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An apology to Australia’s youth

About fifty per cent of Australia’s adults – if I dare call them that – have just sent you a message: they have told you that your future and the future of the planet on which you live are unimportant. They have told you that their concern for their own wellbeing and way of life overrides any concerns you might have about future employment, education, and a place to live.

They have told you that being able to spend their remaining years on the deck of a pleasure launch – assisted in part by a handout from taxpayers – is more important than contributing to your education and healthcare; more important than fighting to mend the earth you will inherit, an earth so badly damaged by previous generations that your very existence is threatened.

They have told you that education should be only for those who can afford it, as it has been for all but a few years of the last several centuries; that first-class health care is only for the wealthy, and that the environment doesn’t matter. They have told you that self-interest is more important than the good of the nation and the health of our beautiful, ancient land.

They have told you they believe they are more worthy than you.

In a few months’ time, I shall be 79 years old, an age that is beyond your imagining – I know this, because I remember what it was to be young – and I have seen and done a lot of things. Some things I am not proud of, but I don’t regret them; regrets are futile, mistakes are lessons. But one constant in my life has been my love of people and the love of my country.

I love people because they are human, and being human means that they are all different with a different story to tell. One of my grandfathers, a man named George Hamilton, once told me to “never look at the colour of someone’s skin”. That worried me until I was old enough to understand what he meant.

When I was growing up, Australia was a country frightened of difference. The indigenous peoples were different and, having at last become ashamed of our efforts to exterminate them, we tried to change them. We tried to make them whiter by regulating who they were allowed to marry, and when that didn’t work, we used other laws to regulate their lives. The general public just ignored them for the most part.

We were frightened of the Chinese who came to Australia during the great goldrushes and so passed into law the “White Australia” policy. We were frightened of the Italians and Greeks who came here in large numbers after World War II. We were frightened of the “Balts”, the peoples of Eastern Europe who were allowed in as refugees.

Did you know that before these migrants came to Australia, zucchinis, tomato paste, capsicums, egg plant, salami, and a thousand and one other now everyday foods were unheard of? That olive oil was sold in tiny bottles and used as a medicine? It’s true, I know; because it was in my lifetime.

But our country grew up during the 1960s and ‘70s and we became accustomed to different faces and customs. And we came to love different foods and new celebrations. We rejoiced in our diversity.

A Prime Minister named John Howard changed all that. In his time in office, he fought hard to send attitudes back to the 1950s, a trend that continues to this day and has now been reinforced. And like John Howard, many politicians hate the changes that have been made and want us to be frightened of everybody who is not “us”: they want us to demonise people born in Africa and Asia and to mistrust anybody who is a Muslim, regardless of their ethnicity. They would prefer it if we were all white and Christian and certainly not gay or vegetarian.

Conservative governments have always used this fear of “the other” to divide us to their own advantage. But “the other” has broadened. It now includes the unemployed, the less wealthy and those people for whom life has never been easy. For a brief time, the “fair go” was an Australian certainty, it is now a myth.

When the Indigenous peoples indicated that they would like to see a First Nations committee set up to advise government on formulation of any policy affecting them, they were given a blunt refusal. It would, the government said, amount to another Chamber in Parliament. They had become “the other” again; more than 60,000 years occupation of this continent apparently doesn’t entitle them to a voice in government.

When next you attend an Anzac Day ceremony, bear in mind that the men and women whom politicians glorify as wonderful and heroic Australians – particularly those veterans of the two World Wars – are the same people whose votes gave us the benefits that conservative governments are now bent on taking away. Votes for women, health care, free education, pensions, and numberless other things we once took for granted but no longer can. They have become “privileges” not entitlements.

These same politicians are fond of telling you how much they “love Australia”, but what they are saying is that they love it for what they can get out of it, not what it does for them. They really have no concept of the land itself, that mysterious “thing” that sustains both their mental and physical health. They don’t feel its heartbeat through the soles of their feet, for they “have no time to grow; they have no time to waste”*. If they did, they would be in Parliament today and every day, addressing the biggest crisis to face this planet and all creatures that rely on it since the day a hominid first picked up a burning stick.

The people who voted against your future have benefited most from programs put in place by more enlightened governments and it seems those benefits have shortened their memories and made them selfish.

But there is hope. When brave young Greta Thunberg made her appearance on the world stage, my heart lifted; she is, or should be, an inspiration to us all. The door will only be open for a very short time before the processes our politicians ignore become irreversible, and because fifty per cent of your elders – and sadly it seems, some of your contemporaries – refused to put the interests of the nation ahead of their own, this huge burden is now on your shoulders.

Be strong.

My generation and the one just after seem to have forgotten that we took to the streets and stopped a war; we took to the streets and ended apartheid in South Africa; we took to the streets to help our Indigenous brothers and sisters in their fight for dignity. Young people were jailed – and in some countries, the USA among them, killed. But they won. In the end they won. And you can win this fight, you must win, there is no alternative worth contemplating. Fifty per cent of us will be behind you as best we can, but it will be your energy and determination that will save our planet and your future from the barbarians.

*From A B Paterson’s Clancy of the Overflow

A miscellany

My Molong Express page 10 — 16 May, 2019

The lies and selective truths infesting the airwaves and muddying up the newspapers are becoming a bit overwhelming, so I thought I might give the politics a bit of a miss this week. Except for something I recently stumbled across. What follows is only a brief excerpt from an article in National Geographic (NG),that venerable US publication that has been almost a household name since the 19th century. Published in April this year, it looks at the cost of global warming and, in light of our current PM’s ardent desire to be enlightened on the subject, I thought I’d slip the relevant paragraph in. The article refers to the latest findings on warming in the Arctic regions, adds them to what has been estimated as the global cost of the challenge Earth is facing and claims that:

“The $25 to $70 trillion cost of Arctic warming adds four to six percent to the total cost of climate change—which is estimated to reach $1,390 trillion by the year 2300 if emissions cuts are not better than the Paris Agreement. However, the costs of the current business-as-usual path could be more than $2,000 trillion.”

Using the lower estimate, and if my maths is right, that’s about $4.5 trillion a year if we start now. In 2016, the world’s entire GDP was about $76 trillion. I’ll leave it there, but if you’d like to know more, here’s the link to the story: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/arctic-climate-change-feedback-loops-cost-trillions/

And now the Namoi

According to the latest scientific reports, the Namoi has now joined the list of threatened rivers in the Murray Darling Basin: “at tipping point” was one description used. Once again, the gross lack of oversight – not to mention foresight – on the part of regulators and legislators has been brought to light. And until real changes are made, until truly independent, science-based, expert bodies are appointed to manage the ecosystems vital to our survival, it will not change. The key word here is manage, not advise. Since when have politicians listened to advice they didn’t want to hear?

No matter how many dams we build, how many aquifers we tap, how many rivers we divert, there will never be enough water. Governments, individual politicians, their corporate backers and good old human greed will see to that. Some day, someone will come up with a scheme to grow roses in the Simpson Desert and will convince a political party that it is vital to the national interest that he do so. The politicians will commission a feasibility study into the damming of the Finke River, and a committee of rural economists will claim that if the scheme doesn’t go ahead, 200 Queensland jobs will be at risk. Back to square one.

Far-fetched? Well not so long ago, a mega-rich American (with no experience in viticulture) planted grapes at Nundroo, in the country abutting the Nullarbor. Now Nundroo gets its water from bores by means of windmill power, using the old-fashioned, traditional type of windmill. Not much forward thinking there. I was through there not so long ago and didn’t see any evidence of a burgeoning wine industry.

If you don’t want to read the linked article, here’s an excerpt:

Case, 72, formed a trust to buy a 50,000-acre spread in South Australia and planted the 10-acre test plot earlier this year. Next, he wants to add some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The first crop won’t come until 2005, but he is betting that the resulting wine (which he expects to sell for $25 a bottle) will outshine other Australian Cabernets and give Napa a run for its money.

“The Australians don’t know what they’re doing,” sniffed Case. “Their Cabernets are wimpy. I hired some viticulture consultants, and they just wanted to treat the vineyard like they do in McLaren Vale. I hate McLaren Vale Cabernet.”

Case has no prior experience growing grapes or making wine. He is a chemical engineer with four degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds more than 20 patents, and his current big project is to get a catalytic fusion plant working. That’s right, cold fusion. His process involves converting heavy water to helium using palladium and carbon as catalysts.

Note: I’m searching for more up-to-date information on this proposal to put at risk more of Australia’s scarce and fragile natural resources.

Why we used to have proofreaders and copy editors

We all make mistakes, of course we do, but increasingly we are being bombarded with news stories, political handouts and company public-relations releases that make absolutely no sense. They are written in such a way as to obfuscate or at best appear intelligent, educated and well-read, leading to the stripping of any real meaning from the reporting of even the most serious events. This piece I wrote for the USA’s LiketheDew springs to mind:

Writing in Kentucky News Review, Lu-Ann Farrar said that “Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University had told the Detroit Free Press that paramilitary troups are being used more often in police situations.”

Now right there I’m puzzled. What’s a police situation, a job with the service? And do paramilitary services have entertainment units, even misspelled ones? She goes on:

“A Detroit imam, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, was arrested and shot by an elite FBI Hostage Rescue Team.” Arrested and shot? In that order? By a rescue team? She continued: “Abdullah is the first time a religious leader has been killed by government forces since…”

Abdullah is the first time? Wouldn’t “Abdullah’s is the first death of a religious leader at the hands of…” have been a little less confusing? Then Ms Farrar quotes the professor: “We’ve seen…real serious problems with various SWAT tragedies…Real problems arise when it’s misapplied to the wrong circumstances.” Pardon me; could you repeat that, please, professor? Doesn’t writing an article about something this serious warrant a little care?

This sort of stuff crops up all the time these days, and yet just five minutes work by someone could have made the story more readable. Of course, there’s the old Golden Rule to take into account: “Never proofread your own work”. Why? Because you understand what you have written but a reader may not – and there is also a tendency to overlook your own literals, which is trade jargon for spelling mistakes; technically speaking, typos are very different things.

I’ll never forget my chagrin when, on receiving the first edition of a book I’d written (and proofread/copy edited) from the printer, I opened to the Introduction: the first thing to hit my eye was a spelling error. I’d ignored the golden rule I’d always preached to writers whose work I copy edited.

I wonder if, given the chance, the ABC Breakfast News anchor MJ Rowland, would like to do a retake of his part in the “promo” for ABCTV’s election night broadcast, the part in which he says “…you can almost hear the audible sigh”.

Of course you should always review your own work, making improvements and correcting errors where you find them. But if it’s something written for general consumption, then get someone else to cast an eye over it before you send it “out there”.

A long-held passion

I’ve kept pigeons of one sort or another off and on since I was about 13. Even in my most nomadic years, if I looked like being in one spot for more than a couple of months, I’d put together a small flock to keep my hand in.

Why? Because I like them, I suppose is the best I can offer in this brief introduction to that passion. People keep them for all sorts of reasons: some are hooked on racing them, others like to show them, still others enjoy the high-flying or aerobatic varieties. Me, I’ve always liked tumblers, aerial acrobats that do flips of various sorts while in flight. But I also like pigeons for the romance associated with them, the images they conjure up. They were domesticated long before the horse was tamed in Europe and were being bred for special attributes at least contemporarily with ancient Mesopotamia – famous in antiquity for its white ‘doves’. (In the strictest sense, the words ‘dove’ and ‘pigeon’ are interchangeable, the former coming to us from the Germanic languages, the latter from Latin via Old French. These days, however, dove is used mainly to describe the smaller members of its large tribe – except by poets who prefer it over pigeon on every occasion.)

Pigeons figure in the myths and legends of many of the ancient civilisations. To the Hebrews, they were an acceptable sacrifice to their god. The pigeon informed Noah that the waters were subsiding, a story common to all the Abrahamic religions, and the pigeon is still symbolic of the Holy Sprit to Christians.

They were carried with the caravans that plied the Silk Road and traded along the way. The ancient cities of Bokhara, Lahore, Damascus, Istanbul, Iskenderun and others are commemorated in the names of pigeons that first came to the West from them, sometimes carried among the chattels of returning crusaders.

Pigeons are bred in bewildering variety: for their voices; for their speed, endurance and ability to navigate over hundreds of miles; for their plumage; their aerobatic abilities; their colours, and yet they all share many common traits. They are intelligent and affectionate to their keepers, whom they recognise by their facial characteristics, and feral pigeons will remember for years the face of someone who once fed them. Darwin kept pigeons and they helped shape his thinking on evolution.

I once produced and edited the magazines of Australia’s National Pigeon Association and its US counterpart, and was commissioned by Ivy Press (UK) to write the text of a small coffee-table book titled Beautiful Pigeons. These days I keep Iranian Highflyers, an ancient breed of Persian origin, bred for its ability to fly for an extended time at great height, occasionally performing elegant backward somersaults.

If you’d like to learn a little more about what Andrew D Blechman called “the world’s most reviled and revered bird”, please ask me. If not, then forgive us pigeon keepers our passion – it takes all sorts, as my Grandmother would say.

A Jacobin pigeon, one of the more extreme of the feather breeds, with its hood trimmed for the breeding season. One of Queen Victoria’s favourite breeds, the Jacobin was once known as the Cyprus pigeon, having been brought to that island by Crusaders, who had headquarters there. From Cyprus it was introduced to Europe by Crusaders returning home.

A reply to The Other Side

I write a column for the Molong Expresshttp://www.molongexpress.com.au, the newspaper serving Molong and the other villages in the Cabonne Shire of New South Wales. On May 2nd, 2019, we printed an article titled Politicians again show “Real Genius“, and given the subtitle “The view from The Other Side” by me. Sent as an email by a reader, it was harshly critical of governments past and present, and of institutions responsible for the research that often influences government policy.

Prompted by questions from another reader, I carried out some research on sources used in the submitted piece and found that at least some of the statements made were to be found in an online blog by a Joanne Nova, the ‘author of the “Skeptics Handbook”, blogger and “libertarian”,’ and a supporter of the IPA, an ultra-conservative right-wing think tank, with aims as dubious as its published philosophies. Though Ms Nova would appear to agree that there is some degree of global warming, she believes that it is not nearly as serious as the overwhelming majority of scientists argue and that the rise will only be in the vicinity of 0.5°C. In her blogs, she often puts forward the view that the push to renewable energy is nothing but a money grab on the part of governments and some corporations.

Lack of an apostrophe and US spelling aside, “The Skeptics Handbook” raised alarm bells. How can anyone of scientific background (Ms Nova has degrees in, among other things, microbiology) dispute the findings of the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists? Some of her comments also suggest that she believes in conspiracy theories, though whether or not she follows those who accuse NASA, China, the UN and a cartel of Jewish bankers of spreading fear of climate change to aid them in their quest or world domination is not known.

To anyone who cares to think about such things, to deny the scientific evidence on climate change is akin to denying that vaccination has saved millions of lives and untold suffering or believing that the world is under the covert control of a race of lizards from outer space who appear to humans as Jews. Before you spit out your cornflakes over that last statement, one candidate in the forthcoming election believes that it is so.

So, if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to go back to that article and look at some of the points it raises. The first was in connection to the reference to the then Whitlam Labor government’s plan to build a vast network of pipelines to carry gas from the North-West Shelf to every major city in Australia. Obviously it was something Ms Nova doesn’t agree with, something she has in common with the Liberal Party then led by Malcolm Fraser and the English government of the day, though the latter’s objections may have been based more on the fact that Whitlam’s government had said it was going to use loans arranged by “a mysterious Pakistani” (Nova’s words) rather than from a British institution.

Having blasted Whitlam and his government for daring to have a grand plan for Australia, Nova goes on to harshly criticise successive governments for not having one. Of course, all the reasons for Whitlam’s dismissal by the Crown will never be known until the relevant documents are released by Buckingham Palace, but Nova’s view does seem contradictory.

Ms Nova then goes on to criticise renewable energy and the transmission network, delivering “piddling amounts” of power and funded by raising foreign debt, while coal- and nuclear-powered generation plants go unbuilt. Apart from the environmental damage wrought by coal-powered plants and the risks to future generations posed by both, the time involved in building both types of power plant is an important factor. Years, if not decades are involved, by which time the social fabric and economy could be dissolving into chaos unless governments all over the world stop sitting on their hands while Earth undergoes changes on a scale unprecedented in human history.

She also bemoans the fact that no hydro-electric schemes have been built in recent years, and argues for more and bigger dams to trap water that otherwise would go to “irrigate distant oceans”. This is always popular with the proponents of the Bradfield scheme* and the dam-everything school, but it ignores the fact that water flowing into the oceans is not wasted; it is vital for maintaining the health of estuarine and coastal ecosystems. Fisheries depend on these systems to replenish stocks and to maintain inshore populations of species. Equally important, this run off is vital to the survival of mangroves, the first line of defence against storm-surges. Mangroves will become even more important as sea levels rise.

Also ignored is greed-induced blindness, something seemingly hard-wired into politicians and their corporate backers. No matter how many dams are built, or how much water and land are “available”, it will never be enough. Over-allocation of water and the associated cronyism and corruption will lead us exactly to where we now find ourselves, but on a larger scale.

Environmental advocates and Indigenous peoples cop a bit of criticism in the first paragraphs, but more of that later. Ms Nova also blames “Canberra and the states” for the protests against gas exploration – presumably referring to the Lock the Gate movement among others – ignoring the fact that these are people-based protests, often made as a direct result of governments’ pro-mining-at-all-costs policies.

She goes on to criticise the CSIRO for contributing to climate change hysteria and science generally for promoting gender-equality issues and green activism. Not only is this utter rot, it conveniently ignores the fact that under Tony Abbott’s ultra-conservative, anti-science government, the CSIRO was gutted of both funding and staff (as was the Antarctic Division), severely curtailing many of its research programs, climate study among them, and flying in the face of global trends. Abbott then allocated funding to cancer research (presumably “believable science”), a noble initiative but I suspect more in the hope that his name would forever be associated with a “silver bullet cure-all” while at the same time allowing him to deliver a kick in the guts to those involved in what he believes is the “crap science” of climate studies.

Now to Ms Nova’s concluding paragraph: “As Australia’s first people discovered, if today’s Australians lack the will or the knowledge to use our great natural resources, more energetic people will take them off us.”

It’s hard to ignore the racism inherent in this statement, racism also apparent in her reference to uranium deposits “sterilised by the Giant Rainbow Serpent”. Okay, perhaps she’s not racist and just believes Australia’s Indigenous peoples are lazy beings who practice a primitive religion that deifies mythical creatures. What about the recent outpouring of grief in the “energetic” and sophisticated Western world over the loss of a building representing a religious sect whose adherents practice ritual cannibalism, believe virgins can give birth and that people can rise from the dead.

And who are these “more energetic people” poised to seize our coal and uranium? Let me guess…the Chinese? The Indonesians? Well they’d better get a move on; giant global corporations with no loyalty to any particular country are already in there getting our resources out of the ground as fast as governments will allow. There seems a philosophy present in the corporate world that urges its adherents to make as much money as they possibly can before it all hits the fan. Are the few “energetic” people hoping their money will save them and the rest of us will have to cope as best we can?

Perhaps Ms Nova could revisit that last paragraph and alter it to read something like “As Australia’s first people discovered, the land in which we live is capricious and finely balanced. If today’s Australians lack the will or the knowledge to properly care for it, nature will take it from us.”

*The “Bradfield Scheme” was put forward in 1938 as a means of irrigating and “drought-proofing” arid regions of the Queensland and South Australian interiors. Involving damning and “turning back” of northern rivers, calculations were faulty and projections based on European models were unrealistic. Politicians are fond of extolling its virtues, especially when elections are held during periods of drought, as is now the case.

The sheep from Stony Creek

An opportunity not to be missed, as the real-estate agents say. A mate had offered Bev and me, free, seven cast-for-age ewes. We had no sheep on the place that we rented in return for a bit of work, and Bev reckoned that even old canner mutton would be a welcome break from the underground variety, so we jumped at the chance. But had we known what turning those sheep into Irish stew was to involve, we would have stuck with the bunnies.

We were in town on our fortnightly shopping trip the day the ewes arrived. Bill, the generous mate, had driven past us on the way home. He waved, but didn’t stop for a yarn; the reason for this breach of country etiquette becoming apparent when we arrived at the house. Pinned to the back door was a cryptic note: ‘Ewes in yards,’ it read. ‘I think they might be footrot carriers. Better kill before the autumn break.’ There’s always a catch somewhere.

We had checked the old yards some days before and in our opinion they were almost good enough to hold anything short of a Kimberley bullock – but we’d not reckoned on the athletic prowess of sheep from Stony Creek. Footrot may have condemned them, but age had wearied them not a jot. On sighting us, those ewes went through the rails with a speed that would have won them the Upotipotpon Cup.

Six disappeared into the stand of black mallee growing on the hill, while number seven, displaying a fine streak of ovine perversity, cantered through the boundary fence and crossed the road. Without breaking stride she ducked under the sign advertising the neighbours’ footrot-free Border Leicester stud and crashed through the fence surrounding their bull paddock. I received only a mild shock as I clambered through in pursuit and, making a mental note to tell the neighbours that their electric fence needed checking, I set off after the ewe.

Now Walter was, under normal circumstances, a placid bull, the epitome of the Angus temperament, but the sight of a wild-eyed and desperate lunatic in pursuit of an equally wild-eyed sheep must have temporarily unhinged him. Around the paddock we raced; Walter in the lead, the sheep close behind, and me struggling in the rear. A sharp, jinking turn and the order of procession became me, Walter, and then the sheep. By sheer good luck I brought that ewe to ground before she joined the stud flock. Hauling her through the fence to where Bev waited with the wheelbarrow, I noted that the energiser was supplying full power to that section of the fence. One down, six to go.
Those six will long live in my memory as the wariest sheep it has ever been my misfortune to meet. The merest hint of a squeak from a door hinge; the slightest slither of a well-oiled rifle bolt, was enough to send them bolting into the mallee, where they would instantly dematerialise.
One died. A combination of old age and over-excitement I thought, but Bev was of the opinion that too much time spent in standing cockatoo had not allowed it time to eat. Five remaining. The anticipated meals of mutton had faded into the limbo of broken dreams. Those ewes had become a threat to our sanity; an affront to our dignity. The neighbours’ dog was no use. After seeing the sheep dematerialise for the tenth time, she was reduced to whimpering and hiding in wombat holes whenever she heard me call her name. At last, in desperation, we told the now contrite Bill, the bloke who’d visited the curse upon us and was fast losing his right to be called “mate”, to ask our mutual friend Sam to bring Black George to yard the sheep for us.
Black George was a legend in the district; his ferocity a household word. His sire and dam had been honest workers both; his grandparents were dogs of great wisdom and dignity, but somewhere, somehow, something had gone wrong. Throughout the district, it was darkly hinted at that Black George was a changeling, the spawn perhaps of some spectral thylacine. While yarding chooks and ducks he was the model of good manners; goannas and guinea-pigs were treated with the velvet paw; but show him even a photograph of a sheep and he became a ravening lunatic.
Those ewes recognised the enemy immediately. On sighting Black George, they headed for the mallee, the dog slavering and howling in pursuit. The Black George theory of working sheep had it that they must first be reduced to a catatonic state, and once this was accomplished he would stand over them drooling, tail thrashing in delight. Black George’s response to his owner’s hoarse yells was to attempt to run the sheep the twelve miles to Stony Creek, pioneering a new route as he went.

Exasperated, Sam collared Black George as he flashed past for the umpteenth time. Tucking the dog under one brawny arm, he headed off after the sheep himself, treating us to a practical demonstration of the wisdom inherent in the old adage, ‘It’s no use keeping a dog and barking yourself’. Sam did the running, Black George the barking – a fine example of cooperation between a man and his dog.
This novel approach to shepherding proved too much for the sheep. Totally demoralised, they launched themselves into the big dam, and seizing the opportunity to cool off, we plunged in after them. Black George did his best to help; using the nearest back as a springboard he lunged, snapping and snarling at the swimming ewes. Fortunately for us, the sheep were now totally confused and Bev and I hauled them one by one to dry land, Sam assisting by holding George under water where his snarls and yowls of rage raised a fountain of bubbles, no doubt sending yabbies and eels racing for cover.
Those ewes escaped us in the end, proving too tough even for the sausage machine. The neighbours’ dog was the sole beneficiary – to compensate her for the indignity she suffered we gave the mutton to her owners as dog tucker.
A friend visited that district recently and called into the pub, where he’d been told the story of the “Great Upotipotpon Muster”. It hadn’t grown much in the telling, he said. Why should it? Truth is indeed much stranger than fiction and a good yarn needs no embellishment.

•    •    •    •    •

For those unfamiliar with Australian dialect – and sadly this now includes a growing number of Australians raised on a cultural diet of US TV – I’ve added this bit of a glossary.
Underground mutton: wild rabbit; Mallee: small, multi-trunked eucalypts of several species, some a major source of eucalyptus oil; Chook: a domestic hen, chicken; Standing cockatoo: when flocks of cockatoos are feeding on the ground, some remain perched on vantage points to sound the alarm when danger approaches; Thylacine: the now-extinct Tasmanian tiger, a dog-like carnivorous marsupial; Yabbie: one of several names for a medium-to-large, freshwater crayfish.

Where are those with guts and vision

No breadlines I’m glad to say, the *donkey won election day,
No more standin’ in the snowin’ blowin rain;
We’ve got money in our jeans, we can travel like the queens,
We’ve got Franklin D Roosevelt back again.
— “Okie” song from the Great Depression

In common with much of the Western world, Australia now finds itself led – and I use that word reluctantly – by self-serving politicians who, concerned more with enriching themselves and their parties, and meeting the demands of their financial backers, ignore the wishes of the people and the good of the nation.

With the country – and the world – facing its biggest threat since a hominid first picked up a burning stick or shaped a stone , we are faced with governments and corporations so obsessed with amassing mountains of wealth that they ignore what is happening around them.

Perhaps, like Australia’s Pentecostal Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, they believe that as the word and its sinners burn, the Rapture will lift them up to Heaven, to be reincarnated at some later date. At the risk of being cynical I would suggest that in reality the Rapture is just another name for wealth, its worshippers believing it will save them from the fate awaiting the plebeian hordes. The attitude of our faux-Christian PM would certainly suggest this is so.

While we adults procrastinate, obfuscate or fulminate, depending on our view of things, it is largely left to the children to make an impact and, hopefully, when they are old enough to vote, to turn things around. Greta  Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl, began a movement that is growing daily, a movement hoping to shame politicians and corporations to act on climate change, yet the most common response from those in a position to institute change seems to be “You should be in school”. A strange attitude; education doesn’t seem to have encouraged the titans of politics and wealth to see the blindingly obvious. And time is running out.

What Australia desperately needs is someone of real vision and courage, someone to take on the forces of the status quo as Franklin D Roosevelt did in the 1930s. FDR took on the coal and railway barons and forced rampant capitalism to work in the interests of the common people, the working poor and the unemployed, the struggling dirt farmer – the “jest plain folks”of this world.

Four times elected in a landslide, Franklin D Roosevelt died while serving an unprecedented fourth term in office. Up until that time, no president had been elected to the position more than twice and it had become almost a convention that no-one would stand after their second term.

Yet unbridled greed won out in the end. On his death, Congress, no doubt under pressure from the barons of wealth, legislated to make a maximum two terms mandatory. But FDR’s legacy lived on in the financial reforms and conservation programs he instituted. He  reined in the worst excesses of the financial system, instilled pride in the National Parks and improved the lot of the ordinary citizen. With the election of Ronald Reagan, the undermining of many of the “New Deal” programs began, and we feel the effects of this today.

The New Deal

In 1993, with the worldwide Great Depression at its height, US President Franklin D Roosevelt introduced his “New Deal”; a series of financial and regulatory reforms and an ambitious program of public works designed to alleviate unemployment and stimulate the economy. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) formed a large part of this New Deal.

CCC-poster-1935 copy
CCC Recruitment poster —Photo Public Domain

Running from 1933 to 1942, the CCC was a relief-work program that recruited unemployed, unmarried men. At first it was restricted to young, single men between 18 and 25 but was later widened to include unmarried men from 17 to 28.

The CCC provided unskilled manual labor for projects related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned and managed by federal, state and local governments. It had two major goals: to provide jobs for young men, and to help relieve the financial plight of families suffering the effects of the Great Depression.

A maximum 300,000 recruits were in the CCC ranks at any one time, but over the course of the nine-year program, 3,000,000 young men participated in the scheme. The CCC provided them with shelter, clothing, and food, and a wage of about $30 a month. Of this, $25 had to be sent home to their families.

Over its lifetime, the CCC planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America; constructed trails, lodges, and related facilities in more than 800 parks nationwide and upgraded most state parks. It improved forest fire-fighting methods, and constructed a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas.

The CCC was the most popular of all the New Deal programs. It was said that participation in the improved physical condition, heightened morale, and increased the likelihood of gaining employment elsewhere. The program also led to a greater public awareness and appreciation of the outdoors and the nation’s natural resources, and the continued need for a carefully planned, comprehensive national program for their protection and development.

I have a friend in Kentucky whose father was a CCC recruit. A country boy from the mountains, his Dad recalled being issued with, among other things, brand new work clothes and two pairs of boots – the first new shoes he’d ever owned. Free haircuts and dental care were also provided.

Other people recounted older relatives’ memories of the effects on little towns when the monthly family remittance arrived. It was as though the circus had come to town. People paid off their bills at the local store and the kids could perhaps enjoy a Coke or an ice-cream, Coca Cola “…bein’ but a nickel (5c) in them hard times”, my friend remembered his mother saying, while the womenfolk could stock up on “notions” – needles, thread, etc. – and other small household items.

The great Dust Bowl

What became known as the Dust Bowl was a prolonged period of severe dust storms that ripped through the North American prairies during the 1930s, exacerbating the ravages of the Great Depression. Three periods of severe drought – 1934, 1936 and 1939– 40 – made worse by the farming methods of the time that triggered extensive erosion of the wind-swept prairie were the main causes.

The rapid mechanisation of farm equipment during the 20s and 30s had contributed to farmers’ decisions to convert the arid grassland of the Great Plains, much of it with an average annual rainfall of about 250mm, to cropping. With little understanding of the Plains’ ecology, they carried out extensive deep ploughing of the virgin topsoil, displacing the deep-rooted native grasses that normally trapped soil and moisture, even during drought and periods of high winds.

Dust_Bowl_-_Dallas,_South_Dakota_1936 copy
Abandoned homestead, 1936 —Photo Public Domain

During the droughts of the 1930s, the exposed and broken soil turned to fine, black dust which the prevailing winds blew away in huge, choking clouds, often blackening the sky. Named “black blizzards” or “black rollers”, they travelled as far as the east-coast cities. Out on the plains, they often reduced visibility to a metre or less. One terrible result of these storms was popularly known as the “dust pneumonia”, an often-fatal lung infection in humans and animals brought on by inhaling the fine, black dust.

Affecting 400,000squ/km, the disaster was centred on the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, and touched adjacent sections of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. In many cases having been loaned money by shonky financiers on terms impossible to meet – welcome to the GFC – and unable to pay their mortgages or grow crops to sustain themselves, tens of thousands of poverty-stricken families were forced off their farms. By 1936, losses had reached $25 million per day. Many of these families migrated to California and other states in search of work on the fruit and vegetable farms, only to find that the Depression had affected economic conditions there almost as badly as in the places they had left.

Between 1930 and 1940, approximately 3.5 million people left the Plains states; in one year alone, over 86,000 of them went to California, more than during the 1849 gold rush. They abandoned homesteads in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico, but were often simply referred to as “Okies”, “Arkies” or “Texies”.

Hey Okie, have you seen Arkie,
Tell him Tex has got a job for him,
Out in Californee
Diggin’ up gold;
All he needs is a shovel.
Chorus:
He’ll be lucky if he finds himself a place to live,
But there’ll be orange juice fountains flowin’ for those kids of his.
Hey Okie, have you seen Arkie,
Tell him Tex has got a job for him,
Out in Californee
—”Okie” song from the Great Depression

Greatly expanded government participation in land management and soil conservation was an important outcome from the disaster. During Franklin D Roosevelt’s first 100 days in office in 1933, his administration moved swiftly, initiating soil conservation programs and that year establishing the Soil Erosion Service, later renamed the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) and brought under the umbrella of the Department of Agriculture.

To identify areas that needed attention, the SCS produced detailed soil maps and took aerial photographs. To create shelterbelts to reduce soil erosion, the Prairie States Forestry Project planted trees on private lands, and the Resettlement Administration encouraged small-farm owners in drier parts of the Plains to resettle elsewhere.

As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives, Congress in 1936 passed and Act requiring landowners to share allocated government subsidies with their farm labourers to restore parity of farm and non-farm incomes to what it had been in the first decades of the 20th century. To stabilise prices, the government ordered the slaughter of 6,000,000 pigs, compensating farmers and paying to have the meat packed and distributed to the poor and hungry. The Federal Service Relief Corporation (FSRC) was established to regulate crop and other surpluses.

Roosevelt, in one of his addresses, stated:

“Let me make one other point clear for the benefit of the millions in cities who have to buy meats. Last year the nation suffered a drought of unparalleled intensity. If there had been no Government program, if the old order had obtained in 1933 and 1934, that drought on the cattle ranges of America and in the corn belt would have resulted in the marketing of thin cattle, immature hogs and the death of these animals on the range and on the farm, and if the old order had been in effect those years, we would have had a vastly greater shortage than we face today. Our program – we can prove it – saved the lives of millions of head of livestock. They are still on the range, and other millions of heads are today canned and ready for this country to eat.”

The FSRC diverted agricultural commodities to relief organisations. Fruit, vegetables, tinned beef, flour, pork products and cotton goods to feed and clothe the needy were distributed through local relief channels. In 1935, the federal government formed an agency to coordinate relief activities. It bought cattle in designated emergency areas for $14 to $20 a head. Animals determined unfit for human consumption were killed – initially more than 50 percent in the hardest-hit areas – and the remainder used in food distribution to families nationwide. Although farmers were often reluctant to surrender their herds, the program helped many of them avoid bankruptcy. Many could not afford to keep their cattle, and the government price was better than they could get at local sales.

President Roosevelt ordered the CCC to plant a huge belt of trees – more than 200 million of them, creating almost 29,000 km of windbreaks on some 30,000 farms between the US–Canada border and the Texas Panhandle. It would break the persistent prairie wind, hold water in the soil, and hold the soil itself in place. The administration also began farmer education in soil conservation and anti-erosion measures including crop rotation, strip farming, contour ploughing and terracing.

In 1937, the government began campaigning aggressively to encourage farmers in the Dust Bowl to adopt these new soil conservation measures, paying reluctant farmers a dollar an acre to try the new methods. By 1938, these massive conservation efforts had reduced the amount of blowing soil by nearly two-thirds. But the land still failed to yield a decent living, until in the autumn of 1939, after nearly a decade of dirt and dust, the drought ended when regular rains at last returned to most of the region. However, the government still encouraged the continued use of conservation methods to protect the soil and ecology of the Plains.

*”The donkey” refers to the mule used as a party emblem by the Democrats, Republicans use the elephant.

Want to hear the common view? The New Lost City Ramblers Songs of the Great Depression, Library of Congress. The songs and writings of Woody Guthrie

 

and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, all provide great insight

 

to the lives of the common people of the time.

A letter to Norway


Cliff_overlooking_sea_-_Great_Australian_Bight_Commonwealth_Marine_Reserve

Cliff overlooking the Southern Ocean: Great Australian Bight Commonwealth Marine Reserve —Photo: HeyJude70/Wikipedia Commons

 

Frank Povah
Australia
February 7th, 2019

To the editor, and the people of Norway:

I am writing to you to express my alarm that your national petroleum company, Statoil, has recently taken up a drilling licence relinquished by the petroleum giant BP. This licence is for the right to undertake seismic testing and probably oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight, where southern Australia meets the pristine waters of the Southern Ocean.

The Bight’s coast – 1 160 km as the Wandering Albatross flies – is characterised by ancient, cliffs up to 60 metres and more high; behind them lies the vast expanse of the Nullarbor Plain, 200 000 squ/km of virtually uninhabited karst as flat as a table and absolutely treeless. At the western end of the Bight, “king waves” can break over the tops of these cliffs.

The Bight’s waters are home to 36 species of whale and dolphin and are the world’s largest calving ground for the Southern Right Whale, an endangered species numbering about 7 000 individuals and slowly recovering from the depredations of whaling. The females calve as close to land as they can get – in areas with beaches they will stay just behind the breakers – without endangering their young. The Bight’s shores are Australia’s most important sea-lion nursery.

Its eastern end harbours the spawning ground of the iconic Giant Cuttlefish and its weed beds are home to seahorses, and Leafy and Weedy Sea Dragons, unique to Australia. At its western end is the world-famous Eyre Bird Observatory. The Bight is also an important fishery.

Seismic exploration will harm many marine creatures, lobsters, scallops and tiny zooplankton among them, not to mention the disturbance created in whale and sea-lion breeding grounds. It will also put at risk the Commonwealth Marine Reserve.

With Australia now assailed by the all-too-real effects of global warming – frequent drought, devastating bushfires and massive fish kills – the last thing it needs is the damage wrought by seismic exploration and the very real possibility of oil spills in waters where they would be very difficult to remediate.

I am 78 years old and it won’t be too long before my time on this most ancient and beautiful continent will come to an end. That is as it should be, for I am part of its Dreaming; its cycle of life, death and renewal. But that today’s children, and their children’s children, will never see my country as I have seen it fills me with great sadness. Can we not save them at least something?

Editor, people of Norway: could not your Statoil find other ways to make money, rather than despoil one of Australia’s great wonders? I will thank you, my country will thank you, and the children of my country will thank you.

Frank Povah

Picture above: Southern Right whale calf just offshore
in Waychinicup National Park, Western Australia
Photo: Gregory ‘Slobirdr’ Smith/Wikipedia Commons

McQuade, you’re not forgotten

Tallarook (pop. ±790), a town  in central Victoria, became infamous in 19th-century Australia as the folk-tale of McQuade’s Curse spread throughout the colonies. Who he was and why he cursed the town  is not known, but the expression “things are crook in Tallarook” is still in use today.

As an Australian disgusted by the way this country is being dragged into the muck by the self-styled “political class” – who do they think they are, these ideology driven egoists who love to boast we are a classless society in which all are entitled to a fair go – I thought Mr McQuade should rise again. Here are a a few stanzas from his wonderful curse:

May every paddock yield a stook, of smutty wheat in Tallarook;
May good St Peter overlook, the good deeds done in Tallarook;
May each Don Juan who forsook, his sweetheart live in Tallarook;

There is also an old “shearer’s curse”:

May the Lord above, send down a dove,
With wings as sharp as razors;
To cut the throat, of the heartless goat,
Who lowered shearers’ wages.

I homage to these unknown  battlers I’d like to add these lines (the latter first):

May the powers that be who stiffened me, by cutting my aged pension,
Be caged for all eternity, on Manus in detention.

And now back to McQuade

May those who pray in Scomo’s flock find heaven is a barren rock;
May those who on dull Dutton dote, be roundly swiven by a goat;
May all who marked the Hanson chit, spend eternity neck-deep in shit;
May all who preach mad Abbott’s lies, spend their lives ingesting flies.

Scomo is Scott Morrison, a smug, born-again Pentecostal and member of the Liberal Party and treasurer in the Liberal/National Coalition government. If it’s only his lot that are going up to heaven, why is he pretending to be running the economy for all Australians?

Dutton is Peter Dutton (Liberal Party). Seemingly bloodless and devoid of any human emotion, he now heads the new Department of Home Affairs, a super-portfolio covering immigration, national security and what else only Old Harry knows. Among the troops at his command are those of Border Force, a new body, whose name and B-grade US TV cop drama uniforms are down to

Tony Abbot (Liberal Party), failed seminarian, failed prime minister. Once known as the Mad Monk he is the right-wing Christian’s Christian. His antics and Putinesque dress sense would be funny if it were not for the position he holds, and are too well known to bear repeating here, but suffice it to say that he once turned up for a meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister dressed in a Lycra urban Olympian bikerider outfit and wheeling a pushbike.

Hanson is Pauline Hanson, a self-styled patriot who was first elected to Parliament on a platform of stripping Indigenous Australians of what rights they have managed to regain, and holding back the Asian hordes massing in some unspecified lair to overwhelm Australia and breed us out of existence. She didn’t last long the first time round, but in the most recent election made a comeback on a platform of stopping Sharia law, banning the burqua and halal food, and suppressing the spread of scientists’ lies about climate change. Believing the royalties raised by brands bearing halal certification are used to fund terrorism, she asked a witness during a Senate inquiry into the matter whether or not it was true that cows were alive before they were killed. She also urged Australians to buy non-halal Easter eggs.

Manus and Nauru are small Pacific islands on which “boat people” escaping oppressive regimes are illegally detained in concentration camps. The present government justifies this on moral grounds by claiming they are “stopping the drownings at sea”. The policy, backed by the Labor Opposition, is turning Australia into an international pariah.

And a note to our US cousins, “Liberal” in Australian equates to Republican in your country and, like that party, is increasingly hostage to the backward forces within the party. I refuse to use the word conservative, properly defined as moderate; avoiding extremes.