Blackouts

I do not want to say that we have become a nation of whingers. But watch out. We are getting very close.

In the “olden days” (I am 76) we were not tougher, we were not faster, we were not as knowledgeable, but when the going got tough we made do. If it was a simple matter, I really think we whinged less.

This is exemplified in the current fuss about “blackouts”. In this I am excluding the business sector. I am talking about home life.  There seems to be an assumption, even at this time of threatening climate change, that access to cheap power 24 hours a day is tantamount to an inalianable human right.

There are not many people left in Sydney who would remember the blackouts at peak hours that we had there in the late 40s and early 50s before the Snowy Mountains Scheme got underway. They occurred almost every night. They were a nuisance but we made do. And people became very inventive. Mothers would be saying to their children “Do your homework whilst it is still light. You know how slow it is to do it by candle light!”

People got inventive with food that did not need cooking. Fridges stayed firmly shut when the lights went out so as to minimise loss of cold. Even children put on or took off clothes in the cold or heat. And once the lights went out we played word games, made up jokes, went to bed early and got up at sunrise. This was on the Australian coastline in Sydney where temperatures, both hot and cold, remain manageable all year round. My comments do not extend to some Australian inland areas although I have also “survived” and occasionally enjoyed blackouts in Broken Hill.

In recent years I have experienced the occasional blackout. These have occurred because of power line outages. The longest was five days. The others were all more than a few hours and went overnights. But they were easier to manage these days. I boiled water for the unmissable early morning beverages on the barbecue. We cooked on the barbecue. We used candles and a daughter in law showed me how to make a display with tea light candles that far outdid any electric light in style! The grandchildren even enjoyed the blackout, despite the fact their devices ran out of charge. I managed to keep my phone charged by keeping it only for phone calls for the duration and the local shopping complex provided some charging points.

Currently the talk seems to be around air conditioning. To me it seems logical that at times when power is low these absolute luxuries should be turned off unless there are exemptions for the very needy. And these are few and far between in our climate. We are neither on the Sahara nor in Iceland. It is not hard to get under a blanket – or even better under a doona – not yet invented in the 40s.

I will admit that living alone, as I now do, it is less pleasant not to have access to a device, a TV or even a book for leisure or entertainment, but the battery operated radio (of which one of my grandchildren asked “is that called a relic”) is a good companion. It is, like a battery operated torch, a good thing to have handy in a house for an emergency such as bush fire danger or the need for blackout information or mere amusement.

I am not saying that blackouts are not a problem for businesses, for transport, for hospitals and for emergency services, some of which have their own emergency generators.

But peak hour blackouts in the average family home, whilst annoying, are not the end of the world.

There is a lot of discussion about our poor children and how much they should be “banned” from their devices in case they get addicted to them or are not engaging in other activities as did children before IT.

I suggest adults apply the same logic to blackouts!

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The Rainbow Survey

It was impossible, after I read Tom Switzer’s comment piece in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, to stick to my resolution that I was going to say nothing more about voting in the possibly upcoming “survey” on marriage equality.

I speak as an elderly atheist of 65 years study and commitment, who was in a heterosexual marriage for forty three years until my husband died. My four children are in heterosexual marriages with children of their own. I therefore think my platform for speech on this topic is about as neutral as it could possibly be.

I will vote a resounding “Yes” in any vote.

But I feel strongly that this is an issue which should not be decided by a public vote. Not only because the campaigning has got so nasty, but because, unless you are an adult gay couple who wish to marry, it is the business of no one else.

I found Mr Switzer’s article was offensive on two fronts. The first that he clearly does not see that the “No” vote’s outspoken supporters are speaking more offensively to my neutral ears than are the “Yes” vote supporters. He is not able to see this. Even his quoting of Margaret Court’s outspoken remarks before the issue became a survey and the fact she did not see there would be considerable retaliation to the tenor of her comments, was offensive.

I do not want my remarks to be particularly an attack on religions as there are many churchmen and institutions that have spoken out in support of a “yes” vote and some others who have spoken very moderately, but clearly, about their reasons for a “no” vote.

However Mr Switzer’s one eyed view on who is unreasonable in this debate is a reflection of a very conservative religious view that has dogged me all my life. It is that if one is a non believer one must verbally genuflect if one is to criticise a religious belief. When expressing my absence of theism I have always felt the need to be very careful so that I do not give offence. I have, unless I have been very hard pressed, refrained from liking a religious belief to any other legend or story. I have gone out of my way to make it clear that I admire many of the exhortations of religions to do good and love one’s neighbours, whilst quietly believing this is part of a humanist ideology as well.

But all my life I have had the Christian religion thrust upon me, from the days my parents insisted I go to Sunday School and pressed me to be confirmed or to take first communion. I politely attended SRE lessons that Public Schools make it hard to avoid. I paid taxes that promote Christian religions without overt complaint.

As an adult I leant more about Islam and am astounded at the extraordinary parallels between that and Christianity.

Yet the Islamic spokespeople here have the sense to say they are not entering the debate intensely as they think their intervention might promote a backlash.

Yes, they have experienced backlashes in Australia, as the gay community have experienced over the years with homosexual acts being criminal until relatively recently. Those who have experienced criticism of their ideas as people are a little more careful of how they speak. They have learnt that freedom to speak does not mean that their speech is free from criticism.

But conservative sections of the Christian Church, such as Mr Switzer seems to represent in his article, must accept that although they do and always should have freedom to express their views, this does not mean that if they do so it will not excite vigorous retaliation.

And from my exposure to debate on the “survey” issue both in the press, on the radio and television and through social media I have to say that the earliest “below the belt” criticism came from the “no” voters. And it has been answered quite cleverly.

We are voting on an issue very personal to those whom it directly affects.

Those who disagree will always have the right to freedom of speech. Religious beliefs are provided with additional freedom in our constitution and in some of our laws.

But for those of you, Mr Switzer, whose experience of life has been of people like myself who give a verbal genuflect before disagreeing with you, you have now lost that extra respect (to which you have never been legally entitled).

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Marriage Equality

It is hard to watch the insensitivity of some of the hard right in Australia forcing us to interfere, once again, in the private lives of others who wish to opt for the now conservative choice of marrying a lifetime partner whom they love.

Have we not moved on to accept difference and choice in this country in areas of personal relationships?

When I was a very young solicitor in the early and mid 1960s I, at the request of a barrister who was a member of the Council for Civil Liberties, assisted to represent in Court a young man charged with the then illegal offence of having sex (in private) with another man.  I would have liked to think I was chosen for my legal skills but, in retrospect, I realised it was because I was a young female and the barrister involved, quite correctly, thought this might contribute to a more accepting attitude.

On the way to the court I had to take the gentleman charged to a jeweller to have his rings removed. Outside the court we met the young man’s father who had come to support his son and who carefully carried for him a very conservative coat and tie.

The thoughtful magistrate had little option but to record a criminal conviction against this quiet, law abiding client as his “partner in crime” had been given an ultimatum by the police that he would not be charged if he gave evidence about the offence.  (My client bore no grudge against his former lover saying, “What options did he have? He is only telling the truth after all.”)

Perhaps because of the voluntary work of the excellent barrister and the presence of a conservative and imposing, loving father and a young female solicitor sitting next to accused, the magistrate, after finding the offence proved, imposed no custodial or financial penalties.

But this sad young man had to go through life as a convicted criminal. The other young man, made to give evidence, had to go through life with his guilt.

Despite the fact that homosexual relationships have now been decriminalised, some of these young people have had to carry with them a criminal record.

What people do in consenting sexual relationships is now none of our business under the criminal law. It also should not be any of our business if herosexual or homosexual couples marry or choose not to marry under our law.  All adults should have the same options.

And why on earth should we other citizens, not involved in the particular relationships, have any right to voice our opinions on a decision so personal?

Or should we go back to the dark ages, for example to those 1960s?

 

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Learning from Memories of Menstruation

It is time for old memories to be recorded. Give me a pen and paper! Oh no, I mean please pass the iPad.

I often draw on my past, particularly when talking of feminist issues, to help keep fresh some memories of our relatively recent past. Examples I have mentioned are that we were not allowed to wear trousers, “slacks”, even to University lectures in the fifties. It was  frowned upon  to teach school in “slacks” even  in the early eighties. It is often relevant to recall the legal ages of consent and marriage have being raised twice in NSW in my lifetime. In areas of paid work I have mentioned some trail blazing activities among us femininists.

We all recognise the magnificent improvement to women’s lives with the advent, in the 60s, of reasonably reliable contraception.

But memories of early menstruation issues I seem have repressed  (perhaps in the joy of being past all that). But more worryingly, is it because this is something we have had to repress all our lives and keep silent about?

I was almost finished this blog when I stopped and took stock of the fact I had called it “Learning from Memories”.  Am I still too shamed to use the word “Menstruation” in a blog post title? Is this an example of my personal involvement in our universal need to overlook this part of human life? This I must change.

Today I have seen two very confronting articles on this topic.  One by Jane Caro in the SMH of 4th July 2017 and one by Calla Wahlquist in the Guardian on 3rd July 2017.  They each reflect, in very different contexts, on how, even in this day and age, menstruation is regarded as shameful by some.  It is difficult, even in the 21st century, to be practically, psychologically and financially  managed.  And this latter does not just apply to young, perhaps financially disadvantaged, women and girls.

The attitudes of both women and men toward in this universal, normal  fact of life need to be rethought.

We can make jokes. It was funny, just before I retired, when one of the administrative staff taped a hormonal pill for pre menstral problems to a recalcitrant computer. But in retrospect should we have laughed?

Jane Caro’s wonderful piece is very compelling. She talks of the way the “in your face” nature of menstruation as a physical reminder of our animal status has plagued the attitude towards (and perhaps some fear of) women over the ages, including from institutions such as religions. She talks of how it still can contribute to demeaning comments about women.  But Calla Wahlquist’s was even more confronting. Here in 2017 in some of the more remote areas of Australia, indigenous girls miss school when they are menstruating because of lack of resources and possibly the shame attached to the process as well.

I was very lucky to have been born into an educated middle class family and the onset of menstruation came as no surprise. I  had a mother whose University Arts degree (the only one easily approved of for women in the 1930s) included Science subjects so she was very knowledgeable about human biology and passed some of this on to her daughters.  We were not a poor family. But even so the use of “rags” was sometimes a necessity.  I still remember overhearing the odd comment that, judging from a clothes line’s content the woman of the house had to be “on the rags”. I was at University before I heard the slang name “the  curse”. My mother did not approve!

Before launching into this blog I thought I ought to confirm my memories so rang my     very dear sister in law who is almost exactly the same age as I am.  She instantly reminded me of a mutual friend, now deceased.  She had been orphaned as a child (or perhaps was illegitimate) and was brought up in Ireland in a Catholic orphanage.  She often reminisced that one of her duties in the orphanage was to wash the nuns’ menstrual rags.  We discussed her ever present distress as this woman recalled these memories.  Would there have still been this level of distress and feeling of humiliation if the cloths had been stained with blood from bleeding noses or blood from wounds? These rags had not even been soaked, my sister in law recalled, and then we reminded ourselves that, at that stage, there were not even plastic buckets or containers to use for soaking.

My sister in law said that personally she did not have any experience of “rags”, living actually right in the middle of a shopping centre, but she recalled the use of torn up old sheets when bad colds plagued the family because, of course, there were no tissues.  She also recalled her extreme embarrassment when she had to go to the local chemist and buy the “sanitary napkins” for herself and, even before that time, for her mother.

But she talked about a close friend of hers at school who had to use rags and who bemoaned the fact that her family was not financially able, or perhaps was unwilling, to provide her with the new, up to date product then available. She found that very shameful.

There is no doubt the development of sanitary pads and tampons made a great improvement in lifestyle at such times, and much more so when complex elastic belts and safety pins became outmoded.

We know we are currently waging a war regarding the fact that, extraordinarily, there is a tax on these items.  They are not regarded as a necessity!   Judging from the amount that it is said the government would lose on lifting this tax, it would appear that possibly the manufacturers, too, may also be making a considerable profit from these items.

But there is more, attitudes have got to be changed. In the fifties, when I was about 14 years old,  I went to a state wide Girl Guide Camp to commemorate the role of Lord Baden Powell. I was Patrol Leader with a tent full of younger girls I did not know.  One of the girls woke in the night, terrified to find herself bleeding.  I had to explain the process to her and access some equipment.  It is a human right for every young child of any gender to know about it as they know about developing breasts. The topic should be discussed freely in society by all. It is natural, there should be no taboos and this sort of thing I encountered at the camp should never happen. But it still does.

And meanwhile disadvantaged girls, particularly in regional areas and particularly indigenous girls, have it even worse.  They are not attending school because they do not have easy access to items they need during menstruation.

Come on people. This is not a feminist issue. This a human issue. Half of the human race will, at some time, be mensturating. It is healthy and productive if they can easily continue with normal activities.  There should be self dispensing units easily found in many public places, not limited to ladies’ toilets. (And those that used to be in toilets seem now to be few and far between.)

Surely there could be an easy and non degrading way a card or special coin could be provided to the needy who otherwise could not have access to these products.

And the reason they should not be hidden away in ladies’ toilets is that it is time for Dads and husbands to stand up. To sometimes be the ones who buy the product for daughters and wives as they might do with a toothbrush or toothpaste or toilet paper or even laxative! To talk to their daughters about menstruation. To normalise the process.

We are all part of the human race and without menstruation none of us would exist.

 

 

 

 

 

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My father, a scientist and engineer, often talked about environmental pollution, the need to end our reliance on finite fossil fuels, the role of solar and other forms of power.

This is not unusual, except my memories of this go back to when I was quite a young child – 1949 and the early fifties. Of course that was the time he started to work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme and I was quite interested in knowing exactly what that scheme was doing.

Again, in the early sixties, he explained his disappointment with an experiment he was conducting, which was to set up a property in the far west of NSW which was to be totally powered by solar. He was pleased with the amount of power generated, but disappointed in the ability to store it, just as we are now. At that stage he, with fellow scientists, were crying out for more research into batteries. I well remember my father once explaining to me that refining the then current battery science would not be enough – there needed to be some completely new ideas.

In the late sixties and early seventies he supported Professor Phillip Baxter in his view that we should work on nuclear power generation and the issues surrounding it.

My memories of life with my father was that he always seemed to prove correct, sometimes quite surprisingly to me, in areas relating to science or mechanics. For example as a schoolgirl I was taken by him to see the first mainframe computer in Australia, “CSIRAC”. We stood around, amazed, as it played “Happy Birthday To You”. That computer filled a very large room. This visit, too, was in the early fifties. I was impressed by that viewing but very sceptical at my father’s prediction that smaller versions would become common and would eventually appear in ordinary households of the future. After a visit to Switzerland in 1970 he told me they would soon be on everyone’s desktops.

I was sad for him in 1984 when my son got his first Commodore 64 – he had died the previous year.

In November 1957, as I was in the throes of completing the “Leaving Certificate”, I was having a sleepless night. He suggested we go out for a walk. I thought I saw a shooting star. He looked at it, very interested, and claimed that it was an object actually in orbit. He predicted it may have been a second Russian Sputnik. The next morning the successful launching of a second Sputnik was announced by Russia. Dad was right again.

A very clear memory was of him standing in the kitchen of our house in Cooma with the Sydney Morning Herald in his hand. The winner of the Opera House design competition had just been announced.  My father was praising the concept and extolling the virtues of awarding the prize to Utzon for such a beautiful building.  But he was also saying it should be redesigned, with the assistance of other engineers and architects, before a sod was turned in order to make the wonderful concept work properly. He spelt out what eventually did happen from the attempt to build it exactly as the plans printed on that day suggested.

So now, when I hear those in politics making important decisions, still not accepting what quite learned scientists like my father taught as factual about climate over 60 years ago, I am very saddened.

Like young children, we sometimes cannot bear to hear, as truth, frightening information. Scientists and others are prepared to have a go at giving us acceptable alternatives to fossil fuels and will continue to work on them.  But the earlier we act the easier and more acceptable it will be, as I witnessed from my father regarding the Opera House.  Fossil fuel providers, too, have a right to be told that their dream run has come to an end. Good businessmen, like scientists, are not stupid but they need certainty if they have to move to expensive alternatives – which may ultimately bring them equal financial success.

We people are not stupid either. We may have to pay a bit more for world survival. We may have to make some sacrifices if we are healthy people, turning off rather indulgent air conditioning and just putting up with a larger range of temperatures, for example.

We may have blackouts from time to time. We can manage if prepared.

After all we have known about the problem of power generation facing us for more than 60 years. We kid ourselves by electing political parties who do not frighten us but instead downgrade the problem. We allow media to give us an out by still giving airtime to climate change deniers on the grounds of allowing two sides to be expressed to all questions. But we do not always give two sides to all questions. Have you heard a two sided debate that includes the pros of deliberately killing people?  There is wide condemnation and no support for the overuse of antibiotics – something only of news to us through the voice of science.

We must make it clear to politicians that we have known for for 60 years too many, that we have been supporting more and more climate damaging fossil fuels being used in the environment. We want this to stop. Spend our money on the support of other forms of power.

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Reflection and Reconciliation

Sorry.

I always feel a strong and painful need to apologise to Australia’s Indigenous people, especially when I talk of my own family history. I apologise on my own behalf, but I also feel guilt on behalf of my first ancestor here; about the way he and his British ilk took over Australia. He was on the first fleet as a Lieutenant in the British Navy and does not seem to have been be a character with too many redeeming features. But why does this surprise? Britain would not have wanted to send their best and brightest on an adventure from which they were unlikely to return.

But I feel less need to apologise on behalf of the ancestor that I would like to remember here. John Williams arrived on the second fleet and his life has been well investigated. He was a convict, here unwillingly. We have the records of his Court Marshall when he was sent to Australia as punishment as an army deserter. It appears he, 19 years old, was grateful to be spared the death penalty for his second desertion, in 1805, from the British Army that was fighting against Napoleon. If it meant he had to come to a far flung land that he did not know, so be it. And he embraced his life here with enthusiasm.

He married Sarah, the daughter of the first mentioned relative, Lieutenant William Nash. Lieutenant Nash had brought with him, on the voyage, his common law wife Maria and some older children but Sarah was born after his arrival. She was born in Richmond, Australia.

John Williams was emancipated and was given a land grant. He established a sheep station in the Monaro area. He thus supported Sarah and their family for many years and he died in 1854 at the age of 67 by “perishing in the snow” whilst riding home across the plains near Jindabyne.

John and Sarah had a son, Robert Williams, who also ran a sheep farm on the Monaro. He, like his father had done, went on to sire a large family which included another John. That second John Williams was the father of my own grandfather.

A few years before my mother’s younger sister died at the age of ninety she flew across from W.A, where my grandparents had long ago settled, and we took her, at the time of the Bicentenary of the settlement, to a re-enactment of the Nash wedding, the first Colonial wedding ceremony in Sydney. We met a large contingent of the Williams family some of whom are still working on the land in the Monaro district.

Is is easy for me to see how both the feeling of belonging to Australia and my pride in this nation and the positives that have been accomplished, sit uneasily alongside a sense of guilt about our annexation of this land tended for years by the Indigenous people and whose home it still is. And I have a strong feeling of shame about the treatment of those Indigenous people. But six generations of my ancestors lie buried in this soil that I have always called my home. I will be the seventh. It feels like part of my DNA. This is my home too.

And many early Australians were like John Williams. Whether convicts or free men obeying the orders of their masters they had little choice in the matter and just did what they could to survive in a very strange country and then later prosper. I can forgive them for that.

Once here early settlers were fighting for their survival.

Paralleling what we now know about Aboriginal people, my own grandfather had some interesting oral history. He told stories of the trials and tribulations of the settlers including this great grandfather of his. He also recounted some of his own experiences in his youth during the gold rush which he would tell to his amazed children and their children. My grandfather was an extremely kind, generous and accepting person. He was well read. He was a school teacher for many years. But sadly where there was no possible matching of stories from the dreamtime and settler stories was in the strong Christian philosophy which imbued him and had also imbued that settlement with ideas of salvation for all. In this Christianity there was no room for the Aboriginal philosophies.

I can understand how these views formed some of the negative or superior attitudes of settler Australians towards the Aboriginal people well after “colonisation”, “settlement” or “annexation” had occurred. Is that not still a problem in today’s wider society causing major difficulties of understanding between those who deeply believe in different forms of ” eternal salvation”?

In my later working life I was very privileged to work with some indigenous consultants. My experience there leads me to now apologise deeply for my attitudes over the years. Whilst, like my grandfather, I try to be kind, I have not made sufficient effort to understand and redress imbalances. But yet again, much as I admired the consultants and appreciated the insights I was given into their customs and communities, it filled me with sadness. My sadness felt the same as the sadness I was filled with at my beloved grandfather’s lack of insight, except for the fact I recognised and acknowledged the difficulties the consultants had suffered with their customs and practices having been disrespected for so many years. But eventually I realised that, in my sadness, I was doing exactly the same thing from my own undoubtedly flawed perspective. It was not surprising they spoke of a strong wish to laud and return to practices that had never been properly acknowledged or understood and that had sometimes been destroyed by settlers. I was devaluing their views with my own personal emphasis on “scientific method and research”. And here I was talking to descendants of people who, not only have the oldest explanatory legends and myths, but who, we now know, were the earliest culture to use principles of scientific observation.

When communicating and deciding things together we should be looking, not at personal ideologies, but at the things valued by all humanity. These include the care and protection of our young , loyalty to our friends and family – the mob- and love of nature and the country in which we live.

In the spirit of John Williams who would not lie down under the yoke of his masters, and for those first settlers some of whom who were victims almost much as were the Indigenous Australians, I plead for an end to racism, an end to bickering, proper and fulsome recognition of Aboriginal people’s voices in the Australian Constitution and the running of this country. I also want an Australian Republic which removes the taint of British colonisation.

And just a little final personal wish. It has not the huge importance of the above, but wouldn’t it be lovely to have a flag which would genuinely represent every single person who lives in this great southern land? I would personally love a plain, sky blue flag with the southern cross upon it. Each of us lives under that southern cross and can pick it out in our wonderful sky so easily. The Indigenous people have lived under the southern cross for many thousands of years. Many of our families have lived under that cross for many hundred years, and all the newcomers can look up and marvel at its beauty as they get accustom to its presence there above us – looking down on us all as equals in this wide brown land we love.

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JUNK MAIL

Yesterday I put a notice in each of almost 1,000 letter boxes. I would say that about 90% of them sported a sign, “No Junk Mail”. Some added a polite “Please”. A small percentage asked for other favours such as “Only Posted Mail” or “No Newspapers or Catalogues”.

This immediately posed a quandary. I was certainly not walking around the streets disposing of my unwanted rubbish in other people’s roomy letter boxes. I have never received others’ out worn items in mine either. So what do people mean when they use the word “junk”?

I turned for help to the much revered Shorter Oxford.

Surely they do not expect people are going to put Chinese boats, or even small models of these boats in their letter boxes? I don’t think that broken up lumps of material or twine or rope would be another expectation for letter boxes but it is the primary meaning of the word according to the Oxford. It finally mentioned something “unwanted”.

Doing a more modern search using the wordsmith “Google” I took the step of actually asking for the definition of “junk mail”, an option that was not in the trusty Oxford. Silly me! Of course Google, being a modern wordsmith, thought I was talking about electronic junk mail! However it kindly directed me to an Australia Post site.

Meanwhile, as I research, there are people walking around, as I was yesterday, looking at the eager, open mouths of letter boxes and wondering if their precious offerings are junk or not. By definition one would not be walking around making an effort to share something you think is not valuable but, in fact, needs to be disposed of?

I would not and I am sure you would not.

Do those depositing in those eager mouths have to consider whether the person who is the owner of the letter box would think it is junk using this notion of “unwanted”? How could they possibly know what is unwanted by someone they do not know?

Australia Post, in their wisdom, agree to leave only personally addressed mail to those displaying a notice. Of course this does not apply to those of us walking the streets with handfuls of information for these gaping maws, but not connected to Australia Post. But there is an interesting rider on this Australia Post definition. Their definition does not include items that are political, educational, religious or charitable. Clearly these categories are not “junk mail” to Australia Post.

Phew! My pamphlets were pseudo political so will probably past muster. That does not, of course, mean that each individual recipient will find them acceptable.

But that is life. If one wants to cut oneself off from the world and live in a silo, an echo chamber, do not have that yawning, inviting mouth in the front of your house. Get a box at a post office.

But if you want to be part of the community in which you live then take your insulting “No Junk Mail” off your box. No one is going to deliberately give you something they know you will find “junk”. You are being offered something in which to share, even if it is an advertisement for a local amenity.

I would find no personal use for one of the Australian Post offerings “religious information”. But I would not ever call that “junk”. Someone thinks it is very important. I respect that view from my fellow community member even as I, in an environmentally friendly way, dispose of the notice.

You can do the same with mine.

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