Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tearing open the heart

I'm having trouble coming to terms with the enormity of the tragedy of the drowning death of the father and his two sons in Tathra, New South Wales. They were burried today in Bega, NSW.

Each time I hear or read the news of the event, I feel terribly troubled – almost in pain – to the extent that I don't allow myself to dwell too long on it, and the excruciating pain that must stem from such a tragedy. Today I'm facing it, otherwise it may haunt me.

I'm a very visual person, and I tend to visualise situations and events, particularly imagining how they may have unfolded. It's what I do, and it somehow meshes with the 'worse-case scenario' type of thinking I'm prone to.

From the reports, I understand that the father drowned after he jumped off the wharf to rescue his two young sons (four and 18 months) who had fallen in the water.
The two boys also drowned. From an early report, police were investigating whether the older boy was playing with the pram his baby brother was in the minutes prior to their falling in. The three had gone for a walk on the wharf at Tathra, a popular holiday spot in New South Wales.

Part of my tendency to visualise and imagine the worst is that I also can't help but wonder how this could happen to my two boys and I. It could so easily have happened to any one of us. Kids fool around, big brothers (and sisters) often want a turn pushing their younger sibling in the pram. You take your eyes off them for a second to ask the fisherman on the wharf if the fish are biting. You hear shout or a splash, you panic, the terror rises up. You jump in. I would have, even though I cannot swim very well.

No, I don't feel any better having written this. I've imagined it yet again, and it hurts. But I've also been reminded that constant vigilance is a price for the joys of raising children and being parents. And this is in no way a suggestion that the dad at Tathra had not been vigilant. Not at all. I know exactly how quickly, and terribly easily, it could all come crashing down. That imagination feeds my paranoia when the kids are mucking about in places or situations I don't feel safe in or about.

I know that my feeling troubled at these events pales in comparison to the trauma and deep grief the family, especially the mother of the boys, and the wider community in Bega and Tathra are feeling. And will feel for a long time. The grief of losing a child, let alone two, and your lover, can tear open your heart. Especially when your memory of your partner is coloured by what happened to your children.

I know many, many people live with grief each and every day, and I've had my share of grief from death in the family, so I know that time will heal.

Honestly, though, if I had not been able to find them in the water, I don't know if I could have come
back up to surface to face the enormity of the pain of it.

Vale, Shane, Riley and Travis. May you rest in peace.

[Image of the wharf at Tathra, NSW, by sophiec]

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Consumer confidence plummets

No, this is not a post about the see-sawing global financial crisis and how it is hitting consumer confidence. This is about something else that is quite serious: plummeting consumer confidence in eggs.

Australia's consumer rights organisation, Choice, has named the Australian Egg Corporation amongst its ten 2008 Shonky Awards for misleading consumers about free range eggs.

It seems that the Australian Egg Corporation's definition of 'free range eggs' gives a rubber stamp to the treatment of laying chickens that doesn't meet what we would expect as 'free range' or even humane. According to the Corporation's standard for
free range, there can be 14 hens per square meter, whereas battery hens get 18 to the square meter. That is hardly much difference!

I feel duped – all this time, I've thought that the free range eggs that I'm buying from supermarkets and greengrocers are really from hens allowed to range free and treated humanely. Sure, I've heard the many arguments between free range breeders about accreditation, and whether free range egg farmers are any more humane if they de-beak their chooks, or lock them in barns at night (which actually protects them from the cold and predators, really) etc etc.

I certainly didn't expect the chooks to be crammed in at over a dozen to the square meter. If you think of a large egg farm, that is a lot of chooks crammed in the paddock.

Sure, I had my suspiscions about the veracity of the 'free range' claim when I've heard breeders insist there is no way the number of credible free range farmers could produce the masses of eggs being touted as free range on the market (and there are many claims and issues in this matter).

Because of this, I've tried to be more deliberate in my choice of free range eggs, and instead of relying on the picture of happy hens pecking in greed paddocks on the cartoon, to look for signs of more stringent (compared to the Egg Corporation's) assurance of free range: organic certification for one (but prohibitively expensive), and accreditation by Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia. Alternatively, you can buy your eggs direct from free range farmers, such as at CERES organic market (where you can see the conditions the chooks live in) and at farmers' markets.

But it is often not possible – especially when we're rushed or making last minute purchases, and the store we're at doesn't stock accredited free range eggs, so we end up grabbing the carton with the picture of happy chooks labelled free range and hope their claims are true.

I guess this story illustrates that there is no real excuse for sloppy shopping. Just as there is no excuse for slopping marketing.

[Image by zoomar - under creative commons license]

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday morning funnies

John Cleese and Michael Palin in the 'Parrot Sketch' – a sure-fire antidote to any grey-cloud-blues on a dreary Melbourne Sunday morning.

There's laundry in the washing machine waiting for me to hang out, but cracking-up over this with the family around the kitchen table is a lot more fun.

Originally found via Still Life with Cat.

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Friday, November 21, 2008


I am quite positive that more than a few of us are James Bond fans. We probably just don't want to admit to it publicly. Perhaps its because many of us don't wish to admit to enjoying action movies, or spy thrillers at that. Perhaps its because so many of the James Bond films were schmaltzy, kitsch, glitzy or just plain dumb.

The current commercially-induced James Bond fever, sparked not insignificantly by the recent release of the latest in the Bond film franchise (which will remain unnamed in my vain attempt to thwart Google's page ranking search mechanisms), offers a great excuse for closet Bond fans to come out in the open and share what they love about the 00 agent from M16.

Sure, I'll admit it. I enjoy James Bond movies. With some of the best gimmicks and devices that have been the stock-in-trade of spy films, fancy cars, hammed-up bad guys, amazing futuristic sets for the bad guys' lairs (especially in those films made in the 60s and 70s), some pretty out-there stunts, and a chance to see the Bahamas, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Alps, Africa, or even glimpses behind the Iron Curtain (that were not) on the silver screen, plus a dozen episodes of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous rolled into one movie, I was more than happy to wallow in whichever film in the franchise was on television or at the cinema at the time.

Absolutely, I share many of the criticisms and apprehensions of this big-budget, money-spinning, action movie film franchise that has over the years demonstrated a great deal of misogyny, Cold War hyperbole, and extreme violence and bad sex on the big screen.

But I just can't help but reflect on the extent to which the last quarter century of James Bond movies has permeated popular culture and imbued itself in my childhood. They became part of my childhood play, imagination, and cultural patois.

The Bond films have become entrenched in popular culture, to the extent that the various cultural references to the films have become so clichéd that others refer to them in self-referentially clichéd ways – sometimes to good effect (the Austin Powers franchise). And for all their pop-schmaltziness, the makers of the Bond movies would usually try to fit in some political comment on issues of the time, however tokenistic or shallow the effort was.

So here goes. To assist those closet Bond fans come out, I'm framing the rest of this post in terms of some Trivia questions. Please feel free to join in.

Favourite Bond song
I'm tossing up between 'Goldfinger' by Shirley Bassey (from Goldfinger) and 'Live and Let Die' by Paul McCartney (Live and Let Die)

Favourite Bond bad-guy
Hmmm. Probably Dr No. But I haven't made up my mind, really.

Favourite Bond bad-guy's henchman
Originally, I couldn't decide between Jaws from Moonraker and the butler who decapitated people with his bowler hat (name and movie forgotten), but now I'm leaning toward Robby Coltrane as the ex-KGB spy turned Russian gangster who started appearing in GoldenEye.

Favourite Bond gadget
The gondola that turns into a hovercraft. Can't remember which film though, but that scene is set in Venice, of course.

Favourite Bond female lead
Natalya Simonova, played by Izabella Scorupco, the Russian computer programmer who helps defeat the geeky bad guy in GoldenEye.

Favourite Bond M16 hack
I really can't decide between John Clease as Q and Dame Judi Dench as M. I'm leaning for Judi Dench.

Least favourite Bond film
I'd have to think very hard about this, because while there are many scenes, plot-lines and characters I dislike in many of the films, I'm not enough of a fan to know them thoroughly to work out which one I hate the most.

Favourite actor playing James Bond
Without a doubt, Sean Connery.

What about you? And what Bond trivia questions would you add?

Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Creativity, colour and noise put global warming on Melbourne's agenda

I've had a chance to upload my photos from Saturday's Walk Against Warming to flickr, so I can tell the story of that successful rally through pictures. There are more photos at that link to my flickr site.

The anti-nuclear power message was strong at Walk Against Warming in Melbourne.

Anti-nuclear power was a strong message at Walk Against Warming – Melbourne
But bicycle power was a very strong favourite instead.

Bicycle power was very popular at the march
As was turtle power.

Turtle power at Walk Against Warming – Melbourne
People's creativity was shining through in the many banners, placcars and protest props people brought to make their message clear. As was the cooperation and community involvement evident in some of the larger and more elaborate ones.

Walk Against Warming – MelbourneWalk Against Warming – MelbourneWalk Against Warming – Melbourne
The Walk Against Warming in Melbourne finished up at the steps of Victoria's Parliament on Spring St, to pressure the Brumby government to take strong action on climate change. At issue was its foot-dragging over 'Feed In' tariffs to pay those who feed solar-powered electricity into the grid.

Taking it to the Victorian government
This placard caught my attention at the steps of Parliament where the Walk Against Warming ended.

All I want for Christmas is a future
See also the reverse of that placard.

The samba percussion band and dancer were a huge hit at Melbourne's Walk Against Warming. Their loud, cheery dance rhythms and the colourful dancer really lifted the mood of the march, and got people cheering, clapping and dancing up the street.

Drumming against warming
Wasn't it Rosa Luxembourg who said 'If I can't dance in the your revolution, then I don't want any part of it?'*

Dance against Warming
I do believe that the big crowd, the creativity and the spirit of those marching on Saturday are strong signs that people believe that climate change is still a major issue that requires strong, urgent and concerted action from government – all governments: local, state and national, and international – and from the community.

To an extent, I do think that the upcoming local government elections will be a test of the extent to which the community will hold their government representatives accountable for the pace of action and policy work on this issue.

And it has the potential for being a litmus test for how Victorians perceive the Brumby government is acting on this and other enviromental issues – including logging old growth forests and the threat that extending clearways holds for local neighbourhood strip shopping and communities.

Let's keep an eye on this one, eh?

I have to say, though, this is still one of my favourite placards at the march, and it was a favourite of many others too.

*Yes, yes, it is probably one of those myths of the activist left that this saying is attributed to her, but hey, I love the sentiments…

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's huge: Walk Against Warming in Melbourne

In Federation Square with a massive crowd for Walk Against Warming. The big message is strong emissions cuts and the potential for renewable energy. We need a strong community movement on climate change. Get active!

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Walk against warming tomorrow – Saturday

Better late than never, I guess. In case you didn't already know, there will be another Walk Against Warming tomorrow, Saturday 15 November.

In Melbourne, the meeting place is Federation Square, at 1pm.

The Walk Against Warming website lists the details for other Australian cities.

If you think the struggle for strong action on climate change has passed, or it's time to relax, because Obama has been elected in the US and Rudd is promising an Australian emission reduction scheme, then think again! Now is the time to keep up the pressure on the Rudd government for clean energy, strong climate targets, and a safe future.

Amidst juggling the kids, Milo cricket and the usual Saturday requirements, I really hope to drag the kids out to Walk Against Warming this year. Hopefully, there will be so many people I won't have a chance to see you there! All the same, it promises to be a good family day.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A lucky but well deserving chook

Nam Le has won the Dylan Thomas Prize for young writers for his story collection, The Boat. Congratulations, Nam!

According to the folks at the Dylan Thomas Prize, the prize is to "recognize the best young writer in the English-speaking world and ensures that the inspirational nature of Dylan's writing will live on." They mean writers under 30. That's very nice, but the £60,000 would come in very, very handy too. That's AUD$140,000! From what I gather from this morning's Radio National Breakfast show, it is one of the richest and most prestigious literary prizes for young writers globally. You can hear Nam Le talking about this prize in his usual self-deprecating style to Radio National's Fran Kelly this morning – if you hurry and before RN take the audio off-line.

Writer Nam Le at Mossman Library
Nam Le has certainly made a splash in Australia and around the world for his first book, The Boat, a collection of short stories – some of which are short in name only. He drew a very big crowd at this year's Melbourne Writers Festival, and his packed-out conversation with Sophie Cunningham was transmitted live by satellite to the Edinburgh Festival of Books, and I believe The Boat was one of the highest selling books at the Festival. It is certainly one of the highest selling books of short stories in recent years.

And he's been winning a slew of awards, honours and prizes. Yet, however much prizes such as the Dylan Thomas claim to celebrate the best, they are pretty much just competitions, and there are many, many young writers out there slogging it and coming within Cooee of the Dylan Thomas. Even Nam Le is pretty low-key about the significance of this recent prize. As he told Fran Kelley on RN this morning, literary prizes are a chook lottery, and he happened to be the lucky chook this time.

Nonetheless, he is a good writer, and he deserves it. But for all the talk of Nam Le's talent, which I sincerely admire, his emergence from the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop, his rise to fame with The Boat, and his success as fiction editor of the Harvard Review, I think it is important to take some perspective in remembering where he came from.

No, I don't mean so much Australia, where he grew up, or Vietnam, where he was born and from which his family fled by boat when he was a three-month-old baby (although the Dylan Thomas Prize strangely describes him as a "critically acclaimed Vietnamese writer" rather than an Australian writer...). Though I do think that for a Vietnamese refugee boat person to be a good writer and make it good on the Australian and world literary stages is a great achievement to be celebrated.

What I mean is where Nam Le's stories were first published, and where we – Australian readers particularly – first encountered him.

I first heard of Nam Le when I was blown away by his story 'Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice' in The Best Australian Stories 2007, edited by Robert Drewe. Before that, its first Australian publication was in the magazine Overland, and before that it was published in the US Zoetrope: All-Story.

And I don't mean it lightly when I saw blown-away by that story when I read it last Christmas. So I am truly grateful for Drewe picking the story for the collection, though he would have been foolish not to. And I'm very grateful that Overland published the story first in Australia. In fact, of all the previously published stories collected in The Boat, only 'Love and Honour…' had been previously published in Australia.

And here is the crux of my rant. If it weren't for Overland publishing that story in Australia – and going on publishing more and more Australian stories each edition – and Robert Drewe picking it up in time to be packaged by Black Inc for a whole lot of Australians' Christmas/Summer reading last year, I wonder if I would have heard of and been impressed by Nam Le as I was. And I wonder if his writing would have made such an impact on me as it did.

And I wonder if I would have liked The Boat as much as I do.

Seems to me we need more magazines and places for short stories to be published – and read – here in Australia. Otherwise, we may miss the next Nam Le. Or worse, miss their stories.

Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla.

[Image: Nam Le at the Mossman Library, Queensland. Photo by Mossman Library, used under Creative Commons license]

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Last day in Cairns

I'm leaving the conference early this morning so that I can catch a direct early afternoon flight home. Considering the only later direct flight to Melbourne lands just before midnight, I'm very happy to trade the last sessions of the conference for getting home and seeing my family earlier. Sook.

Despite the hard work I've had to do here (seriously, no, seriously) and the utter boredom inspired by some of the conference presentations, Cairns has been fun, though certainly no holiday.

Unlike some of those I met at the conference, I didn't arrange to stay an extra couple of nights and make a trip to the reef or nearby islands, fly my partner or whole family up to join me for the weekend, or take day-trips in the middle of the conference. Unfortunately, it didn't even occur to me to fit in a tour to the Great Barrier Reef – for which I'm kicking myself.

This morning over the ranges
While I've only hung around in the CBD, I've enjoyed what I've seen and experienced: the heavy grey clouds that descend from the hills ringing Cairns and stifle us with the humidity without a single drop of rain, the blasting sun and humidity of 32 degrees C days, and how with the refreshing cool that sunset brings, the lorikeets
roosting in trees in the centre of town deafen passers-by, while the flying foxes ghost silently above us on their way to their breakfast.

And I've very much enjoyed how culturally mixed Cairns is: with the strong presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, tourists and backpackers, and the particularly the Japanase holiday who choose to make Cairns home for few months and work in the hotels, shops, Japanese restaraunts etc, giving me a contemporary impression of what Thursday Island and Broome would have been like at the height of the Japanese involvement of the pearling industry.

On all this, hopefully much more once I get settled when I'm home again.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Cool shade

Cool shade, originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.

Cool shade, originally uploaded by Mark Lawrence.

This is one of the largest ficcus trees I've seen in a long time. In Cairns city mall.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

North of Capricorn

I am in Cairns all this week for a work conference. There wont be much time to play, but I do hope to post that I see here when I can.

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