Welcome to Janet's Blog

I first used this blog to publish "Trash" before I knew about ebooks. I wrote "Trash" twenty years ago. The novel explains why, in the original version of "If not for the tomatoes" Annie wrote: "We had aliens come and tell us". It wasn't Al Gore at all.

Annie isn't the hero of "Trash", but she has her own story ( a much more polished novel). Go to smashwords.com and look for "Tipping Point". (Follow the link to the right.)

If you're a first time visitor to my blog, try reading "If not for the tomatoes" first. (It's the short story in Annie's future - look in 6/5/07) This is only half the story, though. The complete story that inspired Tipping Point appears in my other blog as "Our choices".

To begin reading "Trash", start at 17/6/07. (Many apologies for the poor navigation.)

READ ON FOR LATEST BLOG POST


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Ningaloo


Our long service leave has brought us to Ningaloo Reef. As I float in nature’s aquarium, awed by the display of fish, multi-coloured in the water below me, I am reminded of how important the ocean is.

We continue to exploit its resources, even though fish stocks are running low, pollution is increasing and below me I see the damaged coral that has resulted from our beaches being loved to death.

Our oceans are our main source of oxygen as well as an important source of food and are central in the regulation of our climate. If they die, we die.

I have swum with a whale shark. Will future generations have that privilege?

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Compassion


Despite being on Long Service Leave, remote from phone reception and hearing only occasional snatches of ABC radio when we are driving close enough to towns, we have not been able to avoid hearing about many of the tragedies that are currently unfolding around the globe.

While the senseless aggression in (insert the region of your choice) is appalling, what has me angry at the moment is the words of our current treasurer. Costello says the poor don’t drive, therefore the tax changes won’t affect them so much. He neglects to consider how the price of the petrol needed to maintain a job is actually a greater proportion of their income than for a better paid person. In fact he continues to show a complete lack of understanding about what it means to live on a small and limited income, enjoying his expensive cigar every day.

The Liberal ideology (for international readers, the Liberals in Australia are a conservative party, not a liberal party – tells you something about the way they operate, doesn’t it?) says that people will rise to their natural level – in other words, if you’re poor it’s your fault. But it’s wrong. Advantage gained from higher social standing accrues with the generations. Poverty entrenches itself.

I have gained a “middle” level in society, the first in my family to attend university (thanks to the Whitlam years), but I have dealt with generational poverty professionally. Behaviours learned from your environment can be hard to shift, even if they aren’t helping. And the reasoning is not always bad. “Family comes first” is a reason for much truancy among disadvantaged kids. After all, someone has to support a parent, or take care of siblings while the parent is drunk or mad (a harsh word, but reality is often a harsh struggle).

I do not believe Costello has ever had to consider whether he will be able to keep his family fed. To “make ends meet” people will often do whatever it takes, even if that is something society condemns.

Yes, we all may possibly rise in the world. But it’s so much easier when you’re already half way there. I would prefer to live in a country where the prevailing ideology is one of compassion. Where I am happy to pay my taxes because I know they will be spent helping people in need rather than subsidising wealthy mining corporations.

Meanwhile, back on the road trip . . . I was chatting with a Canadian couple on the Escarpment Walk off the Victoria Highway between Katherine and Kununurra. They commented that Canada does not have so many wild places to walk – it’s all tamed. I replied that it was only because the farmers couldn’t use the land. A rather cynical response, but one with a grain of truth. The places that have stayed wild and become national parks are generally in rough or infertile areas that are not very useful for farmers.

As I travel my country I can’t help but wonder what the arid plains looked like before they were fenced and overrun with cattle and cane toads.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Cane Toads


Travel broadens the mind, they say.

I had noticed how quiet the bush was at night, except for the occasional plop . . . plop of a cane toad hopping past. Apparently after the initial wave of invasion when the toads eat whatever is in their way, their numbers fall to more “sustainable” levels. The ranger at Edith Falls was rather cheerful about cane toads (an attitude I hadn’t expected). He said people down south shouldn’t feel like they’ve missed out, they’ll get cane toads too. It’s just a matter of time. They’ve done tests, and the suckers adapt to any climate within three hours. There are some hopeful stories, though, of crocodiles seen washing the poison out of the cane toads before eating them, and birds that have learned to flip the toad and eat only the belly, avoiding the poison on the back of the beasts.

As I sit among the people we are visiting, I can’t help but wonder if there are not some parallels between humans and cane toads. I listen as people express resentment at the indigenous people, talking about how they get preferential treatment, and that it’s not right. I hold my tongue, ever the polite guest. But here’s what I want to say:

Perhaps they deserve some preferential treatment.

We invaded their country – estimates vary, but somewhere between three quarters and ninety percent of aboriginal people died within five years of the white invasion, decimated by diseases against which they had no immunity. Then we shot, poisoned, and raped. It was only fifty years ago that “half-caste” children were stolen from their families to give them a “better” life, while we waited for aboriginals to die out and solve our problems.

Only the problem hasn’t gone away. Unlike the quiet bush that follows the cane toads, aboriginal people have dared to protest against their treatment at our hands. And now many people resent government attempts to address the inequalities in health, education and employment that still exist for indigenous people in this country where we, supposedly, believe in a “fair go”. So if I turned to one of my hosts and asked if they would be happy to trade places with one of these people who they believe are being given undeserved preferential treatment, would they swap? Would they give up their comfortable homes and jobs?

Perhaps I don’t have an accurate understanding of the opinions that disturb me. I certainly don’t have a full understanding of all that is involved in relations between “white” and indigenous Australia.

However, I fear we often despise those things that make us most uncomfortable. Knowing that you would rather be white than black in our world, it is much easier to find reasons to resent the “other” than it is to accept that our privilege rests on the theft of their ancestor’s land. After all (prompts our uneasy conscience), it must be their fault if they can’t hold a job or stay away from the grog.

Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is not always a comfortable experience. Much easier to feel contempt for the other person while justifying our own lives of comparative luxury.

I wonder – are cane toads capable of compassion?

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The vision splendid . . .


Two weeks into our long service leave we are wandering the West McDonnell Ranges, wending our way closer to Alice Springs. During the day we walk through arid countryside, adorned by wildflowers brought out by recent rains. Magnificent gorges protect permanent waterholes that keep wildlife alive through the dry. Floodways on the roads tell us that when it rains the road may be under up to two metres of water. Dry creek beds are wider than the widest part of the Yarra, gouged out by the floods that leave debris matted six foot or more up the trunks of the gums.

A magnificent land – yet so fragile. Life often persists despite the odds. The harsh beauty around me firms my resolve. There is so much worth saving in this world.

The news we have heard when we can get radio reception - planes shot from the sky, deaths in Palestine – remind me that human beings have a talent for bad as well as good. I pray to whatever God will listen that we can start using the intelligence and compassion we were given – use our gifts to create our own Eden in this paradise that surrounds us.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Losing my class . . .

The words are sliding along in the background, persisting like the lyrics of that daggy song you just heard on the radio. "Old teachers never die, they just lose their class."

I started teaching in 1982. The world was a different place then. I remember the first computer room I worked in with students - Apple IIE set up in sequence. One button out of place and you had to reboot the whole room again. (A process that took five minutes or more, inserting floppy disks and booting each monitor individually.) Now the kids have laptops and we mark rolls electronically.

In my prime I was a damn good teacher. But the techniques I honed in the eighties and nineties no longer work. I remain a decent teacher, but can no longer hold their attention and fire their ambition to write well. Those who want to learn from me will do so, and they can learn well, but the percentage of kids who resist is higher now; there are more whose behaviour is extreme and disruptive. And I'm losing my patience.

For roughly thirty years I've been listening to variations on: "But I wasn't talking, Miss. I just asked him if I could borrow a pen." ("I'm not wet, I never went near the trough and another boy pushed me in!") Except these days, when asked to be quiet, to work, there are more and more students who are just as likely to simply say, "No!" I have no technique to counter that. And it's making me angry.

I know, I know. The older generation has been complaining about the younger generation since Adam was a lad. I deal with the younger generation professionally - I work in an atmosphere where conflict constantly threatens to break out. I am expected to endure, and somehow change, behaviour that is abusive and bullying towards myself, as well as other students. I just don't want to do it any more.

I suffer from a form of faulty thinking; and a person's attitude affects what is happening around them. Perhaps I would do better in the classroom if not for this deep-seated and dysfunctional belief that I should be teaching. But as I face the sabotage of the recidivists, I don't believe I am. Nothing classy about what's been happening in my room.

(Although I also believe there have still been kids learning in there - except they're not in my face like the world-weary rebels who have no need of my knowledge.)

Fortunately, right now, I don't have to battle my harsh judgement of my effectiveness as a teacher. It's school holidays and in ten days' time Nev and I embark on our long service leave adventure. We will travel through the centre of Australia to Kakadu, then back through the Kimberley and Pilbara. I hope we have time to spend in the SW of WA as well.

And when we return?

There are decisions I need to make about my future. Maybe I should leave the classroom before I lose my class entirely?

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Open for business

On his recent overseas trip, Tony Abbott told the world that Australia is open for business.

An image lurks in my mind, painted worse by my agreement with the sentiment expressed. The cartoon depicts a distasteful vision of a whore (Australia), legs akimbo, with the caption: "Open for business." I shudder at the way this image connects with my own sense of being violated by Mr Abbott's actions as Prime Minister.

As a citizen of Australia I feel responsible for the decisions being made in my name. I cringe with shame at the way we are treating asylum seekers, people so desperate they put themselves at risk as they flee, seeking a safe haven. Australia now sends them to Papua New Guinea. Does Mr Abbott have any idea of the violence endemic in PNG society? Our detention policies are barbaric.

His three word slogans are wearing thin. Stop the boats. Axe the tax. Ditch the bitch.

The harshness of Abbott's conservative (I'm trying not to say fascist) ideology is not supported by the evidence. As "necessary" budget cuts hit those who can least cope, HILDA research reported that "in 2001, 23 per cent of people aged 18 to 64 received weekly welfare payments."(1) In 2011 that had dropped to "18.5%".(2)

While the air force has new planes, the budget makes less available to support education, people with disabilities, senior citizens, workers on low incomes, the environment and more.
Less will be spent, in our growing population, to care for people's on-going health (a measure that saves money in the long run) in the name of increasing medical research. Medicare is being dismantled while money is poured into mining. Does poor Gina need a helping hand?

All of the budget measures suggest an ideology that has no compassion for the most vulnerable members of our society.

Abbott also wants to lead other nations in dismantling carbon pricing, saying it will endanger jobs. Yet
around the world countries are surviving their efforts to tackle climate change through carbon pricing. There are even robust examples of countries that have thrived in moving to a greener approach to life. Changing to new technologies can create jobs.

I keep thinking of a joke that went the rounds of the e-mails:
 
Question: Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

PLATO: For the greater good.

DOUGLAS ADAMS: Forty-two.

J.R.R. TOLKIEN: First, the Chicken, sunlight coruscating off its vibrant, silken coat of feathers, approached the silently ominous road and scrutinized it intently with the obsidian-black eyes. Every detail of the thoroughfare leapt into blinding focus: the rough, granulated texture of the surface, over which countless balding tyres had worked relentless thread through the ages; the innumerable fragments of the stone embedded within the lugubrious mass, and the dull black asphalt itself, pitted with crevices; and then it crossed.

DARWIN: It was the next logical step after it came down from the trees.

MARK TWAIN: The news of its crossing has been greatly exaggerated.

BASIL FAWLTY: OH, Don't mind the chicken, it’s from Barcelona.
 

TONY ABBOTT: There is no evidence that the chicken exists, and I am not going to risk the jobs of hard working Australian families while attempting to deal with a non-existent threat.


Of course, it's an old joke. Abbott's name replaces John Howard's.


Meanwhile Clive Palmer is showing signs of becoming an environmental warrior, standing next to Al Gore. Does a mining magnate have more environmental conscience than our Prime Minister?

Or have I missed the punch-line?


Footnotes (1) and (2) - statistics drawn from "The Age" 16/6/2014


Thursday, 29 May 2014

Choice

The point of the Adam and Eve story of temptation in Eden, is choice. The serpent coaxes Eve to eat the fruit because: "ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." In this way, the Bible deals with sentience.

Sentience is what distinguishes Adam and Eve from the beasts, and it is why God gives them dominion. Once they have eaten the forbidden fruit, mankind is burdened with an understanding of the nature of good and evil, and is free to choose either.

There is general agreement among the human race that actions which cause others to suffer are evil. Different cultures vary over what is legally sanctioned: how criminals are punished, killing in a time of war, the treatment of innocent refugees.

Others areas are even more murky. Some cultures still openly declare the right of a husband to beat his wife. The society in which I live considers it a crime, yet it happens. Every week someone (usually a woman) dies as the result of domestic violence.

Mining is not an evil activity. When the environment is critically damaged by mining it is morally obscene, but surely mining does not need to destroy our precious environment? When mining leads to the production of surgical instruments that save lives we must say it is good. But the use of metal in armaments that maim and destroy is evil.

The point is that we are capable of understanding the consequences of our choices. (Provided we are not too apathetic or brain-washed.) We can choose.

We can choose how we treat the environment on which we depend. We can choose how we treat the people around us. We can choose to place moral responsibility above our greed; to nurture rather than rape.

Unfortunately the decisions being made by business and corporations, by government and the military, are too often causing suffering to the environment and it's creatures and peoples.

Greed for power. Greed for wealth. Greed for glory. These things drive so much that is evil in the world around us. In the dim evolution of our ancestors, the greedy survived. Now the greedy threaten to wipe us out with ecological disaster. And the media lulls us and lures us to shop our troubles away, to indulge our desire for greedy additions to our hoards. Whether we choose to ignore it or not, global warming is rapidly approaching, if not already past, the point of no return. Wait too long and there'll be nothing we can do to put out the fires we have lit.

We'll all burn together.