Thursday, June 05, 2014

A long time between thinks

Think (2014) Kodakotype by Pants


So, last week,  I says to TQW,

'Can I really go another month without writing a blog post?'

'You can if you've nothing to say,' TQW replies helpfully.

This would be the moment to invoke John Cage, but having nothing to say and finding a way to say it in a blog post is easier said than done. Silence has a legitimacy in music that doesn't easily translate to the written-word form. A 'tacit' in a piece of music invites the listener to imagine what might have been there - hence the huge and continuing success of Cage's 4' 33". It's the ultimate conceptual musical statement. Musicians follow instructions. What notes to play, whether to play loudly or softly or joyously or poignantly. Why not a whole piece of tacit? Why hadn't someone thought of that before?

A few years ago I saw Tacita Dean's video piece Stillness, the very moving dance performed by Cage's life partner, choreographer Merce Cunningham.

'Tacita - a name that actually means silence?' enquires TQW en route to the Esky. 'What kind of parents would give a baby a name like that?'

'The kind that would call their son Ptolemy,' I reply.

'So, they wanted a mute daughter and a screeching warrior of a son?'

'I guess they didn't count on the Cleopatra factor. Give a woman a challenge like that and then stand back.'

Tacita does indeed mean 'silence' so, clearly, she was born to interpret 4'33", as was the former dancer and, by then widowed, Merce Cunningham. It's so poetic I could cry or die or both. And now, you can even get an iPhone App for 4'33". Beyond brilliant. There is something about this that pleasures me in ways that are probably not even legal.

'Barney, crack the Chardonnay.'

The old self is peeping through the keyhole and wondering what the fuck is wrong with this picture. All the pieces are there somewhere but the letters and numbers are floating around in space like a Halloween episode of Countdown. I mean the British game show and not the Australian Top of the Pops with the mad guy in the cowboy hat.

I already have eight posts in the draft box in various states of incompletion so having nothing to say is not exactly the problem. Either that or it's an octopus of a problem with eight independent legs. More likely, it's a case of not being able to get all the ingredients to bind so that something nourishing and original results. Is it a passing phase or an early sign of death? It would be just my luck to have organ failure start with the brain.

For weeks I've been struggling to blurt out the most bleeding of obviousnesses. Is it just me or is everything really so overwhelmingly shit? Apart from John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Tacita Dean ... and Yoko Ono!

'Barney, still waiting here.' [Memo - Pants, write something long and rambling about Yoko.]

I loved that thing she did where she had vintage landline phones installed in art galleries and occasionally rang one and talked to the person who answered. You would think that there is no gesture more breath-takingly witty than that but then someone else cranked it by surreptitiously using the phone to dial their mobile, capturing the number and installing an imposter Yoko. Once a serious brain sparks it sets off a chain reaction. See, it's not that difficult to cheer me if you know the right buttons to push.

Alice Walker was asked in a radio interview how she remained so insatiably cheery and she said something like,

'It's such a joy to realise how disillusioned you are.'

That's a new way of looking at it and one which I had better quickly adopt in the current global political climate. It's not that I'm incapable of feeling joy in disillusionment but it requires rather a lot of Chardonnay these days,

'Barney. Refill!'

I would prefer not to have to resort to such self-preserving tactics as pretending I live on one of those Star Trek planets that looks like Hellenic Greece with iPods but needs must. The inevitability of disillusionment is especially galling in a country where the only thing standing between the populace and responsible, fairly distributed prosperity is a tiny but powerful class of Cohiba-chomping morons. Australia - Downton Abbey minus the lush pastures, potted meats and pretty dresses. Oh, and I think they even pay their servants at Downton.

In the interview Alice Walker also revealed her approach to composing an essay and it goes something like,

'You start writing and by the time you get to about page two or three, you've figured out what you're going to say.'


That method has worked for me too - until the last eight times, I mean nine, that I've tried it. Trusting the process is tough when it fails repeatedly. Right now, I'm more like the lyric to an unfinished Hollies' song. Road = long. Winding turns = many. Leads to = who knows? When = ditto.

'Barney! Get your ornofeline arse down here and pour me another Chardonnay.'

'What's that you say? You can't. You've got to pack. You've been asked to star in a new TV reality show called I Wanna Mary Hairy? Okay, that sounds interesting. So you're an ordinary, neutered owly-cat billionaire posing as a poor orang-utan and a bevy of Wall Street flash boys is competing for the chance to roger you as the star turn at their bucks party? And you will pillow-talk your way into the darkest secrets of this new breed of Übertossers. And the denouement is that you're going to expose all their highly illegal financial practices and thoroughly unpleasant social attitudes. And you expect this to adversely impact on their careers how exactly? Oh, you're going to hire the winner yourself. Goodo. And, you've already posed for the Vanity Fair cover? This explains why I've had to fold my own canapés two nights in a row. How is anyone supposed to work under these conditions? I'll be here to pick up the pieces when you crash'n'burn babe. Remember our pact. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better. Remember to credit Beckett. The cellar's fully stocked, right?'


Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A Quantum of Gravity

Lost in Time and Space (2014) Kodakotype by Pants
It's easy to misinterpret the purpose of the Oscars ceremony. It's not, as you might assume, a showcase for pretty dresses or even a trophy night for movie stars. It's a measure of mood, a tonal talisman. If you want to know how America aspires to feel about itself right here, right now, watch the Oscars. In previous years, the message has been more meandering, more cloaked and also much more about pretty dresses and, actually, movies. This year there were few chortle-inducing sartorial distractions to detour us, (how we miss SJP), so the message came across clearly and unmistakably at a carefully calibrated volume.This year it was all about the dignity of work, the audacity of dreams and the righteousness of reward.

The Question Why and I sat down to view with our traditional glass of cold Chardonnay and plate of warm eggs Vladivostok and immediately realised we would be writing a very different post this year.  From the off, it was apparent that there would be no ostentatious frivolity. No mini-musicals, no being John Malkovich's Alaskan Malamute or whatever, no fantasies involving Alec Baldwin. In fact, not even an Alec Baldwin. (We don't think - we might have blinked.) And no Woody Allen. Definitely no Woody Allen. No off-message merchants of any kind. From the moment host Ellen DeGeneres took to the stage in what appeared to be nineteenth-century clergy clobber and parked herself in front of all those gold statues, it was clear that we were in the temple and about to partake of some serious evangelising - a hunch later confirmed by brother McConaughey's prayer of thanks for his Best Actor prize. 

The subdued designer drapery alone nearly sent us into a coma. Black on white. White on black. A fleeting flurry of turquoise. What we would have done for an emerald velvet jacket. Jared Leto almost made us smile with his burgundy bow tie and non-regulation hair but then he folded himself neatly back into the status quo with this emotional outburst, 

'To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight in places like the Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to say we are here and as you struggle to… to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible… We’re thinking of you tonight.'
 

Sorry Jared? Do you like know what's happening in Ukraine and Venezuela? There's no 'the' in front of Ukraine btw bro' - at least try to keep up. It set an unfortunate bar.

Sure, sure, the Oscars are always about heroes and dreams, but this year that's all they were about. The minor detail that some people were getting some awards and seemed to take personal pleasure in same was almost a footnote. The main event was conveying the message that movies are made by ordinary but gritty people with big dreams, lashings of courage (and no bad habits - although noble failings are acceptable up to a point and we'll get to that). No matter how humble your beginnings, provided you work very hard and your dreams recognise no boundaries, you can make it in Hollywood.

Woven into the dominant narrative were several strands of subtext, not least of all implied equality. This is a tenet of the American Dream project that those who benefit from it so disproportionately are very keen to perpetuate. We don't know how they did it given the predominant pale-stale-maleness of the vast voting population in the Academy, but someone managed to coordinate a result that looks very like there really is equality of opportunity in Hollywood. We all know that can't possibly be the case so someone, or a cast of a thousand someones, worked very hard to conjure it. Not so difficult if illusion is your business perhaps?

What did Ellen DeGeneres really mean when she jibed that there were only two ways the night could end? Possibility No. 1: Twelve Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility No. 2: You're all racists. Was it prescience or zeitgeist or something more engineered? Lupita Nyong'o won Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Twelve Years a Slave did indeed win - bagging Director Steve McQueen a first-ever Oscar as the first black director of a Best Picture. And what is to be made of her introducing Anne Hathaway as 'the first white presenter' of the night? Is there perhaps a tear in some indiscernible tissue of delusion? Is someone maybe twigging that they might be participating in a fabrication, or indeed contributing a diversity tick in their own less-than-tiny way? 

Then there was the veritable rainbow tribe that comprised Team Oscar - three men, three woman, every major ethnic group represented. They looked like the culmination of a thoroughly measured cultural nutrition plan. You can cobble together a version of 'equality' that is appearance-based, and let's be clear, the Academy certainly has some catching up to do in that department, but if that's all you do, well here at Seat of Pants, we might call that a sham. Genuine progress does not happen overnight, even if that night is sparkling with all the glitter Hollywood can produce.
"Possibility #1: '12 Years a Slave' wins Best Picture. Possibility #2: You're all racist!"
Read more at http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-watching/review-pizzas-celebrity-selfies-and-pointless-montages-at-the-2014-academy-awards#EFWhF3ESAFIxiXZL.99
"Possibility #1: '12 Years a Slave' wins Best Picture. Possibility #2: You're all racist!"
Read more at http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-watching/review-pizzas-celebrity-selfies-and-pointless-montages-at-the-2014-academy-awards#EFWhF3ESAFIxiXZL.99
"Possibility #1: '12 Years a Slave' wins Best Picture. Possibility #2: You're all racist!"
Read more at http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-watching/review-pizzas-celebrity-selfies-and-pointless-montages-at-the-2014-academy-awards#EFWhF3ESAFIxiXZL.99
"Possibility #1: '12 Years a Slave' wins Best Picture. Possibility #2: You're all racist!"
Read more at http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-watching/review-pizzas-celebrity-selfies-and-pointless-montages-at-the-2014-academy-awards#EFWhF3ESAFIxiXZL.99
"Possibility #1: '12 Years a Slave' wins Best Picture. Possibility #2: You're all racist!"
Read more at http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-watching/review-pizzas-celebrity-selfies-and-pointless-montages-at-the-2014-academy-awards#EFWhF3ESAFIxiXZL.99

Heroes and dreams were more than mere themes. As the night inched on, they appeared to achieve the status of gospels and even managed to anchor themselves in science. Accepting an honorary Oscar on behalf of all film-lab technicans, Dark Knight writer/director Christopher Nolan praised the unsung 'alchemists' who turn 'silver and plastic into dreams — and not just any kind of dreams, but the kind of dreams you can unspool from a reel and hold in your hand, hold up to the light and see, frozen: magic.' And, as it happened, frozen turned out to be a bit of a sub-theme too. More on that later. And then there was the science evoked in the Gospel According to Matthew in which the saintly one cited the little known 'scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates.' Oh, and dreams are 'valid' according to Lupita Nyong'o - although we're not clear on the validation methodology as Lupita doesn't have a biblical name to fall back on. 

Frozen, both the film and the state, developed some unscripted momentum thanks to a couple of wins and some unfortunate presenter juxtapositioning. John Travolta's mangling of Idina Menzel's name may have had something to do with the apparent difficulty he was having persuading his facial muscles to respond to instructions. The invocation of Fifties America via the dreams & heroes theme threatened to backfire spectacularly when the real 1950s turned up in the shape of former screen siren Kim Novak. It was like the picture of Dorian Gray had escaped from the attic. The fruit of faux earnestness carries within it the seed of grand irony. Had no one bothered to check the physical and mental state of the elderly star before dragging her from whatever therapeutic exercise she was engaged in at the time? They might have given her a minute to change out of her sweats and comb her hair. Both semi-ossified stars were landed with the unhappy task of having to actually pronounce the word 'frozen' using mouths that were still in the icebox.

We got not one but two montages of random Hollywood heroes from film-making history which ranged imaginatively from Dumbo to Jessica Rabbit, from Eliot Ness to Lawrence of Arabia? (Okay, so hero is a fairly elastic concept then.) There was a feature to mark the 75th anniversary of the release of The Wizard of Oz and a tribute to Judy Garland. The sub-theme of happiness and the pursuit thereof snowballed, not least of all due to the prominent presences of Pharrell Williams and Will Smith. Our hero capes and dream coats found themselves overlocked with thick threads of equality, diversity and happiness. It was all getting a little bit too dopily Disney for our liking. More Chardonnay was needed and some balance too. 

Enter Gravity, both the film and the sentiment. The film deserved a narrative thread all its own as it swooped in at regular intervals to snaffle all the techie awards and remind as that America produces the bravest heroes and the biggest dreams. The Best Director pick-up for Alfonso Cuarón also conveniently ticked another box. He's the first Mexican director to win. The constant mention of the word 'gravity' also acted as a metaphor for the final, sombre narrative thread. The ghost of Phillip Seymour Hoffman hovered over proceedings like an unwanted ectoplasmic guest in the Halliwell mansion. He was the spirit unable to move on and seemingly in need of a rather huge dollop of magic to affect his elevation to the place where St Matthew of McConaughey's daddy is waiting in his underwear with a welcoming pot of gumbo and a Miller Lite. It was the moment of clarity for TQW and me (and by now we wished rather for a moment of claret). Glenn Close arrived in graphically funereal black to introduce the In Memoriam segment. The segment ended with pictures of Hoffman and then Bette Midler flapped in to emotionally chant 'Wind Beneath My Wings'. Thank you, thank you, thank God for you, la-la la-la la-la.

Hollywood hasn't yet worked out how to deal with the way Hoffman exited this life. It was like his character just wouldn't do that. The ending didn't make sense in the Hollywood way. Cory Monteith, who died in a scene eerily similar, was laundered from memory and his picture did not even make the In Memoriam cut. Bad habits vs. noble failings. Given the strong thread of equality running through this year's Oscars, the distinction seems disingenuous, not to mention baffling. Is it so that some drug users are more equal than others? Do these dream-weavers really think that you can edit life the way you edit a movie, removing all the bits that don't perfectly fit the script and leaving any awkward characters on the cutting-room floor?

Despite the intrusion of occasional wafts of darkness, the keynote had been conveyed. It's all Gettysburg-good stateside. From the ordered-in pizza, (see, we get hungry too - not for fame but for good ol' pizza), to the genius selfie stunt, (see, we are family), it was all so relentlessly I'm OK, You're OK. Even the documentary winners were all feelgood fare. When the icing is this perfect, it's advisable to check the cake. The problem is that there is some bad-ass baking under that marzipan. None of the hokum rings true, except maybe inside the Hollywood bubble. Economic inequality in the USA is the worst it's been for nearly a century - and worsening. Cities are going broke. Public infrastructure is crumbling. And the increasingly numerous poor and disadvantaged are too exhausted to have dreams, much less chase them. 

Now is really not the time to morph into Marie Antoinette. Aspiration and reality are on separate paths heading in opposite directions. And no Lupita, the act of wishing upon a star won't 'validate' your dreams, much less make them come true. And no Matthew, 'gratitude' doesn't 'reciprocate', neither can you use it to buy potatoes. And you know what Jared, we doubt that the dreamers of Venezuela and Ukraine will be able to use your inspiring message of support to protect themselves as they strive towards their own version of 'living the impossible' - which looks rather like the carefree life you have always taken for granted.

Meanwhile, back in America's perpetually aspirational Mini-Me, the immediate post-Oscar headline read,

Australia Cleans Up at Oscars.

Did this mean that our controversial and multi-tentacled Transfield Services had won the contract to clear the pizza boxes and sodden hankies from the Dolby Theatre? No. It meant that we won a couple of minor prizes and one big one. All won by women. Women don't normally get a mention unless they get caught smuggling drugs or top themselves tragically when they have so much to be grateful for, but beggars can't be choosers. Catherine Martin is now recognisable to the entire world by her initials alone - she is, after all Australia's most prolific Oscar winner. Right on message, she was eager to demonstrate her down-home unpretentiousness by extracting an A4 sheet of paper from her bra. CM has obviously been spending far too much time down among the sequins as she should have known it would have been far more authentic to have the speech tattooed in a spiral up her forearm.

The insufferable Cate Blanchett, as always, followed her own script, not to mention agenda. Adopting the first-amongst-equals position she reserves for such occasions, she lavished praise on her fellow contestants. No doubt she was keen to demonstrate her rigorous Aussie egalitarianism. Missing the mood entirely, she bragged, 'there is so much talent in Australia!' She apparently overlooked the directive that movie stars are ordinary folk who reach the top because they have big dreams rather than big egos. In explaining to the homespun homies at E! News that she nearly missed the cue for collecting her trinket she revealed her true self,

"The blessing and the curse of this is it happens at the arse end of the evening and so you watch so many other extraordinary people get up there and you lose track of the fact that you're even nominated. And then you get taken by surprise, 'It's my turn', and I was with Julia Roberts in the bar for rather too long and just got back to my seat in time."

'so many other extraordinary people.'  Seems to us there might be a stray 'extra' somewhere in there.

During her speech, Sister Blanchett also blithely inserted an unscheduled and entirely opportunistic ad for her equally odious husband and his parochial little Sydney Theatre Company. Happily, she ditched a few notches from the pitch of her previous gushing when congratulating Woody Allen on his excellent choice of leading lady. Grudging applause for his writer nomination earlier in the evening was evidence of his (no doubt) temporary suspension from favour. Nice work for picking up on that one Cate.

All over for another year. We're off to order more Chardonnay. God travel with you through every limousine journey of your life.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Humanity and sanity overboard

Refugees 3 (2013) Kodakotype by Pants

Not a day goes by without we Australians waking to discover that our government has ramped up its cruelty to asylum seekers a thumbscrew or two. A predictable protest at an offshore detention centre on Manus Island this week resulted in one person being shot dead and 77 being injured. The protests were triggered when around 1340 asylum seekers were told that they had no chance of being resettled in Australia - ever. This begs the question of why anyone would be so stupid as to say such an egregious and explosive thing to a group of distressed people;  unless a riot was the desired outcome? To be honest, that would not surprise me. It's right up there with bear-baiting on the scale of gratuitous bastardy.

Now it's been revealed that the personal details of around one third of asylum seekers currently being detained by Australia have been accidentally (?) dumped into the public domain. These details could identify vulnerable people, including children, to the governments of countries from which they have escaped persecution. So, the dashed hope of a tolerable life in a safe place somewhere in the world is compounded by the threat of repatriation to a clued-up and very angry country of origin with the apparent collusion of a nation which claims fairness and tolerance as national characteristics? Carelessness or callousness? The Question Why is always saying, 'never rule out complete incompetence.' And I don't, but how convenient an error is that if you really want to terrify people?


Australia is a signatory to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Our officials seem unacquainted with Article 7 of the ICCPR which instructs,

'No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.' 

The definition covers psychological and emotional mistreatment as well as the more obvious types of physical torture. The thing that always baffles me is why, when you have people manageably subdued and demoralised, you would want or need to torment them to the point of total breakdown. Fortunately, The Question Why has just arrived with a highly anticipated glass of Chardonnay.

'Only two reasons I can think of,' says TQW, 'fun or fear.'

'If you want to terrorise people for fun, you don't become a politician or government official, surely. Wouldn't you rather join a criminal bikie gang or buy a shed in the middle of nowhere and fill it with rusty farm tools like that Wolf Creek guy?'

'So that leaves fear. And how does one usually respond to fear?'

'Fight or flight?'

'Well, it's quite difficult to shift a continent this big to a place where no one will ever find it.'

'True. Let's go with fight.' 

'Or there's the third option - ignoring the scary thing in the hope that it will go away.'

'Ah, the Monsters Inc. Strategy - the one we use on climate change. Didn't we try that one back in 2001?'

'Oh yeah, the Tampa affair. Pretending that asylum seekers don't exist only works up to a point. We still have about 10,000 actual people to deal with, no matter what we end up calling them. '

'So it's full-on combat then.'

But why? Surely it would be so much easier to recognise asylum seekers as people needing our help and provide that help as quickly and efficiently as possible. Other countries with far more demand and far less capacity manage to alleviate the distress of displaced people with much greater grace and sincerity than Australia could even contemplate. Take this example of a refugee camp in cash-strapped Turkey where Syrian refugees are treated as equals,

"When I asked the administrator why the camp took the amenities this far, he said: 'We just put ourselves in the Syrians' shoes. We need Internet. We need barbershops. We need workshops. We need art. What we need as Turks, we give them.' He shrugged as though this were totally obvious. 'We're humans.'" (New York Times article by Mac McClelland, 13.2.14)


There's a theory bouncing around our vast land that the globally conspicuous cruelty being meted out to the tiny number of asylum seekers currently in our 'care' is a calibrated deterrence signal, the modern equivalent of heads on pikes, to discourage others who might have it in mind to follow the same route. Further, that the cast-iron veil of secrecy is merely bait for the media, deliberately set to ensure maximum international publicity. Well, obviously it's certainly an incentive. It won't stop people from being displaced, but it might mean they go somewhere else. Provided, of course, there is somewhere else to go. Presumably, the calculation has also assumed a toothlessness on the part of the UN and that a small slap on wrist is a fair price to pay for making sure that asylum seekers get the message that Australia is not somewhere they really want to go.

That's all very well, but we still insist on maintaining a self-image that we're generous, kind people. Not even the Nazis did that - pretend they were actually nice while shipping people off to camps. Imagine what that schizoid disconnect is doing to our national psyche. And again, why? Why not just stand up for racism, be proud of our white supremacist roots? We obviously don't believe it's wrong to discriminate against a particular group of people who also happen to not be white. No one ever questions the motives of the seventy-or-thereabouts-thousand white South Africans who emigrated to Australia for 'a better life' after the ANC election victory in 1994.

And then there's the bogus 'concern' about asylum seekers drowning at sea. If we really cared about that we'd set up immigration centres at the points where fleeing people first arrive so that they don't have to undertake desperate sea journeys. We'd get them sorted and settled quickly so that they could become productive members of our community. And we're apparently worried about the cost of all these extra people? Well, most of them will end up living here anyway. Do we accept this and make the pragmatic and compassionate best choice in a difficult situation? Hell no. We would much rather spend a fortune imprisoning and guarding people in limbo for years; building, staffing and repairing offshore detention centres; deploying naval vessels to guard great expanses of ocean and dealing with the shattered physical and mental health of whole generations when they are finally allowed to settle here after years of constant trauma. So, why do we do that then? 

Novelist Christos Tsiolkas, in this long piece for The Monthly written in 2013, attempts to fathom, 'why Australia hates asylum seekers'. It's a considered view and I hope you'll read it in full. He says that racism is an aspect of our attitude to asylum seekers that we never discuss,

'By not confronting the reality of racism, we can only look at the issue through a distorted lens. At the same time – and this is a point overlooked by the left, another of our failures – reducing the whole debate to the question of racism is equally problematic and unsatisfactory.'

Drawing on his own experience of racism as an immigrant he recounts,

'“Australians are racist,” my parents would say to me as I was growing up. “They are racist and they are amorphoté. That’s the real problem in this country.”

How do I translate this Greek word? Literally, it means to be uneducated but this is inadequate. My parents were not educated people; born to peasant families, they didn’t undergo secondary schooling. What Mum and Dad were referring to was a code of behaviour, a civility that they believed Australians lacked.'

He concludes,

'This is what amorphoté means: it is not about academic education, it is barbarity, pure and simple.'

How did we Australians end up like this - especially since we're so keen to think of ourselves as the exact opposite of barbarous? And yes, a lot of developed countries have problems with racism and display hostility towards asylum seekers but no one does it with quite the ferocity and mania that Australia does. No one fears foreign quite like we do. Why?

The Seat of Pants theory is this. The 'no-room' nonsense, the be-like-us bollocks, the procedural hokum, the Janus-faced faux concern - all a smokescreen. The thing we really don't want the rest of the world to know is that we have no idea how to be decent global citizens. From our shove-it-in-your-pipe resource profligacy to our hysterical 'border protection', our deeply embedded and universal commitment to inequality is our shaming open secret. We are, indeed, amorphoté.

But why? We're an educated, well-travelled population with freedom of expression to die for. And nearly all of us are from immigrant stock. And there's another rub - once new ethnic immigrant groups become established, it isn't long before they too join the stone throwers. How is this possible? Simple answer - insecurity. The unfinished treaty business with the first Australians is making it impossible for any of us to feel truly at home here. White settlement in Australia was based on the lie of terra nullius. In order to validate that, it was necessary to reclassify the indigenous inhabitants as non-people. That self-granted permission to deregister certain groups from the human race at will has never been revoked or even genuinely rethought. So now, we simply reframe asylum seekers as non-people in order to strip them of their human rights. It's a bad habit that goes way, way back.

Since I've lived nearly half my life so far in Europe, I can tell you that while racism is certainly a problem in other places, Australia is in a league of its own on this particular type of racism. It feels so hopeless when there is no anchor, anywhere, for anyone. It's taken me a few years to get close to the beginnings of an understanding of just how and why it's so different. And I will admit to being roundly fooled myself while I was living abroad and only experiencing Australia in small, fun-packed chunks and via brilliantly orchestrated, love-us-because-we're-so-naff PR campaigns.   

Nothing will change until we understand that this is who and what we really are. A little pain now for a decent and honest future - how hard can it be? Very, apparently. Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating managed to transport us to a place of idyllic imagining for an afternoon back in 1992 when he delivered his now-famous Redfern Speech right smack in the centre of Sydney's Aboriginal community.

'We took the traditional land,' he said. 'We brought the diseases and murders,' he admitted. 'We took the children from their mothers,' he confessed. 

And? 

We Australians clasped the sentiment, if not the actual message, to our collective heart. In a recent poll ranking Unforgettable Speeches of our time, the Redfern Address came in at No. 3. The top spot went to Dr Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech - see, we're not racist. In second place was Jesus with The Sermon on the Mount - so, we're all biblical scholars now? I'm thinking you don't even want to know that No. 4 was Churchill's 'fight 'em on the beaches' and No. 5 was Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Twenty years ago, Paul Keating gave it his best shot. It didn't even hit the barn. That's how thick our barn actually is. In a recent interview he said,

'When they were handing out continents, not many people got one. We did. We got a continent of our own, unbelievably. Twenty million of us. We've got the great event of our time.'

What is wrong with us that we could even think of squandering that?

Barney! More Chardonnay. Now!



Friday, January 31, 2014

Got the Goodes



Last Saturday I got an email from Adam Goodes to let me know that he'd just been named Australian of the Year for 2014. Since most TSP readers are not of this land, allow me to explain. Adam Goodes is a top player of Australian football and an Aboriginal man. He had sainthood thrust upon him last year during a football match when a 13-year-old girl shouted 'ape' at him. His response was so conspicuously dignified that someone really ought to write a text book based on it. I'm not saying this to be facetious. I'm suggesting it because this sort of confrontation almost always ends with everyone involved wearing a facial omelette.

Firstly, he called the child out with just the right measure of severity and then he followed up with some tough compassion. He accepted her tearful apology with good grace and explained to her exactly how and why what she had done was wrong. Most importantly in this age of finger-pointing at the weak and simple-minded as a societal corrective, he chose to shoot the message rather than the messenger. He became one of the prominent faces of a subsequent and ongoing anti-racism campaign.  

As to the title, Australian of the Year, I can be less helpful. I was away a long time and a cursory Internet search won't tell you much about what is expected of this No. 1 citizen during his/her titular reign. Lots of flag-waving, ambassadoring and luncheoning appears to be the general gist. I got a hopeful inkling though, from watching Adam Goodes's acceptance speech, that he might just have something profound in mind,

'My hope is that we as a nation can break down the silos between races, break down those stereotypes of minority populations, he told the audience at the ceremony. Present was his proud and tearful mother Lisa, a member of the Stolen Generations. For Adam Goodes, that goal is very close and very personal. A year can be a useful amount of time given a fair wind blowing through the right ears and a single issue whose time one can only pray has finally come.

Just to clarify, I don't actually know Adam. I got the email because I joined an organisation called Recognise, whose logo appears above this post. Adam Goodes is a leading spokesperson for Recognise. If you click on the first link, you will see a freeze from the video of his acceptance speech. If you ignore the creepy trophy - a cross between a dildo and a lava lamp (?) - and our even creepier prime minister, you may notice that Goodes is wearing a discreet Recognise lapel button. One of the organisation's goals is to secure recognition for Aboriginal people as the 'first' Australians in our Constitution. 

Like all things that seem incredibly simple, it turns out to be massively complicated because it requires us to rethink the decisions made by the pink-skinned, grey-wigged, blue-coated illegal boat arrivals who landed here on 26th January, 1788 and audaciously claimed an enormous continent for the British crown. Imagine how differently it might have played out had the indigenous peoples had the sort of hard-line 'border protection policies' we have in place today. The invaders swept in on the presumed basis that no one lived here already. They were met and challenged by brown people wearing more climate-appropriate body coverings who pointed spears at them and fiercely chanted 'warra warra', (go away). These people were conveniently reclassified as 'flora and fauna' so that the messy business of trading and treaty making could be easily dispensed with. 

You see the problem. Although we have since grudgingly admitted the first Australians to the hallowed ranks of citizenship of this continent and sometimes even felt a bit guilty about the systematic dispossession of individuals, tribes and nations that went on into the 1970s, it's still kind of hard to feel bad about ourselves when we're so invested in feeling good about ourselves, if you get the drift. Not that you need to - there's a vast and tedious epistemology awaiting your poking finger right here.

In Australia we're always threatening to 'start a conversation' about 'important issues that affect our nation', like why, for example, we behave like shits to anyone who isn't a white adult male under 50. Well, I've been sitting here for six years and the 'conversation' about why and how we should bury racism forever has never advanced beyond a round of statements of the painfully obvious. Recent history provides us with a scattering of mealy-mouthed regrets from left-leaning leaders. So resounding a NOTHING has been the end result, that one can only conclude that NOTHING was and always has been the original intention. Every decade or so, someone half-heartedly, or perhaps cynically, waves about an olive branch for a minute or ten and then we all go back to our online shopping, barbecue eating and bigger-house dreaming.

This story really begins in 1967 when, after many years of campaigning, Indigenous Australians finally won the right to vote - and yes, you read that right. Then in 1975, our first Labor Prime Minister in a generation, Gough Whitlam, poured sand into the hand of pioneer land rights campaigner Vincent Lingiari and promised 'restitution'. In Gough's defence, events did rather overtake him in the shape of a constitutional crisis and his government's subsequent collapse but one can't help wondering why such a highly emotive gesture wasn't backed up by at least a plan or two in the works.

Prime Minister Paul Keating's Redfern Speech which crawled into consciousness nearly twenty years later in 1993, came closest of any before or since to inferring that an admission of guilt might not only be appropriate but might even be accompanied by some remedial action. He promised 'reconciliation' and created a committee. And then three inert years flittered by. A new hard-line conservative government followed and it was bent on repealing any previous half-arsed attempts to think through a national soul-healing process. It looks like I'm picking on the lefties. It goes without saying that, when in power, the conservative side of politics does nothing - if we're lucky. Or, it strips Indigenous people of their human rights, as the government of John Howard did in 2007 when it imposed an invidious compulsory income-management regime on Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory under the spurious pretext of protecting children.

Another eleven years wafted into the ether of historical inconsequence, (otherwise known as The History Wars - see link above), and up pops a new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, with yet another speech in 2008. 'Sorry' - easy to say yet seemingly impossible to recompense. Why? Because of the dreaded c-word - compensation. It appears that if we white people make any admission that our ancestors might have done a bad thing, then we'll all have to give up our homes and be, well, stateless ourselves! See how impossible it is to do the right thing when you approach it in our time-honoured fashion?

Just to recap - getting on for forty years ago one prime minister promised 'restitution' - a very big word in this context. OED definition - the restoration of something lost or stolen to its proper owner. And sometimes that's even happened. Two decades later a prime minister softened that promise to 'reconciliation' OED definition - the restoration of friendly relations. Difficult because there never was a 'friendly' state to restore. Cut to the present day and we have yet another prime minister tentatively offering, all in good time, mind, because we don't want to mess it up, you understand, 'recognition'. OED definition - the action or process of recognizing or being recognized.

And that, friends, is the lesson of the three 'Rs' - Australian style. In the last 40 years, everything that's been chipped from the prize has been added to the obstacle course. I relay all this - and thanks for staying with me - to indicate just how high the mystic mountain Adam Goodes has set himself to conquer really is. I predict one of these three things will happen.

1) He'll succeed in dragging us a few baby steps towards the unification* we so badly need.
2) His year will drift by with not much happening apart from lots of charred meat being consumed.
3) He'll fail, not from lack of effort and will, but because he's been set up to do just that.

* I'm dispensing with tradition here and offering the u-word as a circuit breaker. OED definition - the process of being united or made into a whole.

I hope against hope for Option 1, expect a version of Option 2 and dread Option 3. 

I have no doubt whatever that Adam Goodes is dedicated and focused and more than averagely diplomatically skilled. That he has the nous to send an immediate email to everyone who signed up to Recognise tells me he's a communications genius.

The goal he's set himself is well within his capabilities to achieve - in a willing world. But we don't live in one of those, sadly. This is Australia. Influential interests are heavily invested in maintaining the status quo, which is a subdued and dispossessed population of first peoples who cannot effectively operate as a power block because they are far too busy tackling their own, often insurmountable, local problems. It suits these interests to elevate a few high-profile Indigenous people so that they can point to them and say, 'look at those ones. They've made it in our world the way it is. How hard can it be?'

Defeating racism is self-evidently the first and essential step necessary to achieving binding equality on this continent. In that sense, the task Adam Goodes has set himself is the smart, right and only one possible. And yet he risks so much. The cost of failure has, in the past, been high. The obstacles thrown at people who attempt it are tried, tested and entrenched. The political rewards to those who want to keep power in the small number of hands that currently hold it and to their friends who run the industries that profit from it are immense. Historically, the nah-nah-nah-nah-nahs pitched at failed efforts resound for a couple of decades. And then the cycle of hand-wringing and report writing starts again and off we set from square one with the burning resolve to 'start a conversation'.

I'm concerned about the forces that might rally against someone so strong, so determined and so apparently driven by destiny. I think of Barack Obama. I think of Julia Gillard. And I worry.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Subdivided Self

Self-actualising dog (2013) digital photograph by Pants

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said something like 'applicants for wisdom should enquire within'. My Intro to Classics 101 is a little rusty but I have an idea that he got there before Aristotle. And many have gone there since - Nietzsche, Sartre and Rilke, to name a few. These days it seems like a no-brainer of deductive reasoning that nourishment for the soul is most satisfactorily dispensed via the inner automat. It's not like there's a traffic jam down the Avenue of Enlightenment, after all. In fact, you could even say that one's personal GPS is the only reliable instrument for pinpointing one's ethical safe house in a culture where self-actualisation is more likely to involve cosmetic surgery than a quest for a transforming truth.

Ma Pants's pooch, Louis the Bichon gets through his fair share of inner reflection if the amount of time spent lying about on the sofa chomping on teething toys is any indication. And he watches television. Much to the amusement of the entire family, he takes a special interest if a dog appears on the screen. He's also stimulated by the appearance of zebras and orang-utans. Animal Hospital had to be banned - Louis seemed particularly incensed at the sight of those cone things they make dogs wear after an operation.  We did encourage him to watch a segment on 'small dog syndrome' as he has taken to snarling at other dogs on his daily walks, a gesture which has proved unconducive to community harmony. We can only hope he has internalised the lesson. Ma Pants won't be subscribing to the special television channel just for dogs though. For such an occasion was the expression, oh puleeese! invented and we are grateful for it.

I don't make New Year's resolutions normally but I'm thinking now a useful one might be to avoid Jung until at least June. Just kidding. I'm not reading Jung. I'm reading Tim Winton's new book Eyrie, actually. And very good it is too. My NYR is to 'keep calm and carry on'. External craziness doesn't tend to impact too much on Fortress Pants. Having said that, Australia in 2013 certainly presented a challenge to defences at times. I learnt long ago that if you want to get anything done, you put on the blinkers and run the race as if you're the only horse in it.

There are aspects of self-knowledge where I reckon I could give Heraclitus et al a run for their drachmas. I'm acutely attuned to my own needs when it comes to gratification and I design personal projects very specifically for maximum payout. My strategy has two strands; one is for directing process, the other to ensure a steady stream of product. Time is already conveniently broken down into all manner of useful chunks. I just use the framework that's already there. To keep things simple, I divide my day into three large segments - morning, afternoon and evening. And, like Nick Hornby's character in About a Boy, I dissect those into hour-long, or sometimes half-hour-long blocks. An hour is a useful amount of time. Just enough to achieve and not so long as to get bored. The circuit breaker is that it's a minimum rather than a deadline. If I want to keep working on whatever I'm doing, I go with the flow.

Sometimes when people retire, they panic because there is no one telling them what to do. Consequently, they have no idea what they are going to do for the rest of their days. (Note to people on the cusp of retirement - if you have no idea what you are going to do with your retirement, give it some thought now.) I, on the other hand, have never been especially good at being told what to do by others. In fact, the only person I've ever willingly taken orders from is, er, me. See, I told you I had this Heraclitus thing sorted. You could say I was born retired, or, at the very least, into a state of aspirational hermitage. Unlike Will Freeman in About a Boy though, my freewheeling is not funded by the royalties from a Christmas song written by my late father. This is why you will very often find me picking through the throw-out vegetable bin at the Larrikin's End Foodworx or digging in my own veg patch, activities for which I schedule a half-hour twice per week and one hour per day, respectively.

Despite global contraindication, I can honestly say I was entirely happy for all of 2013. I seem to have gotten a lot done, but also spent a luxurious amount of time lolling about and contemplating the beauty of the ocean and the sky and thrilling at the infinite wonder of their intersection. For me, that's a perfect balance. It took about a year for me to get my mojo back after a really dreadful work experience. I still made notes. I still made plans and I'm very glad that I did. Self-motivation is only partially the result of efficient scheduling. Even more important is the generation and management of ideas. If notions were currency, I'd be very wealthy indeed. Some people will tell you that ideas are worth money, but I have no desire to sell any of mine, even presuming I could work out how to do that. They are much more valuable to me as raw material. I work on the principle that every idea has a conclusion. I just have to follow one until we get there.

The second strand of my strategy is to have a portfolio of Works In Progress comprising small and large, repetitive/planned and innovative/improvisational. Here's where the pay-off comes in. The small project, (collage, pastel, poem, blog post, mowing the lawn), can be conceived, executed and celebrated in an afternoon segment. These are excellent for using up ideas - except mowing, which is only good for using up petrol. 

The large projects (novel, oil painting, renovating the house), I break down into stages so that the celebrations come frequently. (As do the bills in the case of house renovations). Completing a chapter, a layer, a room - all hurrah! moments. The reward, in case you should be in any doubt, is wine. It turns out that I'm pretty good at project managing my life, so naturally, I accrue rewards. This is the only part of capitalism that I actually get. Where I fall down is that I don't like to compete against anyone but myself. I would have made a great tennis player but I have fat legs, poor eyesight and a lousy serve.

I always have a novel and a large painting on the go. I can usually finish a painting in 3 months - or I could when I was working in acrylics. Right now, I'm working on an oil painting with lots of layers. It will take me up until next winter sets in, at least. During the coldest months, I only undertake projects that can be done on the laptop under three duvets. I can heat the whole house with free, legal firewood that would only rot on the ground otherwise but the parsimon* in me refuses to allow it. Besides, I don't need an excuse to stay in bed all day - just a reason. I have Proust on my side in this so don't even think about judging me, okay?

On the novel front, there may have been a deadline failure on my part in 2013 but that would very much depend on one's definition of a deadline. I faithfully promised my writing buddy Phil that I would complete The Full English, (WIP for ten years and counting), last year. I partially broke that promise. I was only a hundred pages into the revision before I realised that I was just working on another draft (No. 11, as it happens). So I finished that. I still didn't manage a vaguely plausible resolution, even in draft. I learnt last year that Hemingway had written 47 endings for A Farewell to Arms, and that made me feel slightly better, although I'm not sure why. But, it means I have work to do on it in 2014 and that can't be bad.

Small projects are living. Big projects are life. Combined, they are purpose.



* I know it's not a word but it ought to be. It's derived from the Latin. Why shouldn't I be able to make up a word that comes from Latin too, eh? EH?


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Lost in time

Olive Oscar (2012) Kodakotype by Pants

I'm on holiday which, these days, means that I've swapped the dry sweltering south of Australia for the humid sweltering north of Australia. Although, between my remote home location and the eccentricities of the Australian mass transit network, the ordeal of getting from Larrikin's End to Noosaville is not much less arduous than the journey from the other side of the world.

For a year our thrice daily train service from Eastern Victoria to Melbourne was suspended necessitating a five-hour trek in a 'coach' that would not have been out of place in an episode of Gunsmoke. Apparently, some 'grinding' work needed to be done on the single-purpose track to deal with 'rust'. I was tempted to comment that rust is usually the consequence of under-use but I have learned that even a hint that something in Australia is less than 'world-class' is not likely to be well received.

It seemed like the sort of problem that a maintenance team armed with wire brushes and oil cans should have been able to solve given a fine day and sufficient overtime. Well, that might have been the case in the nineteenth century but not in modern Australia which has its own idiosyncratic time zone. By my reckoning, it's the 1950s except without all the fun things like Bakelite and James Dean. Whenever I enquired on the long, bumpy ride back to Larrikin's End in the wee hours, I was informed in a sagely tone that 'a special piece of equipment has to come from inter-state'. This 'inter-state' place appears to be located somewhere in the Great Andromeda Nebula.

Miraculously, this 'special piece of equipment' did eventually travel the countless megaparsecs to Larrikin's End and our line was restored a month or so ago. This was good news as many Eastern Victorians, including the always suspicious Pants, thought it sounded like a case of terminal decline by studious neglect. All was well in the world except that the newly reinstated service wasn't running on the day I travelled to Melbourne airport. Signal failure, apparently. Yep, that happens to me a lot lately.

Queensland and Victoria are themselves in different time zones, despite sharing a longitudinal span. It's historical and has something to do with cows voting against daylight saving. Despite Noosaville being an hour behind Larrikin's End - it's hard to imagine anything being behind Larrikin's End - my day shifts dramatically forward four hours. I'm up at near daybreak (5.15am) to execute an elderly jog. For years I've persisted with this rather ungainly gait even though it makes me the target of endless derision. 

Australians are highly competitive and imagine that everyone is looking at them all the time. And our lack of diplomatic skill is internationally recognised. I'm not sure what my status is re nationality. I can probably be best described as ex-communicated. When I don my ill-matching and highly unfashionable jog togs, I give no thought to what others might think. The judgement of strangers is as meaningless as a Kardashian to me. On the pathway to fitness, I'm always met with either sourness or mirth. You'd think people would be thrilled that a crusty old bag is taking some initiative rather than presenting as a problem to the health system, which we are constantly being told can't cope with the idea of people living a long time. They probably guffaw at people in wheelchairs. You don't see them all that often. Who knows, maybe they're not allowed out in case they make the place look untidy. 

After suffering the unsolicited disapproval of fellow travellers for several years, I discovered that my jogging 'style' is not dissimilar to that of a famous Australian athlete. Cliff Young won the inaugural Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon at the age of 61 with his comical shuffle thereafter known as the 'Cliffy'. When I jog, I do the 'Cliffy'. It's a legitimate form of pedestrian travel. There is really no justification for the pointing and gawping.

And I don't get up at 5.15am just to avoid the madding crowd of fitness fashion fanatics. It's partly because it's too hot to go later and I also need to get in a few hours of physical activity before Ma Pants stirs. Even at 84 and with chronic asthma, she feels she ought to be able to do what she could thirty years ago. Competitive. So, after an hour of 'Cliffying' and attracting unwanted footpath attention, I take my boogie board down to the beach for a couple of hours of annoying the surfers with my elderly attempts at catching waves. I live to be a thorn in the side of whatever narcissistic rump presents itself.

In between long cups of tea and interminable present-wrapping marathons, I have also been trying to fit in a family history project. Ma Pants can only do things in snatches these days and finding the right moment can be tricky. I've always been pretty good at multitasking so I'm always half-doing something else. I feel a bit bad sometimes as she can find the speed at which I get things done a bit intimidating. (The competitiveness thing definitely has its drawbacks). But honestly, I have my own sanity to think of and I would go mad if I wasn't doing something in those frequent voids. Jogging and surfing are the only things I'm elderly at. Everything else I do at the speed of light, frequently to the detriment of quality.

With all this time-zone confusion, I've forgotten what day it is. Oh, no I haven't. It's Christmas! Now 6.45am. No 'Cliffy' this morning - exercise is banned on Christmas Day and I can live with that. Ma Pants doesn't know that I still woke at 5.15 to write this post. I am on my second cup of English Breakfast tea and herself has just put the kettle on. Niece Pants is still out to it in her room. She had a sleep-over last night. Now 17 she is a gorgeous girl, devoted to her Nana and indulgent with her ancient aunt. In a couple of hours we'll drive her back home as this year we're having Christmas at theirs. Hopefully, Sis Pants's crab pot will have caught lunch. 

Ah, I can hear Niece Pants rattling around in the room next door. Better go. 

Happy holidays. Pants will be back in 2014.

Monday, November 11, 2013

There's silent and then there's dumb

Into the mouth of hell (2013) Kodakotype by Pants


It's the end of Armistice Day and I've just observed 72 hours of silence. 

It's not that I'm especially passionate about honouring the long-ago fallen with a gesture of near meaninglessness - the plain truth is that I'm on my tod. Seat of Pants is empty apart from unpatriotic little ole me. The Question Why and Barney each received personal invitations from M. Hollande of France to attend a commemoration of La Bataille de la Somme. Neither of them have kept up their high-school French as I have and they got it into their heads that they were being challenged to demonstrate their considerable skills at wine selection and pouring - a sort of Battle of the Bands but for sommeliers. I waved them off happily. I can pour my own wine if I have to.

I may be po-faced when it comes to metaphysical sabre-rattling, but I do love it when people don't speak. Could they not extend the minute's silence to 24 hours and make it compulsory? I could maybe locate some patriotism for an idea like that. A wish too far I fear, but at least our war veterans' organisation the RSL is making a valiant effort to ensure that our annual sixty seconds free of some stranger squawking inanities in our unwilling ears remains sacrosanct. Last year, it introduced the 'Minute to Remember' app to prompt us not to forget what we are supposed to remember for reasons that are no longer entirely clear to us. Let's revisit the linked piece from The Australian newspaper.
The Minute to Remember app will send out an SMS reminder just before 11am on Sunday to remind subscribers to observe the traditional minute's silence.
The app has been created for Defencecare, an RSL NSW charity that helps current and ex-service personnel and their families with a range of issues.
Defencecare CEO Robyn Collins says the number of war veterans is diminishing but the importance of Remembrance Day and the minute's silence "continues to be a truly essential cultural element of being Australian".
"This digital solution is an exciting way to stay relevant, respectful and help the Defencecare community," she said.
Defencecare CEO Robyn Collins says the number of war veterans is diminishing but the importance of Remembrance Day and the minute's silence "continues to be a truly essential cultural element of being Australian".
"This digital solution is an exciting way to stay relevant, respectful and help the Defencecare community," she said.
Well, okay, so we learn it's 'traditional' but we're not told why. Playing devil's advocate here, I'm thinking that if we're new to this whole 'minute-to-remember' thing, then we will struggle to explain to our companions why our lips are suddenly frozen between the dim and the sum during our Sunday brunch in Chinatown.

'The app has been created for Defencecare, an RSL NSW charity that helps current and ex-service personnel and their families with a range of issues.'

'Defencecare CEO Robyn Collins says the number of war veterans is diminishing but the importance of Remembrance Day and the minute's silence "continues to be a truly essential cultural element of being Australian".'

Well, how's about that for a comforting clarification? 'A truly essential cultural element of being Australian' - you mean like a mandated love of grilled sawdust wrapped in pigs' gut and a hatred of anyone who looks and sounds a bit foreign? And that helping with 'a range of issues' thing - doesn't that sound deeply worthwhile? I'd definitely consider shutting my gob for at least sixty seconds for that. If only we could get shutting the fuck up to catch on culturally.

"This digital solution is an exciting way to stay relevant, respectful and help the Defencecare community," she [the aforementioned CEO] said.'

This reminds me of how my own late and loved father - a WW2 veteran - grew sideburns and wore paisley and used the words 'groovy' and 'gas' inappropriately in the 1960s. It was proof - if any were needed - that generational differentiation by culture is a very healthy thing. A robust generation stays in its lane. It defers to neither its predecessors nor its progeny.

In my time, Alan Seymour's anti-war play, The One Day of the Year was taught in schools. Now it's rejected by young people as un-Australian. Our fathers fought in the Second World War and our brothers were conscripted, (or refused to be), for the American war in Vietnam. But ours is the sandwich generation. These days Ma Pants is comfortably retired on a War Widow pension and gets quite misty when flags fly at half mast. The children of peers troop off to Gallipoli, barely conscious of the fact that they are in Turkey, quite possibly the most fascinating country on the planet. They weep for the (literally) unknown soldier of a hundred years ago but show little compassion for the victims of wars taking place right now.

I lived abroad for the entire reign of former Prime Minister Paul Keating. I'm beginning to feel like I might have missed an important moment in Australian history. Maybe it was like the Whitlam years when, for an instant, one could sense the possibility of a unifying idea that wasn't about sausages and sport. So long ago, so far away. Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, ex-king Keating, now ancient but unbowed, had this to say in a speech delivered at the Australian War Memorial,

'I am greatly heartened that so many young Australians find a sense of identity and purpose from the Anzac legend and from those Australian men and women who have fought in wars over the last hundred years. But the true commemoration of their lives, service and sacrifice is to understand that the essence of their motivation was their belief in all we had created here and our responsibility in continuing to improve it.

Homage to these people has to be homage to them and about them and not to some idealised or jingoistic reduction of what their lives really meant.'

Ouch. Let's hope he didn't see the DefenceCare app for this year. Expectations have been lowered,

'This Remembrance Day we ask Australians everywhere to turn off their phones and take a minute to remember all those who have died, suffered or risked their lives protecting Australia's freedom.'

Now we can show our respect for the fallen by switching our phones to 'silent' for the designated minute. Yes, we can even outsource the 'truly essential cultural elements of being Australian', in sixty-second increments, to our electronic devices. God I'm proud to be an Aussie!

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we shall flight-mode them...