Treason in a Shed?

I don’t know whether I am a just a wimp, a sad ex-feminist or a real traitor. Or I could pretend this is an April Fools piece.

But I badly want a men’s shed for women and I would like some nice man to start one for us! (I don’t even mind if it is a unisex shed but then it must not interfere with the integral principle of the Men’s Shed movement!)

All my life I have stood up for our rights and capacities as females. I even led a deputation to our Principal (in those days the “Head Master”) at school in 1955 asking for permission to join the all boys “Woodwork” class instead of our “Cooking and Needlework” class. We were, quite gently, laughed out of the room.

Today I have admired the way the men have set up “men’s sheds”, modelling as they began to do such, on the enjoyment women get in gathering together and in being supportive of one another. And there is no doubt I very much enjoy frequent meetings with my female friends. And we are mutually supportive. But we don’t actually do very much. I do not enjoy sewing or cooking and only do these when necessary, not for fun. (My sons cook both for fun and professionally, as many men do.)

My early retirement fun was allowing myself to re-do my very own shed, with minimum help sought from one professional carpenter. (I have to thank him and other handymen from the past for giving me pointers as to how to do simple things. I also have to thank my son in law for my set of power tools.) I put up multiple shelves, cupboards to store my books, tools etc. Sadly a friend’s husband told me this much loved shed was “too girly” because I added curtains to the windows. He spoke kindly and as if in jest like my former Head Master, but perhaps he was right.

Recently I peripherally met a gentleman who was involved helping with the setting up of the Men’s Shed movement. We met in a discussion group with regard to a different sort of public duty/interest. What he said about this movement was fascinating and made me even more envious.

I could try to start a women’s shed movement for myself but know the expertise is missing. And I do not know, personally, other women who would be interested.

And anyway I am stuck and can’t change the metal cutting blade in my power saw. Help!

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To Mr Bernard Gaynor

Around about puberty, more than sixty years ago, I became a non-theist and a feminist. I have remained a loyal and proud Australian all my life.

As such, I am very pleased that you, ex Major Bernard Gaynor, are no longer representing Australia in any public role and am proud of our military for acknowledging it is no longer appropriate for people whose public profile is as yours is, should be in their employment.

In deference to your right to have your views aired and considered, I  read some of your blog postings. It is your privilege, in this country, to be able to make such comments as you have made.

I was astounded by your initial claim that you are a purveyor of “the truth”, an absolute with which many brains much deeper than that of former Majors such as yourself, or retired old ladies such as myself, have struggled over many ages. But then, to do you justice, it is a common phenomena for the very religious to regard their own views as an absolute truth and, as you, yourself, have so splendidly illustrated, use the very notion of everyone else’s religion except one’s own as an apparently axiomatic example of a mistaken thought process.

I leave aside here any need to comment on you anti-Islamic, anti-abortion  or anti-gay ideology. These are your personal views and, while I disagree with them, I have no problem with your having them, as long as you do not act upon them or assume it is your duty to do so in the name of the Defence Forces.

But what astounded and distressed me was what you think is the role of the military! In your words their “mission” is that of “destroying our nation’s enemies”. And how broadly you go on to define “enemies”!

I do not want the military forces that we have to protect us, bent on destroying anyone. If we can protect ourselves and those weaker than ourselves in a live and let live capacity, that is much more agreeable path to follow. We are all human and all have rights to exist on this planet in communities of mutual support. It is only when rights to do this are infringed that we should have to go to war. And it is not OK to attack other people’s rights to live because their ways do not accord with ours.

That we think we have a consistent enemy going back to the days of the crusades is more than laughable. It is, and always has been what is dangerous.

Our next enemy could well be New Zealand arguing with us about Tasmania! Have we a mission to destroy them? I would loudly say “no” and repeat that no one, in my name, has a mission to destroy anyone. That it happens in wartime is something sad, not a “mission”. We have seen this sadness often, for example, in WW II when many fine German men and women lost their lives because of the fixed ideas of military leaders, as did many of our own brave soldiers and citizens.

We need brave and daring soldiers in the forces and I have no doubt that you, as Major Bernard Gaynor, were a brave and daring soldier. Thank you.

But Mr Bernard, I think you are wrong, very wrong. My strong view is that there is no god, no absolute truth. Yes, Mr Gaynor, I have studied the  King James version of the Bible. I have read translations of the Koran. I have read various translations of small portions of Taoist works and have studied Philosophy. I try to do right, not based on Christian viewpoints (as so many Christians, such as you, try to claim) but based on universal humanitarian views.

I fundamentally disagree with you. I disagree more than any Muslim who shares with you the notion of a same Abrahamic god.

But I do not wish to “destroy” you. I hope you and your family have happy lives. 

And please, please, do not advocate the destruction of anyone on my behalf because of their beliefs.

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My Reprise on Australia Day

Yesterday was Australia Day. For many years I viewed Australia Day as an insignificant holiday, close to birthday celebrations and the start of the school year. It was nothing much.

Occasionally there was talk of our history; national history, state history and history within each family. My family mentioned proudly our ancestor on the first fleet. A non-criminal lieutenant to boot! We soon found out, through historians in the family, that he was a pretty unpleasant man. Surprise! Surprise! I am sure our British Admirals would not have picked  their prized and valued sailors for a long outing from which the participants would be at considerable risk of not returning.

Our convict ancestor on the second fleet always seemed to be a better prospect. After all, his only crimes were, as well documented in his Court Marshal, deserting, not only once but twice, from the Army that was fighting Napoleon. Perhaps that is from whence I inherited my contrariness (and my cowardice).

Then we’ve got my father’s family. Early settlers in W.A. No convicts there! But unfortunately, yet again, they were law enforcement officers. Again were the British going to send their best and finest young police off to a new colony? Not likely. Still, seven generations on one side and six on the other gives me a reasonable pedigree to call myself Australian and be proud. But does it? Does it alternatively give me a more direct responsibility and more intense guilt when I think of my relatives’ obvious roles in causing this to be Survival Day for the Indigenous Australians?

Mild thoughts like this would whirl around as one read the honours list or heard an occasional backyard cracker. (Any excuse was good enough in those days.)

This Australia Day was a bit different from the last few years and returned to those days of old. I spent it quietly with my 14 year old grandson, watching cricket. My only Australia related emotions were twofold. There was pleasure at the appointment of Adam Goode as Australian of the Year and also at Australia winning their cricket match against England. I enjoyed myself. It felt like the old days.

When did things change so the Australia Day celebrations gained such public momentum? I think the commentators, both indigenous and non-indigenous are right. The hype that has now become Australia Day started in 1988. I remember the excitement in 1988 of traveling out to Parramatta to witness a re-enactment of the first wedding that was held in the colony. The daughter of the wayward Lieutenant married the deserter convict all over again in mime. My elderly aunt had travelled from WA to see it. I took my elderly mother and met remote cousins, several times removed, that  I have not seen since. It was all quite extraordinary. And then, back home, we stood on a hill and watched really impressive fireworks over the whole of Sydney Harbour.

There are no two ways to look at the spectacle that day. We celebrated an invasion, and with very little tact.

So OK, accepting that was a gaffe, I can see that there is no point in too much breast beating. The settlement did happen. The Lieutenant and the convict were part of their generation and culture. The idea of bold exploration and unwelcome settlement was fostered through a prism of ignorance coupled with power and belief. The individuals were not the only ones to blame.

But we are to blame if we continue our knowing celebrations, still unthinkingly accepting the past and its impact on Australia now, with a careless assumption of superiority.

After this lovely day I awoke this morning, to a request from Twitter to tweet a picture of Australia Day for a time capsule. The sample picture given was of a lovely beach with a crowd of people, handsome, Caucasian, young, in costumes emblazoned with the Australian Flag circa 1954. Two young men in the foreground bore surf boards with this flag painted on them, of course containing, proudly, the Union Jack.

On my way to my home in the car later this morning I heard an ABC radio program posing the question “Should we eat our Coat of Arms?”

Taking this question as it was meant, my answer is that I have family on the far west coast of WA. I live on the far east coast of NSW. I grew up in the Snowy Mountains, in the desert and in two great Australian cities. I know most of Australia quite well. I love this wonderful country. I want to preserve it and maintain it. If it helps to do this, I am, as were some listeners, delighted if we model ourselves on some of the lifestyle choices of our indigenous Australians rather than John and Elizabeth MacArthur or some mining guru.

If, more significantly, we ask this question symbolically, I even more emphatically say “yes”. Eat the whole Coat of Arms. A Coat of Arms is the last thing we need on any escutcheon or surcoat. We need no symbols of war. And if it is not a sign of war but a symbol of “house” or “family” in that old European exclusionary way, then it also requires disposal as quickly as possible.

And while we are eating that, we should also eat the Union Jack. It, too, is a symbol of a past that is no longer relevant. We can all be represented by the Southern Cross, those indigenous Australians who lived under it for thousands of years, those of us who have lived under it for generations and those more recent comers who may have arrived under our southern sky yesterday or who perhaps will arrive tomorrow. We, never again want to have to subsume poor Australian behaviour under a banner of national expectation. And if we are going to have a flag to represent this nation, and a day that celebrates this nation, we need to keep both as messages of inclusion, welcome, friendship and the future, not as undeserved wallowing in personal pride and our sometime brave but patchy past.

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Call Me A Wowser

Call me a wowser and I’ll take THAT on the chin.

In the light of the recent spate of sad assaults, some fatal, on innocent young victims by alcohol fed assaulters (some also young) and the differing opinions about how to end this savagery, it was disappointing to me to hear a prominent, and undoubtedly caring, barrister recommending changes to the NSW sentencing laws. That change he recommended is that an assault whilst drunk should be viewed more seriously that an assault when sober (not that we should sentence people merely for being drunk).

How is a stiffer sentence going to penetrate the alcohol fueled brain of a possible random assaulter? In what possible way could the proposal, that when alcohol has been used there should be a longer sentence, be a deterrent?

There is only one deterrent and that is in the hands of us, the Australian people. There is a huge culture here of drinking as almost the only way of entertaining ourselves. It appears that we think it is our right to spend hours in many forms of pleasure but supported inevitably by drinking.  And most of us who have had a drink will have done or said something we regret. Yet anyone who does not do this is thought to be a bit odd (or else a recovering alcoholic).

When there has to be a “designated driver” or we demand endless taxis and public busses it means that we, the public, intend to go to these venues and drink to a point where judgement is impaired. And the loud critics feel that they can have a view on what level of impaired judgement is the “correct” level. There is no acceptable level of impaired judgement from alchohol or drugs.

We have a simple way of stopping the businesses who want us to drink until all hours at Kings Cross or some other similar gathering place and that is not to go. That will put them out of business. No matter that they play interesting music or have discos to dance to. How well would these be frequented without the endless supply of alcohol? Or if we want to stop drunken violence at The Cross but still attend functions we can go there ourselves but not encourage the businesses who sell alcohol by buying it. See if that perhaps will put them out of business or would change our drinking culture!

I accept that many people can use alcohol in a limited way so their judgment is not impaired and, for example, they can still drive a car. But you can not tell me with a straight face that that is part of the Australian ethos around alcohol.

Whilst so ever we view alcohol as a de rigor part of our social life to which we have a right and on which huge businesses are built, rather than as an optional, sometime extra at other entertainments and gatherings, we will misuse it.

But if we agree with the eminent Senior Counsel that we need to alter our laws so as to make assaults while drunk more serious than assaults when sober then we have actually acknowledged that being drunk is a crime, that there is something seriously wrong with drinking heavily. And if we feel there is need for a legislative change, we should legislate that way. Fellow Australians, where would you put your decimal point?

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Email to Christopher Pyne

Dear Mr Pyne,

Best of luck with your difficult portfolio, Education.

As a retired Child Psychologist, once a teacher, and like your latest curriculum advisors, coming from a long line of professional educationalists from my grandparents to two of my children, I make the following points.

(1) One does not become an expert on education merely from having been a receiver of education (even, as I have done, at university level on education). Like any job it requires hands on experience to consolidate knowledge.

(2) Education of children is all about providing role models to interest them in learning, teaching them HOW to think not WHAT to think and then providing them with some help in locating and accessing resources and understandings. When a child is prepared to logically (and politely) disagree with propositions put to them by parents, teachers, and, dare I say, politicians, then the job has been well done, particularly as far as social issues go.

In recent years teachers and what and how they teach has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism. Much of this criticism and assessment comes from anecdotal personal experience rather than properly analyzed research.

As Minister for Education it is your job to go in and bat for students and teachers and be a role model for the community as an educated person yourself.  Perhaps to praise sometimes and particularly to model the toleration of disagreement, even within a particular question.

To undermine curricula and question political motivation of the individual teacher is not good role modeling.

If I were your political teacher (and bear in mind, by your definition I MUST know a lot about being a politician as I have been voting for 55 years and have never belonged to any particular party, rather have been an issues voter) I would say, “As Education Minister Christopher, stop  posturing and get on with supporting those in the community committed to the delivery of education to our Australian population.”


Anne Powles
(with apologies I provide my educational qualifications as for once they seem relevant )
BA, LLM, Dip Ed, MEd (Psych)

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Anthropomorphic Feminism

Piers Ackerman alleges that Peppa Pig, star of the children’s animated children’s program of the same name is a “weird feminist”.

It would, indeed, be quite weird to think many animal species specifically here, pigs, are in need of feminism, as it appears it is mainly the young males who provide food for our tables, whilst many of the females are preserved for breeding purposes! 

But I fancy this is not what Piers Ackerman means by weird.  I will not quibble with him on this point as I accept he is inferring Peppa and her family are anthropomorphic and represent aspects of the human race. But in that representation can we not acknowledge that there are bossy big sisters who might sometimes give their lovely Dads a hard time (with the very sweet Dad often letting her win out in the end)? By not mentioning a rival program, Mr Ackerman obviously already accepts there can be kindly big brothers, like Charlie, who has Lola’s interests at heart even though Charlie, at times, acts in a paternalistic, bordering on a bossy, even controlling manner. Both these programs  present to children, in an amusing fashion, the best of humanity. They demonstrate a lot of family love for and between children.

Perhaps Mr Ackerman’s  critical energy could be more profitably directed to consideration of films such as “The Incredibles”. This is a children’s film for a similar age group to the previous two programs mentioned and involves a family of Superheros. Dad and brothers have the normal range of superhero power and strength. Sister is invisible. Mother is stretchy and can stretch herself in a way that defies all laws of physics or conservation of matter so as to multitask and accommodate any situation. In addition only the two females need special clothing.

If you really must expound on children’s television Mr Ackerman, put your mind to explaining how this is not some rival, power hungry, capitalist, sexist depiction of modern family life. 

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There are days, or more often nights, when one just needs poetry; words rather than music to soothe the savage breast.

On  Friday, then Saturday and now today, Monday, I have heard the news of the death of three very different men, each of whom expressed both their interest in and concern about humanity as a whole better than most others I have known, and who exemplified, in themselves in very individual ways, the best of that humanity.

As an atheist I do not pity them that there is no afterlife. They no longer suffer. They no longer feel or know. And they did not “go gentle into that good night”. They fought for more time and continued to show their love and wonderment for this life of ours.

As a mere distant admirer of one, a recent friend of another, and a long term close professional contact of the third, I have not lost a loved one. There is not the exquisite pain of that. 

There is just a huge, aching loss that the world and, selfishly, my personal world, has suffered a diminution. The universe is a lesser place with their passing.

To the memories of Nelson, Denis and Phil I affirm that I will try to integrate the lessons you have taught me into what is left of my life. I  will see if my “frail deeds might dance in a green bay” some day ere I die and hope that those who come after me can have the opportunities and be given the yearning and wisdom to “see with blinding sight” as these good men each did in their own very different ways.


PS. As I typed these lines the following comment I made on one of Denis’s blogs unexpectedly made a rogue pasting here, “Denis…. I read your blog for your wonderful thoughts and words not apostrophe and typing perfection”, and I received a letter from Phil, penned last Friday, three days before his death today. Is it drawing too long a bow to say that was, to me,  “their last wave by”?

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