Category Archives: Life and things

A typical Australian summer

Sun, surf, and sand, yeah? Barbies at the beach, or next to the backyard swimming pool. That’s the ideal. But it’s Fake News, folks.

In the real world, record-breaking rain (really record breaking, not that pretend stuff) has drenched Far North Queenslan. The drought has ended but now cattle are dying in their thousands because of the floods, which are visible from space. And that’s without taking into the thousands upon thousands of native animals and domestic pets affected by the water. The only critters not complaining are the crocs. They say ‘if it’s flooded, forget it’ – flood water up there contains anything from nasty bacteria to a four-meter salty (salt water crocodile), maybe a few snakes and spiders, and of course, good old blind mullets (sewage).

The rain has finally stopped. Townsville, which seldom gets good rain, is sodden. But its community spirit is fantastic and they have the good fortune to be home to Australia’s third battalion, so there are plenty of willing helpers with heavy duty equipment.

Townsville flood photos: the aftermath of North Queensland’s weather event

Meanwhile, much of the green and fertile island of Tasmania has been on fire for weeks. Welcome rain has fallen to help the exhausted fire fighters. But just because the fires are out, that’s not the end of it.

Rains bring relief to bushfire-weary Tasmanian towns and fire crews

Somwhere in the middle Sydney’s western suburbs were lashed by a severe storm just a day or two ago. Roofs were ripped off, trees felled, power lines destroyed. And, of course, flash flooding.

Sydney lashed by severe thunderstorms, power outages, flooding

And what’s happening back home, here in Hervey Bay?

That brown stuff is grass and dirt

Summer is our wet season. We don’t get the tropical monsoon but we can get very heavy rain in December, January and February. We recorded 78.5mm in December, about half our ten-year average. The highest we’ve had in December was 593.5 (not far off 24″). In January, where we’d normally get 100-200mm, we recorded precisely 1mm. In February we’ve been watching the radar maps, hoping that massive low over Townsville would drift further south but it never happened. Little groups of clouds like a loose mob of sheep have drifted up from the South East, bringing bits of moisture to coastal towns. So far, we’ve had 21mm, which is little more than a tease.

Little groups of clouds

We’re struggling to keep the larger plants alive, even the drought-tolerant species like acalypha. The grass is only green in the rare places which benefit from run-off where we’ve watered an adjacent bit of garden.

Needless to say, the birds here are doing it tough. As I mentioned last week, we have fifity and more lorikeets, along with miner birds and blue-faced honey eaters, turning up for breakfast and dinner juice. Magpies, magpie larks, and butcher birds enjoy bacon rind. Just about everybody likes a bit of bread.

Us? Well, we’re just hoping for rain.

YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE

Pete and I have been mucking about with the telly. You know, one of those big ones with a computer chip so that it’s really just a huge computer pretending to be a telly. Over the years we’ve collected DVD players to go with it – and its predecessors. First the DVD player to replace the one that replaced the video player, then the bluray/3D player and then a little dinky player which plays everything, regardless of region, which I needed for a few Discworld movies and the Poirot Collection. Of course, there’s also a fairly out of date sound system, with cables and things. For some reason known only to it, the amplifier has decided it doesn’t want to play with the other bits anymore. It’s about twenty years old and it doesn’t even have an HDMI connection, so it’s getting a bit geriatric. So we’ve been Mucking About. We may end up having to buy a new amplifier for the system, but that’s another story.

THE POINT of all this is while in the process of Mucking About, we found some shows we had recorded on one of the DVD player’s hard disk drive. Pete started playing one of them and called me in to ask questions about it. So I sat on the coffee table, facing the Big TV on its cabinet, pulled away from the wall so it stood at an angle so we could get behind to play with the multitude of cables – and became engrossed.

It was Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather. I have the DVD now, but back then, we copied the movie from the ABC. The Hogfather is Discworld’s equivalent of Father Christmas.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was a scene where the wizards at Unseen University were consulting the university’s thinking engine (computer) named Hex. Since it is on Discworld the machine doesn’t have high falutin’ electric bits like microchips and such. It works with ant farms, hamsters in wheels and things like that. For the first time I noticed that Hex has a large yellow sticker on the side of the device labelled “anthill inside”.

I laughed like a loon. (Think about it – it’s a cerebral joke.)

And from there I just kept watching to the end of the movie, about twenty minutes worth. Bear with me. There’s a point to all this. If you’re bored and don’t want to know about the book/movie, skip the next two paragraphs to the label SKIP HERE.

I love Pratchett. I love the way he delves deep into folklore and examines it to understand, if you will, the human condition. And this story, Hogfather, is very much about exactly that. What does fantasy mean? Why do we need fantasy? Why are stories like the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas important? On the Discworld, Pratchett’s fantasy universe that feels a lot like Earth, the Hogfather bears an uncanny resmblance to Father Christmas and Hogwatch could easily be mistaken for Christmas.

In Hogfather, somebody is trying to destroy the concept of stories because they’re not scientific and they’re not based on fact. When the Hogfather disappears, Death, the seven foot skeleton with a black robe, a scythe, and a sword, takes over the Hogwatch run on his behalf, while Death’s granddaughter goes off to find who’s doing this and stop them.

I wrote a review of the movie for those who might be interested.

SKIP HERE

Toward the end of the book we have this profound discussion between Death and granddaughter Susan, who has ‘saved the day’ in a primordial forest where the pagan antecedents of Hogwatch, a sacrifice to the return of the sun, was played out.  Death always speaks in capital letters. With a deep voice. Sepulchral, perhaps.

I WILL GIVE YOU A LIFT BACK, said Death, after a while.

‘Thank you. Now . . . tell me . . .’

WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HADN’T SAVED HIM?

‘Yes! The sun would have risen just the same, yes?’

NO.

‘Oh, come on. You can’t expect me to believe that. It’s an astronomical fact.’

THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.

She turned on him. ‘It’s been a long night, Grandfather! I’m tired and I need a bath! I don’t need silliness!’

THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.

‘Really? Then what would have happened, pray?’

A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.

They walked in silence for a moment. ‘Ah,’ said Susan dully. ‘Trickery with words. I would have thought you’d have been more literal-minded than that.’

I AM NOTHING IF NOT LITERAL-MINDED. TRICKERY WITH WORDS IS WHERE HUMANS LIVE.

‘All right,’ said Susan. ‘I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need . . . fantasies to make life bearable.’

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

‘Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—’

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

‘So we can believe the big ones?’

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

‘They’re not the same at all!’

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY, AND YET— Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME . . . SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

‘Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—’

MY POINT EXACTLY.

She tried to assemble her thoughts.

THERE IS A PLACE WHERE TWO GALAXIES HAVE BEEN COLLIDING FOR A MILLION YEARS, Said Death, apropos of nothing. DON’T TRY TO TELL ME THAT’S RIGHT.

‘Yes, but people don’t think about that,’ said Susan. Somewhere there was a bed . . .

CORRECT. STARS EXPLODE, WORLDS COLLIDE, THERE’S HARDLY ANYWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE WHERE HUMANS CAN LIVE WITHOUT BEING FROZEN OR FRIED, AND YET YOU BELIEVE THAT A . . . A BED IS A NORMAL THING. IT IS THE MOST AMAZING TALENT.

‘Talent?’

OH, YES. A VERY SPECIAL KIND OF STUPIDITY. YOU THINK THE WHOLE UNIVERSE IS INSIDE YOUR HEADS.

‘You make us sound mad,’ said Susan. A nice warm bed . . .

YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE. HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME? said Death, helping her up on to Binky*.

Pratchett, Terry. Hogfather: (Discworld Novel 20) (Discworld series) (pp. 379-381). Transworld. Kindle Edition.

*Binky is the name of Death’s white horse.

And I’ll leave you with the thought that ‘science’ is not enough. Even if you’re an atheist.

 

Let’s all celebrate Australia Day together

It’s Australia Day here in Oz, the day back in 1788 that marked the official founding of the penal colony in New South Wales. It’s a Saturday, as it happens, but after a few years of celebrating the day itself (ie not having a public holiday if the 26th January was a weekend) we’re back to having a long weekend. Monday 28th January will be a public holiday.

Over the last couple of decades Australia Day has become contentious. Some of the ‘indigenous’ people say it’s a time of sadness, marking for them ‘invasion day’ when ‘their’ lands were overrun by white folk from the other side of the world. There are very few pure blood aboriginal people in Australia now. Many people who claim aboriginal descent have only a small fraction of aboriginal DNA. The activists seem to forget the other part of their culture. Young aboriginal leader and Alice Springs councillor Jacinta Price has an aboriginal mother and a Scottish father. She doesn’t support changing Australia Day to a ‘better’ day (whatever that may be). As she says in this article, Australia Day does not celebrate the undeniable brutal treatment of the indigenous people after settlement. It celebrates what this nation has become.

Australia Day has always been one of the more popular dates on which to become a citizen of this country. Some of Australia’s city councils, which carry out citizenship ceremonies, have decided not to perform the ceremony on Australia Day in response to politically correct sensibilities.

You can’t change history. What happened in the past, happened. Only idiots deny that aboriginal people were murdered by white settlers (although there was some tit for tat). Yes, many aboriginal people are still disadvantaged, living on the outskirts of our society. The Australian Government is trying to address that disadvantage.

“In 2015‑16, total direct government expenditure on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians was estimated to be $33.4 billion, a real increase from $27.0 billion in 2008‑09.” [1] That’s for about 800,000 people who identify as indigenous out of a population of about twenty-five million.

But anyone who lives in remote parts of Australia is disadvantaged, regardles of race, religion, or creed. Food, housing materials, consumer goods are all more expensive, employment, education and healthcare are harder to come by.

If Australia were not the country it is today that expenditure would not be possible. Trying to change the date of Australia day is, to my mind, ludicrous. One Australian Prime Minister has apologised to the indigenous people for what was done to them by earlier generations. It’s a bit like asking the French to apologise for the Battle of Hastings, or the Romans, or the Angles, Saxons, and Danes, for setting up settlements in Britain. Etc. It makes not a scad’s worth of difference. They’re just words. These days, we’re all Australians – whether indigenous or immigrant. Or a mix of both. The best we can do is make the country an even greater place to live – for everybody.

In related news, it seems the grave of Captain Matthew Finders, who circumnavigated and mapped the Australian continent, has been found under Euston Station in London. And since I think it’s important that we remember the aboriginal parts of our history, too, read this article about Bungaree, who accompanied Flinders on his epic voyage.

The Big Dry that has replaced our wet season so far this year is biting hard. The farmers are doing it tough and so is the local wildlife. I often post photos of my noisy, colourful little mates. Here’s a littl video I took so you can see and hear the full display.

 

A long, dry summer

Somebody sent up an alarm call

Here in Hervey Bay we’re begging for rain. It’ll probably have as much impact as praying but at least we can feel we’re doing something. The grass is brown and crackles underfoot, except for the bits that manage to get some water from somewhere. We never water the grass. We recycle the water from our septic system onto the garden, so the bromeliads and the natives are hanging on but one of our two mango trees has a drift of dead leaves under it. The other one benefits from next door’s septic. Each evening we water parts of the garden that look particularly desperate but when it comes down to it, there’s nothing like good, soaking rain. Even 10mm makes a huge difference. This is supposed to be our wet season but over the last few years January has been dry. Let’s hope the coming weeks include some wet stuff from the sky.

The line-up at the pool fence

The dry weather doesn’t just affect the plants. Our bird bath is popular and I have to refill it every day. I usually only put out apple juice for the birds in the evening but I’ve had some of the braver parrots coming to the door asking for AJ in the morning and I’ve had to provide second sittings several times. They’re not reliant on being fed. When natural food is plentiful we don’t see that many and sometimes we’ve been completely abandoned. But never for too long.

Strange fruit

The butcher birds and the miner birds are always here hoping for a hand-out and we’re visited less regularly by kookaburras and magpies. We also hear, but not necessarily see, the pale-headed rosellas.

Our resident possum who lives in a tree log on the opposite side of the pool raised a baby, which has moved into a bird house attached to a palm tree. The hole was too small for it so it did some renovation, breaking the marine ply to make the hole larger. I think the house will soon be too small. But that’s nature.

This week we’re being changed over to Australia’s broad band network. That happens on Wednesday. We’re all ready. Let’s hope our ISP is, too.

Apart from all that, I’m working slowly on a new book. It’s SF, next in my Morgan’s Misfits series. I’ll never make a fortune from writing but it keeps my brain active.

If you’re into praying, or voodoo, or witchcraft – whatever. Could we order some rain, please?

Thanks in advance.

 

A speck in the South Pacific

That’s tiny Phillip Island at the front and Norfolk Island behind it

We had a fascinating, memorable Christmas on Norfolk Island in 2017 and enjoyed it so much we went again in 2018. While we’d been with a group in 2017, in 2018 we did our own thing, visiting places we hadn’t reached the previous year, or re-visiting places where we would have liked a bit more time. We stayed in the same hotel but this time we had a penthouse with views of the island’s highest peak, Mt Pitt – and lots of lovely windows we could open to let in the breeze. There’s no air conditioning on the island. We were provided with a hire car to get around, together with a paper map. There’s no GPS covering the island roads. It’s all very last century but on an island that’s 8 km by 5 km, it’s really not that difficult.

We stayed in the main township, Burnt Pine. The convict remians are in Kingston at the bottom of the island on this map.

Getting there was a tiny bit thrilling. This time we stayed two nights at our friends’ house on Mt Tamborine south of Brisbane, where we witnessed the first of a number of storms that smashed the Gold Coast – but not up where we were. We drove to the airport, hoping we’d get an undercover parking spot this time. More storms were forecast, with hail the size of golf balls. Last year, though we’d paid online for undercover parking, we’d had to park outside in the elements, leaving the car to the mercy of the weather gods for over a week. This time, we were lucky, snaring a park on the top floor under the roof.

Although Norfolk Island is an Australian territory which has been managed from Australia for the past two years, we left from the international terminal. At least we don’t have to fill out departure cards anymore. After all, all the information you had to write down was already on your ticket. The flight to Norfolk left from one of the furthest extremities of Brisbane airport. It’s nowhere near the biggest in the world but it’s still a long walk to the gate without those moving travelators. And then there’s the several hours of waiting…

Proof of ID is required before you leave Australia. The Powers That Be prefer a passport but you can use a driver’s licence or other form of photo ID along with a proof of identity form that you can get from Australia Post. Once in the air we also had to fill in a landing form. (Just a moment while I roll my eyes.) Travelling to Norfolk is like flying from the mainland to Tasmania, for goodness sake. And this landing form is identical to the one you fill out when coming back from REAL overseas (eg Europe) into Australia. The cabin crew have to explain that yes, the form asks for your home address, but what it really wants is where you’ll be staying on Norfolk. Etc. We talked to a local in a shop, who told us that if she goes over to Oz, coming home she puts her name and address and nothing else. The immigration people know she’s a local.

We got off the ground on time for the two-hour flight to Norfolk. Pete had the window seat and his trusty tablet to take photos. Norfolk Island is a speck in the ocean and that’s so clear from the air (see above). Pete took pictures as we approached, coming down with historic Kingston clearly visible.

The wheels had hit the deck and the brakes were on, pushing us back into our seats. Then suddenly the brakes were off, the engines powered up and we lifted off again. When training pilots it’s called a touch and go – but I suspected this wasn’t a training run. After several minutes the captain came on to explain the aircraft had been hit by a cross-wind and he’d decided prudence was wisest. As a result, we got a fly-around of the island. Peter wasn’t the only one taking pictures before the plane finally landed.

The whole island. The high bit is Mt Pitt, surrounded by national park.

That’s Kingston below. The reef protects Emily Bay and Slaughter Bay, with the jetty where goods are landed just across from the large rectangle that is the remains of the prison. Evidence of Polynesian visitors in the mid-fifteenth century is in the grove of Norfolk Island pines around Emily Bay. The trees would not have been there then.

I’m not going to talk about Norfolk’s extraordinary history in this series of posts, though I’m sure it’ll get a mention in passing. You can read all about that in last year’s trip here. You’ll find posts about the brutal penal colony and how the descendants of Fletcher Christian and the other mutineers involved in the mutiny on the Bounty came to move from Pitcairn Island to Norfolk Island. But this time we travelled at our own gentle pace, interspersed with an hour or two of test match cricket (which we won’t talk about).

If you’re interested in more information this is a useful website.

Is it time for a mass extinction?

Cane toads – nasty, poisonous, feral invaders that have decimated Australian native animals

Let me introduce you to Bufo marinus, known to many Australians as the cane toad. A government department introduced them to Australia from Hawaii in 1935 in an attempt to control sugar cane beetles. The toads mumbled ‘thank you very much’, had no impact on the cane beetles, and bred prolifically, quickly spreading along the coastal fringe of Queensland. The toads have poison glands on both sides of their neck which produces a toxin more than capable of killing just about every predator they might encounter. That is, lizards, snakes, birds, and toad-eating mammals like quolls and cats. All attempts to eradicate this noxious creature have been unsuccessful and the toad has spread into New South Wales and across the Northern Territory into Western Australia, where the invaders are making their way down the West Australian coast. This fact sheet includes a map showing their current range – and their potential range.

In short, they’re taking over the country, adapting to changed conditions as they move. There is some resistance. A number of bird species have learned to attack the toad’s belly, thus avoiding the poison glands. Some native species are not affected by the toxin, but all in all, the introduction of cane toads into Australia has been devastating. In some respects it can be likened to one other feral, invasive species, which has managed to decimate the whole damn planet.

Planet Earth is well overdue for a mass extinction. We have them here fairly regularly, you know.  The five main ones so far are

  • End Ordovician, 444 million years ago, 86% of species lost
  • Late Devonian, 375 million years ago, 75% of species lost
  • End Permian, 251 million years ago, 96% of species lost
  • End Triassic, 200 million years ago, 80% of species lost
  • Cretaceous-Paleogene, 65 million years ago, 50% of species lost

Everybody knows about the Big One, when the dinosaurs and just about everything else was wiped out in what is generally considered to have been a meteorite impact.  The reasons for all the other extinctions weren’t quite so obvious but it comes down to changes in climate (both cooling and warming), seismic activity, changes in the acidity of the ocean, and massive intrusions such as bloody great cosmic boulders dropping out of the sky. The massive extinction at the end of the Permian might also have been caused by an asteroid or comet but no crater has been found. [1]

It seems that we are living through another mass extinction and the perpetrators of this one are humans, two-legged cane toads of the planet. Everywhere we go we pollute, we squander, we murder each other and far too many of everything else. Try googling ‘extinctions in the past 100 years’ and you’ll get plenty of lists. Here’s just one. American passenger pigeons which existed in their millions, dodos which tasted too good, the iconic thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), Asian lions, English wolves. The world tiger population has plummeted. As recently as 100 years ago one hundred thousand tigers roamed Asia. Now it’s less than four thousand. [2] What about the many, many invertebrates, birds, small marsupials, sea creatures. And it’s all because of US. Homo ‘sapiens’ – I’m not sure we’re very wise. Otherwise why would we imagine ground tiger penis would give us virility?

While our oceans are becoming more and more polluted and we destroy wild habitat to fuel our obsession with ‘stuff’ which  so often ends up in landfill, we hold useless meetings so that far too many delegates can discuss ‘climate change’ and come up with sanctimonious resolutions and unachievable targets that ‘world leaders’ have no intention of even attempting to meet. I’ve made it clear enough on this blog that I don’t think humans are responsible for climate change. That’s dictated by much larger, slower forces, like plate tectonics and the cycles of the sun.

But we’re sure as hell responsible for plastic and other items of the throw-away mentality encouraged by the retail corporations which control too much of our society. I’d much prefer discussions about how to clean up the oceans, stop overfishing, and prevent idiots from cutting down and/or burning rain forest. Those things we can change.

About here I’ll make my own prediction based on not a single computer model. Even so, iIt’s probably almost as accurate as those computer-generated predictions about sea level rises.

I think we’re overdue for a catastrophic mass extinction of the dominant destructive infestation on this world. Gaia will awaken and scratch her itching skin. The San Andreas Fault hasn’t slipped in a while. The super volcano bubbling quietly under Yellowstone National Park could erupt at any time. Vesuvius is simmering. Indonesia’s volcanoes are skittish. Just the other day earthquakes shook New Caledonia and Norfolk Island in the Pacific. Volcanic activity can have immense global effects. Here’s what happened when Krakatoa blew its top in 1883.

“In the year following the 1883 Krakatoa eruption, average Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures fell by as much as 1.2 °C (2.2 °F). Weather patterns continued to be chaotic for years, and temperatures did not return to normal until 1888. The record rainfall that hit Southern California during the “water year” from July 1883 to June 1884 – Los Angeles received 38.18 inches (969.8 mm) and San Diego 25.97 inches (659.6 mm) – has been attributed to the Krakatoa eruption. There was no El Niño during that period as is normal when heavy rain occurs in Southern California, but many scientists doubt that there was a causal relationship.

The Krakatoa eruption injected an unusually large amount of sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas high into the stratosphere, which was subsequently transported by high-level winds all over the planet. This led to a global increase in sulfuric acid (H2SO4) concentration in high-level cirrus clouds. The resulting increase in cloud reflectivity (or albedo) reflected more incoming light from the sun than usual, and cooled the entire planet until the suspended sulfur fell to the ground as acid precipitation.” [3]

And all it needs to decimate human populations is a virus. It happened once before around 1350. Somewhere between a quarter and a half of the population in the known world was wiped out. It took centuries for the population to recover. More recently, the influenza that spread through the world after the first world war killed more people than had died in the war itself. In today’s world with so much travel on aircraft, an infection could spread all over the planet in days.

Add some catastrophic fires, cyclones, earthquakes, and eruptions, and Gaia could rid itself of this pesky species like a dog being given tick control.

Frankly, it’s all we deserve.

Welcome to December

Here it is December already. Who’d a thunk? Actually, one giveaway is the faux snow in windows, a fat guy with a red coat on having his picture taken with kiddies, and endless repeats of Bing’s dreaming of a white Christmas. Good luck with that in Queensland, old man. Then again, in places the country is covered in white – but that’s ash from bushfires.

We live near that large island at the bottom of the photo. Taken by the Himawari 8 Japanese weather satellite

This has been a freakish week or two weatherwise. A thick blanket of snow (yes, real snow) fell in the Australian Alps. Sydney received 120mm (a little less than six inches) of rain in a day, causing flooding. Up North in drought-ravaged Queensland bushfires are burning out of control. Something like one hundred and forty fires, fuelled by the tinder-dry bush and urged along by strong winds. The fires are very similar to those which ravaged California last month. The BIG difference is that the area under threat in Australia is sparsely populated, so while vast swathes are burnt/burning, fewer properties are affected.

Hats off to the magnificent people who fight these monster fires. So far, only one man has died – killed by a falling tree in a back-burning operation. But thousands have been evacuated and a handful of homes have been destroyed. The fires are rated as ‘catastrophic’ – which means they can’t be controlled. Weather conditions have worsened today, with hot, dry winds fanning the flames. And there has been looting. Low-life scum.

There’s no sign of rain in our region any time soon – although a cyclone is forming off the Solomon Islands, predicted to head our way in the coming days.  That’ll be out of the frying pan into the washing machine, and the risk all the top soil will be washed away. According to the current predictions (always a dicey business with tropical cylones) it won’t hit the coast until later in the week.

And that’s all I have for this week.  Have a good weekend – or what’s left of it.

It’s Black Friday in America

It might be Saturday morning here in Australia but over in the USA it’s Black Friday, which is the American equivalent of our Boxing Day sales. The Americans don’t ‘do’ Boxing Day. It’s a very English thing which we have inherited. Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving. Even more so than Halloween, Thanksgiving is a quintessentially American festival, probably (from an observer’s point of view) more about family, friends, giving thanks and sharing than Christmas in that country.

I’m glad to say that while the retail stores are doing their best to foist Halloween on Australia, they haven’t tried that with Thanksgiving. After all, Thanksgiving is really a harvest festival, thanking whichever god you believe in for the fruits of the season before the cold winds of Winter arrive in earnest. In Australia that would be downright silly in late November. It’s very nearly Summer and the swimming pools are up and running. Who wants pumpkin pie and roast turkey? More to the point, who wants to cook it?

However, the fact we don’t have Thanksgiving hasn’t deterred the retailers. They will give us Black Friday whether we want it or not. It’s called Black Friday because retailers offer (apparent) bargains and they end up making vast profits – hence being in the ‘black’ not the ‘red’. So far, we haven’t seen the unseemly stampede of shoppers charging the doors that we see in the Boxing Day sales and, indeed, the Black Friday sales in the US. But time might tell. Certainly we’re being offered AMAZING BLACK FRIDAY DEALS – even those of us who have no idea (since it’s not the 13th) what Black Friday is. In fact, say ‘black’ and a day of the week and many Aussies conjure up visions of bushfires.

Why Australian retailers should respect the past and rename their ‘Black Friday’ sales

And now I’ll meander into personal philosophy. The older I get, the more I believe globalisation sucks. All our so-called festivals are turned by the retail industry into sales opportunities. When I was a kid we’d never heard of Halloween. Later, I came across it in books and TV – but it was American. Same with Thanksgiving. Yes, we celebrate Christmas but we inherited that from our European forebears. So much of it is still about the mid-Winter feast to celebrate the return of the sun and believe me, that’s not an issue at mid-Summer in Australia. Some people do Christmas in July, which makes much more sense.

The retail industry is sucking away regional diversity. Macdonalds, Starbucks, Dominos pizza (they’re even opening stores in Italy!), KFC, Burger King/Hungry Jacks, Subway. That’s just the fast food shops. You’ll find the same fashion chains and supermarket chains in Hong Kong, London, Frankfurt, Berlin – everywhere in the world. Globalism means you can buy bananas in London in mid-Winter and frozen berries from Chile or China all year round in Australia. And although the label on the packet might say the fish is Australian, look closer and you’ll see it’s Australian caught, but processed in China or Thailand and sent back to Oz. Yes, OF COURSE it’s the same fish that went into the factory. And don’t get me started on over-packaging.

I’ll bet a few of you are wondering what ‘Thanksgiving’ is all about. I certainly did. And you know, it’s a bit like Australia Day, where there’s a difference of opinion according to who you ask. Certainly, 26th January is the anniversary of the first official white settlement of Australia at what’s now Sydney. But some aboriginal Australians call it ‘invasion day’ for obvious reasons. There’s a similar dichotomy over Thanksgiving. My American friend and fellow-blogger, Laurie Green, wrote a post about what Thanksgiving means for her. It’s a lovely family gathering and all about being grateful for what they have. On the other hand, this article, written by a native American, tells a very different story. I make no judgement here. The world was a very different place in the 1620’s or, indeed, the 1780’s and there is a tendency to whitewash the past.

But in the end, none of it matters, does it? As long as the cash registers jingle cheerfully.

 

Do we ever learn from history?

It’s Spring racing carnival in Melbourne and the Melbourne Cup will be run next Tuesday. In celebration, this week I was going to write a little article about the wonderful mares who have graced Australia’s racetracks – Makybe Diva, the only horse to win three Melbourne Cups, Black Caviar who won twenty-five races on the trot (or maybe gallop) only to be surpassed by the incomparable Winx, who is the only horse to win four Cox Plates among her twenty-nine straight wins. And I couldn’t leave out the wonderful little mare Light Fingers, who won the first Melbourne Cup for the legendary Bart Cummings – and came a gallant second in the following year. Her jockey, the late Roy (professor) Higgins, loved his little girl. As Cummings’s chief stable jockey he could have ridden the favourite, Galilee, to victory, but he stuck with his little mare and brought her in a gallant, wonderful second.

Sigh.

But then a middle-aged white guy toting an AR-15 automatic rifle and three glocks stormed into a synagogue in Pittsburg during the Saturday service and gunned down eleven elderly  worshippers. The youngest was 54, the oldest 97.

It is hard to conceive of a more cowardly, gutless, despicable act. He was targeting Jews, shouting ‘All Jews must die’ as he sprayed bullets.  Anti-semitism is alive and well in America. And never really went away anywhere else. I despair. Go and visit Auschwitz, as we did last year. Here’s my article on that. Or think about young Germans leaping around on the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as though it was a theme park. Or actually look at the little plaques set into the pavement in German (and Dutch) towns, recognising the lives of people who did nothing more than be a little bit different.

The holocaust memorial in Berlin – youths ‘jumping on dead Jews’

The names of Jews outside the homes where they lived before they were taken away to be murdered.

And there are people who try to say the Holocaust never happened. Chief among them is the president of Iran, who of course opposes anything to do with Israel. But David Irving is British and he’s well-known for his views.

I’ve just read that Robert Bowers, the man who pulled the trigger at the synagogue, has been charged with eleven murders and a host of other offences. He has pleaded not guilty. Here’s the story. If that man gets off on some technicality I will have lost all hope for the US legal system.

Needless to say, US politicians will tell the world that the victims are in ‘their thoughts and prayers’. And nothing will change. Disaffected white men will still be able to purchase AR-15’s as substitute dicks and kill people who are no threat to anybody. It makes me sick.

And to answer my own rhetorical question – you can’t learn from history if you don’t bother to learn any.

And here are a few photos taken with my new Nikon P1000.

 

 

A royal visit and a warning

Fraser Island’s rain forest

It’s all been happening here in Hervey Bay. We started the week with a Royal Visit and ended with something completely different… but I’ll get to that.

Harry and Megs arrived at our little airport and it’s wasn’t until then that we learned they were going over to Fraser Island (largest sand island in the world) in different ways. We’d speculated helicopter, but no. Pete, watching the live coverage on the telly, immediately said the car the drone was following was going into town, not to River Heads where the barge leaves for Fraser. Turned out Meghan very wisely decided to skip the bumpy 4WD sand tracks from the barge and go direct to Kingfisher resort in one of our whale boats. Much more comfy for a pregnant lady.

Harry went on the barge and got to see the amazing thousand-year-old satinay trees in the rainforest, and the pristine waters of Lake Mackenzie. Megs missed out.

Of course some of the locals turned out for a glimpse, gathering at the marina. I wouldn’t have said ‘thousands’ but (of course) the media did. After all, the whale season’s all but finished. Gotta look at something.

Personally, I’m very happy for them. They both seem to be nice people and they obviously like each other, which is good. I wouldn’t trade my life for theirs for anything, really. Always under a microscope, always being analysed.

Our bathroom refurbishments were finally finished last week, almost in time for a visit from friends Sandy and Col, and just like last year, just about this time, the four of us had dinner at The Vinyard. You know how it is with restaurants, the moment you extoll the virtues of a place, it changes hands, or the cook resigns, or they decide to change to Hard Rock Café or something. So there was a certain amount of trepidation. Totally unnecessary, as it turned out.

The meal was delicious.

Three of us had grilled Moreton Bay bugs with a salsa and shoe string fries. We were served two whole bugs each with three dipping sauces and as you can see in the photo a heapin’ helpin’ of fries and a whole bowl of yummy salsa. Pete had a beautifully cooked steak with roasted root vegetables and rocket. Since we’d been before we knew the meals were huge so we hadn’t ordered entrees. Just as well. All of us were full up to pussy’s bow. The restaurant isn’t cheap, but since we all only had a main course, plus one bottle of wine and two beers, it wasn’t a hugely expensive evening at all.

Next time you have a spare evening in Hervey Bay, give it a go.

The week ended with Pete receiving an extortion email. I’ve quoted it in full here.

I’ll confess that I laughed. I suppose these people will come across a viewer of porno, or a paedophile silly enough to fall for this stuff, but I didn’t take it terribly seriously. After a moment’s thought I didn’t think it wise to ignore it completely. Yes, they quoted a real password. That might have been a problem. They also said they’d installed malware on Pete’s machine. We checked using Windows Defender, and then again with a more robust product. No threats were found.

We also checked on Acorn, the Federal Police site for reporting cyber crime. They already knew about it.

Here’s their response.

“Australian police are aware of an email scam where users are requested to pay bitcoin to prevent the release of embarrassing footage. The scammers attempt to establish credibility by including one of the user’s actual passwords, sourced from previous data leaks published on the internet. The threats are not credible and no footage exists. The emails should be disregarded.”

So there you are. There are bastards out there, without a doubt. If you’re not using a password generator it might be worth looking at something like LastPass, which I use. It won’t stop leaks such as our mate used to get a live password, but at least it’ll make it much harder for a real hacker to come up with the goods. Have a look – LastPass.

And to finish, here’s a lorikeet. Or five.