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

Drongos, dogs and Depp

DeppJohnny Depp has been generating a lot of free publicity back home in the US. Free for him that is – Australia is paying for it.

You might remember that in April of this year Mr Depp and his wife, Amber Heard – or is it “then wife”, I don’t really follow what passes for the lives of film and TV stars – brought their two pampered mongs, Pistol and Boo, on a little jaunt to Australia where their daddy was filming yet another blockbuster aimed at children and adults under 15. Problem was, Mr and Ms Depp didn’t bother getting the paperwork done that would allow their trend-setting ornaments to enter our country.

They might have pulled it off if their pups weren’t so desperately in need of a grooming after their gruelling flight from the USA in a private jet that they had to be innocently smuggled in a handbag to a dog beautician. And would you believe it? Some lousy Australian provincial dobbed them in.

Enter The Honourable Barnaby Joyce, MP, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. Barnaby is also leader of The Nationals, a right-wing minor party with a rural power base, though now increasingly dancing to the fiddles of mining and agribusiness interests and alienating many of the younger generation of farmers, the constituency it purports to serve.

The Hon. B Joyce is not stupid – despite what Mr Depp thinks – though he could be Joycedescribed, and not too unfairly, as about half way between oaf and buffoon on a sliding scale of such things. But he is informed, politically savvy, knows his constituents and most importantly is the Minister for Agriculture charged not only with looking after the interests of what is arguably our most important industry, but also with keeping Australia safe from many of the ills that beset agriculture in the rest of the world. Among diseases of mammals, rabies, foot and mouth disease and rinderpest are absent, while anthrax, next to foot and mouth perhaps the most feared of all, is confined to one small area and there has not been an outbreak in years. That is why we are very zealous about our quarantine laws and swift to act when they are breached.

Barnaby does suffer from frequent outbreaks of foot-in-mouth disease, being prone to opening his mouth before his brain is in gear, but in this case he meant well and acted properly, even if his tone was a little florid. He does have the power to order the destruction of animals or plants that might be harbouring exotic diseases, but in the case of the dogs Depp there would, I am sure, have been regard for the fact that as far as was known, they hadn’t been in contact with other animals, Mr Depp aside. A proper court hearing would have been held, a hefty fine imposed, a warning issued, an order to take the dogs from the country immediately, and that would have been that. Neither did the attitude of the Celebrity Depp help.

And here at last I come to the root cause of my outrage. None of this happened. Why? Because Mr Depp is a celebrity and therefore above the rules that govern the poor bastards who made him rich and famous among what appear to be hordes of barely pubescent, Hollywood gossip-website addicted children.

I am not famous and neither am I a celebrity. That is why, when I returned to Australia after five years in the US, the three cats I brought back with me – at a cost of about $18,000 – could not even be picked up from the house without paperwork allowing them to leave the USA, let alone enter Australia. When they got here, they spent three months in quarantine before I could take them to their new home. If the paperwork had not been done, they would never have left the States. If by some chance they had got to Australia without those papers, I would have faced a fine in the tens of thousands and the cats destroyed.

So how did Amber Heard – not Depp, he wasn’t charged with anything – get away with a “three-month good behavior bond”? And, like all true celebrities, when their crime was uncovered (yes, it was a crime, punishable at law) the Disdainful Duo immediately blamed an underling who they “thought had done all that stuff”.

To add arrogance to insult, the Depp/Heard combo made a clip for TV in which they “apologised” and said what a “wonderful place” Australia was. The film was dripping with sarcasm badly disguised as satire, which I doubt they understand anyway.

Ever since, poor put upon Depp has been doing the rounds of the TV channels back home, raising heaps of laughs for his cleverness and wit and his opinion of mere Deputy Prime Ministers of countries who would seek to criticise people of his elevated status.

One replay I saw last night took the cake. The host, proving that his ignorance of the wider world was equally as profound as Depp’s, raised heaps of laughs by noting that Australia’s laws are as stupid as America’s. Depp flashed his wit and scientific acumen by noting that Joyce looked like he was inbred with a tomato and he thought he would explode. Great stuff. Inbred? The result of a cross you mean? Ah, what’s the bloody use.

I hold no brief for The Hon. Barnaby Joyce, MP – in fact I hate his guts in the way that you hate a politician’s guts not really meaning him any harm, but I’d like to put y’all straight here. I don’t know if Depp occupies the same spot on the oaf/buffoon scale as Barnaby Joyce, I’ve never spoken to him, but he is a celebrity – and that’s something that if I had a daughter I wouldn’t want her to marry. He is a mug lair, with a head like a boarding-house cup of tea, i.e. big and weak.

He has insulted me. Despite my dislike of the system and the often mindless authority that greases its cogs, I’m clever enough to know there is need for some of it and so strive to do the right thing.

He has insulted one of my grandfathers – a member of Australia’s Light Horse (mounted infantry) during WWI – and his thousands of comrades-in-arms who at the end of the war had to shoot the horses that had served them so well and faithfully during those terrible years, because they couldn’t take them home and wouldn’t leave them to be starved and beaten in hawkers’ carts.

He has insulted the USA and its people by acting as though he is above Australian law, though I’d like to remind my fellow Australians that he’s probably equally as obnoxious back home.

And he has insulted my country by thinking that it is his part of his own personal fiefdom, to act in as he pleases.

But what makes me really angry is the fact that both major political parties in this country support legislation that treats refugees like criminals, condemning children, women and men to life in what are to all intents and purposes concentration camps in foreign countries. Even if they are proven to have legitimate refugee status, they will not be allowed to settle in Australia, but will be given the “opportunity” to settle in countries such as Cambodia and Papua New Guinea. Failing that, they will be returned to the hell from which they fled – a hell in large part created by military actions in the Middle East in which Australian troops were ordered by their government to participate. We deny these people, but allow the Johnny Depps of this world open access. Hope y’all gits bit by a rabid ’coon, John-boy.

 

A quick guide to Australia’s main political parties and the environment within which they operate

The Nationals is in reality a minor party – it gets many fewer votes than the Australian Greens – but Australia’s preferential voting system keeps it in government in coalition with the Liberal Party, whose name is increasingly an oxymoron, thanks to the influence of the flat-earthers who worship the unlamented ex-Prime Minister, Tony “Mad Monk” Abbott, a copped-one-punch-too-many amateur boxer, failed seminarian, serial groper, misogynist, xenophobe, racist, England-born all-round wanker who favours Lycra and budgie smugglers as informal wear, and reintroduced knighthoods. He only handed out three – one to the Jook-Embruh would you bloodywell believe – before the outraged howls of the vast majority seemed to herald a tar and feathering, causing him to desist. I say ex, because Tony was so hated by Australians of all stripes that the multi-millionaire, Malcolm Turnbull did a Brutus on him in September of 2015 and took over as PM.

Malcolm Turnbull was seen by many – well most – as a breath of fresh air. The Libs were elected after a few years of inner turmoil saw the governing Labor Party voted out of office. As an aside, it was a constant bombardment of vicious attacks on Australia’s first female Prime Minister orchestrated by the Mad Monk and his allies that was responsible for much of that turmoil. Parliamentary protocols were thrown aside, vile accusations and statements were made about the PM which, if she had been a private citizen, would have seen the slobs who made them in court charged with sexual harassment, libel, slander and probably a few other things beside.

So intense was the Monk’s hatred of Julia Gillard that on attaining the office of PM, he scrapped the National Broadband roll-out she had implemented and began a new one. Dubbed “fraud band”, it’s allegedly cheaper (it’s not), and better (it’s not, it’s third rate) and has seen Australia slip from among the best in the world for internet access and efficiency, to below the position the USA held when I was living there. It will not serve us in the future and will be astronomically expensive to rectify. But that doesn’t matter. Abbott got rid of a woman who had the temerity to become PM and to tear strips off him in the best anti-misogyny speech I’ve ever heard.

The Greens? If people could only stop and think, they might come to realise that the Greens are the only voice of reason left in the bleak waste that is Australia’s political landscape. Labor is as deeply in thrall to the giant corporations – miners included – as the Coalition, with the added burden of having to satisfy the trade unions, some sectors of which are as corrupt as any of their political opponents.

Murdoch’s newspapers are shrill, untruthful and downright biased in their support of the Liberal/National Coalition and denunciation of Labor and the Greens, but hate the Greens so much that they actually expressed sympathy for a Labor candidate whom they had previously portrayed in a front page cartoon as a Nazi and against who the Greens are standing. That should tell you something.

Malcolm has turned out to be a dud; “Tony Abbott in a top hat” to quote one politician. He has turned his back on the progressive policies he once espoused and has continued with Abbott’s lunacy for fear that the farther right will rise again and strip him of his position.

Australian politics is Stalinesque in its brutality and, as we the great unwashed have always known but are just being reminded of by the few journalists who have at last decided to kick over the traces, as corrupt as any in the Western World. It has been so since the days of Captain Bligh and the Rum Rebellion when those who owned the rum trade – the New South Wales Corps, the troops charged with policing and protecting – owned the colony and with impunity bought and sold officials at all levels and in all branches from the Governor on down. The owners have changed, but the methods have not.

There is one faint glow on the horizon – there is a sudden and growing rise in the number of those who believe that political donations by vested interests is corruption by another name. Bring it on.

For the non-Australian:
drongo is a backward person, one who never learns or tries.
mong cf mongrel
mug lair a braggart, a show off, an obnoxious person with an over-inflated ego.
copped means to receive and also to accept (as in cop it sweet). Tony Abbott seems to be afflicted by symptoms of boxing-induced brain damage. He has poor coordination, walks with a gait often seen in ex-boxers, and repeats phrases in a way that suggests he has trouble in forming cohesive sentences.
wanker is someone addicted to masturbation. It probably stems from the Victorian belief that “self-pollution” damaged the brain.
budgie smugglers are skimpy swimming trunks, the Speedos worn by lifeguards and some shiny-arsed surfers. Budgies is the Australian name for budgerigar (US parakeet), our smallest native parrot. Wildlife smuggling is a big problem in Australia, our native birds and reptiles are in demand overseas and criminals use all sorts of ruses to smuggle them and their eggs out of the country. Do you get it now?
Jook-Embruh Queen Elizabeth’s husband. The Mad Monk truly justified his nickname when he knighted him.

Depp image: Bidgee. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Bidgee.
Joyce image: Angela George. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Depp#/media/File:JohnnyDeppApr2011.jpg

Memories of elections past and thoughts on healthcare – so what’s changed?

Romney-Vs-Obama-480x342
Image of candidate Romney vs. President Obama: By DonkeyHotey from his flickr photostream and used under creative commons license

Boy, will I be happy when this election is over at last – though I use “happy” with qualifications. If Romney manages to crack it, I’ll be decidedly unhappy, if Obama wins I’ll be relieved more than joyful. Unless of course he at long last begins to assert himself and force the neo-reicht into revealing what they actually are: fascists in Christian investment banker’s clothing, though that’s possibly a tautology.

To touch briefly on last night’s debate, I have to admire Governor Romney. His ability to stand in front of a nation and keep a straight face while contradicting just about every statement he has ever made is just awesome –Mitt the Oxymormon. But he wasn’t lying, one of the commentators on msnbc told us he was merely exercising flexibility. It put me in mind of a former Prime Minister of Australia and admirer of George W Bush, John “Bonsai” Howard who, when it was pointed out that he’d broken more than 100 election “guarantees”, said that they were “non-core promises”.

You may, or may not be interested to know that two opinion polls recently held in Australia revealed that an overwhelming majority prefer President Obama over Romney. Each survey polled 1,000 people and the results in the President’s favour were 72 per cent and 80 per cent. Lest that that seem meaningless, let me say that US trade and foreign policies have a profound effect on Australia, though you never hear about that here, of course.

President Obama could also do worse than have a decko at a recent speech by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in which she attacked the Leader of the Opposition, Tony “The Mad Monk” Abbott, for his sexist attitudes and the misogynistic view held by many members of his party. The Prime Minister held the Parliamentary floor for more than 15 minutes in response to Abbott’s attacks on her links to the Speaker of the House who has been forced to resign over extremely sexist text messages. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say the PM did indeed back the former Speaker’s appointment but The Mad Monk is a close personal friend of that now extremely sorry individual. I’m told by friends back home that the video has gone viral.

How did I get here? What I started out to say was that when this election is at last behind us – I don’t want to think about the aftermath – perhaps I’ll hear less of: “America has the best health-care system in the world”. I’m sorry, but it’s just not true. I owe my life to US medical technology – probably the world’s most advanced – but the system that delivers it – or doesn’t, as the case may be – lags a long way behind that of most developed nations.

I am bringing this up because I’m pissed off about a recently received summary of services for which my insurance provider had relieved me of the need to pay, a service delivered on October 1, 2012. Great, except I haven’t seen a doctor at any time this month. So to save myself a long wait on the phone – and the accompanying blandishments – I decided to register on the website and deal with the enquiry that way. I’m pretty confident on a computer, I have to be, but I couldn’t enter my chosen password. The drop down gave me a list of about eight forbidden characters, so I hadn’t used them, the sidebar told me that I should use a mix of characters, numbers and symbols and I had followed its instructions to the letter (bad pun, sorry), but no joy. A phone call to the help desk informed me I couldn’t use symbols. So much for the website. When I did finally log on, the page I needed was “unavailable at this time”.

Back to the telephone, where I was told the matter would be “looked in to”. In frustration, I called the office of the alleged service provider. The young woman on the other end of the phone assured me that I had indeed seen the doctor on that date but I pointed out that that was impossible and why. She got quite shirty and told me that the good doctor had indeed seen me on October 1 at the hospital in question. On the verge of a dummy spit I retorted that I hadn’t been at that hospital in 12 months and asked was he just getting around to sending out his bills. She looked again: “Oh, it should be 2011 and we have already been paid for that. I’ll pass that on to the lady who deals with things like this.”

We’ve also been confronted with evidence of what appear to be at best billing errors since my brush with the ugly old bastard with the fern hook. One was a large charge for emergency room services which I just did not receive. I went straight from the operating theatre at one hospital to the operating theatre in another (well almost straight, they had to keep me on hold at the local hospital for the best part of a day until a team was available at the hospital in the big city). Others were for doctors who neither my [then]

wife – for the time I was off with the Old Ones in the Milky Way she was constantly at my side – nor I recollect seeing, but it was the emergency room charges that got to us and a couple of other apparent double dips.

We called Medicare, the hospital and the insurance company but the end result was nothing. Medicare and the insurance company intimated that there wasn’t much they could do and the hospital…well there’s a lot I could say about the hospital but perhaps I’ll leave that for another time

The LNP coalition and Labor must go

Both the Liberal/National coalition and the Australian Labor Party have proved themselves unfit to govern Australia and steps should be taken to remove them both from their positions of power. How this might be achieved I don’t profess to know – perhaps by direct appeal to the Crown – and so leave that for others to ponder, but it is my firm belief that while between them they control the destiny of Australia, our future as a country is at stake.

Why? Well to put it bluntly they are incompetent and deliberately obtuse, or both, and a threat to the future of Australia as a continent and a nation. As I have written previously, none of our politicians or their advisers has any real knowledge of Australian history and are seemingly oblivious to events that have occurred in their own lifetimes. What they do know seems to have been gained not by rubbing shoulders with ordinary people, but plucked from corporate press releases and other politicians’ campaign speeches. These reasons alone should condemn them as unfit to govern.

So without professing to have statistics at my fingertips, and nothing much more to guide me other than folk knowledge and strong gut feelings, I’d like to set out my reasons for calling for their removal from the peoples’ [plural intended] Parliament.

Climate Change

Climate change should be the overarching concern of all sides of politics, yet in all the pontification by both groups over the implications of this or that budget measure or economic strategy, not a single phrase has been uttered that might suggest any allowance has been made for the effects it will have on Australia – let alone the planet and hence our trading partners.

Climate change will have a profound impact on every aspect of society, from social cohesion to health to the economy and everything in between, but listen to our politicians and it’s as if the effects will be perhaps a little bit inconvenient and a touch nasty, but will allow us to continue on our merry way. All we need do is use plenty of sunscreen and not drive on flooded roads or use too much water, and it will be business as usual. The only thing that the political protagonists have done is quarrel over when and how emissions should be cut, and by how much. They have created for the country a new Dark Age in which all they need do is burn enough witches – these days masquerading as scientists and environmentalists – and Eden will be restored.

Science

Australia’s peak scientific body, CSIRO and its sister organisation the Australian Antarctic Division (an arm of the Department of Environment) have both been eviscerated by the current government. And what is worse, they have done so with barely a whimper of protest from the Labor opposition; not once in any of its pronouncements about countermeasures to government misdeeds has the Labor Party said it will restore funding to what are among the two most important research bodies in the country. It is from these organisations and others like them – world renowned for innovation – that solutions to climate-induced problems will come.

The Prime Minister’s opinion of science was laid out for all to see when he cut funding to both these bodies and announced the creation of a medical research fund, no doubt hoping that during his term of office a cure for cancer will be found and he will be lauded, perhaps even beatified, as some sort of visionary. It has been pointed out by others better qualified than I that many of the great medical breakthroughs have come about as a side benefit of other research.

Health and society

Neither political camp has any sort of health policy that can by any stretch of the imagination be deemed realistic. What their attitudes do prove, however, is that neither they nor their advisers have done any reading on likely trends in illnesses and diseases other than that fed to them by purely commercial interests.

Because our major political parties consider maintaining a healthy population to be a burden on the economy, preventive medicine is poorly funded in comparison to reactionary measures. Money that would be better spent on social programs goes to drug companies who provide the chemicals to control the symptoms of modern living.

We are constantly reminded of the economic dangers of an aging population, yet not once do we hear of any research that might suggest climate change will probably have its greatest effect on the elderly and the very young.

Nor do politicians seem aware of the time bomb that is diabetes among the young population. In this century the prevalence of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes among young children and teenagers has increased alarmingly. Some medical scientists have actually postulated that children born today may be the first generation in 200 years that does not outlive its parents. Is either side of politics addressing that?

Taxation reform

The approach of both the Coalition and Labor to this sole source of national income is nothing short of ludicrous. Without taxation no country can exist and to continually use tax cuts as election bait is not only unethical, but stupid also.

So as not to upset global corporations and Chambers of Commerce, corporate taxes have been dropping for years. Why? If a company gains profit in a country – especially by utilising that country’s non-renewable resources – why shouldn’t it pay a reasonable amount of tax? If the country finds itself needing to raise revenue, then shouldn’t the business world also bear its share of the burden along with the population at large? In an age when companies employer fewer and fewer people, and make bigger and bigger profits, surely it stands to reason that those companies should pay more tax to compensate for income taxes lost as a consequence of productivity gains at the expense of jobs.

The current treasurer lauds an expanded GST as a means of increasing the revenue base but apparently can’t see that the accelerating use of robotics in industry and a rapidly falling demand for manual labour will make that a less lucrative source of income.

The mining industry is taking more of our resources yet employing fewer people – trucks, draglines and other operations are now in many cases unmanned vehicles controlled from a computer many hundreds of kilometres away, and I suggest that it won’t be long before even that operation will be shifted to overseas countries hoodwinked or bribed into providing tax havens, a move aided by communications satellites paid for by the people’s taxes.

It is apparent that the government and opposition aren’t mentioning the obvious: if spending is cut to offset lower tax income, then private health insurance will replace our highly regarded public health system. A Medicare levy of just a couple of per cent of taxable income will be replaced by five-figure annual insurance premiums. The top income earners won’t be affected by this of course, and as their numbers include politicians, and politicians control the forces of so-called law and order, the end result seems fairly obvious.

Miscellaneous myopia

The Export Economy: Back in the 60s and 70s when England’s entry into the then European Common Market saw once-guaranteed exports of wool and other agricultural produce crash, government looked for ways to prop up a failing economy. One mantra, oft-repeated by members of what was then the Country Party, went something like: “If everyone in China buys just one pair of woolen socks, the country will be back on its feet again.” It never eventuated of course (nobody noticed that the Chinese much prefer cotton socks) and it was innovations and research by scientists at CSIRO and other institutions that helped agriculture regain its feet and, in some cases, burgeon.

So when the next “sell everything to China” light bulb lit up, this time inspired by the demand for iron ore and coal, our cargo cult mentality swung into action. Politicians who for years had lectured us on the need for caution and chided us for being ignorant on matters of supply and demand, approved mining licenses by the giant yellow truck load, ensuring a massive oversupply of minerals on the world market with the consequences we see today.

But not to worry, Tasmania has approved, and been given funding for irrigation schemes that will allow a massive expansion of dairying based on our most valuable and scarcest resource, water; this despite the fact that irrigation has destroyed vast tracts of Australia’s agricultural landscape and taken much of it out of production. There is evidence, too, that the value of dairy exports to China is falling. Never mind, there’s always horticulture and when that fails we can try woolen socks again.

International Relations Beginning with the Howard government, Australia’s view of non-Western Europeans turned us back to the days of the White Australia Policy, a time when some politicians seriously considered approving only blue-eyed immigrants. “Boat people” were the enemy – back then the Yellow Hordes from South East Asia – and Labor, seeing that there might be a few votes in it, welcomed the idea with open arms. Pauline Hanson and her 19th Century ideals and ideas had a brief surge of popularity among people who didn’t think much about much but was quickly neutralised by Howard incorporating many of her ideas into LNP policy and by a very dubious legal action orchestrated by our current Prime Minister. Tony Abbott, himself an enthusiastic, xenophobic Europhile, is now accusing Australians of mass xenophobia because they are questioning some aspects of very secret, so-called free trade agreements being “negotiated” with our more powerful neighbours, the USA among them.

Tony Abbott’s LNP, with the enthusiastic support of the Labor Party, has again raised the spectre of being overrun by waves of invaders from the north; not the Asiatic Hordes this time, but Arabs and Pakistanis and Iranians and Persians from the Muslim Middle East. These people, we are told, are not really refugees, but freeloading economic migrants, wanting to steal Australian worker’s jobs and lower our standard of living. It is convenient to ignore the fact that many members of the Federal Cabinet – including the PM – along with the CEOs and other top brass in many of our institutions are economic immigrants at best, lifestyle immigrants at worst. It is also apparently easy to overlook the fact that under these free trade deals, foreign countries can bring in their own labour force.

Militarism Was it just coincidence, I wonder, that in the same week that the country was celebrating (when it should have been mourning) the 100th anniversary of the slaughter at Gallipoli, our-testosterone driven PM, with the cooperation of his conservative New Zealand counterpart, announced that a latter-day ANZAC force would be sent to Iraq. No doubt in a few very short years we will be remembering this day also, celebrating or mourning depending on whether you were doing “what seemed best at the time” or being shot at, or weeping over the consequences it had for your family.

When G W Bush, to the great excitement of John Howard), announced we were going to invade Iraq, some commentators warned that we were heading for another Vietnam. The armchair generals in a resurgently militaristic West derided them of course; ‘Peacenik’, ‘Bleeding Heart Lefties’ and other phrases from the Vietnam era were bandied about. And those doomsayers were wrong, sort of; it is now worse, far, far worse than Vietnam, and deteriorating by the day – by the hour. ‘Domino Theory and ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ have been replaced by ‘Islamist Death Cult’ and ‘Fanatical Jihadists’, but the aftermath will be the same: we told oppressed people in countries whose oppressors we for generations created or supported that we were invading them to bring democracy and freedom and instead gave them many good reasons to hate us for another 2000 years. Those who sought a do-it-yourself solution to their problems we labelled ‘of uncertain allegiance’ or ‘terrorists’ and so added fuel to an already out-of-control bonfire.

Indigenous matters More than 200 years have passed since England stole this “uninhabited” continent from the people who have been here for more than 60,000 years, yet we’ve still done very little to attempt to right the great wrong done them. Every good thing done by one government (and there are precious few) is wound back or watered down by the next. In many cases, pressure from the National party members of the Coalition or from mining and agribusiness interests sees policies altered before they even see the light of day.

Our current Prime Minister appointed himself a champion of the Indigenous population and vowed that every year he would venture off into a remote Indigenous community (this year it’s the Torres Strait (TS) and Cape York’s turn) where he could have a jolly British-style Boy Scout jape in the woods with lots of exotic people around him. Fair’s fair, at least he went there I suppose, but what has he achieved? Nothing, other than amply demonstrating his total lack of hand/eye coordination when laying bricks, planting trees and watering gardens.

He blew and blustered about his great Recognition Conference and then was miffed when some of the delegates disagreed with him. When Aboriginal and TS representatives announced they would hold a series of conferences to facilitate the formulation of an Indigenous policy on the wording the referendum should contain, an indignant Abbott complained that they were causing division, that this was a matter for “all Australians”. Apparently the people who will be most affected should once again have no say in matters of vital importance to them.

Then to top it off, the government again displayed its appalling lack of knowledge about the country it governs when it awarded TS veterans service medals for their efforts during WWII. Now I’m not knocking the TSIs, two of my childhood heroes were saltwater men and the islanders per capita had the highest rate of enlistment in the country, 100 per cent of eligible men (and many under- and over-age), but it must have rankled with a few Aboriginal veterans in the north. When it was proposed that Top End Aboriginals be formed into a Coast Watch/Homeland Defence Force, it was at first strongly opposed. Inspired perhaps by subconscious pangs of guilt, it was argued that Aboriginals had no reason to like white Australians and so might aid the Japanese.

They might have stopped to think that just a few short years before, Top End Aboriginals had been massacred by whites in retaliation for the killing of Japanese pearlers and trepang divers who had kidnapped and raped Aboriginal women.

And to cap it all off, this champion of the indigenous underdog recently said that Australia had been nothing but [presumably useless] bush before the English got here. And so it goes on.

A Pause There is more I could say, but I’ll leave it for another time. I’d just add that almost everything I’ve written here probably won’t matter in the end because climate change will have the final word. In a recent TV documentary dealing with the problems created by inequalities of wealth distribution, a multi-billionaire was troubled by the fact that although he had given many millions to charity, when it all hit the fan, as it will, the disgruntled masses would not distinguish between the charitable rich and the selfish: “They will come for all of us,” he said.

I believe that like the self-centred and complacent among the rich, our politicians and their corporate masters feel secure in the thought that they will be all right because they have money for private healthcare and retreats in the more habitable places and vast stocks of food, so they will still be in charge of their destiny.

They are wrong. Inequality has already ignited the kindling in many countries, the increasing accumulation of wealth by a very few is adding fuel and the effects of climate change will fan the flames.

I am tempted to say that something must be done now, but I fear it’s already too late.

Flashback USA or Hello Australia

Voting for self

First published in LiketheDew | Oct 19, 2010
Under first the Howard government and now – and more so – the one led by Abbott, much of the national attitude described here is true of Australia

I watched a so-called teevee debate between a couple of aspirants to political office a couple of nights ago, and my reaction was akin to nothing so much as that of your archetypal stunned mullet. So you can blame the teevee, the candidates, the university and the panel for what you are about to receive – or not, depending on your attention span.

First up, I’d like to lay my cards on the table. My opinions are born of life experiences outside the ken of many Australians – especially those born in the boom years, and later in those gray decades of gray conservatism where nostalgia for an imaginary past and place colors political thought at the expense of progress – so it follows they are also outside the ken of many Americans.

These opinions are further colored by being born and raised in a country that, even today, is to much of the wider world as foreign as another planet. It’s an old viewpoint. The majority of the first official European settlers were convinced that as the rest of the world had been created by their god, then Australia must be the work of their devil.

It’s worth noting, too, that Aussies generally speaking have always considered Australia a Christian country in name only. The establishment of course thinks otherwise, especially recent administrations, but the ordinary bloke and sheila on the street, the staunchly religious aside, may have ticked the “Christian” box on the Census form, but would never think of fronting a god-botherer for anything other than culturally ingrained Christianised ceremonial occasions: namely weddings, funerals and babies’ headwettings.

There are historical reasons for this, also. Not least among them I’d guess is that it must have been hard to accept the message of a god’s love  rammed down your throat – attendance at Chapel compulsory – by the same bloke who ordered you receive 100 lashes for talking at meals in the prison mess.

Okay, so there are my biases out on the table; and I am biased, I’ll admit it, but I just had to write this. I know some may consider it rude, I’m a guest of sorts after all, but ah, what the heck. At a time when right is the new left and ostentatious the new subtle, it’s no better or worse than a lot of stuff out there. Agree or disagree as you will, I blame my frustration at the present state of what passes for political debate and patriotic aspirations for the mood I find myself in.

I’ve been interested in the USA for a long time; so long that I can’t remember what sparked it. Was it reading Twain, Longfellow, Stowe and the Pocomoto stories as a youngster? Was it learning of the politico-cultural interchanges (I made that up) sparked by goldrushes on two continents and America’s early realisation of the Home Rule so longed for by my forebears in Australia and their Old Countries? I don’t know, but it certainly began long before I discovered Steinbeck, Thurber or Guthrie; or before I found the Southern music, both black and white, that has influenced my musical tastes for more than half a lifetime.

Whatever my inspiration may have been, I’ve long had a great admiration for the idea of the USA, for what it is. I firmly believe, and have often publicly said so, that Australia needs to rewrite its constitution – at present hardly worth the paper it’s written on – to include some of the great aspirations embodied in yours, and to look at drafting its own Bill of Rights, though with both new documents tempered by the knowledge that the world has changed since the US Constitution was adopted and will continue to do so, and an acceptance that founding fathers everywhere, no matter how wise, were only human beings.

However, living outside this country it’s easy to get frustrated by the often rash decisions made by your governments at various times and by the insular view of the wider world adopted by the US’s political, military and business institutions  and adopted by a lot of its inhabitants. Now that I’m living in the USA, I can see more of the why – not that it makes some of these past actions any more excusable.

Living here also makes me truly understand why this country prospered – in the Western sense anyway – from the time it was first occupied by northern Europeans. It was just so bountiful that even the tattered remnants that remain are awe-inspiring to someone from a country where a farmer will plant thousands of acres of wheat on half an inch of rain.

But again, as an outsider now living on the inside, one can see that the happy circumstance of a bountiful continent has its bad side. It has made Americans – generally speaking – spoiled. They cannot seem to accept that everything they see as the good life is not theirs by birthright; that you can’t just leave it to Beaver and everything will be okay.

Australia has its faults, and plenty of them, though probably neither less nor more than most other nations on average, but a belief in some sort of munificent providence is not one of them. We learned early in the piece that a year of bumper harvests can be followed by five of drought then one of floods followed by another of devastating fires. We knew what Robbie Burns was getting at when he wrote:

The best-laid plans o’ mice an’ men,
Gang aft a-gley,
And leave us nought but grief and pain,
For promised joy.

Australian society sprang from a system in which undesirables were ruled by an elite who used their legal institutions to harness their labor in order to rid a country of its poor and to forestall the same sort of revolution that had engulfed France and later the US. It was this convict-bred society, forced to exist in a land that was the antithesis of everything European, that saw develop the Australian concept of mateship, an ethos that, when Australians were given suffrage, developed into the benign socialism under which the country is ruled today. You could be a rugged individualist all you liked, but as the Aboriginals had known for 60,000 years, when it came to flourishing in an unforgiving continent, then you needed social cohesion and cooperation. America the beautiful was so rich that its people no doubt saw little need of such measures in society. But there is dire need of it now. I think that your country has for a long time been living off the interest accumulated over millennia but now that interest has been spent and it is making huge inroads into the original capital.

And this brings me, I suppose, to my point. In all this seemingly endless season of political debate – and again I use the term loosely – funded to such an extent that the moneys splurged could probably settle the mortgage of every needy citizen in this beautiful country, in all this debate there has been not one mention of America the nation, the idea, the us, the entity, the ideal, the great aspiration made flesh that united this nation from sea to shining sea. Instead it’s a monotonous, carping mantra of selfishness: my country and my state and my religious beliefs and my kids and my job and my party and my flag and my bible and why should I pay taxes.

Where’s the clarion call to unite; to stand shoulder to shoulder for the common good? America is a great idea, always has been, so why believe in the myth of a conservative gloryland, a heaven based on “that’s the way it’s always been” and chase something that never existed? John Wayne did not win WWII, he just made a heap of cash pretending he did; cowboys did not wear rhinestones or clean shirts and trick their horses out in red leather; the little house on the prairie didn’t have indoor plumbing – you shat in a hole in the ground – Custer lost at Little Big Horn and teevee wrestling is rigged. Hollywood is not the truth but neither does Christianity have all the answers – though like Hollywood it also dislikes being questioned.

Ray Bearfield wrote: It doesn’t matter that we were never as pure and strong as we’d like to imagine.” He’s right. We have to stop believing that we were and that we can stand alone and win the West. We need to lend a hand to help our mates up. Forget the snide bastards backing the so-called purists, the trick-me freedom fighters, for their own grubby ends; think of the country, the great idea. America is ailing and in need of treatment – does it really matter who supplies the medicine?

On the other hand, if Gordon Gecko were to run for President…

A midwinter nightmare

This was also written in the USA. Since returning to Australia I am now more than ever convinced that Tony Abbott and Rand Paul are related

Things get in the way. This morning I was going to write the second instalment of a story begun last week but it wasn’t to be. On Friday last, the postie – that’s Australian for mailman or, in my case, mailwoman – delivered a piece of junk mail that saw Rabbie Burns’ Law kick in. The Great Scot’s ghost was still hovering about the house when I read a Dana Milbank (Washington Post) piece in the Opinion pages of Sunday’s Lexington Herald-Leader, and is looking over my shoulder today as I listen to UK’s public radio station WUKY. I was going to ignore it, but it’s just no good to try; part two will have to wait while I get this off my chest. I’ll deal with Burns’ mischief-making in reverse, beginning with this morning. Here goes.

This morning WUKY reported on the results of a study into the eruditeness, or rather lack of it, among lawmakers in Washington. The study found that the level of debate among federal legislators is now about equal to that of middle-school students. I will, however, say it’s probably a world-wide phenomenon: I know Australian parliamentarians aren’t much better. What has happened? Back in the very late 19th century, when Australia was gaining nationhood, the following exchange* was recorded in the Parliamentary Hansard:

The Hon. The Member for Yarra: The Honourable Member opposite has got the brains of a sheep.

Hon. Members: Shame, shame. For Shame.

The Hon. The Member for Ballarat: Mr Speaker, I demand the member for Yarra withdraw that remark.

The Hon. Speaker of the House: Yes. The Hon. The Member for Yarra will withdraw that remark.

The Hon. The Member for Yarra: Mr Speaker, I apologize and withdraw. The Hon. Member opposite does not have the brains of a sheep.

How many of the current crop of politicians anywhere would get the joke, let alone be capable of a repartee anything like it? And so to Sunday’s paper.

According to Dana Milbank, Sen. Rand Paul, most eccentric of the Tea Party’s Mad Hatters (my words), told a meeting in Iowa that he wasn’t sure President Obama’s view of marriage could “…get any gayer.” According to Milbank, Paul – I won’t dignify him with a title because he, along with many Republicans and teevee ‘journalists’, denies the President that courtesy – wants to cut Social Security benefits by nearly 40 per cent, slash defense spending to “catastrophic levels” and end Medicare for current and future recipients within two years.

Paul, Milbank goes on, also will eliminate the departments of commerce, education, energy, and housing, as well as gut homeland security and programs for the poor while reducing the top tax rate to 17 per cent. (I know that Paul also opposes government oversight of home-schooling and wants to get rid of the Environment Protection Authority  because it is “anti-coal”.) Paul doesn’t have to get it. He is the joke.

Rand Paul demonstrating that you don’t have to listen or even see constituents while talking to them—Photo Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons.
Rand Paul demonstrating that you don’t have to listen or even see constituents while talking to them—Photo Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons.

And now to one of my pet gripes: telecommunications and the ISPs and teevee service retailers who allege they give us blisteringly fast internet and unsurpassed programming. Among Friday’s mail was a flyer from my ISP, HughesNet, urging me to make the most of my service. Dripping with hyperbole about the wonders of its technology and the assurance that there are “so many reasons to love” my service, it told me that Gen4 is getting closer. My ISP’s “bold new service” will “revolutionize the world of satellite internet” – its bolded type, not mine. However, within the spiel for this “dramatically faster” service was revealed the reason my internet service is so crappy: HughesNet doesn’t know where its satellites are! According to the blurb, the new satellite is on its way to a rocket launch site in French New Guinea.

I am of the firm belief that my clothesline picks up a satellite signal equally as well as my HughesNet receiver.
I am of the firm belief that my clothesline picks up a satellite signal equally as well as my HughesNet receiver.

That’s right, my ISP is sending a satellite to French New Guinea, a country that doesn’t exist. From this I can only assume the company has done this on previous occasions and, because its whizzkids don’t know the exact orbits – other than somewhere in the sky – its earth stations only manage to pick up intermittent signals from other satellites, hence the patchy service in Stamping Ground, Kentucky.

Can’t you hear the conversation in the shipping line’s boardroom? “We’ve got another booking from HughesNet. They want to send a satellite to French New Guinea this time. Where did the last one go? Scottish New Caledonia, that’s it. Just tell the captain the same thing; sail around the South Pacific for three months or so then drop it off on an island somewhere. Should do wonders for the bottom line.”

Like Rand Paul, HughesNet is lost in space. It’d be funny if I wasn’t paying for both of them.

 

*I can’t remember the seats the members represented and couldn’t find the reference in which it is recorded, though it’s in my shelves somewhere, but I’ll vouch for the accuracy of the dialog.

My Farewell To The USA

This was written as I was preparing to leave Kentucky to return to Australia, and it is with not a little horror that I note that since the Abbott government came to power we are sliding rapidly into a facsimile of those aspects of the USA that so troubled me.

It seems donkey’s years since I’ve put finger to keyboard to contribute, and I don’t really know why. LikeTheDew is always a great read and just as I’ve enjoyed contributing, I’ve enjoyed the many and varied passions of its contributors. But these past few months I seem to have been visited by that come-and-go ennui that seems from time to time to plague anyone involved in creative pursuits, but the packers have been and gone and with them the mood that has prevailed over the past few months.

The packers? Yep, in three weeks or so we’ll be stepping onto the tarmac at Hobart International Airport and walking the 50 yards to the terminal building to wait for the baggage cart to drive into the passenger lounge where Quarantine Beagle will give it the once over before we can grab our gear off the trailer. In other words, I’m going home – not to the state in which I was born, but to the island state I love equally as much.

It’s not without great sadness that I’m leaving. I’ve enjoyed my time here in Kentucky and forged many friendships that I know will stand the test of time – or what’s left to me of it anyway. I think I’m finally admitting to myself that I’m getting older, though a lot of what remains of my brain may still be stuck somewhere between 1960 and 1980. I also feel that I’ve got to know many of you out there; though we’ve never met, you’ve said some nice things about me from time to time.

I’m going to miss the great jam sessions I’ve had close to the source of the music I so much love: the mountain ballits and dance-tunes, and the blues and jug band music that once flourished in the south, all of which appeal to the brooding Celtic genes my forebears passed on to me. I came with eight guitars, an autoharp, two ukuleles, a set of small pipes and a piano accordion; I’m returning with three of the guitars, the ukes, the accordion, the small pipes and autoharp, and a custom-made mountain dulcimer and an open-back banjo bought two months ago and on which I may one day be competent. You’ve got no idea what it feels like for me to put that banjo in sawmill tuning and play Pretty Polly close to the hills that for a century more kept it from escaping back to the wider world from whence it came.

And I’ll be able to boast that I met an old feller named Deward who was once in demand to play fiddle for dances, and how we sat on his porch fronting a narrow road hidden in the woods and I accompanied him with guitar and voice while he played Leather Britches and Handsome Molly on a fiddle whose friction tuning pegs had been replaced with ones made for a guitar because Deward had a “tetch of the roomatics” in his fingers. He would say: “Thisun’s a hay chord,” and he’d start in on her and I’d pick her up and he’d yell, “You got ’er there boy, you got ’er,” and away we’d go, buckin’ and skippin’ over the hills and far away into that bright, gravity-free nirvana that musicians sometimes reach. We’d play Oh the Dreadful Wind and Rain to summon the shades of Celts long dead and then he’d change the mood, the battered old fiddle calling on Old Jimmy Sutton to dance for us, hearing him in our souls as he flat-footed on the ancient boards of the porch.

Always remembered will be the family gathering I attended up in the mountains. Asked to sing a song, I played Crow Black Chicken and was at first taken aback at the shocked faces, relaxing when the expressions changed to ones of delight as some of the guests began dancing.

I’ll also miss the green moistness of Kentucky, especially when I’m back to nursing a vegie garden through yet another Australian dry spell, but I won’t miss the frost and snow, nor the guilt I feel every time I mutter, “All right Hughie, that’ll do for a bit” when the rain gauge is full yet again.

I’ll look back with fondness on the polite way my stories about life in Australia were received. Even though I know a lot of what I said was taken with a grain of salt, people still listened – they were after all the ones who asked the questions. But after nearly five years here, the disbelief is understandable. The other day I told a Good Ol’ Boy that his all the bells and whistles Chevy Silverado would cost him just shy of $126,000 in Australia, and that the repayments on the nifty little V-Dub van I drove back home were nearly twice as much as what I’d pay on a Cadillac here. He shook his head and said, “Lawda mercy,” but I could tell what he really meant: “Pull the other leg, it plays Dixie.”

The talented surgeons who undoubtedly saved my life will always have my gratitude, for not only did they save me, they were incredibly kind to my then wife through a very trying few days. I know that if I had died there would have been no meaningless platitudes but genuine sympathy and that’s comforting. If ever you badly need a heart surgeon you could do a lot worse than Dr Hamid Mohammed-Zadeh.

Oh, there’s lots of nice stuff I’ll miss, but there’s also lots of stuff I’ll be shaking my head over for years. When you’re a foreigner hailing from a country that apparently is only second-rate or at least not the best on earth, you know that the USA Hollywood and Teeveeland like to show you isn’t true. I mean, fair crack of the whip, cobber, I’m not as green as I am cabbage-lookin’. Not everyone lives with five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a swimming pool, two cars, perpetually clean shirts and permanently fixed-in-place hair, but movies and teevee have been telling you most of your life that it’s the land of golden opportunity where anyone can become president and there seemed a ring of truth to that.

You grew up listening to your Dad and his mates, whose first experiences of “The Yanks” were during World War II. They told you how shocked they were when they saw what the GIs ate for breakfast: “Bloody Golden Syrup on their bloody bacon for chrissake!” The fact that a country could be so generous as to feed its PBI bacon was astounding enough, but to see those same footsloggers pour what the Diggers at first thought was Cocky’s Joy over it, well jesus, mate, strike me bloody pink, you just wouldn’t credit it, would yer? Then in the next breath you’d detect thinly disguised awe as your Old Man – who had done his four-and-a-half years in the Forward Field Workshops in the Mediterranean, Africa and the Solomons – describe how if the “…Yanks’d want an airstrip, they’d throw everybloodything at ’er. Our mob’d still be workin’ out if the requisition forms should be in triple- or duplibloodycate and the Yanks’d have bombers landin’ on theirs. Fair dinkum. Couldn’t beat the bastards at that game.” Then the mood would darken. “Their officers did the same thing with their bloody men. Threw ’em at the Japs like there was no bloody termorrer. Bastards. Like the Poms did to our blokes in the first big stoush. Lousy bastards.”

So when you get here you know it’s not going to be like Hollywood or Disneyland, but everything you’ve ever read or heard hasn’t prepared you for the reality that is the USA, the Great Idea, in the 21st century.

It’s the apparent opulence that hits you first, the abundance of everything that makes you want to rush around and buy up the world: autos, tools, clothes, giant meals; all ridiculously cheap and easy to buy on tick at rates so low it’s hard to believe. After a while you begin to slow down to your usual pace and look around a bit more. As you move around in your day-to-day life, the varnish begins to crack a bit, peeling off here and there as the poverty becomes a little more evident. You begin to see the families and older, single people living in decaying trailers stuck on tiny lots right on the road verges in rural areas so beautiful they’d break your heart. You see the evidence of poverty – and its handmaiden ignorance for lack of education – everywhere in the supermarkets where food and drink that’ll poison you is less than half the price of fruits and vegetables shipped in from all over the US, Mexico and China. Not that a lot of this food’s much chop, picked so green that it’ll rot before it ripens, denying many of its benefits. (Sadly, this result of factory farming is now common in Australia. At least a couple of generations have now grown up without ever having tasted ripe fruit.)

After a while you begin to pick up on the “National Mood” – a generalization to be sure, but palpable nevertheless. The contempt in which the poor are held still shocks me – as does the national attitude to welfare and anything else that might suggest a social conscience, the latter seemingly confused with socialism à la the Nazis. On the national news, I may have heard Native Americans mentioned maybe twice in the almost five years I’ve been here and I’ve heard and seen coverage of heaps of protests about the war on coal, but none at all on the social plight of families in Appalachian coal counties. When the mountain folk are mentioned, it’s usually to reinforce the stereotype of shack-dwelling, drug-crazed, incestuous, gap-toothed, banjer-playin’ dumb yokels but nary a word about why their society is in crisis and why it is that the coal counties of Kentucky and West Virginia, producing a commodity allegedly “vital to the national economy” are among the nation’s poorest. As long as I live I’ll not forget a local teevee channel’s 6pm bulletin. The bright young thing opened with: “Three coalminers have been killed in a mine accident in Eastern Kentucky and we’ll return to that soon, but first our Big Story…” then proceeded to rabbit on about the latest doings of the UK Wildcats basketball team.

It’s also hard to believe that anybody with most of their screws reasonably tight would vote for politicians who claim to believe a god created the world and that this should be presented to students as an alternative to evolution. That journalists would treat such people as credible candidates for any office – let alone the presidency – and devote hours of space and time to them hardly bears thinking about.

And I’ll be glad to have my freedom back. Living under a Constitution that insists on a citizen’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of and from religion gets a bit harrowing at times. The number of times I have been chastised in supermarkets for forgetting where I was and slipping into Australian dialect have not been all that many, but they have been unsettling. Sometimes, when looking at prices, an Australian jumps into my mouth and I’ll let slip with “jesus bloody christ” or something like that. One bloke demanded – demanded – of me that: “You fall upon your knees sir, and ask the good lord to forgive you before you are struck dead.” When I told him he’d better rack off out of it if he wanted to avoid the heavenly bolt himself, I thought he was going to call the cops. I once asked a political canvasser if he was aware that the god-bothering bastard he represented was concerned about freedom from union interference but apparently didn’t care about the Peabody rip-off of miners’ pension funds. He told me I was going straight to hell, which to me is a good thing if heaven is populated by his candidate’s ilk. Mention taxpayer-funded universal health care, compulsory wearing of helmets when riding a motorbike or pushbike and a near-total ban on private ownership of handguns, and the response is nearly as bad.

Another great puzzle to me has been the attitude to sex – or anything that suggests it – and anything viewed as profanity. Who sets the standard? I once saw, with my own eyes, on ABC’s 6.30 news, Brian Williams apologize because “children might be watching” and he was about to mention a book title containing the word ‘hell’. PBS is currently airing an English police drama that is sometimes, to my mind, a little too gratuitous with the gore. But that’s seems not to disturb whoever’s job it is to worry about such things. Instead, English vernacular as mild as “tosser” and “arse” are bleeped out and bare breasts and bums are a definite nay sir – even dead ones on a morgue slab are blurred out. Look at the “news” clips on even the upmarket sites purveying news.” ———’s [insert name here] topless bikini too raunchy for San Tropez (pictures)”. No blurring here, just a big black bar straight out of the 1940s. On the other hand, we can turn to cable teevee and watch 4 year olds dressed and acting like, at best, ghastly parodies of Las Vegas showgirls or, at worst, $20 bagswingers moonlighting as 1930s burlesque queens.

Lest I be thought churlish, I am painfully aware that I am returning to a country almost totally in the clutches of the mining industry. Not long ago, the presently governing Labor Party had a rush of blood to its collective head and appointed as Prime Minister someone who should have been held up as an example to the world – the child of working-class Welsh immigrants, irreligious, intelligent, in a caring relationship though unmarried and a woman. Instead she was held up to the same sort of insults, scrutiny and opprobrium that have plagued President Obama and for similar reasons. She wasn’t the status quo and she wanted to change things and industry and the establishment weren’t happy with that.

Despite the fact that Australia is getting ahead of it’s green energy targets, that it has a national debt less than 25 per cent of GDP, that it has experienced 21 straight years of economic growth despite the horrors of universal health care, subsidized education and a reasonable pension in old age, despite all this she was sacked and replaced by the man she herself replaced, a wishy washy Christian who backed down on the carbon tax that will now probably be repealed and who suggested, but lacked the guts to push through the nationwide fibre-optic roll-out that Ms Gillard got going.

It is possible that the Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – laughingly calling itself the Liberal Party and led by Tony “The Mad Monk” Abbott, a charismatic Catholic – may win the imminent election, so in anticipation it has been in talks with Rupert Murdoch to discuss the introduction of policies that have proved popular in the US, e.g. allowing corporations to make covert donations to political parties, changing media ownership laws thus allowing mining magnates to own a greater share of the press, teevee and radio and presumably allowing Rupe to at last accomplish what he has always wanted to do – own a larger share of Australia’s media, previously forbidden him by law and so motivating him to take up residence in the USA and Britain, the consequences of which are painfully evident – and other progressive measures.

I know all this and it saddens me that it’s what I’m going back to, but it’s my country and my fight. I’ll be able to write angry letters to the editor based on my experience of life in the USA and getting up the ratbag politicians for wanting to go the same way. When at political rallies someone claims that corporations have the same rights as individuals, I’ll be able to yell “If America’s so bloody good, why don’t you go and live there?” and have the moral authority to do so.

In New South Wales, near the little farm I once lived on, is a well-preserved and vibrant 19th century gold-rush town named Gulgong, site of the last of “the poor man’s rushes”. It was my watering hole in the days when I drank and I used to sing every year at its Folk Festival. My dear, dear, entertainingly alcoholic friend, the late Jules Sackville lived there and I followed the horse and dray that bore him up Mayne Street to the cemetery where, at his request, I sang “Go To Sleep You Weary Hobo” over his grave.

Gulgong’s facades and most of its buildings have been preserved as National Heritage and among them are two of my favourite things, two wooden facades fronting stores built in the 19th century. One bears the legend “The Wonder of the World” and close by is the “American Emporium”. Whenever I looked at them, for some reason I thought of John Steinbeck and America. To me, John Steinbeck was America and America was the Wonder of the World, the Noble Experiment, the Great Idea, Democracy with a capital D and uninhibited by monarchy and class. Where is the America of my imagination? As an Australian I feel crushed by the dead weight of the religious bigotry and money-based caste system that are holding this country back. You, my dear American friends, may not be able to feel it, but as an Australian born and bred I do, and it scares me.

I was once a fervent anti-monarchist and hoped to see the Old Brown Land at last truly free of the English in my lifetime. Australia’s parliamentary system is a mix of both England’s and the USA’s and now I’m not sure if it doesn’t work better than both of those from which it drew.

I hope that this is only temporary, a blip in the continuum, and that soon the people will rise-up to reclaim their heritage, to stage another revolution, though bloodless this time, to reiterate what the first one sought: equality for all. Even better, perhaps my inborn Celtic love of sweeping, embroidered oratory has so clouded my thinking that all this is mere imagination, the hoop-de-doodle so frowned upon in the Palace Flop-House and Grill. I hope so, I truly hope so, because there is so much about this country and its people that I love. So, if you’ll allow me, when I’m not busy fighting to change Australia’s stupid bloody flag or railing at some other insult to the country that bore me, I’d like to drop you all the occasional line.

Farewell, my friends, and a thousand thank yous for making me feel so welcome.