Author Archives: Greta

Melbourne wasn’t such a bad place

Bourke St Mall – it’s early in the morning, decked out for Christmas

I lived close to Melbourne for ten years of my life, and although it isn’t my very favouritist place in the world as far as cities go, I quite like it (shhh don’t tell anyone) . Before we left for warmer climes in 2007 I took a few photos which I’d like to share with you. Some of them are just pretty, others illustrate that Melbourne doesn’t take itself too seriously all of the time. In fact, the city fathers have a sense of humour.

I’m sure the cityscape has changed a lot since I left, but some things don’t change, they just mellow over time.

Flinders St station and Federation Square. I doubt you’ll find a bigger contrast in styles so close together anywhere.

Looking at Melbourne across the Yarra from Princes bridge

Waiting for a tram

Those guys. Really.

The fountain in Carlton Gardens. They hold the garden shows there in early Autumn.

Outside the old post office, which is now a retail centre. Love that stone purse 🙂

Early morning at the ‘G

St Paul’s with Christmas decoration

Christmas Decoration

The Myer Christmas windows

The bridge to Southbank near Flinders St station

Sculpture just outside the library building

A really weird dog

The world’s most livable city

Melbourne Southbank

It seems the word’s out on the world’s most liveable cities, and for the seventh year in a row MELBOURNE, Australia, has lifted the trophy!

Ha ha.

You gotta wonder. It seems “The report considers stability, healthcare, culture, environment, education and infrastructure in 140 different cities around the world.” I wouldn’t have thought any of those factors would vary all that much between the Australian capital cities.

I can’t help thinking that picking a liveable city has to be a tad subjective. I mean, if you’re a dead keen sports watcher, then Melbourne’s your town. One hundred thousand people would be sure to turn out to watch a tiddlywinks championship. Coffee – yes, the best in Oz, I’d say. Food, culture, gardens – it’s all there. They’ve got trams to get around (and get in the way), and it’s not too far to a number of natural wonders like the Great Ocean Road, Echuca and the Murray, snow in the Australian Alps etc.

But it’s also a grey, grim place in the colder months. I recall when I moved from Perth to Melbourne in May 1996. On my last weekend in Perth I went down to Trigg beach for a walk in bright sunshine. Autumn is beautiful in Perth – not too hot, calm, blue skies. I arrived in Melbourne and immediately bought myself a trench coat and some spencers. It was f***ing freezing. All the trees were bare, the skies were grey, and everybody wore black.

It wasn’t all bad, though. I first lived in Melbourne when I was in my twenties. The thing that struck me at that time was you could go to parts of the city (Richmond, Prahran, Carlton to name a few) and the shop signs would be in Foreign. You’d go into a shop, the people would see you coming, pop out the back, and wheel out their sons or daughters who could speak English. It was a real eye-opener. So were the Victoria markets where you could get food from Everywhere. You could walk from Flinders Street station up to Lonsdale Street via the lanes, where you’d find restaurants and coffee shops and all kinds of specialty shops. Then you’d reach the Myer Emporium, which was an Aladdin’s Cave where you could get everything. I loved all the bookshops, too.

But the traffic! Pete and I used to do the daily grind from west of Bacchus Marsh to Melbourne CBD (about 80km one way, which took roughly an hour). Ten years ago when we got out of town for good the suburbs were already beginning to spread west and the commute time was creeping ever higher, which meant we had to get out of bed earlier and earlier. The house prices were rising, too. Melbourne’s just behind Sydney when it comes to affordable housing, and it will catch up pretty soon. Sorry, Melbourne. Not missing you at all.

There are two other Aussie cities in the top ten – Adelaide at five and Perth at seven. I’ve never lived in Adelaide, although I’ve visited a few times. Apart from the fact that the state’s economy is a basket case, it looks like a nice place. With the Barossa and other wine and food areas so close by, food is great. And you’re near the wonderful Flinders Ranges, as well as down the road from Lake Eyre and the outback. It’s also not all that far from Melbourne, so it’s not hard to drive there for a football match or a concert. It has a Mediterranean climate, so on the whole the weather’s great.

Perth CBD

But my pick of the cities on the list (because they’re all large cities) is Perth. I grew up there from the age of four (and a half). The city by the Swan. Perth water is only about a foot deep, but it looks impressive. When I went Over East to Canberra for my first job after Uni, my sister and her husband, who lived in Melbourne, picked me up at the airport for a quick run around the city before my plane left for the nation’s capital. Frank drove over a little hump bridge and said, “That’s the Yarra (river).” I was completely underwhelmed. And on that subject, Adelaide’s river Torrens is even less compelling. They had to dam it so there’s at least a lake. Perth is built on the edges of Perth Water, with Kings Park’s Mount Eliza rearing up on one side. It’s a great place for an aerial view of the city, and the Swan River winding its way down to the Port of Fremantle.

South Perth with Perth Water to the left and the confluence of the Swan and the Canning on the right

My memories of Perth are over twenty years old, but I don’t think the things that stick have altered much. The laid-back, outdoors life style is the thing. The winters are mild, with long bouts of sunshine. I often went to the beach in winter, just to walk. You could always tell the tourists – they were the ones in the water. Nuts. Yes, it can get stinking hot in summer, but it’s usually a dry heat – unless there’s a cyclone hovering around Up North.

Back in the day the population was very English, with pockets of Greek, Slav and Italian immigrants, but nothing like Melbourne. Over the years the city has become more cosmopolitan. Like all the Australian capitals, first class food is everywhere. You’ll find restaurants at the Swan Valley vineyards, along the ocean, by the river, in the quaint older parts of town like Subiaco, and in Freo. I couldn’t argue that Perth is a Mecca for the Arts. Not many big acts make the trek across the Nullarbor, but some do. Still, if you’re desperate, these days a flight to Melbourne isn’t all that expensive. Oh, and that ‘most isolated capital city in the world’? It’s closer to Hong Kong, Singapore and Jakarta than any of the Eastern capitals. Perthites are more likely to holiday in Asia than they are in Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane – it’s much, much cheaper.

I have to say, the worthies in Perth have done a rather better fist of urban planning than places like Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. There’s not much room for parking in Perth CBD, so don’t bring your car. Leave it at a railway station a stop or two out, and catch a free train. There are free commuter buses in the city to get around. The freeways and the railways pave the way before housing estates start, and the satellite city of Joondalup is now a thriving hub. Smart. These days, places like Rockingham and Mandurah have been effectively swallowed up into Perth’s suburbs, but the infrastructure means people can still commute. When I was a kid, people went to those towns for summer holidays. It was a loooong way.

Why aren’t we living in Perth? In a nutshell, like every other major Australian city, it’s too big. We’re over the chase-the-dollar rat race. The climate in Hervey Bay is a bit more humid than I’d like, and bookshops are few and far between. But you can’t win ’em all. It’s small enough to be laid back, and big enough to have a Bunnings you can see from the moon. What else do you need?

Cheers.

A glorious winter morning at the beach

 

 

 

 

 

The trouble with ‘dieting’

In our modern, affluent, first-world society one of the most talked about issues is what we eat. You’ll find racks and racks of cook books, food magazines, TV cooking shows (and a few reality TV shows trying to fake it as cooking shows). Our obsession with food and the eating thereof has now morphed into an epidemic of obesity. You have only to go down to the local shopping mall to witness the phenomenon, which affects all age groups.

Including Pete and me.

Since we retired to Hervey Bay ten years ago, we have steadily put on weight. There are a number of reasons. Lack of exercise is one, eating too much is the other. It’s not so much eating the ‘wrong’ things. For us, fast food is an occasional ‘can’t be bothered’ treat. We’ll stop at Hungry Jack’s or Macca’s for breakfast if we’re doing a long drive somewhere, pick up a pizza if we’re not in the mood to cook. But usually we cook and eat at home, and we eat a lot of vegies.

Like every other woman on this planet, I’ve done the diet thing, sometimes with success, sometimes not. When I was young and slim, the dieting creed was you gave up on bread and potatoes, and had a piece of cheese if you were hungry. That was after you’d eschewed all the naughty things like fried foods, cakes, biscuits, soft drinks and the like. And it worked.

Then we moved on to ‘fat is bad for you’. Stores bulged with low-fat alternatives to everything under the sun, and margarine replaced butter as the spread of choice. Along with ‘no fat’ we had ‘sugar free’ – that is, artificial sweeteners like Aspartame. If you counted your calories on a diet like this, it worked.

There’s a huge ‘diet’ industry. Weight watchers, Jenny Craig, Lite ‘n Easy, Paleo, meal substitutes, and more. Celebrities will tell you how well they work, and they make a fortune selling you stuff. And every time you turn around there’s a new ‘discovery’ about what you should and shouldn’t eat. When it comes down to it, any ‘diet’ will work. For a while. But the only thing that will work long term is lifestyle.

It’s usually your clothes that tell you they’ve had enough and it’s time to do something about it. The scale read 80kg+. I’d had a bit of success in the past with a low-carbohydrates approach. It was time to Get Serious.

Messing about on the web, I found this site – the Diet Doctor It’s all about Low Carb High Fat, otherwise known as keto (NOT Paleo). Please watch the short introductory video. In over-simple terms, though, if you limit the quantity of carbohydrates you consume, your body will burn stored fat instead. It sounded good to me, so I sent it on to Pete. If we did it together we could simplify the whole cooking process. He said yes.

Healthy eating food – low carb high fat

We didn’t have to give up all that much. We ate pretty well, anyway. Neither of us has a sweet tooth, so giving up the usual cakes, ice cream etc was a given. Then we got to the sacrifices. No more Anzac biscuits with morning tea, no bread, pasta, potatoes, or rice. But you can fry a piece of fish with butter, or make meat balls with a mushroom and cream sauce. Cauliflower mashed with cream and a bit of cheese is a surprisingly good substitute for mashed potato. Pete gave up beer, but there are no carbs in Scotch and water (which is what we drank, anyway), and there are only two carbs in a glass of dry red or white wine. Anything marked ‘low-fat’ was immediately off the shopping list. We eat full fat cream, butter, and cheese, and extra-virgin olive oil. We’d always been label-readers, but we went further, checking the carb count in stuff like bottles of salad dressing, or pasata. You’d be surprised how much sugar is in soooo many things.

We don’t count calories. The simple message is ‘eat until you’re full, then stop’. Because the food is rich and filling, it’s pretty hard for most people to overeat. One other thing about this eating approach – there’s none of this ‘you MUST eat breakfast’ nonsense. I never used to in my younger days. In fact, the keto diet encourages a bit of fasting. Eg Don’t eat breakfast, wait until lunch time for your first meal. And you are not encouraged to ‘snack’. In fact, if you eat a good breakfast (like bacon and eggs) you’re not hungry until at least lunch time.

We’ve been doing the LCHF things now for a couple of months and we’ve both shed around 7-8kg. Pete had been diagnosed as having type-2 diabetes. His blood sugar levels have stabilised to normal. And it has been easy. You’ll find a heap of recipes on the web if you search for ‘keto’. I like what I found at Aussie Keto Queen, but there are plenty of others.

If you have cravings for food you’ve given up, like pizza, biscuits, or a chocolatey dessert, you’ll find recipes on the web. You can create substitute pizza crusts from cauliflower, make pretend bread, or make a sweet to satisfy your urges if you want. There’s even a recipe for keto-friendly Anzacs.

If you’ve been doing the yo-yo diet thing and you’re sick of it, take a look. It might work for you, too.

Censorship is stupid

Recently there has been some consternation amongst my writer friends. It seems that Barnes and Noble has decided to take what it perceives as the moral high ground and not only ban erotic novels that do not meet its ‘decency’ standards, it deletes the accounts of offending authors. See article in Publisher’s Weekly. To quote, ‘The content policy in question states that titles subject to removal include “works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.”‘

This is not the first time something like this has happened. A couple of years ago Kobo had a similar purge, tightening-up its content. It’s interesting that these often-draconian measures are applied to writers of (erotic) romance, but any small author who has written romance novels might well be caught up in the ritualistic cleansing. One author I know who normally writes science fiction romance had her perfectly innocent non-romantic Young Adult novel pulled because it had the word ‘sister’ in the book’s description. That happens when you use software, not people, to make judgement. I’ve also heard in the current debacle that author accounts are being cancelled because a book that had been published in the past, but was no longer available, was deemed retrospectively unsuitable. And if an author had one offending title out of (say) ten novels, that was too bad. Author cancelled. The article in Publisher’s Weekly was updated to suggest management has had a second think on the issue, and has agreed to reinstate some of the closed accounts. I should hope so.

Popular book distributor Draft to Digital has informed authors that:

Going forward, Draft2Digital is no longer able to accept or distribute books that feature the following subjects:

  • Rape
  • Incest (included step brother/step sister, or any familial relationship)
  • Paedophilia and underage sex
  • Bestiality
  • Pornography
  • Content that promotes hate towards a religion, race or ethnicity, or sexual orientation
  • Any content that our distributors deem objectionable or in violation of their content restrictions

Please take note especially of the last line. It means they can refuse to accept anything they like. At the end of the day these retailers are censoring what they will sell, and I suppose that is their right. Personally, although I find all of those topics (except the last one, which says nothing) distasteful, all of them happen in our world. Adults should be able to read what they please. I suppose people who write those books will have to market their work at select vendors.To a large extent writers of erotica are already in that situation.

Let’s look at that quote again. “works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.” Instead of pointing a finger at the bible, maybe I’ll just mention that B&N should be pulling Game of Thrones off all their shelves, and cancelling Mr Martin’s account. Except that won’t happen because Mr Martin’s novels sell rather too well. Oh, and didn’t Ruth Rendell write a murder mystery about an incestuous couple? (Yes, she did) That’s probably a bit mainstream, too. Will they have to remove Nabokov’s Lolita from the shelves (again)?

Nazis burning books

By Unknown – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1253020

What particularly bothers me about this growing trend to regulate what we the public gets to see is that it’s part of a greater wave of control. Back in the 1930s the Nazis carried out their own form of censorship by burning books. “The books targeted for burning were those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism.” The behaviour by book retailers comes very close to the same sort of mind set.

Which segues neatly into another form of censorship, the recent spate of destruction of historic statues. It hasn’t just happened in the Southern US states. Demands have been made by ‘offended’ black students to have the statue of Cecil Rhodes removed from Oxford. There’s been some talk about removing Admiral Lord Nelson from his column because he participated in the slave trade, and a few years ago I wrote an article about a move to have Jan Pieterszoon Coen’s statue removed from Hoorn. (He was known as the Butcher of Banda, a tyrannical governor of the city of Batavia -now Jakarta – in the 1620s.) And now in Australia we have statues of Captain Cook being defaced.

It’s idiotic, an attempt to white-wash history. It’s like the Catholic Christians destroying Mayan and Incan buildings and artefacts. It’s like the Taliban destroying the statues of the Buddha, or ISIL destroying the monuments in Syria and Iraq. We’re still ruing the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. What priceless knowledge have we lost from all those actions? You can bet the Taliban and ISIL won’t be saying sorry any time soon.

The latest assault is the resurrection of the move to rename Australia Day, which is commemorated on 26 January, the date when the NSW colony was founded by Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet. Some aboriginal leaders and left-wing sympathisers want to rename it to Invasion Day. Maybe Australia Day should actually be 1 January, because it was on 1 January 1901 that Australia became a nation, and not just a number of separate states. But it’s a bit busy at that time of the year.

I hasten to add that I’m glad to see that aboriginal history is taught in schools these days. When I was a child very little was said about the original inhabitants of this continent and their struggles. But let’s not white-wash them, too, seeing them as innocent nomads, living in harmony with their world. Massacres happened on both sides, and the aboriginal tribes fought each other. Most aborigines these days live in the cities, just like we whites. And most of them are of mixed race.

Maybe it’s time we Westerners stopped apologising, recognise that mistakes, sometimes egregious mistakes, happened in the past, and move on. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. Provided it’s still there to learn from.

 

I’ve been mugged by a humpback

Coming home after a great day out

Since we’re now in the middle of the annual whale migration, I’ve been communing with the whales on one of the half dozen boats that take eager tourists out to view these majestic mammals. This trip was a little bit different for me because I went out with a small group of other keen photographers, escorted by a professional. I was there to learn how to get the best shots I could with my equipment. I brought along both my cameras – one fitted with a wide-angle lens, and the other with a 70-300mm zoom. The long lens was to take shots of whales further out, breaching and the like. As it happened, the long lens just got in the way.

Scones and profiteroles

I went out on a new-to-me boat, Freedom III. Each of the whale boats sets itself up for a niche – because everybody basically wants to see whales. Freedom has two niches – only 45 passengers on a lower-to-the-water boat so you get a more personal experience with the whales, and excellent food.

Home-made scones with jam and cream, and profiteroles for morning tea, an excellent lunch with chicken, ham, and various salads and dinner rolls, and afternoon tea was fruit and cheese. All very nice. Guests could purchase wine, beer, and water, and coffee and tea (Dilmah) was free.

Back to the whales.

I wasn’t the only one surprised to encounter our first whale no more than 5km from the boat harbour. Platypus Bay, where the whales congregate, is about 40km from port, so this whale was very close to shore. I also wasn’t the only one concerned about that. The water is shallow and two whales had recently become stranded in the Great Sandy Strait, where they died. I wrote about that the other week. Still, with so many thousands of whales making the migration these days, I suppose it’s inevitable that there will be unpleasant occurrences.

Humpback whales do an annual migration along both sides of Australia from Antarctica, swimming up to the warmer tropical waters to have their calves, mate, and do some sight-seeing before they make the journey South to the rich krill grounds in Antarctica. (As an aside, I object to the idea of selling krill oil in chemist shops. Krill is whale food. Why save the whales if you deprive them of food?) In most parts of Australia offering whale watch trips the whales are on the move, going from here to there with purpose. But they divert into Hervey Bay, where they’ll stay for a day or a week to mooch around, fatten their calves, fool around with their fellows, and interact with humans.

There are very strict rules around boats and whales. You’ll find the details here, but in summary, skippers must not harass them. A boat can’t come closer than 300m. This translates to the whales having to decide to come and say hello. If they come within 150m, the skipper has to turn off the engine. So if you have a close encounter with a whale, be assured that it is the whale’s choice, which is a wonderful privilege. If whales come very close and hang around, it’s known as being ‘mugged’. The boat cannot leave until the whale decides to go away. We were ‘mugged’ three times in our day on the water.

This gives an idea of how close they are

Spyhopping. This whale’s eyes are just below the water, but they can see through that

The first case was a few sub-adults who hung around for a while and did a fair bit of spyhopping. This is where the whale hangs vertically in the water with its head above the surface. They have excellent eyesight, so what they’re really doing is looking at the boats. When they got bored, they left and we went on our way.

The boat couldn’t leave because the whales had it trapped

The second time we had to ‘rescue’ another boat, which was on a timetable and needed to head back to port. Freedom kind of took over their muggers, an adult female with a would-be suitor, and a mother and calf with escort. The courting couple put on quite a show. She acted as a seductress, rolling around in the water and showing off her white belly. The male tried a few moves, draping a pectoral across her body, but she was still playing hard to get.

The lady and her boyfriend

And the third time a solitary female hung around for over an hour, swimming back and forth on both sides of the boat, inspecting the hull from bow to stern. She was a joy. She sprayed us all with water by blowing air out of her blowholes. She snorted, causing us to wipe whale snot off lenses more than once. She blew bubbles. She rolled around in the water, staring up at us with clearly-visible, open eyes.

It’s actually pretty funny being on one of these boats when the whales are circling. People run from side to side, jockeying for position to get the best shot. It’s easier when there’s more than one whale – if they don’t decide to be on the same side. In this case, a bit of whale-fatigue set in (which frankly astonished all of us in the photography group). People sat down inside and got stuck into a drink or three, oblivious to the wonderful show outside. Still, that meant more room for us.

She deliberately snorted water all over us

She blew bubbles

She cruised past us on her back, and went like that under the hull, as if inspecting

She was looking at us. Her open eye is one the forward edge of that white spot

How did we know she’s a girl? All whales have a genital slit. The boys keep their bits hidden until required. But only the girls have that hemispherical bump towards the tail.

I suppose you could say we were lucky that she got tired of us at about the time the skipper was looking anxiously at his watch. We headed for home, we photographers sharing a look at shots on our cameras. I didn’t quite fill up a 32GB SD card, but I did go through a battery. I took about six photos with the long lens because the battery had died in the camera with the wide-angle lens. Yes, I brought spares, but they were in my bag, compulsorily stashed away with everybody else’s, so I took the battery out of the one with the long lens and replaced the one that was spent. Even with a lens capable of 18mm, that wasn’t always wide enough to capture the entire whale in one image.

No, we didn’t see much of the more spectacular part of whale watching – breaching, and the like. I’ve seen that and I have some great pictures. But you know what? This kind of interaction we had today is somehow better. It’s more personal, more a sense of one intelligent creature attempting to commune with another species.

I had a wonderful day. I hope you enjoy looking at the photos almost as much as I enjoyed taking them. Here’s a few more because I can – and I love it.

I can snort a rainbow. We had to wipe whale-snot off our lenses more than once 🙂

Waving a pectoral

Doing a little bit of tail-slapping

Close up of a whale snout. Those modules are very sensitive, helping the whale know where it is in the water

 

Extremism seems to be here to stay

White supremacists clash with police
By Evan Nesterak – White supremacists clash with police, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61723994

I’m still shaking my head over marches in Charlottesville where one of the white supremacist thugs ran down the crowd in a car, killing one woman. That dead woman, taking part in an anti-racist protest, was not only killed, the Nazis vilified her on social media. I will not put a link to any entries. I don’t want to encourage any publicity for these despicable people. They are just as evil as the Islamist fundamentalists. Don’t forget the young Nazi who went into a church and murdered nine black people.  That’s up there with the young Muslim who blew up innocents in Manchester. And now just yesterday, sixteen people were killed in another deliberate vehicle attack in Barcelona.

Many of us older people are wondering what happened after 2000? Everything seemed to be going so smoothly in the world, and then the wheels fell off. I think the answer has two arcs. The first is about the haves – the wealthy 1% who own more than the rest of the world combined, and the people in power wanting to return to the glory days of the past. And the second is about the forgotten people, those who can’t make ends meet, who find themselves without prospects, without hope.

History happens in cycles. I’d love to think we humans might learn from history, but we don’t. In 1920-30’s Europe,  Germans, resentful of their treatment at the end of the War to End All Wars (huh), looked around for someone to blame for the crippling debt and unemployment. A fellow called Hitler came along and told them it wasn’t their fault at all. It was those mongrel Jews. Germans were the Chosen Folk, blond-haired, blue-eyed Supermen, better than everybody else.

Over in the East, Stalin eyed the goings-on and decided to sign a treaty with Hitler, thereby giving him a chance to expand into Poland and Finland. Mussolini was anxious to emulate the Roman Empire and was happy to solicit help from the Germans. The US stood aloof. None of it was their business. China was something you bought for your dinner service – but Japan was rattling its swords, looking to expand its Empire.

And the West – particularly France and the UK – did nothing, hoping Hitler would cease his demands. As we all ought to know, he didn’t. Thus started a war that ended in a shattered, exhausted Europe divided between the Soviets and the West, and a flattened Asia – especially Japan. The world was shocked by death camps in Europe and across Asia. The UN was formed so that it wouldn’t happen again.

Now? The UN has outlived its usefulness. The security council is impotent because the five permanent members (Russia, the USA, UK, France, China) have the power of veto. We’ve seen veto exercised in resolutions regarding the situation in Syria. That fight goes on. The UN has become a pasture for retired politicians to keep living in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

We have a resurgent China making territorial demands in the South Pacific, which reminds me so much of Hitler’s demands for return of ‘German’ lands in Austria and Czechoslovakia in the 1930’s. The latter was the catalyst for the 1938 crisis where Europe teetered on the brink of war. I’m quite sure Xi Jingping is enjoying watching Kim Jong Un’s taunts at America. I can’t see him doing anything to stop that conflict any time soon.

We have a resurgent Russia with a leader who appears to be aspiring to the glory days of the USSR. Putin has already annexed Crimea, virtually annexed Georgia, and half of Ukraine. It seems Belarus is next on the agenda, and Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania are watching with concern. And all this is happening while North Korea provides covering fire.

Around the world disaffected young (mainly) men are finding themselves marginalised, jobless, and hopeless. So they turn to extremism. Islam has its fundamental Daesh cult, the Taliban, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda. Several of these groups are alive and well in the Muslim communities in Europe, and they have adherents in Australia. On the other side, Nazism and other white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan have risen from the ashes. The Islamist cults promise death to everybody who isn’t them. And the white supremacists promise death to anybody who (er) isn’t them. That’s blacks, Jews, gays, transgender people, Gypsies. For both groups women are chattels, nothing more than baby factories. Fuelled by hatred, they kill people they don’t know, and often themselves as well. I wonder if any of them really know why they’re doing this, what they hope to achieve? I ask myself that question every time I hear of a new atrocity. Why? Even more to the point, why do we try to find excuses for these people? Nazis running people down is every bit as much an act of terrorism as Islamists doing so. Man Monis declared his siege at the Lindt cafe to be for Islam. Why should we argue with him?

I’m one of the Baby Boomer generation, born in the good times after WW2. Because of the devastation of that war, we had jobs and opportunities. And as I grew up, a lot of the old prejudices of the past were slowly dismantled. Women were allowed to keep their jobs if they married. The contraceptive pill was a huge advance for women, allowing them to avoid unwanted pregnancy. In Australia, aboriginal people were given the right to vote (in a referendum where 90% of eligible voters said ‘yes’). In America, black people won freedoms even in the South. In Africa, apartheid ended. Now, the factions of the right are clawing back power. The Republicans in America have frighteningly conservative Christian policies which marginalise LGBTI people and erode the rights of women. Their policies in health care favour the people who don’t need it (rich) and make it beyond the reach of people who do. I wouldn’t want to be sick in America. Closer to home, owning a house in Australia is becoming beyond the reach of most young people. Indonesia and Malaysia, our closest neighbours, are turning increasingly to conservative Islam and Sharia law.

I’m watching what’s happening around the world with dismay. It’s like the interregnum between WW1 and WW2 all over again. The world’s divided into armed camps, while down on the ground disaffected extremist groups scuttle around, killing everybody else. We used to be able to turn up at the airport and walk into the plane just before the gates closed. Now we turn up two to three hours before to endure a security check. I don’t begrudge the process. Once you have nutters prepared to bring down several hundred innocent people simply living their lives for the sake of a belief, this sort of thing is essential. In so many respects the terrorists have already won.

Still and all, the world remains a beautiful place.

The full moon rises above the sea

A Brahmani kite at dawn

The full moon in cloud. So atmospheric.

Lake Geneva with swan

The hazards of navigation

Last weekend we decided to go for a drive, to get out of town for a little while. We found a place on the map we figured might be interesting – Coalstoun Lakes, not too far from Gayndah and Biggenden, about 140km away. We’d never been there, and maybe there’d be, you know, a lake. Scenery to look at. Maybe some wildlife.

We had some fun confusing the basically dreadful navigation system on the Merc. To start with it wanted us to go to Childers via Torbanlea, but we headed to Maryborough instead. Undeterred, the girl in the console suggested that we should drive to Maryborough, then take the Bruce Highway to Childers, then go inland from there. If we had intended to go via Childers, we would not have gone to Maryborough first. That would have meant a hairpin bend in Maryborough to almost retrace where we’d come from. But I have to say, she’s a persistent little critter. In Maryborough itself she tried to persuade us to go around the block for ages. Even when we headed inland, crossing over the Bruce Highway onto the Biggenden Road, she tried to divert us back to the Bruce. To give her fair due, though, going via Childers would have been shorter. But who wants to drive on the Bruce if you don’t have to?

She gave up eventually, and worked out what we intended to do. She probably sulked.

Anyway, back to Coalstoun Lakes. It’s supposed to be a town just past Biggenden. Judging by the name (as you do) we were kind of expecting a Lake. Maybe two. Or at least a dry area where a lake used to be. But no. No lake on the Merc’s nav, no lake on Maps.Me on Pete’s tablet, no lake on the paper map (admittedly not detailed), no lake on Google maps (see above) – and (surprise!) no lake.

UPDATE: There are lakes! Two, in fact. Volcanic crater lakes. Well, golly gosh. Maybe we should have asked Google BEFORE we went out. Coalstoun Lakes NP.

Spectacular sunset

We pootled around a bit, drove through Biggenden which was NOT jumping on a Sunday afternoon, tried a couple of side roads that led to farm gates, shrugged our shoulders and headed for home. It is pretty country, though, with a range of hills that kind of rear up from the plains. I took a couple of pictures (see above). We’d had a spectacular sunset the previous evening, harbinger of the cloud bands in the photo, part of a front that brought the area (and us, as it happens) welcome rain.

On the way back I noticed a side road on the nav system that would cut off quite a long triangle of road – about 20 km, in fact. We could bypass Goomeri to get to Kilkivan. It was marked on the map as a minor made road, so we decided to give it a try. And this is where the essential not quite accurate nature of both our navigation systems let me down. (I’m the navigator, you see). We came across a left turn from the highway, and judging by the position of the little blue icon that represented our car, I decided this was it. We chucked a u-ey (having already driven past the turn-off) and went down the narrow bitumen road. Our first choice of a fork ended up at a farm gate. The second choice took us into rugged country. The bitumen petered out and the track started to snake around, and cross numerous gullies. Eventually we gave up and resigned ourselves to the main road, including that triangle via Goomeri that we were trying to avoid.

Back on the blacktop we drove another couple of kilometres – and lo – there was a sign which read Kilkivan 27 km! And so we went that way. We arrived home in Hervey Bay just before the rain.

I have been sacked from navigation until I have completed the re-training course.

 

 

 

Not every whale story is happy

The Great Sandy Strait

I’m busy editing my latest book, ‘For the Greater Good’. For anyone interested in that aspect of me, take yourself over to my spot at Spacefreighters Lounge for all the news.

The event that caught my interest this week was the ‘beaching’ of two juvenile whales in the Great Sandy Strait, which separates Fraser Island from the mainland. The strait is treacherous, with shifting sandbars and narrow channels, all exacerbated by the tides. These two young whales must have taken a left at Inskip Point, and simply run out of water in that area between the two occurrences of the words ‘Great Sandy Strait’ on the map, among those islands. A few years ago, a pod of orcas made the same mistake. Most of them made it out to the Bay, with help from the whaling community up here, although two died. Reports are starting to come out that Parks and Wildlife did not want help from the whaling people here in trying to rescue this pair. If that’s true, I’m horrified. Humpbacks have recovered well after having been at the brink of extinction and as their numbers grow, incidents are bound to happen. Some calves won’t make it, some whales will become sick, and some will get stuck in shark nets along their migration route. (I abhor those things – the reasoning is the nets are there to protect swimmers, but they catch anything that hits them – sharks, dolphins, turtles, fish, whales) Surely we must offer them help when they need it, especially if they’re caught up in situations where they cannot help themselves.

And in this context I’ll mention another recent incident captured on video – a humpback encumbered with bundles of heavy rope that had cut into its dorsal fin. Here’s the story told by a young man brave enough to go into the water to help the creature. Mind you, I know I would have, too. Anyway, the story is that the experienced people at Parks and Wildlife were not around to help with that whale because they were down south attending a training session. Which leaves me speechless. Whale season is from July to November, every year, without fail. The first arrivals are always the inexperienced youngsters, the teenagers if you like, and just like human teenagers, bullet proof and willing to take risks – or make mistakes. THAT’s when the experienced rangers should be on duty, to help prevent these mistakes becoming tragedy – especially when it’s about getting entangled in human ropes.

I’ll be going whale watching as part of a mentored photography group later in the month. I’m hoping there will be some happy photos. Meanwhile, here’s some photos from seasons past.

And here’s some of my previous whale watching posts.

It’s that time of year again 2016

The whales are back 2015

I had a whale of a time 2014

It’s whale time in Hervey Bay 2013

 

A whale leaves a footprint made by the huge tail

A young whale spy hopping – checking out the people on the boat

This is a fairly lazy breach. Just enough energy to give the whale a good look around

Check out the size of the whales against this runabout – and they’re not even bog ones

The real impact of ‘green’ thinking

Wind turbines in South Australia

An American friend recently sent me this article about the current state of America.  It’s entitled ‘why the greens lost and Trump won‘. Let me just quote the first paragraph of that article “It’s tough to prevail with an agenda that makes people poorer, more subservient and more miserable. That disconnect is one part of how this awful guy made it to the White House.”

I realise the article’s argument is probably an oversimplification, but it resonates all the same. It’s so easy to suggest we stop using coal and use solar and wind power. But the practicalities are different. People who can afford the thousands to install a solar array on their roofs will do so, and slash their power bill. But poor people, living from pay check to pay cheque (or welfare cheque) can’t. Businesses that operate during daylight hours, like banks, public service offices and the like, could substantially reduce daylight power costs by having solar arrays, and (IMO) they should do so. The more people have solar panels, the cheaper they’ll become, there will be less strain on the grid, and more research will be carried out to improve their efficiency and longevity. But they will never replace conventional power from the grid – because of clouds, and night. Alternative sources cannot provide the sustainable supply of power needed for the manufacturing industry, hotels, hospitals, and other twenty-four-hour concerns. Maybe they will in the future, but not now.

So if you shut down power stations without adequately providing alternative supplies for the population, guess who suffers? Let me help – pensioners, low-paid workers, single mums, the disabled – all the most vulnerable people in the community. Also industry, where rising prices and intermittent supply will impact productivity and cause some players to leave the market altogether, which will cost jobs.  Once again, it’s working class people without the skills to obtain other jobs, especially people outside the large cities, who suffer the consequences. One small business here in Hervey Bay is being slugged an extra $300,000 per year for power. Needless to say, plans for expansion are on hold. And Hervey Bay has the highest unemployment rate in the country.

Let’s look at some alternative facts. Australia has huge coal deposits, some of the finest coal in the world. These days, coal fired power stations are much more efficient than they were in the past and make no mistake, China is still building them, despite a slowdown. One reason for that slowdown is the improved efficiency of modern plants, as described in this article. So where does our coal go? To China. We also mine high quality iron ore. I’ll give you three guesses where most of that goes. And then, when the Chinese convert our coal and iron ore, we buy it back from them as steel. And it isn’t very good steel.

The steel mill in Newcastle closed years ago, and the steel mills in Port Kembla are on a rocky road. The car plants have closed in Victoria. The mines have closed down in the West. These are all places that used to employ working class people without the skills to move into the burgeoning service industries. Granted, one of the reasons all these plants have been shut down is because the unions have negotiated/enforced such conditions that even if the companies can provide the pay and conditions for a time, they’ll back out as soon as they can. And with the cost of electricity sky-rocketing, they probably couldn’t afford to keep the industries going, anyway. Here’s a look at what’s happening in South Australia, which has the highest power costs in the country.

On the matter of the environment, yes, the Barrier Reef is important. But the Adani coal mining project is to take place on ground that isn’t used for much else. Why not give people jobs? It’s true there was serious bleaching of coral in the far north of the reef in a particularly hot year. Do the Greens really believe that a carbon tax will stop that from happening? Pulling stunts like pretending runoff from coal mines has polluted the land near the coal port at Abbott Point is simply lying. Here’s the story.  Climate change is here to stay, folks. Even the optimists have had to accept we can’t change it. Australia is responsible for an insignificant amount of carbon emissions. Taxing businesses even more will discourage enterprise, or send it to India and China where the imposts are smaller and the wages lower. The Paris Accord is just another junket for bureaucrats to get their snouts in the trough. Why don’t the Greens expend a bit more wind on cleaning up the oceans, which is something we can, and should, do?

Prominent Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young recently took her daughter on a trip to the Great Australian Bight to go whale-watching – at tax-payers’ expense. To quote an article, ‘Ms Hanson-Young claimed the premise of her trip was to talk to locals and players in the tourism industry which she said is under threat from “big oil”.’ Southern right whales come into the Bight to breed, and I’m delighted to say that numbers are at last starting to recover. One of the reasons for that is that the Great Australian Bight is a marine park, has been for twenty years, and has recently been expanded. There won’t be any oil drilling. Why does she not know that? Oh, and by the way, what about the emissions from a charter aircraft used to fly the senator to the site?

It’s all about balance. We can’t continue to rely on fossil fuels forever, but instead of destroying the viability of our way of life, maybe we should talk about transition. Until we can prove we can rely on sustainable energy sources, we shouldn’t be shutting down coal fired power stations.

And here are the weekly pictures.

The Murchison River gorges near Kalbarri. A wild place.

The cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. Whale watching from the tops of those cliffs is not exciting.

Whale watching in Hervey Bay IS exciting. This is a humpback, one of the flourishing community on the East coast of Australia, well and truly back from the brink of extinction.

A fiftieth reunion

I’ve been invited to a reunion. Fifty years ago (50) I was in my final year of high school, along with perhaps a couple of hundred other kids. I was sixteen, and I wouldn’t turn seventeen until my final exams were done and dusted.

It was a different world back then. Not everybody went on to the final two years of high school – many (especially girls) left school after three years of high school to join the workforce, or take up apprenticeships – for the girls, many saw that period as the hiatus before marriage and children. Those of us who did fourth and fifth year were supposed to be looking at university, or a professional career. My brother had to finish his Leaving Certificate (that was what it was called) to make the qualifications for pilot training in the RAAF. Me, I just wanted to go to university. I didn’t know what I was going to study, what I was going to do with that degree. A short term goal that led to a great deal of navel gazing a few years later.

It’s interesting looking back to fifty years ago. I’d attended the then brand new Bentley High School for my first three years. At that time it could not cater for senior students, so I had to go to Applecross High School, which my brother attended for all of his high school years. He’d left when I arrived, but his name was not forgotten, so I was ‘Fred’s little sister’ to several teachers. I was used to that from primary school. However, most of my friends from Bentley had gone to Kent Street High for their final years, so I knew hardly anybody, and the one friend I’d had at Bentley was in a different class to me. (She did maths and science, while I’d taken the ‘soft’ options of languages, history and the like.) But I knew two other girls who had been in my class at primary school, one of whom had been my best friend. They had been given special permission to attend Applecross for whatever reason. And one of those two was even in my class, so I became friends with her friends. Later, a new girl arrived from New Zealand. Although we weren’t all that close at high school, she became my very best friend during the university years, and after. (She’s the one who invited me to the reunion)

My BFF and I had attended the twenty-fifth reunion, but there were few people there we knew. Only one of my little clique turned up – the girl (woman) I knew from primary school. We chatted with several people, swapping stories, sharing reminiscences about some of the teachers. But we hadn’t shared many experiences with most of the people there.

I’ll share one little story. Quite a few of us (including me) despised sport, which happened every Wednesday afternoon. But there was a bright side – in Winter you got to pick a sport away from the school itself. My little clique decided we’d like to play squash, so we’d catch a bus to a local court, play a few games, then head off home. Needless to say, the games we played became shorter and shorter, or didn’t happen at all. Then one Wednesday afternoon, the entire upper school was ordered to attend a meeting on the oval. Except those of us who played hooky didn’t know. As I recall. the teachers were staggered at the number of no-shows. That was the end of our short Wednesdays. From then on if you didn’t play sport you did supervised private study in a classroom. (Even then, rock paper scissors was a popular subject for study. It worked fine – as long as you didn’t play it across the aisle between the desks.)

I don’t think either my friend or I were all that keen on attending the fiftieth. But she was persuaded to go by the woman who had been my best friend at primary school, so she rang to persuade me. The upshot is I’ll be going over to Perth in October to attend a reunion with a bunch of other old farts. It’ll be interesting to see who I recognize, and how much people have changed. And, of course, there will be people missing, people who didn’t make it to 2017, including at least one from my class.

As it happens, this year is also the fiftieth anniversary of my father’s sudden death. Ah, memories. He was only fifty-five. He wouldn’t have made it to a fiftieth class reunion.

Now for a few pictures.

A glorious winter morning at the beach

Clouds reflected in a calm river with boats

Have some fun – what are they talking about?

A win for the raptor – I THINK that’s a pigeon in its talons