Return of the tram

Well, so it appears these tracks are about to come back!

BARRY O’FARRELL will gamble on returning Sydney to its past to head off a congestion-choked future, promising to run trams from the northern end of the central business district into the eastern suburbs half a century after they were ripped out.

The commitment to light rail from Circular Quay to Central Station, through Surry Hills and to Randwick and Kingsford was the main new element in the long-term transport master plan released on Thursday, a document intended to map out projects and policies for the next 20 years…

The track goes up Devonshire Street from Chalmers Street and then along the old tram corridor (seen above as I remember it in the 1950s) to Randwick and UNSW. What a bloody good thing! Why, we’ll be able to take the tram right to The Shakespeare Hotel and the Trinity Bar!

Given past plays between Lord Mayor Clover Moore and Barry O’Farrell – after all he engineered her departure from the NSW Parliament only to find her nominee replaced her, of course – it is nice and Christmassy to find them in such agreement on this one.

Sydney is continually recognised for its liveability and increasingly for its sustainability but we fall behind on transport – our congestion is deeply frustrating to the people who live and work here, as well as to those who visit.

The government’s decision to invest in light rail will transform Sydney – and not just the city centre. By creating a light rail network, which starts in the CBD and that could link up with Green Square, Barangaroo and to Parramatta Road, the government is addressing the decades of inaction that has crippled our state…

This transport plan shows the City of Sydney and state government can work together to solve our biggest challenges and to rebuild the trust Sydneysiders lost a long time ago in our city’s transport.

Clover Moore is the lord mayor of Sydney.

Trams down Cleveland Street via Memory Lane

On Lost Sydney this was recently published.


A Railway-bound tram in Cleveland Street in 1960 – but where? My bet is that this is looking east and that the building behind the trailing car of the tram is on the corner of Cleveland and Young Streets. When I attended Sydney Boys High from 1955 to 1959 we were supposed to avoid the trams if a school special bus was available – in a toast rack tram, if crowded, our hard Globite school cases were something of a public nuisance, let alone our sweaty bodies… Here are some girls from Sydney Girls High around the same era: see High School Memories.

Sydney Girls High4

Nonetheless we often caught the tram.


Corner of Elizabeth and Chalmers Streets, looking east


Cleveland Street, just past Crown and Baptist, looking east. On the left you can see Nickson Street.


On the other side of Sydney High, Anzac Parade and the dedicated tramway by the Cricket Ground and Show Ground.

These were taken on 25 February 1958 when The Queen Mother was visiting. I remember that day.


Yes, it was hot… Note the kids sheltering under the trees.

Picture sources: City of Sydney Image Library; Bus Australia; Trove.  Do visit Shooting Through : A fond remembrance on Sydney Eye.

Finally: who can remember the Wunderlich Factory which occupied the site of  Surry Hills Shopping Village? I think this is a pic of it:


Hello: I am from the Ministry of Irresponsibility and you can all piss off….

That is what crosses my mind when the mania for privatisation surfaces yet again. The latest is in today’s Sun-Herald and it may be a furphy, but then maybe not. Why not just let the government out to tender and be done with it? And the Defence Forces. Nothing wrong with mercenaries… And the justice system. Why not? Let The Market determine all! Yea!

But, back to NSW:

Government buses could be privatised before the next election as the state government looks to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the State Transit Authority.

The running of the 2250-strong bus fleet and its 5000 employees will be handed over to the private sector, as the O’Farrell government has already done with Sydney Ferries…

In a statement, the NSW Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, said privatisation was ”not currently government policy”. But The Sun-Herald has learnt that on at least three occasions the minister has told leaders of the private industry that State Transit would be put on the block. Her office would not deny this.

The prospect has been used as a carrot for bus companies, which were recently told their exclusive contracts with the government had been thrown open to competitive tender.

Ms Berejiklian told private companies, which run 11 of the 15 metropolitan contract regions in Sydney, they have a chance to ”get their houses in order” before the four government contract regions are put out to tender.

The government’s retreat has begun, with State Transit recently telling 90 drivers on the Liverpool to Parramatta T-way it would not re-tender for that express route in region three, which is otherwise serviced by the private companies Metrolink, Westbus and Busabout. It is understood at least one government contract region could be privatised before the 2015 state election. The Bus and Coach Association declined to comment but sources said it had informed 40-odd members of Ms Berejiklian’s stance…

Yeah, well…

On the other hand Nick Possum, hardly an advocate of privatisation mania, had this to say back in March 2012.

Down at the Brushtail Café the news that the O’Farrell Government had bought out Metro Transport Sydney, owners of the monorail and operators of the light rail, was greeted with almost saturnalian rejoicing. Drinks were on the house and Joadja herself got quite tipsy.

The mainstream media focussed on the decision to pull down the monorail, but the big story was the Liberal government’s de-privatisation of the light rail service.

MTS ran the light rail under a weird contractual anomaly. The trams started running in 1997 and MTS was given a lease over the former freight line and a contract to run the service for thirty years. It also had the right of first refusal to run any future extension…

A decade later, the tide began to turn in light rail’s favour. And it soon became obvious that no responsible government could live with a contractual arrangement that was messy, opaque, and gave one company an open-ended monopoly. In the closing months of the Labor administration, many began to ask why the government hadn’t renegotiated the deal to put the light rail on the same footing as Sydney’s private bus operators.

Now most people think that the private companies that dominate bus services in the outer suburbs operate like any normal company by making a profit from sales (in this case of tickets), but it ain’t so. The government pays the operator to service a route according to an agreed timetable. The operator collects the fares and gives them to the government, which therefore picks up the shortfall between the fare box and the total cost of running the service. Nowadays the government buys the buses as well.

The ideological centrepiece of the system is “contestability”, which means that every few years, the contract to operate the service goes out to tender and the government makes a choice based on some combination of price and reputation for reliability.

In Sydney the private buses are badged as though they were truly independent  businesses, but we don’t really have private  buses, they’re privately-badged government bus services. Only the management is private.

Most people don’t regard the “private” buses as remotely as ‘real’, efficient or permanent as the government-run Sydney Buses, and indeed in some cities in Australia and overseas (Perth is an example) the privately-managed  buses look just like the government–managed ones.

Why this complex rigmarole? It’s basically a free-enterprise figleaf – a way for conservative governments (including  Labor of course) to pay homage to current capitalist ideology. It’s also a way of distancing the government from any problems that may arise. When the public jack up about services they can say “It’s not our fault the 666X is never on time, you’ll have to direct your complaints to RapidexTrans”, and if bad service persists, they can slap the company with a mild fine or a reprimand….

We have privatised buses down here in The Gong, and it’s not all that bad – especially the clearly highly subsidised but excellent Gong Shuttle service.


Thanks to Dave Wilson for that image – see more at Variety in the Wollongong-Pt Kembla Area 2 4 09 where you get a good idea of our local services.

Even so, having lived so long in Surry Hills, I know who had the better bus services: Surry Hills – no contest. And three cheers for the “socialist” buses up there!

Have a look at this rather well argued moan from the United Kingdom: Why Privatisation Sucks.

We now spend more money subsidising the rail network than we ever spent on British Rail, yet ticket prices are going up, engineering works overrun to the tune of billions of pounds (looking at you West Coast) and our best trains were built in the 1970s, all while shareholders seem to be making lots and lots of money! This doesn’t seem right, how is this happening?

Short answer? Because privatisation sucks.

This article is aimed at explain just how and why privatisation sucks, the various arguments that can be had about how we can ‘improve’ the situation from a series of perspectives (aka ‘free the market!’ versus ‘nationalise the bastard!’), why the latter is correct, and how we can achieve it without having to sell Scotland to pay for it.

First, I will start with a critique of the current system, how it works and why it sucks….

Perhaps a bit of old-fashioned Marxism is in order.

David Harvey, the noted critic of neo-liberalism, calls privatization one of the four practices that characterizes the neo-liberal agenda. He terms it "accumulation by dispossession." Since the 1970s, privatization has been a mania, a usurping of the commons for individual gain at public expense. Granted in the US, state-owned enterprises are rare but that didn’t stop the neo-liberal set from setting their sights on the acquiring public airports, bridges, roads, schools, hospitals, parks, utilities and even city parking rights. The stated purpose was efficiency but the real aim was simple avarice and greed. Now thankfully, this mania seems to be running out of steam.

Charles Lemos wrote that in 2009.

I do rather like this admittedly over-simplified intro from the Khan Academy:

Love these presentations: chalk and talk for the 21st century, but brilliantly done.

And like most Australians of my generation I am all for a bit of socialism, but also dubious about the future paradise. It just seems to me that we deserve more than a growing Ministry of Irresponsibility… How about a bit of pride in the commons, and in public service?

Bearing the weight of all that interpretation: “Australia on Trial” on the Mount Rennie Case

I was aware of the Mount Rennie case well before last night’s dramatic recreation of the 1886 trial, but I hadn’t been aware of the weight of significance academia and others have put on it.

Mount Rennie bushland in December 2008



Presented by historian Michael Cathcart, Australia on Trial is a thought-provoking three-part series recreating the historic trials that throw light on the Australia of colonial times.  These high‐profile and controversial court cases raised major issues of national identity at a time when Australia was evolving from the dominion of the British Empire into a more autonomous federated nation in the late 19th century.  But they also raised universal themes and concerns that still resonate in modern-day Australia. Each of the three episodes covers a separate trial.   

In Episode One, The Mount Rennie Outrage, we witness the 1886 trial of 11 Sydney ‘larrikins’ charged with a gang rape of a 16‐year old orphan, Mary Jane Hicks.  This horrific crime came at a pivotal point in NSW history, emblematic of the changes taking place in Sydney at the time with rapid urbanisation and unemployment.    The court case put Australian youth, masculinity and violence towards women under the spotlight as never before.

The episode made much of the ‘convict stain” as part of the reason for the moral panic among the respectable classes about the larrikin gangs – that there was a fear these “descendants of convicts” were becoming the beasts responsible for this and other outrages…

So I thought of you, Tom, seeing as how I actually remember you and you were the same age pretty much as the defendants in the Mount Rennie case.


My grandfather Tom, 1867 to 1948

You had a bad case of (secret) convict stain, eh! So did heaps of others. The old lag’s son was certainly still alive when you were a kid so you must all have known… The family had escaped Surry Hills, though, and I’m not sure whether they had larrikins in Picton. And your (Protestant) Irishness was fading too. And your brother became a policeman…

Made me wonder about all those Irish accents last night. If they had Irish accents then chances are they owed no ancestry to any convicts, not if they were teenagers and 20-somethings in 1886. Sure, Waterloo, Redfern  and Surry Hills back then were very Irish – and Catholic. But I rather think the whole convict stain business is stretching things a bit in the case of Mount Rennie…

It was a fascinating episode nonetheless, with some fine paradoxes – such as the part played by J F Archibald and the curious case of Justice Windeyer. It was a strangely pressure-cooked trial.


Left: Archibald (with Henry Lawson)

Right: Sir William Charles Windeyer

See also The Mount Rennie Outrage, Rethinking the ‘Mount Rennie Outrage’: White Savages and the Colonial Pursuit of Justice; Reading Rape in Colonial Australia: Barbara Baynton’s ‘The Tramp’, The Bulletin and Cultural Criticism PDF, "A Sunday Morning Outrage": Crime, Public Order and the Larrikin Push in Sydney 1880-–1900, and Larrikins.

…In the major conservative colonial newspapers (such as the Sydney Morning Herald,  the Daily Telegraph in Sydney and the Argus in Melbourne), Mount Rennie was seen  not as an exceptional event but instead as the apogee of a series of similarly appalling  crimes. In particular, advocates of this view drew a line from Mount Rennie back to  the Mount Carmel and Waterloo cases of 1883, in which the women involved had  been gang-raped and left to die of their injuries (Allen 55-6). Neither case had  resulted in a conviction, and it became a common-place of theorising about Mount  Rennie to argue that had the defendants in these cases been convicted and executed,  Mount Rennie itself may never have occurred. This argument was to be found in  letters and editorials, and most powerfully in Judge Windeyer’s judgment itself.  Mount Rennie was, he argued, ‘the outcome of the past’ (5). It was the result of the ‘immunity from the death penalty’  that  young men in larrikin gangs accused of
similar crimes repeatedly enjoyed. The only way to halt this sequence of barbaric acts, and reinstitute the values of chivalry that had been so grossly traduced was to punish  the defendants in this case with death. This interpretation of the crime included a strong endorsement of the character of Mary Jane Hicks, who was presented sympathetically as a very young, inexperienced woman who had been horribly tricked and abused by a gang who had behaved not like men but animals.

The  Bulletin  self-consciously shaped its narrative of Mount Rennie against this widely-accepted understanding of the crime. For more than ten years, it would contest its predicates, arguing that the trial process was unjust, that Mary Jane Hicks was a prostitute who had colluded in what had befallen her, and that the death penalty was an inexpiable wrong. The Bulletin’s editor through this period, J.F. Archibald, had attended the final days of the trial and was profoundly affected by it; Sylvia Lawson has written that he talked of the case to the end of his life. Not only did it preoccupy him in private—more importantly, ‘the  Bulletin’s readers were never allowed to forget’ (133). Archibald accused his opponents in the colonial press of using the Mount Rennie case in the service of their own entrenched social and class interests—such as demonising larrikin gangs (Bedrock, 5)—but his own copious writing on the subject revealed that  he too used the case to conduct sallies against his own longstanding antagonists. Across the bows of Mount Rennie, he could take aim at bourgeois culture, the conservative newspaper press, the much-hated colonial courts (and in particular the figure of Justice Windeyer) and even women’s suffrage.

But the  Bulletin under his editorship also produced a distinct discourse about rape itself, traceable through its writings on the case in diverse genres and modes. Rape was written in the  Bulletin through vituperative editorials on the rise of false rape allegations (‘The Tribe of Mary Jane Hicks’) and anonymous snippets of  ‘gossip’which satirised Mary Jane Hicks as a liar (‘Personal Items’); in chains of correspondence and vivid galleries of illustrations and cartoons which derided women’s fears of rape (‘A Few Safeguards of our Own’); and also in the critically neglected Bulletin pamphlets dealing with the Dean murder case (Stephens) and the Suffield rape case (Stephens), in which Mount Rennie was presented as a reminder of the danger of accepting a woman’s word about rape and as an exemplary instance of the injustice of colonial law…

— from “Reading Rape in Colonial Australia: Barbara Baynton’s ‘The Tramp’, The Bulletin and Cultural Criticism

Oz Day Surry Hills nostalgia

Here’s Bennett Street in 2008, part of my everyday round then. I lived there briefly in 1997.

And here in 1954:


That’s a still from the 1954 very patronising – God weren’t they in those days? – government documentary called School’s Out. You can see it in the previous post.


Over the fold there are some more stills, including two of Sydney Boys High as it was when I enrolled there!

Continue reading

Reflective of the 80s and 90s–others and myself

I was simply checking the internet for Dr Cassy’s current number – it isn’t there – when I came upon this: “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (from String Quartet). is a radical experiment in truth-telling. Every week over the next 28 months, I will write approximately 6 minutes of music per fortnight and give it away for free. I will accompany the music with blogposts which say what was on my mind and was occurring in my life during the composition of this music.

I am a composer. My music is like a diary. At least, it’s the part that cannot be said in words, whereas the part that can be will be.


I found the music beautiful, and then I read on encountering things I had been on the edges of myself, Dr Cassy having been my doctor on and off for about 25 years.

I began the sketches for this section of my String Quartet back sometime in the mid-1990s.

On May 29, 1995 I delivered the eulogy below for the artist David McDiarmid. David was a magical and gifted artist, completely of his time in the best sense of that phrase – the time being the late 70’s to the mid 90’s, against the growing backdrop of the AIDS epidemic…

We were all AIDS activists back then. I was a member of ACT UP, the media-savvy direct-action group destined for perpetual infamy on account of its confronting protests. (Think Greenpeace, but for AIDS.) Within a couple of months of arriving in Australia in Christmas 1990, I was running a ‘buyers club’ importing AIDS drugs unavailable here. It was a stop-gap measure while the activists lobbied hard to get regulatory authorities and pharmaceutical companies to cut the red tape preventing the drugs from being accessible readily and affordably….

David and I became much closer after I started collaborating with a doctor named Cassy Workman. Cassy and I together with Lois Johnson from ACT UP formed a radical AIDS treatment center masquerading as an ordinary doctor’s office. We ran our own clinical trials, recorded and analyzed our own data, and devised treatment regimes using drug combinations obtained by lying to the hospitals about what drugs our patients were really on – to circumvent a thinking-inside-the-box limit about how many experimental therapies a person could be on simultaneously. Our patients were clearly healthier than most. Some of it was due to the stealth combination therapy. Most of it was because we treated AIDS patients like normal people…

I’ll cut to the eulogy here, because much of the rest of David’s story is told in it, and resume my story about the music afterwards…

That was 1995.

During those heady days of life-and-death activism, I sketched a lot of music without fully composing much of it. I used to joke that I specialized in unfinished works. I’ve since realized that sketching was my way of keeping a diary. A diary of feelings, rather than events. This piece is realized from sketches I made from that time.

Since Cassy uncompromisingly gave her everything to every patient in front of her in every moment, it meant unpredictably long periods of waiting in the doctor’s office. A big part of my friendship with David came from talking to him while he waited his turn to see Cassy. He’d come with hilarious gifts for me, such as a compilation video tape of cartoons (eg. Son of Stimpy) and 1950s bodybuilding and soft porn footage. He also gave me a compilation cassette tape of campy songs, which I eventually understood was either a prototype or an offshoot of his “Toxic Queen presents …” and “Funeral Hits of the 90s” projects.

Humor – actually, sarcasm and bitchiness – was a key ingredient in David’s art. His works had titles like “Lifetimes are not what they used to be”, “Darling, you make me sick”, “AIDS victim dies alone – family profits” and “It’s my party and I’ll die if I want to, sugar.”…

My music here is nothing like David’s art. None of David’s humor has shown up. So that’s how I know this piece is not a tribute to him, though he’s in it. It’s more a record of the times we both inhabited, and about the stars we visited in our minds while we were all coping with the times. Instead there’s a debonairness to the music, a sophistication that’s shown up as, interestingly, jazz. I don’t know if David liked jazz, but this piece has great chunks of it. David lived a lush life. I think that’s where the jazz comes from, from Billy Strayhorn and the lush life….

The music that post refers to is here.

See also:

And do note:

Solo Piano: new 2012 project

In 2012, I am sending out free music from my gigantic, autobiographical work-in-progress called Solo Piano.

I guarantee it will be one of the most unusual musical projects you’ve ever come across. More information will be posted on this website over the next few days, but meanwhile: free free to join the mailing list for Solo Piano here.

Now The Iron Lady again

Yes, I am still ruminating, especially after seeing Meryl Streep last night on ABC. Interesting contrast made between what the USA thinks is “conservative” and the actual beliefs and actions of Maggie T.

Then I see I was not alone when I thought: " whatever I may have thought about Margaret Thatcher was kind of beside the point. Think King Lear, perhaps, with Maggie as Lear rather than as Goneril and Dennis perhaps The Fool…" Or maybe Kent?  Hmmm. But Poor Tom? Hmmm.

Anyway, see Elizabeth Farrelly in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

The film has been accused of disrespect, hagiography, clumsiness, obtuseness, ”horrifying” sexism and – by America’s National Public Radio, no less – ”sheer awfulness”. Some are charmed, others disgusted – largely along tired ideological lines.

Yet to me it seems at once a clear-eyed feminist treatise, a sympathetic study of ageing and dementia and a thoughtful analysis of mother-daughter complexities. On a canvas of riotous democracy, it cartoons the contemporary human condition, and in particular the contemporary female condition…

It is King Lear recast in a context of feminism, democracy, television and dementia. Innocent beginning, glorious climax, fatal flaw, dreadful end.

The Iron Lady is not told linearly, partly because we are assumed to know the narrative arc, and partly because fragmentation is the theme, common to democracy, post-modernism and Alzheimer’s disease.

Yet it is a Lear. Carol of course is Cordelia, faithfully serving the parental monarch even as she is unwittingly lashed. Mark is the perfidious Goneril, calling from South Africa only to turn the knife. Dennis is Poor Tom – equal parts priest, shrink, joker and crutch – and Airey Neave is Gloucester, car-bombed, rather than eye-gouged, for his loyalty.

Enthroned at the centre of it all is Thatcher herself; grand, as well as grandly flawed. (The film pointedly ends with her self-sketched fate, not dead but – worse – softened by disease, washing said teacup). She stands on principle, and on principle she falls.

Lovely Sunday

South Sydney Uniting Church, Waterloo.

Our Artist in Residence, Johnny Bell, has been working hard on a set of paintings for his show this month. It’s been a tough year for him and his family – many worries. And yet Johnny paints joyful scenes – couples dancing, people laughing and singing. There’s a reframing here. Last week we took delivery of Johnny’s paintings all beautifully framed. He’s even asked that the framer frame the works in such a way that Johnny can easily remove the images and do a little more work on them before we reframe them and hang them. My first picture of joyous anticipation is Johnny with invitation cards for his family and friends – Johnny with cards to herald his first solo show in more than 10 years. – Andrew Collis




Then with Sirdan and B – Trinity Bar Surry Hills for lunch, then Midnight Shift in Oxford Street – the VERY LAST Sunday as Sirdan moves to Queensland next Wednesday.


FotoSketcher - P1080006


Central Station – waiting for the 5.30 train.