Some say we have just three weeks left…

… so make sure your next few weeks of blog entries are really good! I refer of course to the Mayan Calendar.  (But see also ANALYSIS: Mayan Ruins Describe Dates Beyond 2012 ‘Doomsday’.) On a shorter time frame the weather people have been warning us to keep out of the sun today, which so far is not too difficult.


Can’t complain about the sight that greeted me from my window around 6am though.


By the time I got downstairs it had almost disappeared. Bloody rainbows! Can’t rely on them…


Do visit the photo blog for the December City Daily Photo theme entry, and go to DECEMBER – ‘My Street’ to see other CDP bloggers.

My Asian Century

In 1962 I looked at a map and made a choice. The lesson of the map was bleeding obvious even then.


In its own way World War II, during which I was born, spoke the same message: YOU ARE HERE! Get used to it!

So I chose to study Asian History at Sydney University in 1962 with two quite brilliant lecturers, Dr Ian Nish and Marjorie Jacobs. We galloped through China and Japan in two terms (Dr Nish) and India in one (Marjorie Jacobs) and never quite got to South East Asia though I had bought the textbook – D G E Hall in those days. I read it anyway. I wrote essays on Ram Mohun Roy and on the Sian Incident 西安事变. Turned out to be the one and only time I topped a subject at Sydney U!

Then at Cronulla High teaching History, among other things, from 1965 (student teacher) through 1966 to 1969, I always Asianised the curriculum – that is I took time out to make time lines showing, or devote a lesson to, what was happening in India, China, Japan, S-E Asia at the same time as, say, Elizabeth I. Indeed my first history job in 1965 was teaching Indonesian history to a Year 10 class – or 4th Year as we called it then.  And of course in the 1960s Cronulla High was a pioneer Indonesian teaching school – the place where I first heard an anklung orchestra – the school had one – or tasted nasi goreng.

Yes, the 1960s, folks.

And then at TIGS from 1971 to 1974 I taught mainly English, but also for a while I was History coordinator and in addition (under the Social Sciences Department) taught Asian Studies. Yes, Asian Studies, and there were even actual published text books and a syllabus and everything. Even before Gough Whitlam, if only just! in 1970 there was even a NSW  HSC subject called Asian Social Studies with 919 candidates. I remember having my class cooking (allegedly) Japanese food from recipes in an Asian Studies text book. We ate it and also fed it to the staff. First time I had ever used soy sauce or cooked bamboo shoots.

Wollongong High had a thriving Indonesian language group in the 1970s.

And so it goes.

Then of course we had the Keating era where the “Asian century” idea was first floated, though I am not sure the expression was used. We were reminded that we are part of Asia, and the map makes that quite incontrovertible, I would think. We sure as hell are not part of Europe. On the other hand, culturally and institutionally we draw on Britain plus, which also distinguishes us and is in my view something extraordinarily valuable we have to offer the region and something also to be cherished as part of what Australian has come to be. This has never struck me as a terribly difficult balancing act, though we did sadly get plunged into Pauline Hanson going totally batshit about being “swamped by Asians” for a while there and John Howard made sometimes worrying gestures in that direction, knowing where his votes were coming from but also by nature uncomfortable with the Keating era vision and with anything that happened before 1959. On the other hand in the Howard era we (and he) were busily engaged with Asian countries just as much as ever, simply because that is where we are and what is bound to happen. And of course we intervened in East Timor, something I for one supported.

And Sydney High, where I worked most of the time from 1985 to 2005, offered Mandarin as well as Ancient Greek. I even wrote a cross-cultural text, based on some class work at SBHS, called From Yellow Earth to Eucalypt (Longman 1995).


Now here we are again. I haven’t read the White Paper yet, just skimmed. It is fascinating. It is also, as I said yesterday, pretty much what anyone leading Australia now would envisage, but as others have pointed out it is also less substantial than it could be. I guess it gives a bit of a vision which may even lead to outcomes.  I wouldn’t hold my breath about some of it though.

See also Ben Eltham, No Cash For The Asian Century, Richard Tsukamasa Green, Asian languages are essential because they are essential, Bill Mitchell, The Asian Century White Paper – spin over substance. Now that is a pretty diverse bunch with rather similar messages.

And there is the sad story of the decline of past promise, when it comes to Asian languages. I don’t think either Cronulla High or Wollongong High has Indonesian any more, and that is typical. See a report last year in the Herald.

Just 9 per cent of 72,391 [NSW] HSC students studied a language this year. Of the 34 offered, French was the most popular with 1471, followed by Japanese with 1376.

For all the rhetoric on the need to move closer to Asia, Indonesian was studied by only 232, Chinese by 1091 and Hindi, the language of a future powerhouse, by just 42…

Just checked: Cronulla High offers Japanese in the HSC; Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts (as it now is)  offers introductory Korean in Years 7 and 8; Heathcote High in The Shire (where my grandnephews and grandniece went in recent years) has Indonesian in Years 7 and 8 and a 15 year long linkage to schools in the Hitachi-Omiya district in Japan.

How different will things be in ten years time? Honestly, I wouldn’t hold my breath. See also Tim Lindsay Australia’s Asia literacy wipe-out.

Do also visit Dennis Wright and Maximos Russell Darnley – both extraordinary people who know much more than I do.

Meantime, enjoy the sight of an Illawarra Flame Tree in Figtree, just south of West Wollongong. They were taken yesterday.

Continue reading

Weather and readings and possibly half-baked ideas…

In other words, welcome to a typical blog entry.

Currently I am reading:


… 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.


Yesterday in West Wollongong – hot



This morning here in West Wollongong I noted how glorious was the Illawarra Flame behind an abandoned house I pass every day going to and from the Yum Yum Cafe.



And then I came home having read Paul Sheehan’s rather remarkable column about Alan Jones being “bullied”. Loon Pond deals with that and has this lovely picture…

jones 1

That just asks for a caption and Loon Pond supplies one. What would your suggestion be?

Yesterday I showed quite clearly that even though I am in his “demographic” I really think Alan Jones is deep down a total ass. But I have not supported the petition against him either. So make what you will of that. Meanwhile here is a far more decent man, and an event I saw as it happened on ABC News 24 last night, noting on Facebook:

I just watched the Community Cabinet Q and A from Launceston, Tasmania, on ABC News 24 and am hoping a transcript comes in due course as it was a reminder that Julia Gillard can be far more impressive than we give her credit for in the present climate. It also was a reminder that aside from all the bullshit of the news cycle things really are being worked on. And at around 7.35 was a statement from the floor of the most amazing decency on the recent Alan Jones circus. 100 plus points to the man who made that remark. Hope, as I say, to get chapter and verse by tomorrow. It and he were just beautiful.

It may have been earlier than 7.35, but otherwise I still feel the same about this man and what he said.


Ms Gillard and her cabinet had been busy dealing with questions about the carbon tax and foreign aid at a community cabinet event in Launceston when an elderly man asked if he could make a statement.

If you’re quick, Ms Gillard told him, and he read part of a letter he wished to give her, taking issue with shock jock Alan Jones’ version – since disavowed – of her relationship with John Gillard.

"John Gillard spoke of his love and pride for his daughter," the man read.

"He would have died knowing that she, Australia’s first female prime minister, is, as history will show, the most vilified prime minister by far in Australian political history.

"I dedicate this letter to your father, John Gillard – a Welsh coalminer, a psychiatric nurse, a loving father, a much-loved father and husband.

"And I dedicate it in the name of everything that’s good and pure and true and decent."

Cue massive applause, and Ms Gillard appeared touched…

No, Ms Gillard manifestly was touched, as was I, as anyone would be.

Let me remind you:

My father, John Gillard, passed away this morning in Adelaide.
He has battled illness in recent years but his death is a shock for me and my family.
Dad lived a long and full life.  He was brought up in a coal mining village and left school at 14, but transcended these humble beginnings to become a man with a love of ideas, political debate and poetry.
Migrating to Australia in 1966, he studied for a new life in a new land and became a psychiatric nurse.  For more than two decades, he showed his capacity for love and care to those most in need of help.
My father was my inspiration.  He taught me that nothing comes without hard work and demonstrated to me what hard work meant as a shift worker with two jobs.  He taught me to be passionate about fairness.  He taught me to believe in Labor and in trade unionism.
But above all, he taught me to love learning and to understand its power to change lives.  He always regretted his family background meant he had not proceeded on to higher education as a young man.  He was determined that I had the opportunities he was denied.
I will miss him for the rest of my life…

See also her address in Parliament on 20 September.

And let me add, in fairness, Tony Abbott:

On behalf of the coalition—and I suspect on behalf of all members of the parliament—I welcome the Prime Minister back after her bereavement leave. This is a tragic time for her, and we all feel for her at this very difficult and sad time. I also acknowledge the sad duty that the Prime Minister and I have been engaged in over the last few days attending military funerals. They are very sad occasions. But they are proud occasions, because the departed have done their duty, by their mates and by our country.

I again acknowledge John Gillard, who has done his country proud in producing such a daughter. It is a remarkable parent who produces a Prime Minister of this country. I acknowledge his journey from the valleys of Wales to this wide brown land. It is a journey I am a little familiar with, as my own maternal grandmother grew up in the village of Gelligaer, a former mining town on the south coast of Wales. For John Gillard, as for Phyllis Lacey, my grandmother, Australia has been a land of opportunity—although the same journey provided different political destinations, I hasten to add, in those cases.

We all know the place good parents have in the hearts of their children, and the coalition continues to extend its deepest sympathies to the Prime Minister.

Don’t you wish, at the very least, that Alan Jones had shut his gob? What he said would disgrace a public urinal even if muttered just to himself, let alone when speaking in “role model” guise to a bunch of eager Young Liberals, and some twat of a reporter…

Related:  Ross Gittins being quite marvellous yesterday.