Brilliant article on Google, plus an English teaching thing

Did you see Tim Adams on Google and the future of search: Amit Singhal and the Knowledge Graph? It appeared online on 19 January, but I only caught up with it via the ink-and-paper Guardian Weekly on Friday. It is a major must-read.

Thinking about Google over the last week, I have fallen into the typically procrastinatory habit of every so often typing the words "what is" or "what" or "wha" into the Google search box at the top right of my computer screen. Those prompts are all the omnipotent engine needs to inform me of the current instant top 10 of the virtual world’s most urgent desires. At the time of typing, this list reads, in descending order:

What is the fiscal cliff
What is my ip
What is obamacare
What is love
What is gluten
What is instagram
What does yolo mean
What is the illuminati
What is a good credit score
What is lupus

It is a list that indicates anxieties, not least the ways in which we are restlessly fixated with our money, our bodies and our technology – and paranoid and confused in just about equal measure. A Prince Charles-like desire for the definition of love, in my repetitive experience of the last few days, always seems to come in at No 4 on this list of priorities, though the preoccupations above it and below it tend to shift slightly with the news.

The list also supports another truism: that we – the billion components of the collective questioning mind – have got used to asking Google pretty much anything and expecting it to point us to some kind of satisfactory answer. It’s long since become the place most of us go for knowledge, possibly even, desperately, for wisdom. And it is already almost inconceivable to imagine how we might have gone about finding the answer to some of these questions only 15 years ago without it – a visit to the library? To a doctor? To Citizens Advice? To a shrink?

That was the time, in the prehistory of about 1995, when our ideas of "search" still carried the sense of the word’s Latin roots – a search was a kind of "arduous quest" that invariably involved "wandering" and "seeking" and "traversing". Not any longer. For those who are growing up to search in this millennium, it implies nothing more taxing than typing two words into a box – or, increasingly, mumbling them into a phone – and waiting less than an instant for a comprehensive answer, generally involving texts and images and films and books and maps. Search’s sense of questing purpose has already gone the way of other pre-Google concepts, such as "getting lost".

That rate of change – of how we gather information, how we make connections and think – has been so rapid that it invites a further urgent Google question. Where will search go next?…

Now the bits on education.

e0578fec1b858a174a99dacbb9b5d750a3556b90Ages ago I moaned about our pollies, Julia Gillard and/or Kevin Rudd specifically at the time, were looking in some of the wrongest places for policy ideas. See for example Memo to Julie Gillard and Kevin RuddThe real education revolution…, Education: wrong path, Ms Gillard?, The promised education post and in 2012 A must read: Schools We Can Envy by Diane Ravitch.   Now via Smashwords I have a freebie eBook which promises much: Mark Wilson, You Are An English Teacher! (2013).

A Guide To The True Basics – for Parents, Pupils, Pedagogues, Politicians…Presidents and probably even Prime Ministers. A trip through the learning of English as a mother tongue from minute one onwards. The resurrection of common sense, intuition, and the syllabus that’s always been here.

Mark Wilson sounds like an interesting person, and I am sure he was a good English teacher (in the UK). I have been reading this book with some pleasure, as much of it is refreshingly sensible. On the other hand from an ESL perspective his thesis leaves much still to account for. His assumption seems to be a monolingual childhood. Now in the UK that is most people, even today.

Polish is now the main language spoken in England and Wales after English and Welsh, according to 2011 census data released by the Office of National Statistics.

The language-speaking figures recorded for the first time from a survey of 56.1 million residents of England and Wales show 546,000 speak Polish. It is now the second main language in England. There are still slightly more Welsh speakers in Wales at 562,000.

The next biggest main languages are the south Asian languages of Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati, followed by Arabic, French, Chinese and Portuguese. The statisticians said they recorded over 100 different languages and 49 main languages with more than 15,000 users…

Some of the languages are in a tiny minority. For example, there was only one person in Barnet who said they spoke Caribbean creole and one person in Bexley.

58 people speak Scottish Gaelic, 33 speak Manx Gaelic and 629 speak Romany…

One million households have no residents with English as a main language, although most had some proficiency in English, the ONS said.

Only 138,000 people could not speak English at all.

"The West Midlands is the region with the lowest percentage of people that can speak English very well or well at 72%" said Roma Chappell, census director. It was the region that also had the highest number of people who can’t speak English at all.

Compare:

In Australia 76.8% of people only spoke English at home. Other languages spoken at home included Mandarin 1.6%, Italian 1.4%, Arabic 1.3%, Cantonese 1.2% and Greek 1.2%.  20.4% of Australians live in households where two or more languages are spoken. Only 53.7% of Australians have both parents born in Australia.

Even so, while as an ESL teacher I have some reservations, I still commend Mark Wilson’s book. An extract:

William Blake said if others had not been foolish, we should be so. I think that’s a pretty good definition of progress.

When the feeling that something was wrong, not with children but with the school system itself, stirred once more within the country about twenty years ago, because businesses and universities were complaining that children were leaving school unable to spell, write essays, needed ‘the basics’ and so on; a popular question with regard to English was: “How much should we teach children about language?”

This always sounded strangely proprietorial to me, as if the people who were saying it thought they actually owned language. Anyway, it merely signalled the next bitter battle in the political wars which are fought on the battleground of education.

But, for reasons I hope I’ve made clear, my answer then, as now, is this: What we really know about language is surprisingly little, but of excellent quality. Our real, shared, knowledge of language, amounts to the true conventions of English and the many ways people have used them effectively down through the years. I think we should teach children all that we really know about language, and study lots of famous writers and speakers. The earlier we provide an environment which allows them to use and develop these conventions within their own psyches, the better. There can be no doubt that families are intended to be a child’s first language teachers….

In the meantime, though, individuals have the opportunity to improve matters for themselves and for their children right away. If we are to avoid the mere repetition of the past fifty years or so, we must look for something beyond the old arguments between grammarians and their anti antagonists; which is what I have done here. And there is nothing at all to stop us from teaching communication through language intensively to deprived children, in schools, right now.

When I started planning this book, I was determined that it should be a very slim volume, easy on the eye, and yet it should be an adequate alternative to the growing mountain of, for me, unreadable academic publications. But this book is also intended to serve, in future times, as an alternative to the gross irresponsibility which will surely follow when the fashion pendulum swings back again.

But, ideally, the reader may simply look at children and see that the teaching of a language is an activity which is more important, and a lot less complicated, than any particular political ideology. Nevertheless, ‘developments’ in education during the twenty years of my career have seemed to be attempts to make my classroom feel less a lively and welcoming place for learning, than a sanctuary threatened by the hostile encroachment of a nearby factory. For all the money spent, the shouting, the initiatives, and the targets, I go into schools while I write this book and things look much the same in the teaching and learning of English. There has always been brilliance, and there has always been deprivation, but now there is a lot more stress and bother.

Some children do as well as the current system allows them to in English. But there are many others in mainstream classes who still cannot read or write properly. Yet they are set tasks which require them to do just that, and when this happens they are frustrated and badly behaved, as you might expect. At the beginning of this book I suggested that we need to work towards a definitive and durable syllabus for the teaching of the subject we all know and love as ‘English’? Do I think there really could be such a thing?

There always has been.

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As so often, a “yes but” reaction…

Did that annoying trick (to some) of posting yesterday’s lunch on Facebook.

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And a fine $10 roast lamb lunch as one could ever hope for from the lovely Sophia at the Wollongong Hellenic Club. Ex-SBHS student Russell Ward noted: “Nice lunchtime reading!” Indeed.

The book (Lawrence, Bruce (2006) The Qur’an: A Biography) is a delight to read and very informative. It is a salutary reminder that “civilised” readings of the Qur’an are not just possible but have existed for centuries and still exist. This is a very necessary corrective to the crudities both of the more rampant and murderous jihadists and the paranoid rejecters of almost one quarter of the world’s population and their ideas on the other – the latter leading me in the past, based on my actual dealings with actual Muslims as well as on my reading, to oppose what is called, I think more than a bit unsatisfactorily at times, Islamophobia. The latest manifestation of that is recent attention to (in my view) the quite unbalanced Dutch MP Geert Wilders.

Wilders believes Islam is a political ideology, not just a religion, and should be compared with totalitarian belief systems. He has compared the Koran to Fascism and Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He advocates ending immigration by Muslims because the Netherlands was losing its demographic and social stability. For this he was taken to court for hate speech. He won, but the case occupied three years.

Wilders is opposed to what he calls the Islamification of Europe by a combination of demography, immigration and accommodations by multiculturalism that are not reciprocated by Muslims. Two other Dutch political activists who were similarly critical of Islam were subject to numerous assassination attempts. One was murdered, the other fled to America.

Debbie Robinson believes the fear she has encountered in Australia merely confirms her reasons for arranging Wilders’ visit: ”With every refusal I asked why, and was almost always informed that management had concerns about the repercussions. The audience was never the issue. The issue was offending Muslims. Looking at the number of cancellations and refusals it is apparent the Islamic community are not getting their message across about being the religion of peace.”

But.

Yes. BUT…

Revelations are sorted out into chapters and verses, and the causes of each revelation provide context for its content. The number of revelations exceeds 200. They came to the Prophet Muhammad via a divine mediary (the Archangel Gabriel) between 610 and 632 CE. They are now arranged in 114 chapters. All but one begin by invoking God’s Name, then qualify the Name as at once Compassion and Compassionate: "In the Name of God, Full of Compassion, Ever Compassionate". Different people close to the Prophet Muhammad heard these revelations as he uttered them. They remembered the words and repeated them orally. A few wrote them down. In all they total at least 6,219 verses. The contents of the surahs (chapters) and ayat (verses) are informed by the causes of revelation – that is, by events and circumstances that marked the Prophet’s life and the early Muslim community.

Through a complex process, the recitations that had been revealed in verses and chapters became, over time, a book. After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, ‘Ali, his close relative and supporter, worked with others to compile them into a written text. Then 20 years later, during the rule of ‘Uthman, the third Caliph or Successor to Muhammad (after Abu Bakr and ‘Umar but before ‘Ali), all extant versions were arranged into one "standard" version. This version persists substantially unchanged to the present day.

The Qur’an is a book unlike any other: it is an oral book that sounds better spoken than read silently, but it is an oral book that is also a scripture. More evocative in recitation than in writing, the Qur’an is only fully the Qur’an when it is recited. To hear the Qur’an recited is for Muslims unlike anything else. It is to experience the power of divine revelation as a shattering voice from the Unseen. It moves, it glides, it soars, it sings. It is in this world, yet not of it.

That is from an article by Bruce Lawrence summarising the book. Now of course I do not really believe “They came to the Prophet Muhammad via a divine mediary (the Archangel Gabriel) between 610 and 632 CE.”  Yes, Muslims do believe that, and so it appears does Lawrence, who in the book goes on to explain Muhammad as being in a prophetic line  from Adam via Abraham and so on.

Unfortunately both Adam and Abraham exist pretty much on the same plane as Harry Potter and Gollum, as far as I am concerned. And I regard this fairly typical statement by a Muslim apologist of no great distinction in an eBook I have as promulgating historical idiocy and terminal dishonesty.

If there were two books and there was the possibility that one of them were not true without knowing which one, then both of them would be unreliable. Why? Because there is a probability that each of the two books is wrong. These errors can be detected by the healthy human mind and brain.

So, we say to the Christians: do not expect Muslims to prove to you that the Bible (the Old and New Testaments) that you have, has not been changed and is the true Word of God. It is definitely not a Revelation sent from the Lord.

Muslims deny that these Books are an Inspiration from Almighty God.

If one who denies the facts is in doubt about their authenticity, then proof must be brought forward in justification of the fact by the one who claims to be telling the truth. This statement has been made and agreed upon by the wisdom of humankind.

Muslims are not called upon to bring evidence that their Holy Book is true because the Truth and legitimacy of the Holy Quran has yet to be questioned. However, Christians must prove to the Muslims that their Holy Book is true.

As a matter of objective fact the Qur’an is heavily dependent on Jewish and Christian writings and traditions. It even had much the same cast list, and many of the nastier things in the Qur’an echo quite closely the dark side of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. And all these texts buy into accounts of the past that have very problematic connection to anything that may really have been happening in that part of the Ancient “Near” East that God/Allah unaccountably singled out over the heads, it appears, of around two thousand generations already living down here in Australia, not to mention other parts of the world.  In other words, :faith: in all three Abrahamic religions can involve a very large degree of patent nonsense.

And of course much that is good. Lawrence does remind us of that.

Nor am I picking on Islam especially.  A figure much respected in evangelical circles in Sydney, one whose lectures I attended during Evangelical Union meetings at Sydney University in the 1960s, was Canon Broughton Knox of Moore Theological College. Nowadays, sadly, I find his arguments of “propositional revelation” alarmingly and patently circular and little better than the Muslim apologist cited above. For example:

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Sydney Anglicanism still follows suit: see for example articles posted by MatthiasMedia.  I, rather, see much merit in The Bible and Interpretation: Dedicated to delivering the latest news, features, editorials, commentary, archaeological interpretation and excavations relevant to the study of the Bible for the public and biblical scholars. I might add that around the time I was listening to Broughton Knox I had also studied the Ancient Near East in Ancient History I at Sydney Uni and maintained an interest. Later experience teaching Ancient History, especially in an Orthodox Jewish school, augmented that journey.

Now I could offend another group by saying that at least the writings that over some centuries emerged and became in due course the Tanach and the Christian Bible have what antique collectors would call provenance. That is, they are real documents with real histories, much of which scholarship in the past couple of centuries has recovered. The Qur’an is hobbled in that respect by its own very strong exceptionalism, though as Lawrence does demonstrate there has been a very active history of interpretation. The group I could offend are the Mormons whose text, in my view but also objectively, bears no relationship to any history whatsoever, aside from what happened to the believers after the composition of one of the most effective works of fiction in American literature.

Just goes to show there is no accounting for what people will believe.

Anyone seen The Master, by the way? Doing rather well, isn’t it.

Currently reading…

Yes, the Proust project continues in fits and starts. I find I can travel over to Proustland and stay for several hours with enormous pleasure, then go elsewhere for a day or a month and return where I had left off to take on that special world once more.  I am now into The Captive – so I have made progress since July. See Proust: visiting a demented relative? Thanks, Kobo – but it does mean I am reading via eBook the old Scott Moncrieff translation. See also: All about the new Penguin/Viking editions of Marcel Proust’s great novel, À la recherche du temps perdu, once known in English as Remembrance of Things Past but now more accurately titled In Search of Lost Time.

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Loved John Lanchester’s Capital. From The New York Times review:

Lanchester, a brainy, pleasure-loving polymath, is a novelist, memoirist and journalist who writes sagely and elegantly about food, family, culture, technology and money. He’s still best known for his delectably wicked first novel, “The Debt to Pleasure,” which blends murder with gourmandise. But he has also written a well-reasoned nonfiction book entitled “I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay,” which closely analyzes the current financial collapse. Now, with “Capital,” he readjusts his sights and zooms out, framing a larger, more inclusive picture that shows how the easy-­money era affected not just greedy speculators but the society that fattened around them.

The fiction I am currently savouring is The Importance of Being Seven, the sixth collection of episodes set in Scotland Street, Edinburgh, by Alexander McCall Smith. I read the seventh one in December: Bertie Plays the Blues. But no matter that I am out of sequence; the delight is undimmed.

Non-fiction just now is A Wild History: Life and Death on the Victoria River Frontier by Darrell Lewis. Tom Griffiths on Inside.Org rates it one of the best (overlooked) books of 2012.

If Ned Kelly had been gentler and more learned but just as much a bushman he might have written A Wild History: Life and Death on the Victoria River Frontier (Monash University Publishing, $29.95). Darrell Lewis’s book is a distillation of bush wisdom and scholarly tenacity, of courageous fieldwork and equally adventurous archival sleuthing, of forty years of learning the country and of a lifetime of listening to history. Lewis has walked the Victoria River District in Australia’s northwest, swum its crocodile-infested rivers, got to know its plants, animals and people, slept under its stars, inspected its caves, recorded its inscriptions on rock and tree, and then pursued its material diaspora wherever it may have migrated. I am reminded of a great landmark work in Australian history, A Million Wild Acres, a book about the Pillaga Scrub by another bush scholar, Eric Rolls. Lewis’s book is full of frontier stories, superbly researched and skilfully told. And the book to look out for in early 2013 is The Archaeology of Australia’s Deserts (Cambridge University Press) by Mike Smith. It’s the most important work in Australian archaeology since John Mulvaney’s The Prehistory of Australia (1969).

See also John Rickard in The Australian Book Review:

The Victoria River District is unusual in its lack of family dynasties with roots in the pioneer generation. The early settlers, who were occupying vast tracts of land, tended eventually to sell up and return to something more like civilisation. Lewis puts this down to the harsh climate, and to the remoteness and isolation, which lacked the ameliorating influence usually provided by country towns. With the high turnover of station staff, there has been ‘a weak transmission of local knowledge’. The irony is that Aborigines, who, unlike the settlers, ‘don’t come from somewhere else, stay for a period and then leave’, are actually ‘the “keepers” of much “European” history’. Lewis knows the District’s Aboriginal communities well, and is able to draw on the perspective on European settlement of those who so fiercely resisted it.

Lewis stresses the sophistication of Aboriginal land use, particularly in the deployment of fire. ‘They knew that burning at the appropriate time would promote the flowering of certain plant species, and the growth of particular food plants, or would attract desirable animals to the burnt area, and they knew that if they burnt certain food plants in patches over time, the plants would fruit over an extended season.’ This seems consistent with the argument recently advanced by Bill Gammage in his prize-winning The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia (2011), which presumably was not available to Lewis when
he was writing A Wild History

At the heart of A Wild History, however, is a meticulous account of the halting progress of European settlement and the varied opposition it faced from the District’s thirteen or so Aboriginal peoples or language groups…

A Wild History is a fine piece of scholarship, exemplary in its judicious interpretation of both white and Aboriginal oral tradition, as well as the documentary sources. Just as the story begins with ‘the aura about the country’ firing Lewis’s imagination, so at the end it is the landscape, majestic, beautiful, forbidding, that has the last word. Keith Windschuttle could learn a lot from this book.

I doubt KW would, alas – but I have been finding the book quite a revelation.

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from the cover of A Wild History

And then there is William James.

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The Varieties of Religious Experience

A Study in Human Nature

William James

To
E.P.G.
IN FILIAL GRATITUDE AND LOVE

1902

Yes it is dated, but on the other hand what a great classic it is!  Makes you wonder whether we really have learned a great deal that matters since 1902.  I certainly am enjoying this very belated first acquaintance.

Bertie Plays the Blues

This is the second most recent in the 44 Scotland Series by Alexander McCall Smith.

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This reviewer finds, in contrast to the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, that these books indulge rather too much in inner speech and philosophising.

I find that this in fact is one if the great delights of 44 Scotland Street, and of Bertie Plays the Blues in particular. The novel ends with a version of this Celtic spiral based on the Book of Kells.

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Those interlocked hands symbolise the secular Christianity that is at the heart of McCall Smith’s benignly conservative world view.

But it would be wrong to become cynical,
Would be wrong to dismiss the possibility
Of making bearable the suffering of so many
By acts of love in our own lives…
How foolish I once thought I was
To believe in all this; how warmly
I now return to that earlier belief;
How fervently I hope that it is true,
How fervently I hope that it is so.

That is from a poem by the artist Angus Lordie in the final chapter. Chapter 63, about two-thirds into the novel, is titled “Solastalgia Explained” and is another key aspect of McCall Smith’s world view, one that many of a certain age share in, including myself to a fair degree and others I know to a greater or lesser extent. I really commend pages 241 to 243. I would cut and paste them if I could! On the novel see also Bertie Plays the Blues – Alexander McCall Smith.

The term solastalgia is an Australian coinage!

Solastalgia is a neologism coined by the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2003 with the first article published on this concept in 2005. It describes a form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change, such as mining or climate change.

As opposed to nostalgia – the melancholia or homesickness experienced by individuals when separated from a loved home – "solastalgia" is the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment. A paper published by Albrecht and collaborators focused on two contexts where collaborative research teams found solastalgia to be evident: the experiences of persistent drought in rural New South Wales (NSW) and the impact of large-scale open-cut coal mining on individuals in the Upper Hunter Valley of NSW. In both cases, people exposed to environmental change experienced negative affect that is exacerbated by a sense of powerlessness or lack of control over the unfolding change process.

What a useful word. It may be applied to a lot more than the psychological effects of environmental change – as indeed McCall Smith does. I suspect Jim Belshaw will find the idea resonates.

See also Clive Thompson on How the Next Victim of Climate Change Will Be Our Minds (Wired) and Glenn Albrecht, The age of solastalgia.

The built and natural environments are now changing so rapidly that our language and conceptual frameworks have to work overtime just to keep up. Under the intertwined impacts of global development, rising population and global warming, with their accompanying changes in climate and ecosystems, there is now a mismatch between our lived experience of the world, and our ability to conceptualise and comprehend it.

No longer is the “wisdom of the elders” relevant to how we should live in the here and now, and this loss of historically informed knowledge has implications for social cohesion.

I experienced the connections between mental health and changes to a once predictable and loved home-environment when examining the impact of open-cut coal mining in the Upper Hunter region of NSW. My own eco-biography, the seminal influences in my life that have influenced my feelings about the natural environment, had attuned me to the importance of a positive “sense of place” in people’s lives, and to the significance of what the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan called “topophilia”, or the love of place and landscape…

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Finished the dvds

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From the first sequence, 18 minutes of video clips. This still is of North Wollongong Beach.

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And that may be the cover. The whole thing in three sections runs to 90 minutes. Using my raw HD footage led to a 4Gig monster which took three to four hours to “cook” one copy. Practicality has led me to back off HD and downsize to avi files. These look not too bad, even on a big screen, and the sound track doesn’t suffer.

Meanwhile, another self-portrait. BTW, I don’t appear at all in the above vid until right near the end. After all, it’s about what I have seen and heard during the year, rather than about me. The Gong looks even more fantastic and fun-filled than it really is, seeing I removed all the pics of grass growing or paint drying! And you will be pleased to know that views from my window are minimal this time…

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And that is really to tell you about the book, which is one of life’s joys at the moment. More about that here later on.

Our River Days and the Croker Island kids

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I mentioned this book a few days back: see Croker Island Exodus. As you can see I secured a copy from Wollongong Library and have now read it. I also saw Croker Island Exodus last night.

Alice Briston and Jessie Lyons, in their 80s, still recall their group canoeing across a crocodile-infested river, tussling over who would eat a dead goanna, discovering leeches in a waterhole they were drinking from and walking barefoot for days across rugged terrain…

The two women had been forcibly removed from their parents and wound up with other youngsters from the stolen generations in a Methodist mission on Croker Island. Its supplies were running out after the Darwin bombing and the group had to evacuate, starting with a boat to the mainland but having to then bypass Darwin.

At one stage, the children walked single file almost 100 kilometres across Kakadu after the government trucks sent to pick them up became stuck. ”It seemed a long way … no shoes, nothin’,” Briston said softly. But ”I didn’t even take notice of my feet”, she added with typical understatement. ”I just enjoyed myself walking around with other children.”

At that age – many were under 12 – it seemed more a big excursion than frightening experience. ”I don’t think we were scared,” Lyons said. Returning to Kakadu as an adult, ”I got more scared just going back there and seeing what we went through.” A boy died along the way.

One of the missionary carers, Sister Margaret Somerville, 99, was recently reunited with some from the journey. The emotional scenes are captured in Croker Island Exodus, which weaves historical footage with interviews and re-enactments.

Somerville told their story in a book, They Crossed a Continent.

The Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, said: ”This is one of the greatest of all Australian stories of love and compassion.”…

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The documentary lived up to its promise. While it did not go into all that much detail about the children’s time at Otford there certainly were pictures worth the proverbial thousand words, especially colour footage of the children at Otford.

Betty Bezant’s book is even more an account of her childhood – and her family – in Otford than it is about the Croker Island children. It is a little repetitive, but nonetheless a good read and as memoirs go very accurate, I would say. One detail I found fascinating is that Clarence Greentree, originally the one teacher at Otford’s one room school – before the arrival of 76 Croker Island kids – went back to Croker Island after the war with the children and remained there as teacher. See also another memoir, Lorna "Nanna Nungala" Fejo.

Lorna was born in the late 1920’s to an aboriginal mother and a white father.

Lorna’s bush name is Minpirmngully.

She is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon).

Lorna was taken as a 4 year old, 1932, from her mother and became a part of the “Stolen Generation”. She was sent to Alice Springs to the bungalows. From here she was sent to Goulburn Island then to Croker Island in the early 1940’s.

She remained there until being evacuated to Sydney via Oenpelli and Pine Creek, after the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese. (They Crossed a Continent by Margaret Somerville) Photos contained in this book.

While in Sydney, Lorna attended primary school at Haberfield Primary School then moved to join the other children from Croker Island at Otford. She attended the Wollongong High School until the end of the war.

All of the younger children returned to Darwin on board the “Reynella”

After the war, Lorna returned to Croker Island, where more houses had been built to house the children. Schooling was provided by Mr Greentree. She was studying her 3rd year high school while also helping to teach children in grades 1-3. Her time at Croker was enjoyable…

See also Paint Me Black: Memories Of Croker Island And Other Journeys by Claire Henty-Gebert and Man with a mission: Alec Ross – House Parent at Wangkana Kari Aboriginal Hostel tells of his early years.

I was born at Barrow Creek in 1936, but I grew up in Sydney. I’m of Scottish descent, my father’s three quarters Scots. I work at Wangkana Kari Aboriginal Hostel as a house parent.

I was living at Neutral Junction with my mother when I was a baby and in those days they had a ruling that if you fathered a half-caste child, you weren’t allowed to be a father to it or stay with the child. My father was classed as a white man, he looked white but he wasn’t a white man. Then they took me away because my mother had me in the camp. The reason they gave my father for taking me away was that it was the law and that my father couldn’t do anything about it.

Because my father was classed as a white man, he couldn’t have an Aboriginal partner and so the child would therefore be taken away. They wanted us to grow up like a ‘normal’ white person I suppose and give us a better education and a better living.

While he was there my father actually took care of me but he had to go to Adelaide with R.M. Williams, the clothes manufacturer. They were good mates so he went to business in Adelaide with R.M. Williams and he said he couldn’t look after me, he left me with my mother and so the authorities came about a week later and took me away.

We all went to the Bungalow, the old Telegraph Station in Alice Springs, actually I think it was the Cullen Compound first and then moved to Alice. They kept us there for about two or three weeks, I’m not to sure and I was probably three or three and a half or something.

They then split us up into religious groups, Methodist, Catholic, Church of England and so on and they moved us south. They said, "You go with them and you go with them," and I ended up in a place called Croker Island in 1941.

The Japs started bombing there in ’42 so they had to move us in a hurry – they couldn’t find a place in Sydney, but they did eventually find somewhere at a place called Otford, about an hour outside of Sydney. We stayed there until the War was over. I remember all the Jap’s subs coming in and getting knocked out in the Harbour and that sort of thing. I remember the Japs flying over us at Croker and before we had to leave and then when they bombed Darwin.

We had to walk practically all the way from a place called Barklay Bay on the Arnhem Land coast right over to Pine Creek through the bush. It would have been two or three hundred miles and there were about eighty kids and three or four missionaries. We had two old trucks, an old Chevrolet truck and a couple of horses and that’s how we travelled through crocodile infested waters.

We went right through the Arnhem Gully across to Pine Creek and when we got there we met up with the Army. We put on an impromptu concert for them, I was one of the ten green bottles. I fell over and cut my lip on the stage!…

On the Island [Croker] they had taught us everything – gardening, fencing, anything that was there you had to try and learn to do. I think in my case it was very good thing because I look back at my family now and see them, the way they’re living and my half brothers and sisters. All the black fella side, my mother’s side, I mean they’re not the same, they’ve got no work, they’re just living out in the bush and coming in when they want to. They’re on the dole and they can’t get a job. But I’ve been working ever since I was ready to work and it was very seldom that I got on the dole queue…

Maybe some people are inclined to be angry and maybe they’re looking for money or some compensation from the government and that’s the big problem. Some of them did suffer more than I did because a lot of the older kids probably knew their parents better than me, I didn’t. Being so young, I was taken away and I hadn’t known my parents, so therefore it didn’t matter to me. All these kids who were running with me in the same age group would be like brothers and sisters…

Passing through the Otford Valley, Christmas 2010

Searchings — 2

There really have been so many things I have seen or read in the past few days that deserve to be shared, that have provoked more reflection than I can possibly capture in one blog post or even two. To continue…

Sunday and Monday we had the two compelling episodes of Devil’s Dust.

An intensely personal drama based on one of Australia’s most shocking corporate scandals, Devil’s Dust tells the story of ordinary Australians caught in a web of deception in the James Hardie asbestos saga.

The two-part series follows four people – led by everyday hero and ex-Hardie’s employee Bernie Banton (Anthony Hayes) – thrown together by a tragedy that becomes a high-stakes battle through the corridors of corporate, political and media power.

Spanning four decades, Devil’s Dust shows industrial manufacturer James Hardie first cover up its knowledge of the dangers of its asbestos mining and products and then threaten compensation plans by moving the company overseas.

But it is not just a story of court cases and corporate legalese. Devil’s Dust depicts Australians from all walks of life whose lives are ripped apart by a deadly dust that looks so innocent, yet is so lethal.

In the 1970s, Bernie Banton works on the James Hardie BI factory floor in Parramatta where asbestos dust is piled like snowdrifts. Little does he realise the impact the dust will have on him, his family and his colleagues – and that he will inspire a nation with his determination to hold his former employer to account.

Young and tenacious ABC journalist Matt Peacock (Ewen Leslie) uncovers the dramatic gap between the dangers of asbestos known to international scientists and the public position of James Hardie and its allies.

When Matt meets Bernie during an interview for The 7.30 Report he anoints him the unofficial spokesperson for the asbestos compensation campaign. As the two become fixated on pursuing James Hardie, it’s up to Bernie’s wife, Karen (Alexandra Schepisi), to pick up the pieces at home. Karen helps Bernie handle the emotional burden of fighting for victims of asbestosis and mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos – and to face his own asbestos fate.

The fictional character of James Hardie spin doctor Adam Bourke (Don Hany) is Matt and Bernie’s nemesis, as he works hard to protect the interests of the company’s shareholders. But far from being ruthless and uncaring, Adam experiences terrible moral dilemmas when he realises that the health and survival of thousands of Australians is jeopardised by the materials his company manufactured.

Based on interviews with those who have survived and the stories of those who have died, Devil’s Dust is inspired by the work of Matt Peacock, author of the book Killer Company.

The legacy of asbestos will continue for decades to come. By 2030, asbestos-related illnesses are expected to have killed more than 60,000 Australians, more than our country’s death toll in WW1.

Remember one of Tony Abbott’s less noble moments, from 2007?

Still putting his size 10s in his cakehole in 2012, I see…

That the events depicted dramatically but essentially truthfully in Devil’s Dust should serve to destroy any naive belief in the intrinsic goodness of capitalists, entrepreneurs  and markets is so obvious as to be hardly worth saying, and on an even greater scale consider the book I am now reading: Inside Job: The Financiers Who Pulled Off the Heist of the Century, by Charles Ferguson, Oneworld 2012. Thanks, Wollongong Library.

Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, winner of the 2011 Academy Award for best documentary feature, is essential viewing for anyone who wants to understand the causes of the financial crisis. Although narrator Matt Damon brought Hollywood glitz, the film’s stars were the bankers, regulators and academics interviewed by Ferguson. The director’s gentle interrogation and good humour coaxed his subjects into attempting to explain their actions. Most failed. Like all good political documentaries, it informed and infuriated, while the creator remained in the background….

So begins a rather critical review in The Financial Times, linked to the book title above. As for me, I am thus far drawn in and impressed by Ferguson’s narrative, and by his anger which strikes me as well justified and rooted rather firmly in facts.

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See also Inside Job: how bankers caused the financial crisis; Corporate criminals gone wild by Andrew Leonard; Heist of the century: Wall Street’s role in the financial crisis, an extract from the book.

…The Obama government has rationalised its failure to prosecute anyone (literally, anyone at all) for bubble-related crimes by saying that while much of Wall Street’s behaviour was unwise or unethical, it wasn’t illegal. With apologies for my vulgarity, this is complete horseshit.

When the government is really serious about something – preventing another 9/11, or pursuing major organised crime figures – it has many tools at its disposal and often uses them. There are wiretaps and electronic eavesdropping. There are undercover agents who pretend to be criminals in order to entrap their targets. There are National Security Letters, an aggressive form of administrative subpoena that allows US authorities to secretly obtain almost any electronic record – complete with a gag order making it illegal for the target of the subpoena to tell anyone about it. There are special prosecutors, task forces and grand juries. When Patty Hearst was kidnapped in 1974, the FBI assigned hundreds of agents to the case.

In organised crime investigations, the FBI and government prosecutors often start at the bottom in order to get to the top. They use the well-established technique of nailing lower-level people and then offering them a deal if they inform on and/or testify about their superiors – whereupon the FBI nails their superiors, and does the same thing to them, until climbing to the top of the tree. There is also the technique of nailing people for what can be proven against them, even if it’s not the main offence. Al Capone was never convicted of bootlegging, large-scale corruption or murder; he was convicted of tax evasion.

A reasonable list of prosecutable crimes committed during the bubble, the crisis, and the aftermath period by financial services firms includes: securities fraud, accounting fraud, honest services violations, bribery, perjury and making false statements to US government investigators, Sarbanes-Oxley violations (false accounting), Rico (Racketeer Influenced and Criminal Organisations Act) offences, federal aid disclosure regulations offences and personal conduct offences (drug use, tax evasion etc).

Let’s take the example of securities fraud. Where to begin?…