Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Company You Keep

I’m sorting through my hard copy inbox (it’s a vintage wooden inbox) as opposed to my email inbox. Here’s a ticket to The Company You Keep, the latest Robert Redford film. I went and saw it with Steve on Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 6:20pm in Manuka, Canberra. (The day of Dawn’s wedding to Peter. Peter II.)

I kept the ticket because I wanted to write about the film. It’s nearly a month ago, now. Dawn is on her honeymoon. What did I want to say? I could throw the ticket in the bin and relieve myself of yet another of these endless “duties”.

Oh, that’s right. The plastic surgery. It actually accentuated the oldness of Robert Redford and Julie Christie. They both moved stiffly, like old people, but they had these propped-up faces. Very distracting. Earlier in the week, I’d seen Amour, about two old people played by frankly old actors who had never done anything with their faces. Their faces were soft and real.

Then, of course, I’m someone with plastic of my own. My whole front is now made of silicone (see more about this here). It’s a hard pair of lumps; it’s like I’m always wearing a firm bra. It’s not comfortable. I can never forget it. But I wasn’t quite up to the “honesty” of just two angry stripes across my chest.

Anyway, this will do. Now I can put the movie ticket in the bin. I had a lot of thoughts in the wake of The Company You Keep and Amour but let’s just let them walk on by.

I’m in love with Richard Parker

Richard Parker is magnificent. I’m in love with his body, his eyes; the way he got thin; the way he walked into the jungle without a backward glance. Richard Parker is the adult Bengal tiger that shares a life-raft with Pi in Life of Pi. I saw the movie just after lunch today. I went out still strung up with post-surgical tubes and hand-grenade shaped plastic receptacles hanging out of my abdomen. I was feeling bodily challenged. It was beautiful to watch a movie about an animal with a magnificent body, a body at one with its personality and material needs. Earlier today I was reading a chapter called Tawny Grammar in Gary Snyder’s Practice of the Wild. In it, Snyder talks about the dirt in baby Krishna‘s mouth. He mother looks into the mouth and sees the whole universe. And there at the beginning of Life of Pi, there’s a scene in which an Indian mother is reading to her children. She’s telling them about baby Krishna’s mouthful of dirt, and the mother looking into a baby’s mouth and seeing the universe. My own day today is about the dreary reality of drainage tubes, itchiness, fluid-stained dressings, having a shower and washing my hair with the aid of plastic shopping bags; but Snyder and Krishna and Life of Pi have taken me out into the bigness of the universe.

How green are my candidates?

A Bathurst cornfield

On Friday evening, I walked up the hill to a meet-the-candidates meeting. Bathurst will elect its new councilors on Saturday, September 8, and this particular meeting was called to hear the candidates’ environmental policies and credentials. I was going to just go along and listen, but old journalistic habits die hard. I found myself scrabbling for the sheet of A4 paper, blank on one side, that I had tucked into my bag. Once I started taking notes the compulsion took over entirely. So here they are – the notes that I took, converted into a blog post with a few of my own hyperlinks and asides.

The meeting was hosted by Green Drinks, a monthly Friday get-together of environmentally-interested people at Rahamim. Rahamim is the new (ish) name for the Sisters of Mercy grounds in Busby Street, Bathurst (further down the road there’s the old house that wartime Prime Minister Ben Chifley lived in). The Sisters have converted the grounds into a demonstration ecological site, with community vegetable gardens, a lavish chook run, solar panels, a windmill and water harvesting. In other words, our local nuns have gone green.

I would say there were about 50 people at the meeting. It was introduced by the ever-laid back John Fry. John works part time at Rahamim to guide the greening of the grounds and host special projects. Before this, he was with Conservation Volunteers Australia and he has, at various times, thrown his own hat in the ring for election to Bathurst council.

Twelve candidates out of the 35 vying for the nine seats on Council were at the meeting. They each had five minutes to give their pitch; at the end of all these short speeches, there was a question and answer session.

Here are the notes I took as each candidate spoke. I wasn’t attempting to catch everything they said; I just wrote down what interested me. (I’ll just add here that I’m a member of Bathurst Community Climate Action Network and that I used to write a column in the local paper about environmental issues.)

Lee Rich

The first cab off the rank was Lee Rich, who is running for Council for the first time. She began by saying she’d recently completed a diploma in freelance journalism, which gave her a real boost. This achievement made her want to get out and do more, so now she was standing for Council. “I’m all for the environment but I’m not a Greenie,” she said.

Lee said her environmental policies included support for the wetland at Raglan Creek (Raglan Creek regularly floods over the main road into town from Sydney and some have proposed dredging it) and for a recycling site here in Bathurst rather than relying on the facilities at Orange (a town half an hour’s drive away). She said she was opposed to building a pipeline from the Macquarie River to Orange, a proposal favoured by some in Orange as a way to get around that town’s water shortages. “If they’re short of water they can decentralize to Bathurst,” she quipped.  She said she was in favour of natural fertilisers over chemical fertilisers. Instead of having food scraps going to landfill, she said, “we could employ people to produce compost.” She said she was in favour of Council buying the land at the bottom of Rankin Street where a water channel flowed into the Macquarie River. “Council should purchase that land – it’s got snakes and feral cats in it,” she said. She said Council should create tiers on the sloping ground, which would give a better riverside presentation. She also said she’d push Council to explore a hydroelectricity station on the Ben Chifley Dam. “This would be a great piece of infrastructure and save on electricity costs,” she said. “They should borrow and build this infrastructure.”

All of this sounded thoughtful and well researched. But I had a feeling this was the same Lee Rich who had written a letter to the editor of the Western Advocate earlier this year, saying, essentially, that carbon dioxide couldn’t possibly be a problem because there was so little of it in the atmosphere. I wish I’d cut out and kept that letter (it hasn’t been archived online). But you can read my reply here.

Ian North

Councillor Ian North, who is running again, had intended to come to the meeting but sent an apology. He can be found on Facebook under Ian North Bathurst.

Geoff Fry

Geoff Fry began by saying that if anyone was wondering, he was, indeed, related to the MC, John Fry. They are first cousins, but as both are very busy they might be lucky to see each other twice a year. Geoff Fry’s first remark on the environment was to say that he does believe that global warming exists. He said he was also sorry to see how, over the decades, trees were disappearing from the landscape. “Going from Dark Corner to Mount Horrible, you can see all the trees taken out,” he said.* He said that at home, he was a recycling warrior. “I’ve decreased my power bill by insulating my house.” He said Bathurst Council needs people with skills in different areas. He said he was a financial planner by profession, so this was the skill he could bring to the table. He said he had made up a list of 11 questions he would like to ask the Council. (Sorry, I didn’t write these down. To me, questions are not the same as policies.)

(Geoff Fry was sitting across the aisle from me during the meeting. I saw that under his chair he had a great pile of papers and folders. I eyed it covetously, keen to get hold of some paper so I could keep taking notes. He gave me some copies of his election fliers to write on – thanks, Geoff).

Greg Oastler

The next cab off the rank was Greg Oastler, who explained that his professional background was in community services. “I see many opportunities to develop community services in Bathurst, especially for the aged and disabled,” he said. On the environmental front, he said that he mulched “religiously” at home and did not use poisons in his garden. He said he had water tanks and vegetable gardens and there was only one car in the family. He said he had solar power on his house. He said that if elected to Council, he would be guided by the Nature Conservation Council’s report, Leading Sustainable Communities. “This is a wonderful starting point for Council,” he said. “I think Council could adopt eighty to ninety percent of what’s in this paper.” He added that he was not an expert on the environment and was ready to be guided by others. He finished by urging everyone to sign the petition against the Dutch super trawler. He acknowledged this was off-topic for landlocked Bathurst’s Council, but he felt strongly about it. “I love the ocean, even though I’ve been here for 28 years.” He can be found on Facebook under Vote 1 Greg Oastler.

Dr Jess Jennings

Jess Jennings appeared late, wearing long black leggings under his shorts. He said he’d just been on a race around Mount Panorama – I didn’t catch whether this was on foot or bicycle. He said that while nature was omnipresent, we’d carved it up in ways that did not relate to natural boundaries. Over the past 200 years in Australia, we had carved up the land into national, state and local government jurisdictions, as well as boundaries for purposes such as state forests and traveling stock routes. On top of that, there was the public and private ownership of land. The biggest environmental gain “since the beginning of white settlement” had been the creation of the catchment management authorities (CMAs) that follow the contours of water catchment down into creeks and rivers. Jess said he’d been working with CMAs as a consultant in natural resource management. He said there were two ways to look after the environment. One way was to conserve nature by excluding human use (nature reserves for example); the other way was to manage human use. A key strategy in the latter was to get farmers to improve their practices. “There are two ways you can change practices,” said Jess. “You can regulate or you can seek voluntary behavior change. The CMAs focus on voluntary change.” He said Bathurst Regional Council should be working with our CMA to achieve its environmental targets. He said a lot of research and development had been done to develop programs that farmers could be encouraged to adopt.

He also said the Bathurst region could be self sufficient in food (he is one of the initiators of the Bathurst Wholefood Co-op). He pointed out that eating local, fresh food could help confront the obesity epidemic. “In Australia, one third of men are overweight, one third are obese and one third are of normal weight. But for men in Bathurst only 12 per cent are of normal weight and 88 per cent are overweight or obese.”

George Peterson

The next speaker was George Peterson, who wheeled his electric wheelchair to the front of the room to speak. “I came to Bathurst in 1985 to study,” he said. “As I drove away I knew I’d be back. In 1998 I came back.” George explained that he’d grown up with polio, which restricted his movements. But once he got his electric chair, he got out “talking to people and looking at the community I live in.” He said we needed to make sure Bathurst was a place that people would want to live in, and part of that is the quality of the environment. He said he was not an expert, but he was able to “take in information and vote with my conscience.”

Tony Thorpe

Next, Tony Thorpe. He works at the state government’s Land and Property Information (its headquarters are in Bathurst) as a mapmaker. He said that since 1998 he had been working on creating opportunities for disadvantaged children in sport and recreation. “We have an eye to the mountain (the annual V8 car race) but it’s not the only thing,” he said. He said that when people and groups come together to work on a cause, it creates new opportunities for all. He gave as an example the adventure playground on Durham Street, for which he was an instrumental lobbyist. He said “free leisure” (leisure activities you don’t have to pay for) was being taken away from people. “Being in a sport can be expensive for families.” He said teenagers and the elderly also needed free leisure activities. “I’m disappointed with the new pool,” he said. “I was hoping there would be free opportunities to swim.” He said that he wanted to create a “solution” for teens in the area near Hector Park.

Di Riley

By the time it came to Di Riley’s turn to address the meeting, she’d had to go. The Western Advocate recently ran a profile story on Di.

Sharon Mulligan

The next candidate was Sharon Mulligan. She said she was a psychologist by background but was now a stay-at-home mother. She said Centennial Park would be a perfect place for a community garden. “The park is surrounded by a lot of villas,” she said. “A community garden would help people get out of their tiny spaces.” She said an artists’ garden would make a great addition to the redevelopment of the park and “there could be an amphitheatre where people could come together.” Another policy point was to “bring in the green bins,” that is, bins for household garden waste. She said she was a supporter of Bathurst’s non-native deciduous trees in the streetscape. She said that her environmental policies would in general be guided by the international environmental management standard ISO 14001.

Paul Haysom

Former Bathurst Councillor Paul Haysom, who is now running in the number two position on Jess Jennings’ ticket, began by asking: “Who is the reporter for the Advocate?” There was a moment’s silence. It wasn’t clear whether he was asking the reporter to raise his or her hand, or for someone to volunteer the name of the guilty party. “There has been a total lack of commitment to reporting these elections and that is very, very disappointing,” he said. “It’s not the candidates’ fault that people don’t know who they are. They say that newspapers are going out backwards – well, this one’s going out even quicker than that.” That said, Paul moved on to his environmental policies. He said he runs the monthly Farmers’ Markets because “we don’t need to have food coming hundreds of kilometres.” He said we had to look after our farmers. “They sell to the supermarkets and get ripped until they’re broke.”

Mayor of Bathurst, Greg Westman

Next up was the current mayor of Bathurst, Cr Greg Westman. He began by saying he was a cyclist, owned a bike shop and was all for the use of cycling as a mode of urban transport. He paid tribute to the deputy mayor, Cr Tracey Carpenter, for much of his environmental knowledge: “She’s been a learning curve for me.” He said he would never make rash decisions but always go looking for the best answers. He said Bathurst had recently seen some great one-off developments like the adventure playground, the acquatic centre, and the new bicycle facility. He said that over the next four years, the task was to get back to the basics: “Roads, rates and rubbish.” He said it had been hard to get out and maintain the roads because recent rains had stopped work. “We need to knuckle down and improve our basic infrastructure,” he said. He said Bathurst’s water security was a crucial issue. “We need to ensure we maintain control of our own water and waste water.”

Rhys Dive

Rhys Dive explained that he was wind burned and sunburned from spending hours at the pre-polling station over the past few days. He said he was disappointed to hear that Cr Tracey Carpenter was not standing for re-elction. “Council has done a fantastic job,” he said. On the environmental front, he said he lived on a property on the Sofala Road. “We catch all our own water. We have chickens, gardens, fruit trees.” He said his goal for Council was to increase community participation and make Council “a beacon for how to live”. He said he was a big fan of Council’s annual sustainable living expo. He said there should be a generator at the tip to make the most of methane production. He said Council should have a look at its grass mowing policies: “We don’t have to mow everywhere.” He said Council needed to get rid of the feral pigeons in town and put solar panels on the art gallery and library.

Keith Bremner

Like George Petersen, Keith Bremner also wheeled himself to the front of the room in his wheelchair. He said he was born at Bathurst Base Hospital. His family had a farm at Mount David. In 1972, he was in an accident that left him as a paraplegic. “My family had a tough time,” he said. He eventually moved off the family farm into a house on Keppel Street. He went back to school at TAFE, studying fitting, machining and electronics. He worked in the electronics field, fixing hearing aids. He took up shooting as a sport, representing Australia in a series of Paralymics. He also plays the guitar, getting out to play at community events. He said he wanted to be a voice on Council voice for the frail aged and people with disabilities. He said he also wanted to be a voice for children and for the resident’s of the Bathurst region’s outlying villages.

Gordon Crisp

Former Councilor Gordon Crisp began with flattery: “It’s a pleasure to speak to such a fine lot of people.” He said he’d been an active environmentalist for over 20 years. He said he once stood as a candidate for a party formed to oppose the transport and dumping of Sydney’s nuclear waste. “None of us got elected but the community had a win on that matter.” He said he had delivered a paper about Raglan Creek at the World Environment Conference in York, England, and had successfully campaigned for the park by the Macquarie River. “When I walk my dog there, I think that it was worthwhile,” he said. He said that he had also got his “hands dirty” for the environment, “planting trees and picking up litter.” He said his biggest disappointment was in failing to stop what was then to be the largest McDonalds’ golden arches sign in Australia. “I fought the good fight. I said it was environmental vandalism.” He said that as a Councilor he had opposed the idea that water should be piped from the Macquarie River because “it was an environmental disaster and economically unsound.” If elected once again to Council, he would try to ensure that every new council building was environmentally sustainable. He’d reduce the size of cars for the mayor and council staff. He’d relocate the kangaroos from Mt Panorama (where they are in danger of collision with V8 cars in the annual race). “It’s too dangerous for them up there.” He’d work to make sure the entrances to the city were inviting. “I’m an accountant. The first thing people ask is, where’s the money? Council has tonnes of money stashed away.”

Gordon Crisp has a long and colourful history on Bathurst Regional Council. A flavour of it can be found here.

Cr Tracey Carpenter

Gordon Crisp was the last of the candidates to speak. Deputy Mayor Cr Tracey Carpenter, who is not standing for re-election, was invited to say a few words. She said many positive things were happening for the environment in Bathurst, and paid tribute to the work of community groups such as Greening Bathurst, the Boundary Road Reserve Landcare Group and Bathurst Community Climate Action Network. She also paid tribute to valuable work done in the past by Councilors such as the late Kath Knowles and the late Jo Ross.

Discussion afterwards

Eager to find out if this Lee Rich was the same one with whom I’d exchanged views in the letters pages of the Western Advocate, I asked her what she understood about the science of carbon dioxide pollution and what she felt we should do about it. It was immediately clear that this was indeed the same Lee Rich. She said she was opposed to the federal Labor government’s carbon tax and that carbon dioxide made up just a tiny percentage of the total atmosphere and we shouldn’t be concerned about it doing any harm.

Gillian Baldwin, from the Boundary Road Landcare group, asked the candidates how many of them had actually read the Vegetation Management plan? Nobody leaped to their feet to say they’d read it, but it did spark discussion. Tony Thorpe said he’d been speaking to a wedding photographer who’d said that Bathurst should make the most of its deciduous trees. “There is a tourism niche market there. People are looking for a point of difference. Are we taking full advantage of our deciduous trees?” Tracey Carpenter said that the Vegetation Management Plan did support the continuation of deciduous trees for heritage areas.

Judy Walker from Bathurst Community Climate Action Network asked the candidates to explain their policies regarding electricity prices and generation. Jess Jennings said that he was the executive officer of a group that is working towards a community owned wind farm at Flyers Creek. He pointed out that Pat Bradbery, who was also a candidate and present at the meeting but had not given a presentation, was in this same group. Keith Bremner said the solar and wind generation capabilities of the new Flannery Centre were a great model for what could be done. He urged people to go up and have a look at it.

A candidate who was present but had chosen not to give a presentation to the meeting, Katherine Conolan, asked the question: How do we include the marginalized and less educated to participate in local decision-making? George Petersen said that council documents should be made easier to understand. “If a 60 year old who left school in Year 9 can’t understand a Council document, it’s not good enough.” He said that in this day and age, residents should be able to watch a live stream of council elections from the comfort of their own homes.

A member of the audience by the name of Sue (I think her last name was Lyons) asked what Council could do to ensure that new housing development estates followed sustainability principles such as north-facing orientation. Paul Haysom had a simple answer to that: “We need more vision.” Geoff Fry: “Paul’s right. Council is accepting minimum standards, when we could do better.”

The mayor, Cr Greg Westman, said that local councils were “hamstrung” because developers didn’t want to spend money; the minute they felt imposed upon they’d take their cases to the Land and Environment Court. (In other words, the state government’s planning laws trumped local government’s plans and wishes.)

Judy Meadly from the Boundary Road Reserve Landcare group noted that Council workers were still sometimes removing trees along water courses, leaving bare earth that was easily eroded. Jess Jennings said that bank erosion and habitat restoration were important issues. Paul Haysom added that remediation work could work wonders. “If you look at the remediation above Chifley Dam – you’ll see an amazing job. It shows it’s possible.”

A man by the name of Rob, who came late (and I didn’t catch his last name) said feral pigeons were an important issue. “We need to get onto that.” He added that the destruction of heritage buildings was continuing apace and what was needed was an independent assessor.”

* Dark Corner and Mount Horrible may sound like something out of a fairytale but they are real place names.

On The Saphires

I love the bit in the Sapphires where Gail (Deborah Mailman) tells the story of how her light-skinned cousin was stolen from her home by government officials in black cars to be raised as a white girl in a white family. There’s the harrowing scene of the theft of the child, the mother screaming.  Dave (Chris O’Dowd) responds by pausing for a moment and then saying, “Let’s dance.” This is just perfect. He’s heard the story, he can’t add anything to it, he loves her and empathises and wants to dance with her. What a set of graceful, seemingly effortless leaps all in one scene – from a dark moment in Australian history to a notching-up of the romantic storyline. A less skilful movie would have had Gail reach the end of her story, leaving  to “listen thoughtfully” before cutting to another scene. But he responds, and it is just right. All the way through this delightful film, director Wayne Blair balances the darkness with a lightness of touch that engages, never trivialises.

For my reader, if I have one, I’ll just explain that The Sapphires is about four young Australian Aboriginal girls from a mission settlement who go to Vietnam in 1968 to entertain American troops. Their manager, a hard-drinking Irishman (O’Dowd) gets them to drop their country and western routine and start acting like black American soul sisters. Which they do, in shimmering dresses and big hair. It was inspired by a true story. It got a 10 minute standing ovation at Cannes.

The movie is set in that year in history when the whole world was shaken and stirred and never quite the same again: the assassination of Martin Luther King, a new wave of “the troubles” in Ireland, the Vietnam war. In Australia, Aboriginal children were taken from their mothers and given to white women to raise. From the perspective of people this far down the food-chain of power, the anti-Vietnam war movement and the whole hippie thing that is the usual shorthand for the ’60s are all an irrelevance; they could be happening in some other dimension. Blair’s handling of the relevant historical events is contrived but deft, with fragments of black and white footage appearing on television sets that happen to be playing the news at the right time and the right place. When Dave says that he might be white on the outside but inside, he’s a Black Panther, that’s another bit of history – it might go over most of the audience’s heads, but that’s okay. The sense of a kindred spirit between the Irish and the dispossessed Indigenous peoples of Australia is front and centre in the movie but again, it’s given a natural and easy treatment. Dave sings a few lines of A Nation Once Again but other than that, the kinship simply flows out of who these characters are and the history and communities that have made them.

I remember the world that appears in that movie. I remember going to school with the “mission kids” who came to school in their own bus. There was a social apartheid; they came and went separately. I was on Facebook last night, nostalgically trawling through the I Grew Up in Carnarvon page, looking at a class photo c. 1975, with a row of ten year old white girls sitting on chairs; black and white barefoot boys sitting on the ground in front, and the tall people at the back, including teachers. The tall people include Aboriginal girls, much older than the other kids. They were young women, possibly as old as fifteen or sixteen. They lived at the mission on the outskirts of town. Looking at the photo now, it speaks volumes about race and class and history; at the time, living it, it was just how things were. By the end of primary school those girls had all disappeared. They were there, but I had little to do with them. I remember being baffled by some things, but I can’t honestly say I was curious. I never asked why these much older girls were in a class of ten year olds.

I went to the mission only once that I can remember. A neighbour, the mother of our playmates, was taking old clothes to drop off for the mission kids. I remember the mission being its own little village, a little world of its own, with its own little streets.

Our playmates’ baby brother was black. His brother and sisters were white. I assumed he was an orphan with no mother or father of his own. When I heard that he had a sister, I was puzzled. Why did he not live with his sister? I had no sense of the injustice of the situation; I was simply baffled in the way young children are often baffled about the workings of adult society.

The last three days of my two breasts

Just three more sleeps, then I go into hospital and my breasts will be no more. Every now and then I have an attack of, “Why am I doing this? Am I nuts?” And then I just have to remind myself of the facts: Every female family member I know of who has/had the BRCA1 gene mutation has had cancer. That’s 100 per cent. Nobody just slipping through. I have the BRCA1 fault and I’m overwhelmingly likely to get breast cancer. I just have to repeat this mantra every now and then as I face off with the idea of a double mastectomy. If I actually had cancer, I’d be running in saying “Get them off, get them off!” But I don’t have cancer. It’s hot here (Australia in January) and I’m wearing a little black top. I look down and inspect my breasts. It seems rather incredible that these major parts of my anatomy will simply disappear. But it’s not an arm or a leg or an eye; I’m not having to deal with chemotherapy and vomiting. In a few weeks’ time I’ll be adjusting to life with a new chest. I’ll be teaching again, doing all the stuff I usually do. And these few weeks of discomfort and difficulty could mean that I have a long, healthy, cancer-free life. It’s not much to pay, really.