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.

 

Just another lazy Sunday

The thing about being retired is which day of the week it is doesn’t matter much. In fact, you know those questions they ask old folks to see if they still have mental capacity? One of them is ‘what day of the week is it’? Just as well I have a computer because otherwise, quite often I wouldn’t know. The state of the shops and car parks is a bit of a give-away. Even with every-day trading, at around 1pm on Saturday afternoon, Hervey Bay shuts down. The roads empty – although there are still plenty of people in Bunnings or the Mall.

Sunday’s a bit the same.

Oh – and Wednesday is bin night, so we have to remember that one to put the bins out for collection. Still, if we forget we’ll know Thursday morning when we see the rows of bins outside everyone else’s house.

Butcher bird doing exercises

The animal life doesn’t give a damn what day of the week it is. This morning a butcher bird came to tell me he was waiting for breakfast. We give him small pieces of bacon rind. He eats the first piece, waits with the second piece in his beak, then I throw a handful out. He (and a couple of others) eat their fill then take the rest back to the nest.

Then the resident lorikeet couple  came to the veranda. The male comes up and virtually knocks on the door. “Where’s ours, missus?”

If it happens to be bath morning we get a hootin’ hollerin’ bunch of bathers in the bird bath. It’s very popular with everybody except the miner birds who still prefer the Big Blue swimming pool and the adrenalin rush of bathing in danger.

You might recall I mentioned a couple of weeks ago our mango trees were covered in fruit? Not anymore. Most of it has fallen off. Even so, there’s something out there that likes unripe, hard mangoes. The windfalls have been chewed by rats or possums, maybe both.

After another very dry month, a large storm system swept past last evening, slapping the Bay area with a sideswipe as it headed out to sea. After a bit of sound and fury it dropped 9mm of rain on our grateful garden. We’d like some more, of course. What else is new? But then, in Australia it’s boom or bust. In a month’s time we might be begging for some dry spells.

The rains have arrived

Mangoes everywhere. That’s a small part of one tree

This one wasn’t too bad – sound and fury and 15mm of rain

The drought in Queensland appears to have broken – in our part of the world, anyway. A series of storms have swept in from inland Australia, the warm air mingling with a blast of cooler air coming up from the South, a perfect combination for storms. We were lucky. There was lots of thunder and lightning but no gale force winds, no hail, and no torrential rain.

Which brings me to another observation: Our two fairly large mango trees are covered in fruit, despite near drought conditions all through Winter and into Spring. You know what? I think trees are smarter than us when it comes to weather. The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting a dry Summer (because of El Nino). I reckon the mango trees are predicting good summer rains.

We shall see.

On the photography front, one of the big hassles of being a photographer on holiday is having to cart around lenses and the like. I did it for a few years, but changing lenses is cumbersome and frankly rarely happened. As I get older, I’m finding it harder and harder to cart around tripods, heavy lenses and so on. That’s okay for younger, fitter wildlife photographer types but I’ve slowed down of late. I don’t even get down to the beach much.

So… I’ve rationalized the camera situation and down-sized a bit.

I still have a Canon 70D and two smaller, lighter lenses – but I’ve sold a few items and bought a Nikon (shock-horror) Coolpix P1000. The camera is in the ‘compact’ range but it’s actually a hefty piece of kit rivalling the weight of a Canon 5D. Its claim to fame is an incredible zoom lens which will cover 24-3000mm. No, that’s not a typo. Three thousand. It means I can take the device on holidays and be able to take a landscape, then zoom in on a bird. Perfect for my needs. No, it’s not a ‘professional’ level lens and it has some short comings, but it’ll do for a hack like me.

I’ve started playing around, I have a lot to learn, but here are a few photos.

Who’s a bully, then?

Several years ago we used to put bird seed out for the parrots. While lorikeets mainly feed on nectar, a lot of the other breeds like cockatoos, corellas, and pink and greys, like seed. The trouble is, at first you get a trickle, then you get a flood and there’s this pushing, shoving, jostling bunch of birds all after getting a beak into a bowl. And that can lead to spreading diseases like the truly awful beak and feather disease.  Although its worst manifestation occurs in sulphur-crested cockatoos, the virus can be transmitted to other parrots. In fact, it can affect birds like wedge-tailed eagles when they eat an infected bird.

So I don’t put out seed anymore.

These photos date back to when I did. There’s bird seed in the bowls. One solitary sulphur crested came down to take a look and liked what it saw. But it didn’t want to share with any of the lorikeets.

The lorikeet isn’t impressed with the new arrival

The cockatoo pushes its weight around

The lorikeet tries to stand its ground

But in the end it’s just too small

Um… does any of this remind you of politics?

Humans are tribal. It’s hard-wired into our behaviour, one reason why we, as a species, have been so successful. It’s also why we fail on a global scale.

The UN was a good idea that is now well past its use-by date. It is ham-strung by the power of veto afforded to six countries, and it is riddled with corruption. Rich, powerful countries – I won’t name names but they remind me of sulphur crested cockatoos – buy votes from small, impoverished nations, like lorikeets. The ‘debate’ over whaling is a glaring example, as is the ineffectual posturing over Syria. Self-interest dominates the debate. That, and wealth. The same things happen in global sporting bodies such as FIFA the Olympic Games, cycling, cricket…

A similar pattern is emerging in Western politics. ‘Our’ politicians aren’t listening to the people anymore. In Australia, where voting is compulsory and where we have a strong, two-party system, votes for the two main parties is eroding fast. We’re turning to smaller groups who more effectively reflect our mindset, be that the Greens, One Nation, or the new Australian Conservatives. Judging by my Facebook feed, voters in the US and the UK are similarly disenchanted with their governments.

And what about ‘globalism’, that necessary precursor to a global parliament like the UN, where every country shares its resources and its wealth? Once again, it’s a nice idea.

I’m beginning to think that globalism is one of the main reasons why levels of pollution in our oceans and cities have soared. We catch fish in Australia and send them to China to be cleaned, scaled and wrapped in plastic to send back to us. OF COURSE they’ll send us back the same fish, how could you doubt it? We can get any vegetable, any time of the year – grown on the other side of the world, packed in plastic and sent to our supermarkets. When I was a kid my brother used to catch crayfish off the moles at Fremantle harbour, a yummy treat for all the family. Now, a little cray which he wouldn’t have bothered with costs so much at the supermarket I don’t even look. Meanwhile, crays from Western Australia are put on a plane still alive, and flown to the Japanese fish markets.

Seems to me we’d be better off living simpler lives, eating what’s in season, making do.