Sunday, 25 March 2012

Stupidity Rules Part 7

I'm not certain there's a word for it: rout, landslide, wipeout and complete electoral disaster have all been mentioned, however nothing quite describes the end result of the Queensland election from Labor's point of view. We might have expected this in NSW a year ago, but Queensland, now? Anna Bligh wasn't seen as being that bad, was she? Surely it can't all be down to Bob Katter whipping up the jingoistic hysteria?

Labor looks like it may hold onto 8 seats in an 89 seat house. That's a little embarrassing. A lot embarrassing actually. The electoral equivalent of that dream where you wake up naked in the middle of school - and you're one of the teachers.

For Julia it's another setback in an ongoing series, but will this be the last? What's next? Beyond the Libs poaching a sitting ALP member, it's hard to imagine anything worse. Of course, the investigation into Craig Thomson could finally end and its findings be released, but what are the chances of that?

For Tony, it's another chance to gloat and be smug and irksome and annoying and tedious, so it's pretty much business as usual there.

There is, however, one individual of a political nature who might be feeling rather smug about it all around about now. Our old mate and former PM, Kev. A native Queenslander, had Mr Rudd smelled the writing on the wall prior to his recent abrupt push for leadership and subsequent flameout? Did he make his run knowing full well that a) he wouldn't win and b) Queensland would be a disaster? Was his ultimate plan to demonstrate he has ambition and ticker, thinking that once Julia resigns in the post-upcoming Federal election annihilation, he will be best positioned to take up the reigns and fight his way back to both Federal leadership and, eventually, Prime Ministership?

From whence he can stuff it all up again, while someone equally unsuitable as Liberal Opposition leader (Christopher Pyne anyone?) does a Tony Mk II with all the accompanying huffing and puffing and sour-faced looks and uncharitable comments.

They fought hard, it was tougher than expected, but in the end, the Australian electorate was the loser on the day. Again...

Friday, 24 February 2012

Stupidity Rules Part 6

There has now been a fourth inquest into the death of Azaria Chamberlain, the baby who disappeared at Uluru in August 1980.

This is, of course, a good thing. The law should ensure that, as far as possible, justice is done and is seen to be done, and it appears that in this case, the succession of inquests and one Royal Commission has indeed attempted to find out the circumstances behind the disappearance of this small child.

The famous cry, 'A dingo took my baby!' has continued to be heard by the legal authorities for over thirty years. How different it might have been, however, had the cry been 'A policeman took my baby!'

Consider the case of Eddie Murray, a 21-year old Aboriginal man who died in highly suspicious circumstances less than an hour after being apprehended for drunkenness in 1981. There was an inquest (which found police had attempted to mislead the coroner), and then after his family joined others in similar circumstances, a protest movement that led to a Royal Commission which examined Eddie's case (amongst 98 others). The report into that hearing found police had been unreliable witnesses and that they had lied to the commissioner. This, however, is as far as official inquiries have gone.

Despite a subsequent legal report into the case complied by the Newcastle Legal Centre, Too Much Wrong, and my book, Eddie's Country, not a single further formal inquiry has eventuated. The closest the law has come to doing so is when the NSW Police Integrity Commission held a 'preliminary investigation' into Eddie's case on the basis of the material presented in Too Much Wrong. After three years, however, it declined to proceed to a full inquiry and stunningly also refused to release a report detailing what it had looked into - on the grounds that it was 'not in the public interest'. Say what???!!!

Don't Eddie's family deserve to live under the same legal umbrella as Lindy and Michael Chamberlain? Don't Aboriginal people deserve to see that justice in Australia is indeed, 'justice for all' and not 'justice for some'? And aren't there many, many other Aboriginal parents out there whose cries are similar to those uttered by the Murrays, who want just to know what happened to their children?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

It's a Writer's Life Part 5

So, 12 is coming along. We've checked the mirrors for traffic coming up from behind, accelerated smoothly into the road and moved efficiently into second, leaving Christmas diminishing rapidly behind us, a solitary fragment of tinsel dangling languidly from the passenger sun visor all that remains of yet another exhausted festive season.

Now it's time to roll up the sleeves again and get back to the coal face. Or at least the 21st Century politically correct version of the coal face, now carbon has become environmental enemy number one. Energy-wise speaking, after being the new black for so long, what will replace carbon?

Sooner or later we will have to get used to being without coal. I think we're getting better at dealing with changes. We used to have records, then we had CDs, now we have mp3s. Videos have given way to DVDs have given way to hard drives. We face so much new stuff, but it's good to see at least one thing surviving: community (and I'm not talking about the quirky pop-culture referenced American sitcom, as cool as it is.) I know this because the other day I saw a strange creature on the beach.

Glaucus atlanticus - a pelagic aeolid nudibranch

I didn't know what it was and had never seen anything like it before. It was suggested to me that I contact a marine biologist to identify it. Instead, I put it on FaceBook and asked if anyone knew what it was. That was at 1030pm.

What I saw after that was the diversity within my group of friends who then chose to comment. Jonathon (son of my best friend from high school) was the first off the mark, claiming it was a divine reincarnation of someone named Jesus. Sandy (former uni colleague from seventeen years ago now living interstate) asked me lots of questions about it. Nijole (friend of an ex-girlfriend) thought it was beautiful, Terri-Ann (grand-daughter of a man I wrote the biography Eddie's Country about) was curious, Rachel (partner of an old friend I also met at uni ) re-posted it on her wall, Rebecca (friend I've known for about fifteen years) was witty and shared my picture on her wall, Michael (ex-partner of an ex-girlfriend from twenty years ago) thought it was a sea slug, my daughter thought it would make a good pet, Jane and Ziggy and Nicole (people I also met through uni) thought it was beautiful as did Cindy (wife of best friend from high school), and Hugh (friend and former work colleague from over twenty years ago) who was also witty. Goknur (friend of yet another an ex-girlfriend) won the big prize though, formally ID'ing the little blue thing (as did another friend, Rose, a few days later). What was interesting is that Goknur (and possibly Rose) did her successful research via Wikipedia, the creation of another community.

Just 25 minutes after posting, I knew my brilliant blue water dweller was Glaucus Atlanticus, a bizarre animal that walks upside down on the underneath of the top of the ocean hanging onto the surface tension. It eats bluebottle jellyfish and absorbs their poison, which it then uses on anyone silly enough to be aggressive towards it. If that wasn't enough, it's also a hermaphrodite.

I was and remain very proud of my group of friends who contributed to the discussion and were also able to experience some of the joy of discovery. What a diverse bunch they are, and what a valuable resource they make - not just as a means to find something out - but to have on hand virtually to make me laugh and remind me to be amazed.

12 is going to contain its share of changes, these days, they all do. At least it's good to know that I should be able to rely on one thing at least. Scattered around Australia and around the world, their locations as separated as the reasons they came into my lives, this eclectic reflection of my own experience makes me both proud and humble at the same time. Thanks, everyone!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Stupidty Rules Part 6

Last time I checked, it was OK to protest in Australia. It's actually supposed to be one of the reasons why living in a 'great democracy' like ours is so cool. If we don't like something, we have the right to grab some like minded friends, hit the streets and make some noise about it.

A bunch of people did this last Thursday and now there's all kinds of criticism for it, and a bunch of stuff floating around the inter-ether from people who support their motives but not their methods, saying that they 'fell for the trap' or 'the bait was set' or they 'walked into it'.

Walked into what exactly?

There was shouting and some banging on the windows, but other than that... I may have missed it, but no sign of weapons or explosions or threats of violence. What I saw was a Prime Minister who had every chance to address a small but energetic crowd and say something like 'I support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their efforts to achieve equality with non-Aboriginal people in terms of life expectancy, job opportunity and criminal justice issues. I recognise the important symbolic nature of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in working towards this outcome.'

40 or so words, nasally delivered or otherwise, but nothing particularly special. A crowd mollified, perhaps proud that its justifiable social justice concerns had been recognised. Reconcilliation in action, live and broadcast around the world. The only person needing to rush from the building would be an embarrassed Tony Abbott.

No hoo haa, no over-excited police officers shoving people in the chest, no missing shoes and no photos of Prime Ministers in extremis. And no ongoing outrage, either from the flag burners or, and let's be honest here now schools back, the idiots on breakfast radio who will be attempting to bolster their rating points with yet more jingoistic populism disguised as impartial opinion.

Instead of the issues that need to be addressed, the protest - and the official over-reaction to the protest - has become the issue. I remember when thousands marched, when slogans were chanted and banners were unfurled. It was part of our democratic right to do it then, and it's part of our democratic right to do it now. Let's stop having hissy fits and selling newspapers because of one small fracas. I'd be less cynical if some, just some, of those news headlines dealt with a few of the issues the protesters were - so rightly - concerned about.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Stupidity Rules Part 5

In many ways, January is to the New Year what Sunday is to the week. There's more lying around and reading and dozing and quality time with the children than usual. Undeniably, however, just as you're at your most relaxed, you realise that with some of those activities comes... thoughts. You try to stop the sneaky rascals as they begin to swell around the synapses like protesters who have just found the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader are sipping mineral water in a restaurant just a hundred metres down the road.

Without a massive pre-emptive strike (deciding to go for a run, mow the lawn, drag the fam down to the park/beach/seafood diner), however, once the groups of ideas begin to coalesce, they start to gain critical mass, a consciousness and a life force of their own. Once this happens you have two choices. You can (belatedly) attempt to summon your own form of personal headspace security detail to force your ideas back where they came from (hormones full of over eager capsicum spraying testosterone loaded police officers), with usually futile results - or you can actually listen to what they have to say.

Sometimes, even though they're loud and pushy and a tad rowdy, their message is still important. Because here's something I've learned in the half century or so I've walked the planet, and that is you can't ignore these things forever. There's whole theories on how diseases form because of self-repression. I think it's the same with nations. If you've attempted to stamp down on something for over 200 years without success, I'd say there's a fair bit of pressure building up somewhere. You can release measured and approved quantities in the form of a restricted and 'autonomous' representative bodies here, hold the occasional Royal Commission there, let off some steam occasionally with a sanctioned display of culture at significant national events, but sooner or later unless you actually do something, it's gonna blow.

At some stage you must honestly deal with the situation. On an individual level there are many folk among us who fail to listen to their own interior messages. A lot of addictions and lifestyle issues go initially un-recognised, and are then ignored, by those who have them. Hell, I think we all do it to some extent. But we have to address them eventually, before something radical happens, if we're to grow, become healthier, wiser, do better for our children. Only then can we really find catharsis and emerge, blinking, into the sunlight of February with a whole new direction for the remainder of the year ahead of us.

While analogies don't always hold true, I think that looking at this one on a national level does suggest there is a lesson for us. Despite images of the worried suddenly mono-shod Ms Gillard being securitied away, the real story is the need for an Australian protest movement that has now existed in one symbolic form for 40 years, although in actuality it's 224 years - plus one day. Until a true form of federal introspection takes place, the bubbles will still be there, the pressure under the skin will continue to build, the danger of explosions, large and small, metaphorical and actual, will continue.

Someone, sometime, is eventually going to have to address the issue. It's called leadership.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Stupidity Rules Part 4

I was in Sydney on Saturday, and while there weren't exactly tumbleweeds rolling down George St, I thought there was a surprising absence of eager Christmas consumers, wallets at the ready, credit cards thrust forward in a mad desire to enter the New Year with a financial burden of significantly greater magnitude than good ol' 2011.

The woman in Dymocks didn't appear to notice, claiming it was as busy as ever, and that her coping mechanism for the Festy Season was 'smile and nod' which is good advice in most situations, from political leaders indicating their intention for your nation to invade the slightly smaller one to the north, to just about any and every domestic situation.

I wasn't convinced it was so busy, however. The vibe just wasn't there, and the number of sales and discounted items in various stores seemed to belie the economic vitality claimed by this single sales clerk. She was, after all, hardly a suitable statistical basis for any kind of survey, despite her position on the Christmas front line.

Down at the Quay (see previous post) it was kind of going off, but people were intent on filling their stomachs rather than their Christmas stockings. I thought, if the nation was indeed heading towards a financial slump, then perhaps we needed to find an alternate means to stimulate the economy. We needed to concentrate on our core strengths. No more spending on pink batts and school halls and other arcane paraphernalia, we needed to get the dollars going to tried and true spending sources.

Which means alcohol, of course. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in certain places at least, large quantities of Kevin Rudd's previous cash stimulii were certainly invested down at various locals. The alcohol led economic recovery is a no brainer, a sure fire winner not only guaranteed to increase employment in the service industries, but also by the virtues of flow on, to the law enforcement and health sectors as well.

The only significant issue that I can see, after a little bit of fieldwork, is how we can encourage people to drink more. Short of employing the kinds of devices used to ensure large volumes of high octane fuel flood directly into the bellies of voracious Formula 1 racing cars in under a nanosecond, I don't know if it's really possible to drink in greater amounts than Australians are currently imbibing. Possibly the economic salvation we seek is already at hand. Forget the mining boom and two speed economy. As the collective livers of Australia swell and distend, raise another glass and know you're doing your bit for the nation.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

It's a Writer's Life Part 4

It was a sunny day in Sydney yesterday, spectacular actually if you happened to head to the Quay and see the brilliant trilogy of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and some God awfully huge passenger liner moored to the passenger terminal. The icons were surrounded by thousands of people intent on recreating in all manner of traditionally accepted forms: sight seeing, spending time with the fam, eating and drinking and conviving with similarly minded friendly folk, and the whole scene was bathed in a brilliantly tepid amber afternoon light.

I had come not for the rays or the views or even the caramelised onion and goat's cheese tart devoured with relish, but for the opportunity to witness a hero. Granted, he hadn't saved anyone from a firey inferno or flooded causeway lately (as far as I know), but he had certainly contributed to my literary salvation.

Tom Stoppard was a figure of primacy in my formative days as a writer. It's no accident my two earliest plays explored figures already existent in literature (Biggles and Juliet - and possibly there's a future play title there for an aspiring post-post-post modernist). His own writing trajectory had followed a similar path with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Travesties.

Tom (should I say 'Sir Tom'? It is his title afterall. Or am I betraying my republican ideals?) went on to create a bunch of plays which ensured his position as a writer of importance back when contemporaries like Osborne and Pinter were also breaking through. Stoppard writes with intelligence and wit and with a practically unparalleled capacity to manipute the English language to within, of its creative capacity, a split infinitive. He also won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love.

In many ways he appeared a reticent intervieee. I'm sure he was paid the metric equivalent of a shitload to be there, and was as willing and intent and obliging as someone who accepts such a gig should be, but he was, dare I say it, humble. Not something we're particularly used to seeing these days. Fake humility, sure, You can't get out the door these days without wading through a small lake of fake humility. But the actual stuff is much harder to find.

Over the course of the hour a well-audienced Concert Hall learned something of his working habits (still uses a pen, writes pyrimidacally in that he does many drafts of the first page of a play, then tapers as he goes until he hopes that the end page will be so logically arrived at that it will require little in the way of revision), and we saw his passion for human rights doesn't seem to have diminished. We were also told one other, possibly very important, thing.

Tom claims that his works he feels are the most successful are those he has managed to 'write lucky.' He explained, I think, that this means there are some pieces that he felt very clever about when they were finished, and others which he allowed to develop and to inform themselves as he underwent the creative writing process. In other words, he allowed the work to find its own truth rather than the impose on it his own intentions and expectations.

Let's get one thing straight: I've seen a lot of theatrical crappola which I suspect has been created using exactly this methodology. All exploration and no structure. Some writers who work from the 'take the idea and run' viewpoint don't always produce good things. However someone like Stoppard, who has learned more than enough of the rules to be confident about breaking them, has the capacity to conceive brilliance and see it emerge on the page, all the stronger for its own veracity. It's a bit like jumping into the deep end of the pool without knowing how many sharks, stingrays, piranhas and other assorted aquatic carnivores lie waiting below... but feeling confident you can outswim the lot of them.

So where does this leave my next project? I'm normally a plotter and a planner. I like to know where I'm going. I've always preferred to fully research before commencing writing rather than begin with an idea and see where it takes me. This time, though, I think I'd like to try it. I think it's time to write with luck. What could possibly go wrong?