So, whose culture is under attack in Australia?

“Ah white man, have you any sacred sites?”

Poems by Denis Kevans, Australia’s Poet Lorikeet. (1939–2005)

The announcement by the traditional owners and the Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park Board that climbing Uluru (officially Uluru/Ayers Rock) will be officially prohibited from October 26th this year, has prompted a rush of tourists intent on climbing this globally recognised natural feature, sacred to the Pitjantjatjara Anangu for at least 300 generations.

This isn’t surprising, given the wailing and gnashing of teeth rising from the ranks of Australians – latter day would-be Nazis among them – who are convinced that their “white culture” and “Christian beliefs” are under attack from everyone everywhere including, but not confined to, the United Nations, various halal certification boards, and a race of shape-shifting lizards of interplanetary origin who control the world financial system and appear to humans as Jews.

There have been reports of parents dragging small children with them as they attempted the climb – one couple even leaving an eight-year-old unattended at Uluru’s base while they did so – and rangers and others complain of people camping in prohibited areas and dumping rubbish and “black water” from campervan and caravan toilets and waste-water tanks all over the landscape.

Pauline Hanson, is vocal in her support of these culture warriors. And why wouldn’t she be? She has after all claimed that she is an Indigenous woman, having been born in Australia. Some might dispute her understanding of the term, but it is fairly obvious that dictionaries of any sort have never been high on her reading list. Her political party, such as it now is, has also expressed support, though thankfully its voice in our Parliaments is now more of a bleat than a loud croak.

As I said, none of this is surprising, but it is – or should be – a great source of shame to us as a nation; a shame amplified by the deafening silence emanating from the supposed leaders of the country. It would be a great thing if a Greta Thunberg, a Joan of the Rock, could rise to organise a sit-in at Uluru until the ban takes effect, or the nation comes to its senses. A thousand or so people assembled at the base of the climb chanting “shame, shame, shame” during daylight hours would be a wondrous thing, though it’s Sydney to the bush-On that the Northern Territory police would wade in. It was, you might remember, the NT government that boycotted the handback ceremony and vowed to rename the sacred feature “Ayers Rock” if and when the Territory attains statehood.

I’d probably be unable to attend such a sit-in – and I’m happy to explain why to anyone who cares – which distresses me a bit, but there is another great Australian tradition to which I can and will resort. In the days of our Colonial past, a swaggie named McQuade, for reasons now unknown, penned a curse on the Victorian town of Tallarook, and I’d like to invoke his spirit in the belief that being a self-professed Christian white person (usually male), doesn’t automatically endow some sort of Divine Right to trample on the beliefs and lives of others.

Over the ages, many cultures have developed forms of social punishment that don’t necessarily entail physical violence. The earliest Icelandic Althing (Parliament) once banished people from society for certain transgressions, cursing them as “far as an eagle may fly with a fair wind uplifting both wings” and “for as long as there are men to hunt wolves” according to one writer whose name now escapes me.

The English have long had transgressors “sent to Coventry“, imposing drastic social ostracism on individuals, a tradition so old that its origins are lost, and trade unionists’ hostility to scab labour sees the offenders and their families “blacked”, sometimes for generations. And there are some cultures that completely deny the existence of those who sin against them.

So, to all you sad, soul-less seekers of self-gratification, you arch-bastards who, through a misguided belief that your interests and personal ambitions including those as petty and meaningless as the need to upload a selfie, override all else, here’s a message:

When you come down from Uluru, that place which to you is just a rock put there for your enjoyment, think about what you have done. If you could hear, you might note the sound of distant weeping. If you could feel, you might sense the ancient earth, the red rust of mountains worn by time to sand and the keeping place for the bones of 2000 and more generations.

But you won’t hear or feel these things. There will never be a breeze gentle enough to cool you, nor a tree kind enough to shade you. No sunset will ever promise you a balmy night, no sunrise ever promise rain. The night skies will be dull to you and the glory of the universe closed to you. Birds will no longer sing for you; ravens and crows will not speak of you, and even Tjerit-tjerit, the Willy Wagtail, will spread no gossip of you.

The flowers will dull for you and no dew shall ever soften the summer grass through which you might wish to walk. The wind will never be at your back and all the paths before you will be stone.

You will exist only in your own mind and the world will have no memory of you, for you will never have been.

Photo credits
Top: Panorama of Uluru by Stuart Edwards/Wikipedia
People on Uluru: Uluru Climb by ennekapeapeon [Nathalie Kafurt]/Instagram

PM or Pentecostal? Morrison can’t be both.

Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out,
And they roll and they jump and they shout;
‘Give your money to Jesus,’ they say,
‘You will eat on that glorious day’.

Chorus:
You will eat, by and by,
In that glorious land in the sky;
Hope and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.
—A verse and chorus from “Pie in the sky when you die”.
From the IWW song book, c. 1930s

At first glance it would seem that almost overnight we have found ourselves in the same political predicament as that in which the US became well and truly ensnared as the influence of the salvation-for-money preachers grew and grew. However, the net was cast long before that.

When in the 1890s Australia’s Constitution was being drafted, the churches began a campaign of petitions calling for prayers to be made part of the daily ritual of parliament, though they were not always used in the various colonial parliaments.

The adherence to the custom waxed and waned until the election of the Coalition government under John Howard in 1996, from which time the influence of extremist Christian doctrine seems to have increased. Visits to Hillsong – the largest, wealthiest and noisiest Pentecostal church in Australasia – by both Liberal treasurer Peter Costello and Labor leader Kevin Rudd during the 2007 election campaign suggest that both major parties were already feeling the need to pander to the Pentecostal movement. The rise to prime ministership of Scott Morrison, a practicing Pentecostal who has publicly professed his faith on more than one occasion including in the People’s Parliament, reinforces this view.

Now everyone is entitled to their faith and the practice thereof, no matter how bizarre it may appear to non-believers, there’s no arguing that. But when that faith impinges on human rights and the law of the land, then serious questions must be asked.  And Australian law often sides with human rights over religious or quasi-religious practice.

In 2018, a Victorian court ruled that the mother of a teenage girl could not refuse permission to allow blood transfusions for her pregnant daughter on the grounds that the procedure was forbidden by their religious cult, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many years before, a West Australian court had ruled in favour of a child whose Witness parents had forbidden it to receive the procedure that would save its life. And very few people of any faith would defend the right to mutilate young girls’ genitals on religious grounds; indeed, there are those who question the legitimacy of circumcision of male children as a religious practice.

However, we may soon find ourselves having to defend our long-cherished humanist approach. Recent court rulings in the USA have demonstrated the influence the noisy, cash-heavy minority of Fundamentalist and other related Christian sects – or cults, the distinction is blurred – can bring to bear on State legislatures in that country. Their Australian equivalent, their roots and philosophies largely in the US and with a fellow-traveller in the Prime Minister’s office, will soon find their voices.

Already, in what appears to be a rush to salvation for the sake of a seat in Parliament and good standing among the Christian extremists in the People’s House, the Deputy Prime Minister has assured farmers he prays for rain every day and exhorted us all to pray more often. Not to be outdone and with no apparent sense of the ironic, his predecessor has suddenly leaped to the defence of the righteous.

Referring to Israel Folau’s recent sacking by the NRL, Barnaby Joyce was quoted in The Age of May 29th as saying: “Your own views on who god is, where god is or whether there’s a god should remain your own personal views and not part of any contractual obligation.”

That is largely true, but the key word here is “personal”. Surely an employer has the right to insist an employee – or contractor – refrain from language or behaviour that might bring the organisation or business into disrepute? A reasonable adult might argue that you’d have to believe in hell – or a vengeful god for that matter – for Folau’s words to have any effect. But that argument doesn’t wash if you’re a vulnerable youngster.

On the surface, this might appear all froth and bubble, but it is far more sinister. We now have at our head a Prime Minister who, by his own affirmation, is a practicing Pentecostal, a believer in miracles, one whose tenets of faith include the belief that prosperity is a gift of the Pentecostal god and those who fail to prosper do so because that god has shunned them, and so are by definition ungodly.

As a Pentecostal, our new Prime Minister believes that he was chosen as such because it was divine will that he lead the nation. He also believes that drought and climate change are the result of his deity’s displeasure and therefore must be endured.

For a committed Pentecostal, the results of human inaction on the climate crisis are of no consequence; it is all part of the god’s plan and The true believer waits for the day when all will be swept away in preparation for the second coming and none but they will be saved. Protestant, Catholic, Muslim – no matter; all but Pentecostals will perish. And while they await “The Rapture”, the PM and other true believers in the Party and community will be showered with wealth and happiness, oblivious to the torments endured by the ungodly.

At the risk of being thought a cynic, perhaps Morrison may not really believe all this, perhaps he is just using the pretence of “faith” to further his worldly ambitions; after all, Christianity has long been honoured more in the breach than in the observance. And that, in some quarters, might be seen as even worse – religious fervour replaced by opportunistic hypocrisy on a grand scale.

Conversely, perhaps he dreams of a day when the Pentecostals rule the world, revelling in the prosperity of righteousness while the ungodly Opposition (and many in his own Party), the unsaved aged and infirm, the sinning disadvantaged and despairing writhe in the torments of the damned.

Of course, I may be misjudging the man. He may genuinely be “burning” to see us all saved – whether we want it or not – though I seriously doubt it, and even that breaches the convention governing separation of Church and State.

Whichever it may be, Morrison needs to let the country know. He is supposed to be governing for the majority, not some blessed elite.

A small matter of water, and headless chooks

Grey box (Eucalyptus microcarpa) woodland, an increasingly scarce ecotype.
Photo Ecolink/Colleen Miller

THERE WAS a revealing interview on ABC Radio’s RN Drive recently. On Friday 24, May, presenter Patricia Karvelas spoke to James McTavish, the NSW Government’s Regional Town Water Supply Coordinator, about the deepening crisis facing towns throughout the State. Mr McTavish told those of us who don’t already know it that towns as far apart as Dubbo and Tenterfield, Bourke and Molong, are facing real problems as water supplies rapidly diminish and restrictions bite deeper.

He told listeners what some of the problems are – the drought figuring significantly – but unfortunately was a bit light on any long-term solutions. To be fair, he was fronting for a government and, generally speaking, state and federal governments have never been too keen on long-term planning that might affect their election prospects.

There was the usual mention of new dams and the sinking of bores to augment water supplies. Carting in water to some places was also mentioned, but as James McTavish pointed out, carting water to a place like Tenterfield would be inordinately expensive and at best a stop-gap measure.

Mr McTavish also reminded listeners that not only farmers and rural towns are affected; industries in the regions are also at risk. He cited the case of Cobar, a mining town that relies on water pumped from the Bogan River at Nyngan. The mines are the largest user of water in the town and both the mines and township will face severe downturns if the supply is restricted.

Strawberry growers around Stanthorpe, a town in the “Granite Belt” just north of Tenterfield and over the Queensland border, are facing financial hardship as water becomes scarcer. During a recent interview, one grower said a solution was to grow the berries hydroponically under cover, a method that uses, and wastes, less water. However, he noted that present returns on the crop don’t justify the expense of such infrastructure. “People will pay $6 for a Big Mac,” he said, “but if the price of a punnet of strawberries goes above $3, they won’t buy them.”

However, neither the grower nor the interviewer mentioned that the horticultural industry regularly ploughs-in or dumps hundreds, sometimes thousands of tonnes of crops if market prices are low.

Just days later, Sydney Water announced that the NSW capital’s water supply – or rather lack of it – was cause for concern.

Again, the bulk of the problem was laid at the feet of the drought. Of course, there is no denying that we are in drought, and for farmer and townie alike it is hard to see past the lack of rain when you are being forced to de-stock or your cherished garden is dying. But is it just the drought and are there solutions, long-term ones?

Drought has our attention because it’s an obvious factor, but there are other things driving the water shortages. Sinking bores to augment water supplies may bring immediate, temporary relief, but in the long term will cause more problems. Most groundwater sources require flooding rivers and good rainfall to replenish them, and they have always been scarce and unreliable commodities in Australia, a continent with the world’s most erratic climate. Groundwater used now may take decades – perhaps centuries – to replenish even if used sparingly. Given the now irrefutable effects of the worsening climate crisis, we have no guarantees either way.

River systems everywhere are suffering badly from misuse, over-extraction and downright mismanagement over the decades and the result is now plain for all to see. What floods do occur are mostly sudden and violent, but long, dry spells are becoming more the norm. The “Bradfield Scheme”, a much-discredited plan to dam tropical rivers and divert their waters into the deserts, is again getting air time – as are proposals to tap “fossil aquifers” in the tropical north.

The lush, sub-tropical north of NSW was in drought until recently, and over the Top End, this year’s monsoon was almost a non-event; This at a time when Darwin authorities are expressing concern over the depletion of groundwater supplies in parts of the city. Our “southern” monsoon has never been as reliable as the rains further north, and even those are now becoming more erratic. In fact, there are fears that changes in Himalaya ice cover and other factors will eventually lead to the failure of the northern monsoon, with catastrophic results for a sizeable chunk of the world’s population, not to mention the global economy and migratory pressures on other regions.

The pity is that the writing has been on the wall for decades, but those who tried to draw attention to it were at best ignored and at worst pilloried and ridiculed. If Australia – and the world – had begun action thirty years ago, then the task ahead would have been easier and the costs spread over a longer period, but that window has closed. Action is required now, and nations are going to have to cooperate as never before in human history. What can Australia do?

The irrigation industry obviously needs an overhaul, along with regulation of the crops grown. It his hard to argue a case for growing crops requiring vast amounts of water – crops such as almonds, wine grapes, cotton and rice – in marginal country on a continent that sits mainly in the Tropic Arid Zone. Yet we do, and in huge quantities. Sadly, the huge increases in plantings of almonds, and to a lesser extent, wine grapes, are, like the national obsession with coffee, in response to a created demand.

Irrigation on the scale at which it is now practiced is unsustainable in this country; dryland cropping and grazing are really the only viable alternatives when it comes to broadacre farming. Aided by scientific research and a growing acceptance of Indigenous land-management techniques, Australia’s farmers and graziers have made an enormous contribution to alleviating, and in some cases almost reversing, the damage done in the past.

Governments at all levels also need to step up; farmers cannot be expected to address the problems of over-clearing and land degradation alone. Reforestation is of vital importance to future drought management strategies and to combat the climate crisis. Remediation projects on an imaginative scale should be viewed as infrastructure projects that would employ many thousands of people. Rather than stigmatising such national efforts as “work for the dole” schemes, they should be promoted as works of national importance.

If we rely on our dryland farmers to produce exports and feed the nation, then insurance must be looked at. Insurance providers are already factoring in the climate crisis and governments must enter into dialogue to ensure our farmers are equitably treated. Funding to the CSIRO must be restored as a matter of national urgency, and the BOM must be adequately resourced.

 And while we wring our hands over dwindling water resources and the plight of farmers, governments continue to issue exploration permits for coal-seam gas exploration and other extractive industries that disrupt or render unusable the water resources on which our agricultural and pastoral industries rely. Political parties praise our “clean green” agriculturalists, weep crocodile tears over the “bush battlers” and “pray for rain” at every photo opportunity, then chide groups such as the Knitting Nannas and Lock The Gate Alliance for trying to protect the resources on which agriculture depends.

The water from town treatment plants needs to be utilised. Adelaide’s “Green Belt” has long been sustained by recycled water, and this is something that should be repeated all over Australia – and not only in the capitals. Smaller centres could be assisted in establishing combined aquaculture and horticulture enterprises based on waste water and other imaginative projects.

Politicians are now carping over the costs of mitigating the climate crisis: “We must reduce emissions but not at the expense of the economy”, is often repeated. If we don’t act now, all else becomes irrelevant. The crisis we are facing is far-reaching and real. Most politicians were silent about the costs of following the USA into Vietnam and Iraq – futile exercises of absolutely no benefit to anybody except perhaps the warlords who control the military-industrial complex – yet it seems that the climate crisis is of lesser importance than the whims of US Presidents.

What now of our future?

This was written for my weekly page in the Molong Express of 23rd May, 2019. It reflects my own views and not necessarily those of either the Molong Express or any other person associated with that paper

Lake Nanine, Western Australia. Once rich in fish and birdlife, the climate crisis and overuse have taken their toll on Nanine – and most of WA’s lakes

Well, the election is for the most part done and dusted and the country is awash with recriminations and back-slapping, with gloating and the gnashing of teeth. The most surprising thing about this election is that the outcome was in large part decided by three very rich, very selfish men whose views on the distribution of wealth just happened to coincide with those of their front man and now the elected Prime Minister. But there are no winners.

Clive Palmer may have achieved his goal of blocking a Labor victory and at the same time guaranteeing he will gain approval for a vast coalmine in Queensland, and the father-and-son team who have all but total control of Australia’s media may have once again proved to themselves and their hangers-on that they are among the world’s most powerful men and answerable to no-one, but they still find themselves in the same leaky boat to which they have likely condemned the rest of us.

Australia has been sentenced to another three years of inaction on the crisis now facing the world. Even if the new government goes to the polls early – over the past 25 years the average time between elections has been 27.5 months – time that could have been spent in mitigating some of the effects of global heating will have been wasted. Time we can ill afford.

The Coalition has already wasted six valuable years, six years spent in argument among its members. The Biblical brigade fought the more progressive bloc over same-sex marriage; members of all factions fought over the climate crisis; the coal at all costs Lignites argued against renewable energy while we experienced the hottest summers on record, rivers ran dry and ordinary citizens donated to farmers whose lives were being crushed by drought. And in the eight months leading up to the election, the People’s House sat for less than a month, largely so the government could avoid scrutiny according to many commentators.

And nothing has changed. The climate crisis has slipped back down the agenda – not that either of the two main parties were really serious about it in the first place – and the government will soon be back to blaming the “latté-sipping city dwellers” for alarming their beloved “battlers”. This conveniently ignores the fact that voters in most blue-ribbon seats would fall in the former category and the latter will continue to be denied penalty rates, meaningful training and, for the unemployed among them, an increase in the unemployment allowance – benefit is too generous a word.

Nationally, we must get our head out of the sand. All the legislation in the world becomes meaningless if the climate crisis is not addressed but this is unlikely to happen. The Coalition seems hell bent on following the lead of the USA in allowing a noisy minority of climate change deniers and born-again Christians, aided and abetted by the very forces that have pulled the rug out from under the “middle classes”, to dictate policy.

A US political commentator once said that when America doesn’t have a war it needs to start one, so great is the political influence of the military-industrialists. Donald Trump seems to be drooling at the prospect of a stoush with Iran, and if he plunges the US into yet another futile conflict, then it’s London to a brick-on that our government will follow him. And it’s not only the industrialists who will celebrate. Fundamentalist and evangelical Christians all over the world, Australia included, would rejoice at the approaching “End Times”, the end-vision of Christian Dominionism made real.

If there is an invasion of Iran, there will be another exodus of refugees at a time when the world is awash with the displaced and desperate. Someone once said that communism flourishes where there are empty bellies. To this I’d add that terrorism flourishes where there is despair and injustice. When the ranks of those displaced by war are swollen by those uprooted by the climate crisis, it will be almost too late to act; governments may be all but powerless against the tide of human misery unless they all join in cooperation, and given the present mood, there seems little likelihood of that happening.

The climate crisis must be addressed now, yet already we see that the government cannot act on any of its election promises until the new financial year. Financial legislation will dominate Parliament for weeks or months after that and it will be another six months at best before our most pressing emergency is even mentioned.

We are in danger of alienating our young people even more than we already have. Worldwide they are demonstrating by their actions that they fear the future they are being left, and soon they will become angry.

And who could blame them?

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.

Suffer The Little Children

Written at the height of public interest in Australia’s Royal Commission into the institutional abuse of children

For the first couple of lines I wish to acknowledge my admiration of Joe Hill, who influenced them.
Your altars are of marble, your plate of beaten gold,
But your souls are of base metal and your hearts are stony cold;
Your bells are cast of finest bronze and they peal your man-god’s name,
But all the bells in all the world can’t drown out years of pain.

Gentle jesus meek and mild, look upon this weeping child
Please let me die before I wake…

You march to your salvation, with tambourine and drum,
And say you’ll be uplifted on a day that’s yet to come;
On judgment day you will be saved, and bathed in holy light,
While those that you have raped and flogged remain in dreadful night.

Onward christian soldiers, marching as to war
With the cross of Jesus, crushing all before

You took the dark-skinned children, and stole both tongue and mind,
Defiled their bodies and their souls and left just shells behind;
You scoured the streets of England for the children of the poor,
And gave them into slavery, then locked and barred the door.

Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world;
Black, yellow brown and white, they are precious in his sight

At least that’s what your hymnals say, the ones you make them read,
To sing your holy songs of praise, to spread your blighted creed;
But all the hymns and all the psalms, shouted at the sky,
Will not erase the wrong you’ve done, and know that when you die

Washed in the blood of the lamb

Your prayers and praise of jesus’ name, your blinding faith in god,
Won’t serve to straighten out the path, the crooked road you trod;
It seems a pity, really, that one day you will die,
For if you lived for ever, you might just learn to cry.

Your father, who art in heaven;
Blackened is his name