Sunday, April 30, 2006

Dads at the birth of their children

Check out this story, Who let the dads in?, on fathers attending the birth of their children in today's Sunday Age.

It's very interesting that more and more people are paying attention to the role of fathers in their partners' labouring and the birth of their children. But strangely, fathering is still 'problematised' in these discussions.

One of the fathers in the story said:
Some of the births can be very traumatic and leave [fathers] fairly distressed and unhappy…
Curiously, this was suggested as context for why some fathers are ambilvent, unhappy or uncertain about the 'expectation' that they be at their child's birth. Sure, some fathers are unhappy that the births were difficult or traumatic (who wouldn't be?) but surely that is a function of the birth experience itself, rather than of being a man at the birth?

All the same, it was clear that many fathers thought that the experience was important and meaningful in their lives.

One thing for me is clear: being at the birth of my son Jacob was one of the most intense and important things in my life. And I certainly want to be at the birth of my next child! Any time this week!

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Secrecy and lies vs transparency and democracy

The public relations campaign here in Australia is still heating up to make nuclear power more palatable to us. Now, Peter Costello has weighed in on the debate.

I found what Alex Steffen at Worldchanging blog said this about Chernobyl to mark its 20th anniversary the most insightful approach to this struggle for public opinion:
No technology is in itself trustworthy, and changing the world demands widespread understanding of and democratic control over science and its fruits. The Chernobyl disaster should have seared into our minds not only a disgust for radioactive pollution, but also a hatred of secrecy and elite control. [Via BoingBoing]
In Australia, there is nothing that can convince me that the Howard government is capable of being free of "secrecy and elite control". The litany of lies and misdirection would be too long to chronicle here (but I've made some attempt elsewhere), but are essential to consider when assessing whether we can trust this government, or any state it wishes to sell uranium to, to administer a regime of nuclear power generation. I say we cannot.

Importantly, the capacity for science (and scientific argument) to be co-opted and controlled by government is demonstrated in their manipulation of climate change science debates for their own fossil fuel ends.

As long as we are not guaranteed "democratic control over science and its fruits", we should deny this (or any) government the ability to introduce nuclear power in Australia. And refuse to guarantee its place in power.


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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Chernobyl 20 years on: lest we forget

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. As Boing Boing so succinctly put it:
On 26 April 1986, at 1:23 AM, reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded. The radiation released was over a hundred times more than that of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
They also have a good photo of the blast site from 1986.

I was 16 then, and I remember the fear resulting from the blast, and the terrible radioactive cloud that contaminated so much of Europe. In the Southeast Asian country I grew up in, we were relieved to learn that the radiation would not reach us. But it meant that we couldn't buy European dairy products for a long time. Our powdered milk and processed cheese had to come from New Zealand (I remember the Kiwi farmers being quite pleased with this turn of events), and secondarily Australia, for a long time.

To this day, farmers in parts of Wales and England must have their lambs inspected for radiation levels before they can ship them to market. (They hadn’t expected to still be doing this twenty years after the disaster!)

More horrific of course is the impact this nuclear catastrophe has had on the people who survived the fallout and on their children born with deformities and illnesses resulting from radiation exposure.

This morning, Fran Kelly of ABC Radio National interviewed Sixty Minutes' (Oz version) Richard Carleton about his trip to the heart of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. He warns of the poor condition of the material used to contain the radioactive reactor and structures containing it. Basically, the steel is rusting and falling off and the concrete cap crumbling. It will cost millions to fix-up the 'sarcophagus'. (The story is online here, and the mp3 can be downloaded here)

I still can't believe that the Australian establishment (by that I mean the mining interests, the state and Commonwealth governments and the self-anointed pundits who talk it up) is seriously pushing for Australia to increase its uranium exports to India and China to allow them to increase their nuclear energy generation, and that they're seriously contemplating nuclear power stations here in Australia.

No matter that Australia has such abundant sunshine and coastline that solar- and wind-generated power would be hugely cheaper and ultimately safer to produce. No matter that uranium mining invariably displaces Aboriginal people from their land or impinges on their land rights. No matter that the existing uranium mines can't seem to be run safely enough let alone have more or bigger ones (not long ago, workers at an Australian uranium mine found they had been bathing in and drinking radiation contaminated water.

What is scary is that proponents of nuclear power have been using the water crisis (in Australia especially), climate change and CO2 emissions, and rising fuel and coal prices to justify their call for a nuclear Australia.

I only hope that by remembering Chernobyl and its legacy of nuclear poisoning, we can continue to bolster public opinion against the development of a nuclear power industry in Australia or the expansion of uranium mining here.

If you want to know more about Chernobyl and what's happening to commemorate this tragedy today, Boing Boing recommends, "a site dedicated to the long term consequences of the disaster"
there's a list of commemoration activities planned around the world for April 26, 2006. The site also contains historic details, an extensive index of projects aiding survivors, and interviews with people who lived through the disaster. [Boing Boing]
Let's not forget the bitter harvest of this ill wind. Or we'll let it happen again.

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Correction: Monica's damage

It seems that reporting that (former) cyclone Monica spared Indigenous communities in the north (in yesterday's post) was rather premature...

This mornings's The Age reported that Monica caused some extensive damage in isolated Aboriginal communities in Arnhem Land, including in Maningrida and the smaller community where my friend had lived and taugh for over a year.

The Aboriginal people in these communities have so little in the first place, and have very poor,
overcrowded housing and a lack of facilities. The storm damage will make a bad situation worse – unless more effort and resources are put into housing, resources, infrastructure and support for rural and remote Aboriginal communities like the ones involved.

I can't help but wonder if an outcry about the storm damage, an outpouring of support and relief, and the decrying of poor conditions – accompanying front page news reporting of the damage – would occur if it was predominantly white Darwin that had been hit as predicted, or as in the case of Larry's devastation of northern Queensland...

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Weather wanes

I have found it harder to blog any reports and follow Cyclone Monica (originally a category 5) as it made its way through Arnhem Land and the small islands off the coast of Darwin, NT, and headed for Darwin. After my initial concern and facination with the destructive power of Cyclones Larry (Queensland) and Glenda (Western Australia), I found myself too busy to follow the cyclone's tracks via the Bureau of Meteorology's satelite imagery as I did previously.

It seems that after threatening to hit Darwin harder than Cyclone Tracey did those many decades ago, Monica has now weakened as it by-passed Darwin and makes its way inland. Most importantly, there appears to be few reports of bad damage on the small islands off the coast, where predominantly Aboriginal communities live.

You can follow the cyclone's progress via the ABC News website: as it's about to hit, weakens and spares Darwin, leaves little damage on the islands, and chases the evacuees from Darwin inland. The Northern Territory must be breathing a collective sigh of relief.


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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter

Happy Easter everyone!

Apologies for the dodgy photo: it was taken by my five-year-old with my new camera phone... only 2 megapixels... (and I cropped the bottom…)

Still, we hope to have a bit more fun with it...

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Throwing my hat in the ring

I've just listed this blog on the (relatively) new site – a venture that allows bloggers and their readers to list Australian blogs on the site to share with others.

It's a bit like a directory, but not quite. More an online community, but searchable. It uses tagging, like flickr,, and technocrati, which is the new buzz on the internet (interesting to note that flickr users have been using tagging for a long time, and now the functionis catching on and spreading... It's part of this whole Web 2.0 thing).

What I like about this is the chance to find other Australian blogs. I've been lonely for other Australian bloggers, and enjoy Australian voices. I just didn't realise how many there were out there! Over 300 blogs already listed on the site.
I'm posting number 325!

Thanks so much to Gen for the heads-up on, and the tip on tagging
melbourne. I've also tagged my blog under australia social-issues politics fathering writing language photographs

Let's see where this goes, but it is very exciting!


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Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Another birthday present I've been enjoying a lot recently is this CD, thanks to Em. It's a compilation of music from Mali by Putmayo World Music.

Hmmm. Smooth dark chocolate for the ears, I reckon. With coffee. Or red wine.


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Monday, April 10, 2006

Cafe envy

Okay, okay, I envy a lot of things about girl with a movie camera, including the great photos and still from her movies on her blog, and the videos she posts, but this really takes the cake.

It wasn't that she actually met Pedro Almodovar (she's a film-maker, so that's her kick), or that she is in Paris (okay, okay, I envy that), but what really really green with envy was this:
So off I went with my Powerbook to a lovely cafe/restaurant near the Opera. It has become my favorite place to work because of the lovely minimalist decor, the veggie/organic menu, a no smoking policy, free wifi, electric outlets for my powerbook, and an ultra sweet staff. I can spend hours there.
*Sigh.* Free Wifi. There's nothing like that around where I work. Or in Melbourne at all, as far as I know. Certainly not that combination of things that would make my perferct cafe.

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Flickr's interesting photos – 9 April 2006

Flickr's 'Interesting photos' are great at the best of time, but I'm particularly captured by the ones uploaded on the day of my birthday, 9th of April.

Makes me want to rush out there with my camera again.

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The French students and unions won!

Amazing! After a full-on struggle, which at times got very violent, the French students, youth and unionists have succeeded in defeating the French government's planned youth employment laws that would have made it so easy for employers to fire and hire under-26-year-olds.

It is heartening to see that despite all its bluster that it would never back-down in the face of the protests, and insisting that it, the government, made laws, not protesters/thugs inthe streets, the French government has finally backed down. But for now. (They will probably come back with something else odious.)

This should hearten those of us in Australia who are really worried – outraged, even – at how the Howard government's truly unfair industrial relations regime will hurt so many workers, and wonder if we can succeed in a decent campaign to wind it back.


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Birthday goodies


Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 36.

I was a little too busy to post to the blog yesterday, because we had a small barbeque to mark the occasion. It was our first bbq using our new (second hand) bbq, and our first in our new (well, we've been here a year so maybe not so new) home.

It was fun, but tiring. That's me on the right of the photo, about to blow out the candles on my birthday desert. My mate Liam's in the background. He gave me one of his prints as a present. Very nice. I wish I could fit it on my scanner so that I can share it with you...

In the morning, my partner, Shelley, and son, Jacob, gave me my presents: The Essential Rice Cookbook and some cologne. Both are very yummy!

So was my delicious chocolate birthday desert that Shelley made me!

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Ministers to front Cole inquiry

Foreign Minister Downer and Trade Minister (and, though few have bothered to mention, leader of the Nationals!) Mark Vaile are to appear before the Cole inquiry to face questions and cross-examination.

Are we going to be rubbing our hands together in glee as the dirty deeds finally all come out, or will we be holding our heads in our hands wondering where it all went wrong?

I guess it depends on how well Downer and Vaile spin their ways out of this one...


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Monday, April 03, 2006

Media hits, and misses

It is not the first time that the front page of The Age newspaper has been splashed with another story of poverty, substance abuse, violence and child abuse and neglect amongst regional and remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.

Yesterday’s front page of The Sunday Age reported on the shocking rape and murder of an Aboriginal teenage girl who lived in the town camps outside Alice Springs. The town camps are poorly resourced shanty towns where Aboriginal people from outside the Alice Springs come to live, and it was horrible to read of the violence and sexual abuse amongst young people in Alice Springs.

I really feel for the family of the young girl who was attacked and left for dead. She died later in an Adelaide hospital. This kind of violence is never acceptable, and should be stopped.

The journalist covering the story, Russel Skelton, and The Sunday Age’s editorial rightly questioned how governments and white Australia can look away as the tide of poverty, substance abuse and violence continues to overtake many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

What makes this last lot of reporting on the issue a little different from previous occasions is that The Age also took pot-shots at the ‘Indigenous leadership’ for either not acting on the issues or trying to cover it up. In particular they criticised the leadership of Tangentyere Council, the Aboriginal council who look after the town camps and the Aboriginal people who settle there.

It’s not surprising to see the media taking this tact. I suspect that accusing Indigenous leaders of failing their own people, and trying to cover it up, is more palatable than once again copping abuse for criticising white Australia and the Howard government for failing to make any headway in improving the lives of Indigenous people.

However, what I suspect is more at play here is that Russel Skelton got pissy with the leadership at Tangentyere because they wouldn’t let him visit some of the town camps they help look after, and they wouldn’t let him, or help him, get access to an Aboriginal elder from one of the camps to interview.

So, he accused them of covering-up how bad things are in the town camps and of failing to deal with the violence, abuse and alcohol in the town camps. I can’t help wonder if Russel Skelton’s journalistic vanity was hurt because someone refused to let him go where he wished or interview whomever he pleased – on Aboriginal land.

This is bad form from The Age for taking this tack with Tangentyere, and for letting prissy white-boy ego get the better of good journalism.

These town camps are usually home to those who are not the traditional owners of the Alice Springs area (the Arrente), and thus have had to develop their support networks and services, alongside very inadequate housing, without the benefit of being the traditional owners of the area.

For various reasons poverty, substance abuse, violence, unemployment and child abuse and neglect are very bad in this area, as The Age stories point out.

However, instead of taking pot shots at Tangentyere, some basic research could have shown that this Aboriginal organisation has been trying to tackle substance abuse in its communities, and poor literacy and school retention amongst the town camp kids, amongst a host of other initiatives, but has been struggling to get enough funding and support from governments – both the Northern Territory and Commonwealth governments.

Earlier this year, Tangentyere Council was forced to cut daytime patrols of trouble spots in Alice Springs because the Northern Territory Government refused to commit to fully fund the service at a cost of $350,000 a year.

The patrol staff support people and families affected by alcohol and other drugs. It is exactly this kind of initiative that tackles the nexus of substance abuse and violence and sexual assault.

Despite the Council lobbying the NT Government, no further funding was forthcoming as of January this year.

Last year, a highly successful, Tangentyere supported Indigenous education initiative for town camp kids had its funding withdrawn by the NT Education Minister.

Despite strong, widespread support for this learning centre, which aims to reach the kids of the town camps who don’t go to school (many of whom are homeless and neglected) and strong arguments in favour of its achievements in getting kids into the classroom and involving their families in their learning, the centre lost its funding.

Why? Because these highly disadvantaged kids, who hadn’t been going to mainstream school at all before they started attending the Centre, were not achieving the same literacy, numeracy and attendance benchmarks as kids in the rest of Australia.

So, instead of giving the school more money to help these kids do better, the NT government took the money away and insisted these kids attend the mainstream schools that they had been avoiding like the plague in the first place…

I don’t remember this great injustice getting onto The Age’s front pages last year when the story broke – mainly on the ABC.

And do you know what broke my heart to read? That the girl who had been brutally attacked, sexually assaulted and left to die had been a student at Irrekerlantye school.

The Age should have used its front page to take on the NT and Commonwealth governments for their inadequate support and funding of effective and successful initiatives run by Aboriginal community organisations to tackle substance abuse, violence and sexual assault, poverty, homelessness and child abuse and neglect in Indigenous communities.


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