, the key events and people who have made him the leader he is today.

Shane (a Bundjalung, Wonnarua and Eora man) was born in Redfern, and grew up surrounded by role models such as Mum Shirl, Charlie Perkins, Joyce Clague, and other Aboriginal men and women who have contributed to the fight for equal opportunity, the right to be counted as part of the wider community and to help support Aboriginal people. Shane talked about the environment of Redfern in the ’70s and ’80s, which were “good times”.

Much has changed since then. Shane looks forward to new life for “working families” on The Block, better relationships with the police and among all people of good will in the community.

What inspires Shane is supporting his family and being true to them as well as doing the best he can for his community.

He believes that you need good work ethics and to follow through by doing the best job you can.

Shane started work at the age of 14, after being told by his Dad he had to work. The work experience for Shane was “tough but fair”, and he learnt a lot from the people he worked with and for. He learned there was value and pride in contributing to the greater good.

Shane recalls, when he was 14 years old, assisting another lad to break into a car. The other lad ran away but Shane was caught by police. He recalls that the police officer “kicked me up the bum” and “told me he didn’t want me being involved in any stealing again”. This event shaped Shane to realise that he did not want to do anything to get himself into trouble. “I respected that he gave me that chance – that he showed me that respect,” Shane said.

Being there for his family, maintaining humility and integrity, and developing programs that support young people in the community to achieve their goals are very important to Shane – more important than any accolades or awards.

Source: South Sydney Herald February 2012 www.southsydneyherald.com.au

See more from redwatch.

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See SBS video The Block for a profile of Shane.

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In 1983 I learned more than I knew I was learning…

At that time I lived in Glebe and was in some ways at a rather low ebb, in hiatus from teaching but still editing Neos. I lived for a while in a boarding house in Boyce Street with assorted students, crims and schizos and one or two ordinary folk. It was an education. Among my neighbours was a schizophrenic Aboriginal woman whom I call “Marie”.  As I listened to Marie, who was also kind of concierge to the house, I found a story emerging amid the apparent randomness and even craziness. I tried to capture that in a poem at the time. Every word in the poem she actually said, though not all at once, and I have structured it so that her story emerges, as it did for me over a much longer time. An artist who lived upstairs read it and said I had captured her exactly.

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The house in Boyce Street. At the time I occupied the front room. “Marie” was on the second floor at the landing. The artist had the balcony room.

It is clearly no longer a boarding house.

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Marie: Glebe 1983

(for the “stolen generation”)

my mama was black
dadda a scotsman

in the home there was a flower
it woke us up

see here it is

and here’s one i’m saving for matron
(i loved you matron)
i’ll write a book for matron

she’s gone now
they say she died

sometimes
i think i will come back to her

she said “you’re in trouble, marie”
she said “have the baby”
(i was nineteen or twenty)

i know all about cocks
men can be cheeky
but the girls are worse
two backyard jobs

matron’s gone now
see her flower?
i’ve pressed it for her

i’m forty-two years old i am nothing
a woman not married in this society
is nothing

my dream is to get married
i said to matron
“i will have babies for you”

tomorrow

i’ll give up smoking
i must control the grog
but when my head’s upset i need a beer

the pub is good
nobody looks down on you there

i hope my joseph is happy
he chose his family
and thomas
where is thomas?

there have been too many men

i’ll go picking again
on the riverina

this is not my place

this is a dead end street this is a dead man’s house
but there is a lane

they call me
abo
schizo

words are very powerful
you must be careful how you use them

do the children still read?

the television
i got mine at the hock shop forty bucks
it freaks me out

sometimes

i see myself and matron and joseph and thomas
i learn a lot
it freaks me out

sometimes

this is not my place
my head hurts here

all that fucking going on
over my head

i’ve never hurt no-one
let them kill me it’s good
it doesn’t matter
i’ve never hurt no-one
but i’ve been hurt

do you know my dream?

this is my dream
i’ll have a coffee shop
and there will be little huts
and no-one will be turned away

we did that once
had pillows all over the house

i learned
dressmaking
and elocution

i’ll get up early and get a job
it’s good i reckon
tomorrow
will be good
after christmas
next year
i’ll leave this place

but it’s good
i reckon

see this flower?
i’m saving it for matron
and here is the one
that woke us in the home

my dadda was a scotsman
my mama was black

****

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Each photo is linked to its story.  See A guide to Australia’s Stolen Generations and 100 Year Commemoration of the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home.

See also Punishment and death at Cootamundra for a contrarian view from Keith Windschuttle. BTW, if you happen upon that chapter directly via a search you could be forgiven for thinking it had some kind of official status. I find that a bit deceptive, but then I guess it is up to me (caveat emptor) to check the home and about links.

Archie Roach at Cootamundra Girl’s 100 years playing ‘Mum’s Song’ by Kutcha Edwards.

Full of hatred and full of anger
Which I needed to release
But with love and understanding
I’ve moved on and I’m now at peace

Late at night I still remember
I would cry myself to sleep
The scars they hurt no longer
But the memories are deep

As we come up to Australia Day tomorrow it is time to reflect soberly and honestly on the full picture of our country’s history.

Mostly Australian…

First something that includes but goes beyond our patch: the annual summary State of the Climate Global Analysis 2012 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Climatic Data Center (USA) is now available.

Global Highlights

  • The year 2012 was the 10th warmest year since records began in 1880. The annual global combined land and ocean surface temperature was 0.57°C (1.03°F) above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F). This marks the 36th consecutive year (since 1976) that the yearly global temperature was above average. Currently, the warmest year on record is 2010, which was 0.66°C (1.19°F) above average. Including 2012, all 12 years to date in the 21st century (2001–2012) rank among the 14 warmest in the 133-year period of record. Only one year during the 20th century—1998—was warmer than 2012.
  • Separately, the 2012 global average land surface temperature was 0.90°C (1.62°F) above the 20th century average of 8.5°C (47.3°F) and ranked as the seventh warmest year on record.
  • La Niña, which is defined by cooler-than-normal waters in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean that affect weather patterns around the globe, was present during the first three months of 2012. The weak-to-moderate La Niña dissipated in the spring and was replaced by ENSO-neutral conditions for the remainder of the year. When compared to previous La Niña years, the 2012 global surface temperature was the warmest observed during such a year; 2011 was the previous warmest La Niña year on record.
  • The 2012 global average ocean temperature was 0.45°C (0.81°F) above the 20thcentury average of 16.1°C (60.9°F) and ranked as the 10th warmest year on record. It was also the warmest year on record among all La Niña years. The three warmest annual ocean surface temperatures occurred in 2003, 1998, and 2010—all warm phase El Niño years.
  • Following the two wettest years on record (2010 and 2011), 2012 saw near average precipitation on balance across the globe. However, as ia typical, precipitation varied greatly from region to region.

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Bring that right back home, perhaps…  You recall earlier this month Flying Fox Dreaming–or nightmare?  Here is a follow-up from today’s Illawarra Mercury:

The region’s budding flying fox population was not immune to Friday’s scorching weather, as dozens of bats died in the heat.

WIRES volunteers spent hours on Saturday disposing of nearly 50 dead grey-haired flying foxes after they died in the hot weather.

The colony, numbering tens of thousands, had taken up a summer spot in a patch of bushland just north of the Figtree freeway exit…

WIRES Chairman Sam Joukador said volunteers had removed a wheelbarrow full of the dead bats and expected to find more on the other side of the freeway exit.

"The heat just brought a lot of them down … they can’t handle the hot weather," he said.

"During the last heatwave, we had the same problem but this time, the weather was a lot more intense … if it had lasted more than one day, we would have lost about 90 per cent of the colony.

"We found a lot of them in the creek; they’d drowned while they were trying to get some water, they can’t just take off and fly from a creek like that, they need to be up high.

"Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do … it’s just nature taking its course."…

On ABC News 24 yesterday afternoon was a pleasant surprise.

When Sydney-based Scott Bevan arrives in Newcastle to visit family and friends, he releases an audible sigh. ‘‘It’s that exhalation of pure comfort … aaaaah … I’m home now and I’m fine,’’ he says, laughing. Until 1993, when the intrepid journalist left town to pursue career opportunities, home was here in the Hunter (he returned in 2001 for a year with wife Jo to write) and even now, when asked where he is from, Bevan replies with great affection and pride, ‘‘Newcastle’’. ‘‘Some nearest and dearest correct me and say, ‘Well, that’s not true any more’, but yes it is. I am from Newcastle in my heart and soul.’’

That passion for his birthplace and a love of history motivated Bevan, who now works for ABC News 24, to embark in February 2011 on an ambitious and meaningful adventure, picking up where he had left off a decade earlier. ‘‘Back in 2001, I wrote a series for the Newcastle Herald about a canoe trip I did with Jo down the Hunter River, starting just below Glenbawn Dam,’’ he recalls. ‘‘Then I went overseas for work [Bevan became the ABC’s Moscow correspondent] but often while I was away I was reminded of the river and I felt strongly about revisiting it with the view to writing a book so I could reach a wider audience. When we came back to Australia, I talked to ABC Books and they were interested.’’

It still took a little while for Bevan’s resolve to turn into action. ‘‘When I got back from Russia and told my dear mate [film director] Bruce Beresford about my plan, he said, ‘Gee, I hope you don’t die’. I told him it was safe and he said, ‘No, I don’t mean that. I hope you don’t die of boredom’. [Laughs] And then I launched into a defence of the area and why it’s so wonderful. I knew I had to get going.’’

After visiting by foot the three streamlets in the Barrington Tops that form the beginning of the Hunter River, Bevan explores the Packers’ 27,000-hectare estate Ellerston before starting his paddling from the White family’s famous Belltrees property.

Had much changed in the decade since his last journey? ‘‘The main thing that struck me was how many areas along the river were unkempt, [with] weeds having taken over. In certain parts it may be because more and more land is no longer primarily used for agriculture, but is tied up with the mining industry.

‘‘That’s not to say mines don’t consider that stuff, but if you’re on the land, day in and day out, and it’s part of who you are and what you are, then you’re going to be more mindful of that aspect. There were parts that were like paddling through South-East Asia because of the profusion of bamboo and weeds.’’

Mining had also increased its reach. ‘‘In 2001, I remember being surprised by how close in places mining does come to the river, so this time, I was more prepared for the shock, but it is cheek by jowl and the mining industry is right there beside the river.

‘‘In places, it is an extraordinary presence when you paddle around a bend and see a range of overburden towering over the river. I felt a sense of loss; you couldn’t just do the Huck Finn thing and paddle down the river and wander up to the farmhouse and speak to the local farmer and say, ‘G’day, can I camp on your land?’ There are stretches now where that isn’t possible.’’

The effect of being a decade older also hit the 47-year-old hard. ‘‘It was a reaffirmation that I’m ageing,’’ laughs the father of five-year-old twin boys. ‘‘You wouldn’t think there would be much difference in 10 years, but there is. My muscles were testament to that every morning I woke up in a tent aching. I wasn’t prepared for feeling so old!’’

Bevan is an evocative and skilful writer with a journalist’s eye for detail. He captures the subtle characteristics of the people and landscape that enriched his adventure. Colourful historical detail is threaded through his account, as is personal reflection. ‘‘You paddle a river and it forces you to look around,’’ Bevan says. ‘‘It also allowed me to meditate on those two questions I set out to answer with the book – who am I and where am I from?’’

from the Newcastle Herald. See also HarperCollins on the book.

Very evocative for me as it showed many places my mother had lived in and often spoke about. See More tales from my mother 4 — Dunolly NSW — and conclusions.

Finally, here’s a thought if you are wondering what to watch on Australia Day: why not be as Australian as you possibly can get? Watch NITV.  Somewhere in there is some footage of 1988. Perhaps I may even see myself!  I will certainly see places, things and people I saw then or have seen since.

Last night NITV showed an excellent movie, Radiance. See my 2007 post One of our stories well told: Radiance (1998). Stephen Page on Talking Heads.

Yum Yum Cafe closed by yesterday’s record heat

This morning it reopened after the overnight southerly change:

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While it is not mentioned by name there, read the Mercury’s report: Cafes shut, people faint as mercury passes 45.

The temperatures were about five degrees higher than forecast.

There were multiple triple-0 calls for cases of heat exposure, including for a 70-year-old man at Windang, a 45-year-old woman at Austinmer Beach and a 26-year-old man at Cordeaux Heights, who was working on machinery when he succumbed to the effects of heat exhaustion.

Statewide, the Ambulance Service of NSW had responded to 44 cases of heat exposure – one third of whom were for people over 60 – by 3pm.

Over the same period there were 89 reports of people falling unconscious or fainting and 37 instances of vomiting.

"Many of those cases are attributable to the heat," an ambulance spokeswoman said.

It was also the hottest day in recorded history in Sydney, which experienced more heat-related illness, transport chaos and even melting roads and ice rinks.

The mercury hit 45.8 at Sydney’s Observatory Hill at 2.55pm, exceeding the previous record of 45.3 set on January 14, 1939.

The record temperature was similar to that recorded in places in the NSW far west, such as White Cliffs, which sweated the day out in around 44-degree heat.

That was topped by temperatures in Penrith, in western Sydney, which reached 46.5 degrees.

Sparks from Sydney’s monorail briefly set fire to trees and grass near the entertainment centre while at the Big Day Out music festival in Homebush, a St John Ambulance spokesman said the organisation treated 200 people, mostly for dehydration.

Re Yours and Owls

This venue is one of The Gong’s real highlights. Lovely afternoon in The Gong tells of my first visit there. And subsequently.  I haven’t been there so much in the past ten months as the opening hours tend not to coincide with my being in the vicinity.

The reason I mention all this is Angela Thomson’s story Bands rally round paralysed music promoter in The Illawarra Mercury.

With Christmas nearing, Ben Tillman found himself confined to the spinal injuries unit of Prince of Wales Hospital – only 70 kilometres from his Thirroul home but worlds away from his old life of music, friends and freedom.

Unable to move his legs, weak and easily exhausted, he and his two business partners agreed they couldn’t continue to operate Yours and Owls, the live music venue they started together in Wollongong 2½ years ago.

The venue was a labour of love, but the work could be all-consuming and difficult to spin into a profit.

Now Ben – the booker, the one who had built the relationships with the agencies and bands and kept the stage filled five nights a week – was in a wheelchair with an uncertain prognosis after a car accident.

The partners – Ben and long-time friends Balunn Jones and Adam Smith – resolved to sell the business.

But then Ben grew a bit stronger and more focused. He didn’t want to give up on Owls and realised he didn’t have to.

Like scores of Illawarra musicians who have found an audience at the little Kembla St venue, it did him good.

"I’ve started doing a bit of work from the hospital, behind the scenes stuff," he told the Mercury this week from his bed at Prince of Wales.

"It keeps my mind active and helps with the positivity as well. We might be getting another guy on board, we’re excited about that. We’re keen to step it up [this year] and keep doing what we’re doing."

Owls, and the nearby Wollongong Town Hall, will be the site of a large benefit concert next Saturday aimed at supporting Ben financially, and in morale, as he continues a gruelling schedule of physical rehabilitation and moves closer to the day he can go home

Bushfires

My brother lives in Tasmania, but not in an area currently affected. This is the latest news at the time of writing: Fears for missing residents as fire fighting continues.

Police fear there may have been deaths in the fire-ravaged south-east of Tasmania, with a number of people reported missing.

Since Friday, more than 100 homes have been destroyed by a bushfire between Forcett and the Tasman Peninsula, in the state’s south-east.

Residents of the worst-affected town of Dunalley have told of how they were forced to dive into the canal in the middle of the town to escape the wall of flames coming towards them on Friday.

State Acting Police Commissioner Scott Tilyard says there are grave fears for a small number of people reported missing…

We are, it is fair to say, still facing over a month of fire season.  I was trying to remember when there was last a severe fire down here in The Gong. I vividly remember 1968 – and the season came early: November that year. The whole of the Illawarra Escarpment went up. Living where I am now I would have been uncomfortably close.

1968/69: Widespread damage occurred over much of the eastern part of the State. Major fires at Wollongong burnt rainforest, destroyed 33 homes and five other buildings. Fires in the lower Blue Mountains were fanned by 100km/h westerly winds and destroyed 123 buildings. Three lives were lost.

Julie at Woonona has a Flickr collection superimposing historic photos on current shots. There is one showing Austinmer, north of Wollongong, in 1968.

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I was still teaching at Cronulla High at the time and I remember the sky being filled with smoke to the south.  There were also severe fires in 1997-8, though as far as this area was concerned more to the north.

1997/1998: There were major fires in the Burragorang, Piliga, Hawkesbury, Hunter, Shoalhaven, Central Coast and Sydney’s south (particularly Menai) that proved difficult to contain and suppress, and posed a major threat to communities, their assets and the environment.

However the fires were brought under control in a timely manner with only relatively minor property damage. There were in excess of 250 significant fires, and:

  • approximately 500,000ha were burnt
  • over 5,000 firefighters were utilised at any one time
  • over 60 fixed wing and rotary aricraft were involved
  • 10 homes were lost at Menai
  • 20 local government areas were affected
  • 4 firefighter lives were lost.

The principle duration was 16 days, though fires started in late November 1997 and continued until 28 Feb 1998.

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The Menai fires, 1997

See also Turn and burn: the strange world of fire tornadoes and Jim Belshaw’s Saturday Morning Musings – fires, land management & risk.