Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Back Where it Belongs

Today I marched with my union for the first time in thirty years.

The reason for this was the reinstatement in Queensland of the May day celebration back where it belongs.

This victory over political spite (which was the only reason for shifting it) was worth celebrating.

There was a great rollup, and it was good to reconnect with people I had worked with over the years in a variety of schools and situations. Songs were sung, speeches made, and a good time was had by all.

We were reminded of the origins of the Labor movement in the 1891 shearers' strike. The harsh suppression of this strike (including the use of the military) was largely responsible for the formation of the Australian Labor Party.

In order to do a bit of stirring, I wore my unit reunion shirt to the parade. Large numbers of ex-military are anti-union, so I thought that it might be instructive to remind them that the right to organise was one of the values that Australians had always fought for.

Scattered amongst the crowd were ex-public servants sacked in Newman's purge in 2012. It was interesting listening to them explain how that action had motivated many to become very politically active.

The surprise defeat of his government was in no small measure an outcome of his broken promise about public service redundancies. People (and their families) don't forget these things.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Anzac Myth

Photo courtesy the Saturday Paper

I came across this well written piece in The Saturday Paper.

It is especially relevant at this time, on the eve of ANZAC day, given the extensive and overblown mythology that has developed around what was always intended as a day of commemoration.

It also resonates with some research I did recently through the Australian War Memorial into a great uncle who served in France.

My great uncle's military records indicate that he jumped ship in Durban on the way to Plymouth, and was consequently separated from his unit. On arrival in the UK, he went straight into hospital with VD, no doubt picked up during the ten days he was AWOL in Durban.

His service records show that he embarked for France a few months later after a long stint in hospital, but the fact that he ended up with a different posting in a different unit from his original probably saved his life. More than half of his original unit were casualties, dead or maimed, in the nightmare that was the Western Front..

He survived and ended up marrying a French girl who had nursed him in hospital, strangely in the UK. I never did discover what she was doing in England.

They lived in France for a while after the war, but eventually found their way back to Australia in the twenties to settle in Clermont,central Queensland.

He died fairly young, possibly as a consequence of his service, but my French great aunt lived to a ripe old age. Stories of her eccentricities are part of our family history.

The article linked above discusses these issues at some length. It recounts the reality, not the myth.

Somehow the myth continues to grow, like a parasite on the truth, and it dishonours the memory of those who did not return.

On a personal note, I have been accused on a military blog of lying because I had the temerity to point out that the story going around that all Nashos who served in Vietnam were volunteers was rubbish. Somehow, the fact that National Servicemen were obliged to serve in Vietnam whether they wanted to or not, does not fit the narrative that we were enthusiastic about driving the Commies out of South Vietnam.

The National Service Act made it very clear that national servicemen on full-time duty were liable for ‘special overseas service’ including combat duties in Vietnam. This fact is conveniently ignored. The "all were volunteers" myth has been thoroughly debunked in mark Dapin's book - The Nasho's War, and before its release, research I'd done at the AWM was leading me to the same conclusion. There is no record of alleged "opt-out parades" anywhere in unit records or AWM documentation.

There may have been isolated incidents of unit commanders taking matters into their own hands and finding ways of weeding out unwilling conscripts, but I certainly was never given the opportunity. To enlarge this alleged practice to cover ALL Nashos is pure fiction.  

Dapin interviewed hundreds of Nashos and came to the same conclusion.  

The myth persists, and until a short time ago was included in material available to schools on the ANZAC day website. I emailed them with my evidence, and they subsequently removed it, but this sequence of events is typical of the exploitation of the commemoration to support a spurious narrative.

Those who served were on the whole, ordinary men caught up in the absurdity of war. They wanted to live - they saw no glory in dying in war. They loved and were loved. They who were killed left family and lovers behind who will mourn them forever. 

Perhaps telling the truth about the ugly absurdity of modern warfare is too much for our delicate twenty-first century sensibilities, but is it OK to invent a false narrative to avoid such unpleasantness?

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Parting Glass

This is posted, gentle reader, for two reasons.

One is that it is a moving and evocative piece of music.

The other because a member of my extended family (my nephew) is a member of the Brisbane based choir, Voices of Birralee, which is currently on a WW1 commemorative tour in France. they are performing at Amiens, Villers-Bretonneux and Bullecourt, among other locations.

This performance was recorded in L’├ęglise de la Madeleine in the 8th arrondissement of Paris.

The lyrics -

 "The Parting Glass"

Of all the money that e'er I had
I've spent it in good company
And all the harm that e'er I've done
Alas it was to none but me
And all I've done for want of wit
To memory now I can't recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all

Of all the comrades that e'er I had
They are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e'er I had
They would wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I'll gently rise and I'll softly call
Good night and joy be with you all

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Unique, Incredible & Iconic

 These three words are driving me spare!

It is impossible to read or watch media without each of them being misused, overused, or simply dropped into the text or dialogue without any care or understanding of their meaning and usage.

Let’s begin with “unique”.

The dictionary meaning is “the embodiment of unique characteristics; the only specimen of a given kind.”

Yet how often is it applied to something slightly unusual, and more frequently than not, an adjective is attached, so we end up with stuff like – “very unique”. What part of “only” is not understood? Something is either unique or it isn’t. 

In that sense, it’s a bit like “pregnant”.

Then there's "incredible". The word means “so extraordinary as to seem impossible”.

To me, the extraordinary thing is the frequency with which it is applied breathlessly to some situation or performance of note. It seems to be one of the few descriptive words known by your average sporting commentator. Taken literally, we’ve seen a rash of extraordinary and/or impossible performances recently. 

Perhaps these performances have become so commonplace that before too long a whole new lexicon will have to be invented. The sky’s the limit.

Perhaps we can begin to use words nicked from other languages. How about “giaman”? (Pidgin). 
It doesn’t mean “incredible”, by the way.

But the one that really gives me the irits* is “icon”.

The funny thing about this word is that it lay dormant for a very long time, and then suddenly (about five years ago, I reckon), it exploded on to the scene.

Years ago, when I was studying comparative religion, was the first time I remember coming across this word. It was presented in the context of artistic renderings of religious symbols and was usually applied to representations of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint, usually painted in oil on a wooden panel, depicted in a traditional Byzantine style and venerated in the Eastern Church.

So how did it come to be applied to people who have become well known? What is religious about celebrity? That’s quite a semantic stretch.

I guess that celebrity worship, often driven by marketing, has become a product of contemporary culture in the absence of more traditional belief systems.

But the change in meaning is an enormous leap from the original.

I know – English is a living language, but that doesn’t excuse treating well established meaning like yesterday’s food packaging.

Don’t get me going on the packaging industry………….

*Maybe if I use this it will become fashionable.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Playing for Change

My sister (a music teacher) posted this on Facebook.

I thought, gentle reader, that it was worth sharing.

It says, in music, what words cannot.....that what we have in common is more important than what separates us.

Music is universal.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Labour Day

The labour day holiday has been restored to its rightful calendar date in Queensland.

This follows the Newman government’s attempt to airbrush this very significant date (May 1st) from Queensland history.

The LNP looks askance on the facts of history behind the labour day observation.
It doesn’t sit well with their dodgy value system to acknowledge that the Labor movement was born during the 1891 shearers’ strike which heralded the development of a political force which became the ALP.

They probably would prefer not to be reminded of the success of that movement, and its achievement of political power at both state and federal levels.
It seems that the workers of Australia, especially those who are casual employees, and who come from the most disadvantaged groups (students and backpackers) need the protection of unions to redress the stark power imbalance that holds them in thrall to their employers, whether they be labour hire companies or multinationals.

The plethora of scams revealed during the last couple of years bears this out.

Remember, these are the tip of the iceberg. For every rip-off revealed there are probably half a dozen that remain hidden.

It's worth recalling William Kidston's words -

Then keep your heads, I say, my boys; your comrades in the town
Will help you yet to win a vote and put your tyrants down.
Throw your old guns aside, my boys; the ballot is the thing
They did not have to reckon with when George the Fourth was king.
The ballot is the thing, my boys, the ballot is the thing
Will show these men how long it is since George the Fourth was king. *

*Kidston later became Premier of Queensland.

Monday, 28 March 2016

What Led to Brussels

The national and international media is full of the atrocities in Brussels.

 These tragedies are the culmination of a series of events beginning with the action taken in 2003 by the Coalition of the Willing.

They also remind us of the four thousand plus casualties suffered by the Americans in this abject failure of policy and decision making. Unfortunately, and to our eternal shame, Australia was part of that coalition.

At the time, I made a small personal protest that made the front page of the local rag, and there were demonstrations both in Australia and overseas. The invasion went ahead, of course, and what we’re seeing in Brussels now, what we saw in Paris last year, and what we will continue to see, even if ISIL is overwhelmed in a military sense, can be sheeted back to that action in March 2003.

Of course, many mistakes have been made since by administrations other than the Bush Whitehouse, but it goes back to 2003. The arrogance, ignorance and naivety demonstrated by the Bush administration, and by proxy, administrations in London and Canberra, beggar belief.

It’s telling that none of Bush’s inner circle (Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, or Cheney) had combat experience in the military. The only one who did (Colin Powell) had reservations, but expressed them only in private, and they were ignored.

There were no Arabic speakers in that inner circle, and the person they relied on for advice and guidance, Ahmed Chalabi, became a convicted criminal.

The video above provides a very clear narrative.

Read it and weep.

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