Sunday, January 29, 2017

Advance Australia Where –Should we keep Australia Day?

Most Australians celebrated Australia Day on the 26th of January. Traditionally this is a Public Holiday which ordinary Australians like to celebrate with a few beers and a barbie (BBQ) and perhaps a day at the beach. Usually there is an Honours List (good to see scientist, Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay -Sim being named Australian of the Year this year) and there are also Citizenship Ceremonies.

While this is mostly pretty harmless, it does offend the descendants of people who were not on the winning side on January 26, 1788, when the First Fleet landed in Botany Bay.  Many of our Indigenous people who make up  around  3% of the population today,  call it “Invasion Day” and see it as a day of mourning since this marked the beginning of their dispossession, annihilation and oppression.  For this reason many people are calling for the abolition of Australia Day, or at least holding it on another day. The argument goes like this:

Not all Aboriginal people feel this way. Alice Springs Councillor, Jacinta Napijinpa Price, writing in the Canberra Times says that there has been been enough mourning and that changing the date is a diversion which prevents people from seeing the real issues faced by Aboriginal people – violence – often from their own people, marginalisation, poor educational outcomes, shorter life expectancy and higher rates of incarceration.  While I agree with her in most respects, particularly in regard to looking to the future and not the past and not making us all feel guilty – most of Australia’s early arrivals were after all, not volunteers but were sent here as convicts, and those alive today had no part in it either and should not be blamed, in the same way that we cannot blame later generations of say German or Japanese origin, for atrocities their forebears may have committed during World War 11, I am wondering if there is a way to change its meaning to something positive.

It could for example be used to recognise Aboriginal Achievement and reflect on ways to alleviate present suffering, and to slowly heal the wounds between mainstream and Aboriginal culture.  A recent paper on Aboriginal retention in schools noted that self -esteem played a major role, so recognition of this kind may be one possible way to achieve this.  We do after all have 364 other days on which we could celebrate our diverse heritage and the positive things about Australia. Here the City of Fremantle  in Western Australia which has an interesting multicultural history, has led the way by having an all inclusive event which offends no one,  two days later.
On the other hand, Youth Radio Station Triple J has used the day to good effect by running an all -day appeal for AIME, a well-regarded mentoring program which encourages young Aboriginal people to remain in school and continue to further education. Oxfam also runs a program (see image below) which encourages Aboriginal women to become politically active, learn to liaise with government and become movers and shakers in their communities. Since Aboriginal society is heavily patriarchal, it is a step towards Aboriginal people being able to solve their own problems. 

 Another thing which could be done – and I believe this is in the pipeline, is to accord greater copyright protection with respect to traditional artwork and tribal knowledge to ensure not only acknowledgement, but a sense of pride and a greater flow of wealth to communities, especially at a time when pharmaceutical companies and textile manufacturers are beginning to show an interest.
No doubt there are many other positive initiatives, and violence in any form by any group should not be tolerated, but there is a way in which we can all help. It is to root out the covert racism which still pervades much of Australian society.  Just because outright discrimination is illegal, does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Greater awareness of Aboriginal culture and achievement will certainly help in that regard, though old attitudes, relics of the C18th “White Australia Policy” remain, especially in regional Australia and among those who have had little exposure to other cultures and ideas.
 “Advance Australia Fair” says our National Anthem. Let’s make it so, regardless of how and when we celebrate Australia Day.


*On the subject of Australia day Honours, whenever we give them out, I would also like to see the 12 year old Hobart boy, Campbell Remess, who sews teddy bears for sick children get an award. His work is such an inspiration and embodies the true spirit of Australia.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Pandora’s Box – Soundtrack to my life – (Well, bits of it anyway)

Another day lost in space. This clearing out business is taking a lot longer than I thought. Yesterday I came across a box of tapes and couldn’t resist looking through them. I haven’t owned a cassette player since 1998 and some of the tapes unravel as soon as I put them into the machine. Let me tell you, nothing except perhaps smell, transports you back in time as fast as music. You only have to see that movie “Alive Inside” in which virtually catatonic Alzheimer’s sufferers in homes for the aged were reanimated by the sound of music from their heyday. The transformations were positively miraculous.

The first tapes to see the light of day again were those of music from the 20's, 30's and forties.We still have the original LPs of these somewhere too, but haven't been able to play those since the early '80s.  I used to play the tapes as background music in the tearoom I had and it was not unusual to have people shed a tear or two when Vera Lynn came on singing “The White Cliffs of Dover” or Marlene Dietrich sang “Lilli Marlene.”   
I was delighted to discover that Dame Vera Lynn was in fact still alive and celebrated her 100th  birthday last November. Christine Baade, writing in The Conversation, says that during the war years, despite Lynn being hugely popular among the troops, the War Office was convinced that her sentimental songs, far from boosting morale, were undermining the soldiers’ will to fight.

The Palm Court Orchestra music  which used to be played at  tea dances,  also dates from this era. It too stirred memories among the guests of happy times, young romance and daring Tango displays. When I hear this tape I want to go out and buy aspidistras. As I listen I get a warm glow thinking of all those people who passed through the tea room doors, but am a bit sad too that I have lost touch with most of them and that so many are no longer here. There were some wonderful characters - the geos, the Ulysses Motor Cycle Club, the cyclists, and especially the musicians -Patrick Byrne,  the Francezza Chamber Group,  the man from Gormy (Andrew?) who played guitar on weekends, The Bush Turkeys, the very naughty and prolific Kevin (Bloody) Wilson., even those who just stopped by and played on our honky - tonk piano....the list goes on.

The next group of tapes belong to another previous life - a sort of spiritual quest which predated the tea room – Meditation music, New Age Music, New World Music. Some of these tapes are still very relaxing so I spend several frustrating days converting them to MP3 files, which wasn't very relaxing at all. Now I am up/ back to the sixties and seventies. “Nights in White Satin” (Moody Blues) still sends a shiver down my spine, just like it did then, when the Baby Boomers emerged as a force to be reckoned with. This era is bracketed at one end by “The Beatles,” though we were more into Folk music then, the more irreverent “Stones,” Bob Dylan and “Hair.”

 “Hair” the musical which celebrated its 45th Anniversary back in 2009, had a special place in my life for two reasons. Not only did it mark a turning -point in my personal life – it was as if I awoke to a wider world at that moment, it also transformed the society around it. Until then, Australia had particularly narrow forms of censorship, a coy - snicker -behind -the -shelter -shed attitude to the body and sex, no awareness at all about resisting prevailing social pressures, or effecting political change. Until Sir Robert Menzies resigned as Prime Minister in 1966, I didn’t even know that it was possible to have a different one, since he had been there all my life. (I also thought they needed much gravitas and bushy eyebrows like news readers, but that's another story). I will never forget the excitement of that night when we drove from Melbourne to Sydney to see the show with its full frontal nudity, forbidden swear words and all, though it probably wouldn’t raise an eyebrow today. 

Strata Title - interesting reflections when I take my eyes off that flickering green curser
Now I am down to the too hard category. There is Irish music, a lot of Enya and a bit of Country, Vivaldi, Martin Lass, The Gipsy Kings... Fortunately most of these are available on the internet, so there is no need to copy them. The Dutch Street Organ music isn't. It was given to me by an elderly Dutchman, alas, also no longer among the living, who was delighted that I was personally acquainted with those enormous street organs in Amsterdam. They were said to bring good luck. Though I doubt that I will ever want to listen to “The Chicken Dance” again, I can’t quite bring myself to throw it out either.
Same goes for the Meatloaf tape. Not counting the head of the Farmers' and Graziers' Union, Meat Loaf, aka Michael Lee Aday, was one of the first people I interviewed in Tasmania. He turned out to be a delightfully genuine, unpretentious person with a colossal three - octave range voice. Though ailing now, having collapsed again during a performance in Canada last June, his early work such as "Bat Out of Hell" still has a huge following. I have just read that for the first time in history, old music has been outselling the new, so maybe I should hang onto that one too.  I am now up to the CDs, but at least that technology is still around. Sounds like a good job for those dark winter days.
Take a look at this ABC video "Everything Old is New Again." Looks like I shouldn't be disposing of the vinyl records or those cameras either.

 Having read about Music and Memory projects gaining traction here - there are now over twenty in NSW,  and several hundred in the USA, perhaps I could pass my old tapes on to one of our more neglected Aged Care facilities. If you want to get more directly involved in this project, here is the website to find out more. 

PS  Big Hi to Captain Matchbox aka Mic Conway of "Wangaratta Wahine" fame (1970s) who responded to my request for information. Good to hear he is still alive and kicking and currently performing at Tamworth (though not as Captain Matchbox). Are the Bush Turkeys or The Chamber Group still playing? They don't seem to be on Facebook.  And Does the Moon still Shine over Cradle Mountain?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Time Warp - A trip down Memory Lane

The Science news of 2008 anyone?

The weather is fine and the hills beckon, but I am stuck indoors sifting through past lives -mine and my children’s, and even that of the previous generation.

My youngest son, having given up his flat in preparation for a move has brought three rooms worth of goods down to my little house and we have now have to sort through them. Two households into one simply won’t go and worse than that, I am being reunited with things that I thought I had managed to pass on years ago – old furniture, kitchen tack, books and bits. Usually I am the leavee with new adventures to pursue and have never had the slightest regret or thought about having to leave behind a few worldly goods. Not so this time.

Easiest to deal with is the impersonal but useful stuff – kitchenware, tools and such, to which little emotional baggage is attached, though it is rather sobering to see some chain store bought items now being advertised as ‘vintage.’ It made me think of those elegant chrome toasters and cruet sets in antique stores and having flashbacks of stuffy 50s boarding houses with their strict rules and ennui, before the country became multicultural. No regrets there. We tackle those first. This son is not a hoarder by nature- he longs to get back to those days when all he owned was a daypack and a surfboard. He just happened to be the only one with a fixed abode when everyone else moved on.

Much harder are those things which relate to my children’s childhood and teenage years – the comics, the now historic, once eagerly awaited issues of “PC User,” “Mad Magazine,” or “New Scientist” – the hobbies tried and given up – tennis, boating, fishing, diving; the Casio keyboard on which my sons first learned to code, the floppy discs, tapes, vinyl records and CDs of bands once loved, but now forgotten; the Lone Scout uniform which youngest son wore so proudly about two decades ago.  The books are particularly hard - the deluxe version of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” David Eddings’ especially “Belgarath the Sorcerer,” Stephen Beisty’s “Incredible Cross -Sections.”  Some relate to abandoned hopes and dreams – art, archaeology, architecture, insects… and so on through the alphabet. Each handled object evokes a memory of some kind and I feel little bits of our lives slipping away as I put each one into a box. My life passes in review. I have put my Self Improvement books to rest with these, but as I put them on the discard pile, I can’t resist a final read - perhaps I missed something last time? This makes the process take much longer than it should.  This time no one has collected any of the free books which we put out in front of the house. It must be a sign of changing times. Rents in this area have gone up a lot. Gen X and Y gather no moss. I sneak a few books back on the shelves. Gifts are particularly hard too, especially when the donor is no longer around.

Another wave of nostalgia hits me when I unpack my father’s precious camera bag -such beautiful pieces of redundant technology. What love and labour went into acquiring and using them and how many months of hard earned salary, all unnecessary now, in these days of “Point and Click” when everyone is a photographer. Now they will go for a snip, at best to some collector perhaps who might appreciate their condition and fine workmanship. I feel a kind of mourning as I let go of these things, not just for him, but the thousands who laboured in producing them and the incremental change that made them obsolete. There is just no room for the past in modern houses - no attics, no cellars, not even a decent shed. I love the way that say, Korea and Russia have specialist museums for such items – typewriters, bicycles, paper… – Hungary too, for that matter, which gives them a place of honour somewhere, rather than languishing in some box, or even the rubbish tip, and wonder too, if we have not lost something very important, not to mention the skills required to produce and maintain them. Some of them could come in handy should the digital universe fall over. Maybe in my next life, when I'm more settled, I should start a photographic museum. I already have a few pieces of my own to add.

The Leica and the Rolleis went years ago, but there is some amazing  technology there
 It feels like a long journey but in the end we have a few treasures, a lot of memories, a  few things to sell and a lot of boxes to take to the charity shops.  I see the ATO is targeting people who sell things on line. How dare they? Do they have any idea what this stuff cost to buy? Maybe their sale will constitute a tax loss and I’ll be able to send them a bill, if we actually sell anything, that is.

*Traditionally Tasmanians have never thrown things away. Given the separation from both the mainland and the rest of the world, they were too hard to come by and expensive even if made here. It is downsizing and relocation which have forced change, making it an excellent place for antiques.

I'm starting to feel like one myself - 'vintage' at least. I hope I'll soon be posting pictures of beautiful scenery, waterfalls and lakes again, but this is just to let you know I haven't fallen off a cliff.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

An Antipodean Castle by the Sea

The Entrance to Villa Howrah is through immaculately groomed gardens
Too bad it’s not a leap year this year.  I have just seen the place where I‘d like to spend my next honeymoon. I was treated to a surprise Alice in Wonderland Party there recently and had a thoroughly  enjoyable time, surrounded by an assortment of  white rabbits, fairies, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, a very sexy Knave of Hearts, a Mad Hatter and of course, Alice herself. I had no idea where we were going. I was only told to wear black – easy since that accounts for 80% of my wardrobe, given long black gloves and the hat shown in the New Year photos, then I was spirited away to become the Queen of Hearts in a place I had never heard of - strange, given that I thought I knew most places in Tasmania and especially around Hobart. 
These accoutrements are not usually part of the normal arrangements, but the picnic baskets of food and the games of Croquet on the lawns are.  What made it magical, apart from this happy company, the good weather and the setting, was the sense that here someone had been able to translate their dreams into reality, down to the last detail and sparing no expense.

The Villa Howrah looks like a castle by the sea. We could have been in the south of France, somewhere on the Mediterranean or any other wonderfully romantic location. In countries where castles have been a feature of the backdrop for centuries, such a building would not attract a lot of attention, but in a small colonial outpost like Hobart, where, apart from its wonderful convict built buildings, most of the housing, though delightfully eclectic and charming, has traditionally been rather modest and utilitarian,  it is wonder to see.

The views over the sea are to die for. The person who chose this site had both an eye for landscape and the big picture – grand visions (and deep pockets) as well as for the finer things such as fountains, a swimming pavillion, little niches, alcoves and arbours, high ceilings, a sunken lounge with an enormous fireplace and a quaint little library upstairs. I simply love the scale, the immaculate workmanship and the solidity of it all, as opposed to the more slapdash – “she’ll be right,” and impermanence of so much of our post WW11 architecture, especially that of recent decades, where expedience, cost cutting and uniformity – acres and acres of red brick triple front brick veneers or their modern more pretentious incarnation – the McMansion, have become the norm. 

Established trees, neat privet hedges and topiary work establish the mood

 It made me wonder about its original owner and creator, reputedly a hairdresser from London, who conceived this vision splendid for what was probably a barren sheep paddock. There is an air of mystery about him as nothing else is known – not here anyway – not even his name, much less what inspired him to build something like this here. If anyone knows anything about him – it was a him, I’d be pleased to hear it.

It's full of nooks and niches
Not that he is the only displaced soul to have reconstructed something he missed from ‘home, if that was indeed his intention. Supermarket King Rolf Vos, built himself an entire Swiss Village* in the north of the state, even moving mountains and creating a lake, as well as importing the tradespeople he needed to create exactly the look he craved, if minus the history that produced it. On a tiny island near Nubeena in the south, there is another castle built by Gunter Jaeger, a German of course, but this is not accessible to the public and in Sassafras, up north,there is another castle that has been a work in progress for at least the last forty years, though unfortunately I know nothing of its origins either. 

Sunken Lounge - library above

Little places to rest and reflect are found everywhere
So what is it with castles and importing bits of Europe into Tasmania, (though there are one or two elsewhere in the country)?  It does have the most European climate – cool, misty, rainy with lovely European trees that change their colours in autumn. This makes it very attractive to middle Europeans who bring their ideas, nostalgia and dreams with them.

A bath with a view
  It is also hilly and forested like much of Europe and its compact nature is also reminiscent of their original homeland.  While the heat of the mainland has spawned its own Australian styles  e.g. the sprawling bungalow with wide verandahs partially borrowed from the Mediterranean, or Queensland‘s unique stilt houses, at least partially influenced by Indian architecture, to allow breezes to leaven the humidity, are both suited to warmer climates and a sprawling landscape where land was cheaply available until a few generations ago. This was not so in Tasmania and especially Hobart where settlement was almost permanently constrained by hills until the evolution of modern earthworking technology. Here too, more expensive solid walls were needed to keep out the cold or keep in the heat,  so more compact forms of housing evolved, often involving more than one level, to take advantage of rising heat, though this is less true of post -colonial houses.
The concept of importing bits of Europe is a very well established tradition here too. Most of our stately homes  - Thank Goodness for all that cheap convict labour, had their plans (right down to the living rooms facing south towards the sun, but in our case towards Antarctica), and often their materials and furnishings imported directly from England to start with, so the odd castle or two does fit right in.  Unlike other states, Tasmania has not demolished many of its old buildings to bring in the new, the modern and the ugly – it was too poor, but now those self -same buildings give it its unique character and charm – a little piece of England/ Europe at the other end of the world.

While it still seems a bit strange – a denial of reality perhaps, to transplant architecture from another culture and or another era here, it is less out of place in Tasmania where the contrast is not so great. Mostly though I like it because it represents a bit of someone’s imagination turned into a thing of beauty in the real world  –  from castles in the air to a castle by the sea -something I always admire, be it in David Walsh’s MONA or this. It gives wings to the imagination, inspires other ways of looking at shelter and basically keeps things interesting. A little romance in a pragmatic place like this can't do any harm either. It is certainly excellent for forgetting every day cares.

One of the lovely "Eat Me"/"Drink Me" tags made by clever daughter - in - law
PS: The food wasn't bad either, the service discreet, professional and friendly. The Villa Howrah serves High Tea about once a month and caters to private individuals and groups. If you have a couple of grand you might be able to stay overnight and take advantage of all the facilities. In winter some of the smaller rooms are available for about $300. I mention this only in case some of my ardent suitors aren't quite so flush

*What do you think about this idea of transplanting whole villages? China has done it with Hallstatt in Austria.  South Korea has one too – a perfect Swiss village in the mountains at Muju