War

On Anzac eve, when stories of glory and death fill the airways, I want to briefly recount the stories of six deceased men and their encounters with wartime. All of these are men I knew personally in their middle years, and all were about the same age, young men at the time of World War Two.

Perhaps I draw a long bow in alleging I knew the unknown soldier “personally” but I knew of him, or more properly “them”, one tomb in each of many countries. His tomb or grave has been a much revered and acknowledged symbol during all my life and his death and sacrifice is an important value and a sorrow to us all . I have much pity for him and his unknown family and I think his grave is a great expression of the total sadness of warfare. He is the first of my list of young men who suffered and sacrificed in wartime.

But the other five I have spoken to face to face, and about warfare. Three of them went to war and two of them saw active service. The other two did not serve but were both affected by war. The first three I speak of were relatives.

The second of my six was a volunteer in the Australian Navy. He served for some time. He was away from his family for an extended period. He had expected his ship to be deployed and it was, but in waters near to Australia. He worked hard, supported his mates and was prepared to make sacrifices, even the ultimate one. It turned out he did not see active warfare. He was a very caring person. He related to some of the other returned service men and made close friends with a few.  He supported the RSL. He helped raise money for war orphans through Legacy. Later in life he and his wife received small, special financial benefits for his time of service. He was very grateful. But his time in the service was in some ways the most positive peak in his life.

The third tried to volunteer. He was refused as medically unfit when he volunteered. He was told that he had a bad heart. Whether he started the story himself in denial of his problem (he was a very young man) or whether it was others who started the rumours will never be known, but it was widely spread, even to his children, that he feigned this condition in order to avoid serving. He lived his life branded as a coward in this way. At the age of 41 he had his first heart attack and had to give up his career as a paramedic with the ambulance service. He died of another heart attack at the age of 46.

Like the third, the fourth tried to volunteer . The Australian Navy wanted him as he had skills they could use with their developing radar technology. Despite several attempts by both him and the navy he was deemed not eligible for service as it was considered he was already working in an area of sensitive essential services and was not released. He then had to answer some quite negative questions from many in the community, which he was not always in a position to answer. He felt deeply that he was not pulling his weight for the country. He then found, after the war was over, preferences in jobs and promotion were given, to some extent understandably, to returned soldiers and he had to stand behind them even though he was more qualified.

The fifth was a neighbour of mine. He had seen active service. He was decorated for his bravery in war. He had been captured by the enemy and spent some time in Changi. He had to spend some months on a hospital ship before he was well enough to return to Australia after his release from that prisoner of war camp. He was quite unfit to work because of his physical and emotional situation from his long period in that camp and became a TPI pensioner. He was a lovely, thoughtful man. He spoke very rarely of war and wartime but the few things he let slip about his time as a prisoner were heartbreaking. He tried to enjoy life in the here and now as well as and for as long as he could. He was devoted to his grandchild and other little children, including mine, also amused and delighted him him. He did not join the RSL and would not march on Anzac Day. He felt that marching glorified war rather than remembering and regretting it. He once said to me that very little was worth a war. He thought they inevitably resulted in more damage than the good they were allegedly trying to do or the evil they were trying to fight. He thought perhaps a justification was if one’s own country was invaded.

But as well as these five Australians I also knew well another man of the same age.

I met him, when I was a teenager in the fifties, as a refugee, a workmate of my father and then a friend of the family. He and I were closer than often between a child and an adult as I reminded him, I knew, of his own daughter who, with her mother, was killed in the allied bombing of Berlin. He had been a German soldier and he too had spent some time in an prisoner of war camp. This had been administered by the Allies. I would say his viewpoint and some of his experiences were somewhat similar to that of our neighbour. He also wanted a focus on the future, on love and kindness and acceptance of all. It was never a possibility that he could march at Anzac Day or join an RSL Club. He would not have wanted to anyway. He remembered the fallen, the soldiers on both sides and the civilians who were victims, every day of his life. His goal and dearest wish was that this should never happen again.

I think the attitudes and told experiences of these six men sum up much of what I feel about wars of that era. They did not always do good and the good that was sometimes done came at great cost to many of those who served and to many of those who did not.

But things have got much worse.

The development of technology means that many can be killed with no personal contact. Those who kill have no reality that they are killing other human beings just like them. Technology also means the enemy can be much more quickly demonised than ever before. “They”, the enemy as portrayed on instantaneous media coverage, are after all different from “real ” human beings like “us”.

The parallel development of more emphasis on psychological issues has also been significant. While this probably stems from attempts to understand and help with PTSD, what has been learnt has led to development of techniques to better train human beings to go out and kill other human beings with less doubts and more efficiency. I cannot see that as a good for soldiers or for the world.

Let us try to remember the dead and wounded soldiers from all wars and all backgrounds with great sorrow and thanks but without artificial glorification of such wars.

In their name and memory we must try to make sure we don’t find ourselves engaging in wars or supporting wars which are actually none of our business and which ought to be economically and socially shunned.

Let’s do less harm to real people.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Union Protests

Sally McManus has , in my opinion, been the unfortunate victim of some very bad press. I am not a unionist myself but I accept that one of unions’ traditional areas has been protest against unjust laws and subsequent poor conditions of workers. Just look at Joe Hill and our own Jack Munday, both now revered for their protests.

The beauty of our country and in the principles of democracy lie in a right for each of us to have our say which includes a right to protest against bad laws and bad government decisions. And what better way to protest than to, as peacefully as possible, breach such laws? One has to be aware, of course, that this breach may lead to a prosecution and punishment. But the argument and representations about this in itself often lead to a reconsideration about such laws.

Democracy cannot be passive. It is rule by the people for the people by definition.

Big business has always had enough power to get the ear of the government. The workers have had to traditionally rely upon unity and sometimes protest, to do this.

I have broken the law in protest and I view myself as a good, concerned citizen. I recently did not vote in a State Government election for three reasons I considered very strong. One of those is that I think compulsory voting is non democratic. To have to cast a valid vote and be, technically, in breach of the law if you do not, is in my view a bad law. So I decided, in protest, not to pay the fine and go to court. During all this I considered myself to be a good, conscientious citizen.

So have many unionists over the years who have protested about very major issues including poor industrial conditions and laws, rights of workers and protection of the environment.

May they continue to do so.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Words from the Head of a Hairy Feminist

I an an unshaven, elderly feminist. There are many things I have objected to over the long years in which I have been a feminist. One has been the necessity for females to wear head coverings in NSW in secular situations. I knew head coverings were required in Christian churches but that did not particularly bother me as I am not a theist. But I did object, as a child, to having to wear a hat to my secular, state school. This was not worn, as today, in the playground as protection from the sun. It was worn on the train to and from school and with white gloves, so as to demonstrate that we were polite young ladies. Prefects would put our names down for detention if they were not worn.

My mother would not dream of going to a shopping centre without hat and gloves, right up to the 1980s. I thought it was ridiculous but harmless.

I plopped a necessary head covering on, out of deference, when ever I was constrained by family or circumstances to go to church.

But the fact that when I was, from the early 1960s, a young articled clerk and then a solicitor and had to wear a hat to demonstrate respect for our court system every time I had to front up to court in my job, irked me. I kept a neutral cream coloured hat on a “hat stand” in my office and wore it with anything I happened to have on that day

I do not mind hats but I do not want to be forced into wearing them unless I wish to. I understand they are sometimes worn by women in the presence of very fast horses, out of deference to such proud beasts. But my early experiences tell me I will only ever wear a hat in high UV ray conditions when I am taking my dog for a walk.

Men, too, have been constrained in various ways over the years to wear or not wear hats. They too have had to do this in symbolic ways, very often in a way that was directly opposite of what was expected of women (surprise, surprise). But I do understand that a hat is also permitted for men, as for women, in the presence of very fast horses.

But despite my early, negative hat experiences, the current outcry of the conservatives of this country at womens’ choices here, on occasions to wear a hijab bewilders and baffles me.

We are still allowed to wear hats and scarves here. But do they understand, firstly, how recently that became a choice? Women here in Australia are no longer constrained by society to wear hats or scarves in court but it’s only recently happened. I have been told the necessity for women to wear hats in court was changed with the removal of ties from the police uniform. I agree there are parts of the world in which certain dress codes are differently regarded as polite dress for both women and men. These can differ from country to country. They usually involve putting extra clothing or footwear or taking something off. It is only recently that we have softened some of ours.

As a hairy feminist some of my opinions are very negatively regarded these days and I am often being told that women,  in particular, need freedom of choice. They can chose, if they wish, to be contoured with underwire, to shave off every hair not on their head, to opt for plastic surgery enhancement, to wear spectacular stiletto heels. All of these can be physically damaging and I often argue about the good sense of these choices.

But surely anyone who wishes, male or female, should have the freedom to wear a harmless, non invasive headscarf, a hijab or even a hat, if that is what they want to do and as long as it is not made compulsory to wear it in any secular area of our society? Even the horses would probably agree!

How could this possibly harm anyone?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Spelling and Grammar

I am entering this debate about the emphasis on teaching of spelling and grammar because I think I have had what may possibly be  a unique exposure to the problem.

My credentials are as follows:

1. I am a very poor speller, despite being, from early childhood, an extensive reader and writer and having made many long term efforts by myself to improve. (I have also had help and threats from many others including teachers.)  I regard my grammar, on the other hand, as impeccable.  The ability to spell and the ability to use useful grammar must be regarded as separate issues.
2. I was teaching in primary schools when the emphasis became more focussed on teaching children the art of stringing words together coherently, rather than primarily on details such as grammar and spelling.
3. I am 76 now so have heard these same arguments for and against over and over, time and time again.
4. I have had now the privilege of experiencing how IT can help in these areas.

I would characterise myself as having been a good student as a child. I had a real thirst for knowledge. I loved putting my thoughts onto paper. I know from experience as a student and as a teacher that being too strict on grammar and spelling inhibits children from being adventurous. For example substituting the word “light” for “chandelier” because use of the second word would probably have entailed the loss of half a point, and certainly a red underline on pristine prose if it were wrongly spelt, is a common type of reaction to any emphasis on mistakes.

And that red underline is such a stab through the heart!

When I was teaching I was thrilled at the introduction of ways around this problem. The focus became on what was being said and how easily understood it was and whether it passed on a clear message to the reader. I still think communication skills are at the heart of all teaching and should so remain.

Instead of having a big ( or a number of big) red marks on pristine prose we could, after those changes, redirect a child to his or her personal dictionary and enter the correct spelling there.  As teachers we could talk about the purpose of punctuation and how it could help the flow of information or emphasise what was being said. Grammar used to be one of the special extension activities some children could choose to do in my classroom when they had completed their set work. Some of them just loved it, as I did.

Yet I am so against the grammar nazis. If the meaning is clear who cares about a misused or absent apostrophe!

I remember some of the arguments with parents about the non-correction of errors regarding use of the subjunctive tense. I admit to still using it myself – an ingrained habit. But does it help in understanding? Not one bit. If we are going to emphasise grammar we must pick our marks carefully knowing the beauty of the English language is that it keeps evolving. We must not stand in the way of this healthy evolution.

The use of IT has made some wonderful differences. For a poor speller the auto correct or predictive spelling is a wonderful help. I also like the option of “replace” if one is uncertain of a word. This ability to have an instant correction has made quite a considerable improvement to my spelling late in life. It gives reenforcement very quickly, which is at the heart of learning.

As our little grandchildren type a misspelled word into their search engine  and respond with excitement to the correctly spelled word and its results, they are learning. (And no, Spellcheck, there was NO apostrophe in “its” even though it was possessive.)

On the other hand both IT and our relaxation on rules has given a method of communication to those who did not have the opportunity or perhaps even the capacities, when they were children, to learn in the way many of us did. I have lovely Facebook friendships with some people I have known over the years here or in other countries. The fact that their knowledge of spelling or grammar is not ideal makes no difference at all to the meanings, to the lovely captions on their pictures of grandchildren, great grandchildren or other family members. Despite misspelling or a grammatical misuse I understand and appreciate their messages, as I hope they do mine.

This is the type of learning that was meant when the very formal attitude to grammar and spelling was removed. Yet grammar and spelling have been still taught but only as an emphasis to  enhancing the understanding and production of written work, not as an end in themselves.

The outcome has been, in my opinion, that more people are game, than ever before when grammar and spelling were strictly policed, to have a go at putting their written words into circulation. And some of these people will never be perfectly correct. But in the old days they would have stopped communicating by the written word at all. If we are all now writing then there will be some written work that is less perfect than it would have been in “the olden days”. We do not want the authors of these less precisely written words to be as  discouraged as they used to be by the emphasis on grammar and spelling. Their ideas can often be just as good, if not often better, than some that are perfectly correctly put (and perhaps are dull). We do not want them to think that their ideas are necessarily lesser than the ideas of people who have skill in the arts of spelling and grammar. And we certainly do not want those that happen to be good at grammar and or spelling to lose the concept that ideas are the essential ingredient of written expression, not merely the way they are expressed.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blackouts, Modernity and Climate Change

I’d scream loudly if someone were to take away my iPad. I love my smart phone. I think the idea that adults or children will suffer from using technology freely is as nonsensical as Socrates was when he thought reading and writing would ruin our brains.

Although I am old I am not against things modern.

But I am against the concept that we are loosing “entitlements” as a human race if we temporarily have to go without some comforts we have accepted as a norm in our developed society for only about the last fifty years.

Malcolm Turnbull’s statement that we have a “right to secure energy” in response to the populaces’ screams and outcries at the couple of blackouts we have recently, had to be a signal of a lack of resilience growing in our society. A society without resilience is a society doomed.

I was privileged to be a child of the Snowy Scheme. Before my father and his fellow workers and designers were moved from Sydney to actually start work in Cooma, we suffered from blackouts in Sydney almost every night in winter. My father used to point out that was why we needed the Scheme. We were exposed to the vision that energy is best produced from natural elements of which this country abounds, rather than coal. Of course everyone had the odd grizzle at the blackouts from time to time,  but we got used to having less in the small freezer part of the fridge and then eating it at the next opportunity after a blackout. We got used to doing homework by candlelight. We went to bed early and got up at sunrise. We survived well without air conditioning.

When I moved to Cooma I was surprised at the cold winters but soon got used to the different temperatures. We were “whimps” if we wore the gloves so lovingly provided by our mothers when we cycled down Two Mile Hill to get to school. We just carefully peeled our hands off the handle bars on arrival.

It sometimes was very cold on sports afternoons. Unfortunately our hockey field abutted the local cemetery. Out of politeness, if there were a funeral taking place or commenced on a sports afternoon, we had to stand still, at attention, while the celebrant said his piece before we could play again (quietly). Our sports uniform skirts were very short and it was very cold on our bare legs. No air conditioning.

There was no air conditioning in cars.

We did enjoy the open fires in our houses, however.

But then the family moved to Broken Hill on another project. (Dad was a scientist who liked holes in the ground. As an aside he taught my sister and I how to build dry stone walls too! Under the auspices of the University he worked for  in the 60s he was engaged on a project to have a property there, in those arid conditions, self sustained by only solar and wind power.)
It was quite hot in Broken Hill. I remember during one heatwave reading in the local newspaper the information that, during periods of heat, the suicide rate tripled when the temperature had not gone below a minimum of 40 degrees for over ten days – and that included nights. A compelling statistic. Advice was given about how to keep as cool as possible.

The consequence of my exposure to these extremes of temperature is that I put on more clothes in the cold, take most of them off and wipe myself down with wet washers periodically in the heat and otherwise get on with things. I have opted not to have air conditioning.

I do enjoy going into an air conditioned or heated space in extreme conditions. But I think on the eastern seaboard, where I now live, it is an indulgence to have air conditioning in every house. It should be kept for those with special needs. With shops abounding in most areas why do most of us have the need for large freezers? If one decides to have one, the risk must be accepted that in times of need it is not a power priority.

I have seen people leave fans on in an unoccupied room. We were taught in science that fans work on the principle of the “wet bulb thermometer”. There has got to be a sweaty person in the room who will notice a temperature difference!

Do we really want to save the planet?

If so we need to build a society with greater resilience, greater co-operation. Each one of us does not need to live at a temperature of a steady 22 degrees, which I have been told by many is the ideal temperature. We need to accept some days will be hotter or colder than others.

On days when power is getting low, how about rostering suburbs or other sections of the community to turn off air conditioning or stoves for set periods of time? How about we stagger our dinner hour or, in periods of very extreme temperature, organise some cold (or tepid!) meals?

Obviously hospitals should be exempt from restrictions and should be kept powered at all times and other such exemptions spring to mind. But businesses? They can take turns to cut their profits in extreme weather conditions. After all climate change will effect them most of all. An overheated planet may be able to support a few resilient species including a few humans but it will no longer be supporting big businesses.

But above all keep our children resilient. Let them be exposed to both hot and cold. Tell them, as our mothers’ did us, that they cannot huddle up to a heater bare armed – first they must put on a jumper, if they are still cold another piece of warm clothing goes on top. After that a heater might be considered. As for heat – a couple of runs under the sprinkler is great for them and the garden simultaneously. In water restriction time just a rub down with a wet cloth.

Not only should we be limiting emissions to try to stop climate change and do this by wanting a focus on non polluting energy production and by requiring others to stop overuse of resources, but it also means not over indulging ourselves personally. Building natural resilience to our weather conditions needs to be an essential if humanity is to survive.

Luckily an iPhone does not draw a lot of energy to recharge.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Age of Apathy is Over? Methinks Not.

“The Age of Apathy Is Over”, announces Clementine Ford in the Sydney Morning Herald on 24th January 2017. And she heralds more of the same of old, more and bigger mass marches, more inane signs with good ones sprinkled here and there.

I am old now and I am over the marches. I have “marched” much of my life, as a feminist, as a protestor against the Vietnam war, as a person who believes we should solve conflicts by means other than by warfare and as someone who feels the environment should be better protected. But we have got almost nowhere. OK, we privileged, non-theist females who think we should have a right to independent thought and should also look after those who women who meet barriers in life, may have got somewhere from marching.

I used to think that just “doing” was the best way. At University I got collegial by marching and was convinced that, with group solidarity, we would get somewhere. And, with marching included, we did get somewhere with feminism. But this, I now surmise, is partly because women are 50% of the population. We also had the opportunity to discuss the issue with the men we met in our lives. We have got nowhere on many other issues where we usually have little space to interact with those with different viewpoints. And we have not got very far regarding women and men from other backgrounds that we do not meet in day to day life.

In the twilight of my life I have gone back to the “doing” option which of course involves  much “talking”.

But I think we also need something different. We need changes within from childhood. We need totally different thought patterns. We should not really use militaristic type techniques for non-militaristic purposes. And when I say “within” I do not mean minor changes within existing governments. I mean major changes in the populaces’ thinking. And we now have the means with modern technology. And those means are being badly used. We have to start with the children and their parents.

We have to get away from our childish “goodies” and “baddies” feeling. At the risk of alienating almost my entire extended family I will say we must stop making films like “Star Wars”. Whilst so ever we retain, and pass on to our children even in fun, a concept like “the dark side”, which is nothing like us and is pure evil, we will get no where.

We have to discuss whole belief systems which are as important or in some cases much more important than religions are to very many people. But for many, if it is not religion, it is not regarded as a belief system, more of an axiom. And discussion of some issues is regarded as not right and too personal. And yes, we must discuss religion too, in the sense that I really respect people’s rights to practice their own religion but only to the extent it does not impinge on others’ lives.

When I discuss my protests about Anzac Day with one of my lovely, independent daughters-in-law, she rightly points out to me that many people want to remember, with thanks, those relatives who died in wars. And I agree that a civilised society might acknowledge the need for various religious services to honour the dead and the secular laying of wreaths on memorials. But reenact a war march? She disagrees with me and says that the marches can bring loving memories. She does not see them, as I do, as warlike.

Enact a women’s march on a brand new President? How belligerent is that? Chain oneself to tree felling machinery ? What a physical encroachment just to get a bit of publicity. Glue oneself to Parliament House? All these I see as aggressive acts not directly leading to dialogue.

I respect all those aims but think that may not be the way in days of mass communication. We do not achieve freedom from aggression or exclusion by aggressive acts. As we teach our little children to grow to adults, we already teach them fighting is no way to end a dispute between one another. It is no secret that most human beings need a great deal of “indoctrination” to make them able to fight and to kill other human beings. It is no secret that many ex soldiers struggle in post war peacetime. I want their attitude recognised as universally sound.

I would like this country to be like Switzerland and others, neutral, having a negligible army which does not fight in other countries, but with volunteers from households prepared to resist an invasion. We do not need well trained, psychologically altered “cannon fodder”. And we are an island so are well suited to a neutral role.

We do not have to be puppets of countries with adversarial systems and induced adversarial natures. We do not have to be adversarial in our many internal differences. I would rather sit down ( off air) and have a long philosophical discussion with the Alan Jones’ of this world. I do not wish to fight them with weapons and numbers. I want to change their views. How would peace marches help this?

Climate changes? How can we help here? I can remember my father, a Scientist, trying to set up an experimental, energy self-sufficient project in the early 1960s. How long do we still need to convince the average man that we cannot use energy as cheaply and as frequently as we used to and that every one of us has to make sacrifices? We cannot do this by marching on our government. We can only do it by communication, and most of this has to be personal – as when I just, in 36 degree heat, explained to my grandson why I do not have air conditioning. (My tolerance to heat and cold may have been hardened by growing up in Cooma and Broken Hill.)

I admire Clementine Ford. She is a fervent communicator. I wish her the best of luck. I very much hope she and others continue the good work. But I am sorry that she may be disappointed that the age of apathy is not over by a long shot. The number of tweets I read complaining about personal discomforts makes me think people may have become more inward looking than ever. They probably won’t even watch a march on TV or computer. I’m afraid I didn’t.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Open Letter to Centrelink

I spent most of my long working life assuming that, like my parents, my superannuation would mean I would not be reliant on Centrelink in my retirement. Unexpected events intervened and in my old age I find myself a very grateful pensioner.

I now find that my only calculation has to be whether the very small, decreasing amount of super I managed to save after those life events, and which I draw on monthly in combination with my pension, will last me until I die! But this is a calculation which relies so much on guesswork that I do not feel I have to report it to Centrelink weekly!

However, shortly after my retirement years ago, which was itself some years after the date at which I could have retired and drawn a pension, I attempted to do some very occasional contract work for my former employee.

This was a form filling nightmare, much of the basis for Centrelink calculations remaining, to this day, a mystery to me. Despite the fact that I have several university degrees and one of them is a Law Masters, I decided against doing any more work because of the complicated nature of these assessments that made the prospect of a regular income on which to rely for day to day needs quite impossible. Thus today’s taxpayers have lost out because I decided not to do a little more work which would have, in the long run, saved the government a bit of money.

In those days, when one could, I preferred to wait and talk in person to an invariably pleasant and clear, human being.

Recently I have witnessed the fear of a widowed relative who following guidelines writes to Centrelink on a very regular fortnightly basis to disclose every single thing that has happened to her financially, following the lead of her late husband who regularly informed Centrelink of any change and who also reported no change. Even before this latest round of Centrelink scares she was terrified of gaol or some other stern punishment if she missed writing a letter. She tried, for some hours with some inexpert help from me, to get connected to Centrelink via the internet but she was refused the link due to internet traffic. We now know why.

It is distressing enough for some of us older people to have to rely on the government and current taxpayers in our old age. Like most folks in this situation I am extremely grateful for this pension. Thank you. But it is worse when we cannot make contact easily and are fearful.

Please simplify your system. It is many years since even the lawyers in our community made a concerted effort to use plain English wherever possible. Time for Centrelink to use Plain English and Common Sense and be properly funded so they can have sufficient staff to talk to clients in person, on the phone and on line on a prompt and clear basis.

In the long run this will save both taxpayer money and client distress.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment