Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Magnificent Men

I’ve recently spent a week with five men with whom I served in 1970.

They are a disparate crew, an Accountant, a Manager, a Real Estate Salesman, a small business owner, and a career soldier.

Three hail from Sydney, one each from Perth and a small town in South Australia.

Their political opinions cover the full spectrum from Right to Left, and their interest in politics ranges from none at all, to deep and abiding.

The same applies to religion – we range from avowed atheists through lapsed Catholics to Sunday observers.

So what do a bunch like this have in common, and why do we get such a buzz out of spending time with each other?

That’s more difficult to understand, but it has its origin in a unique shared experience in a distant conflict during a time when the world was simpler and more brutish than it is now.

The vital part of that experience was an absolute interdependence.

We relied completely on each other. It was as simple as that.

The real world context was constant and abiding threat, in which we knew and understood well one particular reality.

Interspersed within the mind numbing boredom of constant patrolling in very difficult and challenging conditions, was the split second possibility of death and maiming injury. That was the reality that bound us together.

That context pushed aside all the unessential and gratuitous aspects of any relationship. It had to be clear and simple.

The clarity and simplicity of that unique sense of interdependence is, after more than forty years, still there.

One of our crew was very ill when he turned up last Monday. Despite protest, he was escorted to the clinic. He was indeed very ill, and is still in hospital as this is written. Only this band of brothers would have provided this level of support, and only this band of brothers would have got away with it. He’s an ex-boxer.

So we went our separate ways on Friday. Suffice it to say, that I remain deeply honored to have served with them and to have spent time again, brief as it was, with them.

They are indeed magnificent men.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Roma in Winter

 My first trip this term coincided with a cold snap.

It always intrigues me that some specific areas on the way west are always a few degrees colder than others. Oakey is one of them. It was actually a bit colder - down to zero, a little further on.

It doesn't matter when you're in the car - but outside is another matter. Most of the schools warm up nicely when a classful of kids have been inside for a few minutes, but not nice initially.

It reminded me of winter when I was a kid. We used to sit on our hands to get them warm enough to write with them.

These days they have reverse cycle air conditioners.

Roma has changed in the last few years.  The first thing you notice is the enormous work camp on the eastern side of town.

It's been built to accommodate the FIFO workers who seem to exist in some kind of parallel universe, separate from, and unknown to the locals.

The country has put on its winter mantle, which is generally coloured brown and grey.

The further west you go, the more road kill you see. The section of road illustrated is well to the east, between Toowoomba and Roma.

At one small school I was working with a little indigenous girl with cerebral palsy. The topic was science, and the class was asked "What do butterflies eat?".

None of her classmates has the faintest idea, so armed with an iPad (which she uses to write with) and Google, we discovered that they don't in fact eat at all.

Rather, they suck nectar through a proboscis.

She was amazed at this, and also excited that she knew something that nobody else in her class did.

Her enthusiasm in telling her class and teacher this amazing fact was worth the 350 km journey.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Clark & Dawe on Asylum Seekers

The asylum seeker issue has gone beyond the bizarre, and has entered the realm of the ridiculous.

Fitting then, that Clarke and Dawe have a go.

It's hilarious, although pretty much everything sent up is accurate.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Hope & Nostalgia (2)

Last week I participated in this Brisbane conference which was the first involving my specialty (physical impairment) for many years.

I've called this post Hope & Nostalgia (2) because it follows on a similar post in April 2009.

The difference with this one was that it was purely about education, and I was one of five people on the organising committee, which meant that I was torn between helping the running of the conference for the three days and attending and learning from the presentations.

On the second day, I chaired three sessions and was part of the presentation for one, so it was a busy day.

The nostalgia reference arises because two other members of the organising committee were part of my staff when I opened a new special school in Townsville in 1987, and it was gratifying to see them so deeply involved in this rewarding discipline nearly thirty years later.

Also on nostalgia, the closing address was given by a fellow with Cerebral Palsy who was a student at the state school for spastic children, New Farm, the year (1971) I was discharged from the army to begin teaching there.

He graduated from U of Q in Economics and has a very senior position in the ATO.

Now that was over forty years ago.

Much of the time I was the oldest person in the room, and certainly the oldest still working in the field.

Meanwhile our pig ignorant federal government has sacked the Disabilities Commissioner, whilst at the same time looking at attacking this particular vulnerable section of the community through restricted welfare support.

Somehow or another, the message simply hasn't got through that everyone can be productive, given the right kind of timely support.

Gavin King (LNP Cairns) parks where he likes. He is the local member after all. People with disabilities can make other arrangements..

 These two actions (together with the pic above) provide a pretty fair commentary on the Coalition's real view of the importance of the disability sector.

But the NDIS is on the horizon, so hope springs eternal.

Sunday, 22 June 2014


I have the enormous privilege to have two daughters.

I also have sons, but that's a different matter.

For fathers, There's something mystical about daughters that trumps logic and common sense.

Last week my youngest went for her driving test. She had completed 120 hours (20 more than necessary) in her log book, learned the rules to the point where she was a pain as a passenger, as she constantly correctly pointed out all my minor infractions, and those of other drivers, and dragged me out numerous times to either supervise or take her through the various controls in the car.

Given that she lives 150 kms away, this was no small thing.

I learnt interesting things during this process - for example, you must always put your seat belt on before starting the engine.

There are ninjas that leap at you if you get the sequence wrong.

The great day came, and I drove her to the testing station. We sat waiting for the driving examiner in the station, and I remember wondering why testing stations smell bad. It's probably all those years of bottled up anxiety impregnating the walls.

Anyway, the examiner arrived, a middle aged gent with a gentle demeanor and an appearance that reminded me of Derek Jacobi (but not in I Claudius).

He said gidday, and I gave him a look which should have conveyed the meaning "If you fail her I'll beat you to a pulp", but I'm not sure he understood.

My daughter smiled at him - probably much more effective.

My older daughter had developed a nasty toothache, as a result of a lost filling.

She was studying for a uni exam, and toothache and exam preparation are an unwise combination.

So she made an appointment with one of those swish dental practices (with music) and I drove her in.

It was an emergency appointment, so the dentist met her at the door to the treatment room. He was a short chap of Middle Eastern appearance. I gave him the same look I had given the driving examiner. It was meant to convey the advice that if he hurt my daughter, I would beat him to a pulp.

I don't think he understood - probably cultural issues.....

My younger daughter passed the test and my older daughter came out of the dentist's rooms praising his patience and care.

Maybe there is something mystically powerful in a father's protective gaze.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


 It must be time for another road test, even if it simply breaks the monotony of the political news cycle lately.

He who must be obeyed (the fleet manager is now of the male gender) has taken to hiring vehicles for recalcitrants like me who travel vast distances.

Last week the journey was 2000+ kms, and the vehicle a Mitsubishi Outlander.

This makes a change from a succession of Nissan X-Trails tested here.

Once I owned a Magna wagon, and we did have a later version in the fleet until a few years ago. It was a comfortable, refined and nimble vehicle. The Mitsubishi Outlander shares its DNA, and this heritage is notable in the driving.

You'll note I didn't include "nimble". It isn't, as the steering is vague, and the handling a bit ponderous. Having said that, it's an improvement on a previous hired Outlander which was outright scary on the Chinese tyres that had replaced the originals.

There are plenty of good points. It's well finished. The engine-transmission combination is refined and responsive, and it's comfortable.

Unfortunately, my spine (partly stuffed after jumping in and out of choppers carrying beaucoup gear forty years ago, and constantly lifting kids with disabilities thirty years ago) did not like the seats. This happens sometimes, and it can preclude the use of certain vehicles. I was able to deal with it by constantly changing the backrest angle, but it was literally a pain.

Don't get me wrong. People with uninjured spines would probably not have an issue.

On the long straight roads we were using (Toowoomba - Roma, Roma - Charleville, and Charleville - Quilpie) the ponderous handling wasn't a problem.

Most of the roads were like this (Quilpie - Charleville)

You just pointed it in the general direction of "straight ahead" and it was OK.

It's not especially economical (8 lit/100kms average) and the range is not in the same class as say, a Hyundai Santa Fe, but it overtakes well. The CVT transmission seems to avoid the drone that is often heard with this kind of gearbox.

Apart from the back issue, I was able to jump out of it after three hours generally bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for work. This was a product of the quiet ride. Noise is tiring.

Monday, 9 June 2014

John Shaw Neilson

Most readers will have heard of Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, at school, and encountered their works in popular culture, but mentioning the name of John Shaw Neilson would likely generate a blank look.

Yet this poet, a contemporary of Lawson and Paterson, wrote some exquisite material.

When you consider the life he lived, and the area he was brought up in – always marginal country, and often in the grip of drought, the lyrical intensity of his work is breathtaking.

It begs to be put to music, and Paul Kelly did just that.

Hence the clip above.

Jimmy Little also covered it.

I saw Kelly perform it live in the Empire Theatre in Toowoomba during the Foggy Highway tour, and he did Neilson and this work justice.

The Poem - 

Surely God was a lover
When He bade the day begin
Soft as a woman’s eyelid
Fine as a woman’s skin
Surely God was a lover
All burning with desire
When He called the night to come down
And set the day on fire
Surely God is a lover
Surely God is a lover
Surely God was a lover
When He made the driving rain
A woman must have left Him
Weeping in a waste of shame
Surely God was a lover
With the madness love will bring
He wrought while His love was singing
And put her soul in the spring
Surely God was a lover
When He made the trees so fair
In every leaf a glory
Caught from a woman’s hair
Surely God was a lover
You can see it in the flowers He grows
His love’s eyes in the violet
Her sweetness in the rose
Surely God was a lover

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