As 2020 drew to a close, Maggie and I said goodbye to the house that had been our home for more than 15 years. We’d been very happy there but, in the second half of 2017, we realised that we were nearing the point when the responsibility for maintaining the house and its garden would feel like a burden.
After an extended period of thinking about what would suit us and exploring options, we were pleased to discover that a good-quality, medium-sized apartment complex was proposed for a site in our region of Melbourne. In May 2021, following some construction delays caused by the pandemic, we moved into our new home.
One of the factors in our decision as to which one of the 103 apartments we would prefer was the fact that it had a 6m x 2m balcony, facing west and overlooking the street from Floor 2 of the complex. We soon discovered that, in addition to the passing parade of people, dogs, bicycles and motor vehicles, our balcony gave us an endless variety of vistas of the sky, from south to north via west.
Here is a sample of our favourite ‘skyscapes’, shot and edited with our iPhone.
Retirement and floor-to-ceiling windows gave us the chance to appreciate better how the sky looked during the hours between sunrise and sunset. Here are two examples of the interesting daytime patterns we discovered.
Facing west, we can see approaching changes in the weather well before they reach our neighbourhood. Here are three examples, each striking in its own way.
Not all sunsets are red! A golden sunset can also be spectacular. I particularly like the banded effect in the third image.
Sunsets from the red palette
Still, it is difficult to match the glory of a sunset dominated by shades of red, albeit with gold and purple hues playing a supporting role!
In the hour or two after sunset, as twilight wanes and night begins to fall, the moon sometimes appears to dance in and out of clouds.
Or, as the last of the glow from the sun sinks to the horizon, a moonless sky produces a wides spectrum of blue, all the way to navy blue and squid ink!
In a previous post, I mentioned that Maggie and I were able to purchase a variety of cuts of duck from one of our local supermarkets. The range included pre-cooked duck legs that were packaged with one of three different sauces. Of the latter, our favourite was a red Thai curry sauce. We must have been in a small minority because the producer – Victorian company ‘Luvaduck’ – decided to drop it from the range. Oh calamity!
Once we got over our disappointment, we resolved that home-cooked red Thai curry duck legs had to remain on our menu. Now, Luvaduck also produces a pack of two confit legs, so all we needed to do was learn how to make a suitable sauce. An internet search unearthed numerous recipes for a Thai red curry sauce to serve with duck. We chose this one, owing to the author’s infectious enthusiasm!
For our first attempt, we followed the recipe fairly closely. Because confit duck legs and their accompanying jelly are already quite salty, we didn’t need to add fish sauce. We also deleted the turmeric – for some reason it doesn’t suit our palate.
The result was pretty good but we decided to simplify the recipe a bit further to allow us to use only ingredients that we have in our pantry and fridge at all times.
So, to make the sauce we saute three sliced brown/French shallots and two sliced garlic cloves in vegetable oil until they are soft and golden. Then we add about 20ml of red curry paste and one teaspoon of brown sugar and stir it through the shallot mix. Next, we add ALL of the jelly from the duck leg pack and about 100 ml of chicken stock. The jelly adds a pleasing degree of richness to the sauce.
When the awful images of black American George Floyd being murdered by a police officer first appeared, they triggered the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement across the US. It was soon replicated in many other parts of the world, including here in Australia, where it struck a chord.
Australia has a long history of racism. As documented by Professor Larissa Behrendt in her book Indigenous Australia for dummies, it even pre-dates the establishment of the first British colony. Some of the early European explorers who visited the continent and met some of its inhabitants, made very derogatory – read, ignorant and arrogant – remarks in their log books.
Professor Behrendt goes on to detail the sorry history of how Australia’s First Nations people were treated as the British colonised the continent, took control of traditional lands, carried out massacres, spread disease and established state governments that practised coercive interventions into the lives of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. The consequences of this history have been devastating and multiple and continue to this day throughout the country and across generations.
Racist policies and behaviours have been directed at persons of many other racial or ethnic backgrounds here, including the infamous ‘White Australia’ policy, but that is a topic for another time. In this post, I want to share my feelings and observations about two recent events that have brought the issue of racism into sharp focus and caused an outpouring of powerful emotions, words and actions.
The two events I have in mind are: the decision by Hancock Mining to cancel – yes, ‘cancel’ – their $15M sponsorship of Netball Australia; and the alleged murder of Cassius Turvey, a much-loved Noongar-Yamatji teenage boy, as he walked home from school in suburban Perth.
I’m not going to describe these events in any detail – interested Australians are already familiar with them. However, if you would like to get a sense of how they have impacted on Indigenous Australians, I recommend you read this powerful piece by journalist and Gamilaroi woman Brooke Boney. I’ve read it three times and it still rocks me. Amongst other feelings it provokes in me, is great pity for its author. One paragraph, in particular, is heartbreaking to read:
“There’s nothing that can come from this that feels like justice. There’s no relief or lesson that can be taught after something so horrific. … Fighting or resisting a system that allows this to happen is like swimming against the tide. As someone who is eternally hopeful, it hurts to say this, but it feels futile.”
I’m a white male in his late 60s, so I can’t know what it has been like for Brooke Boney and countless thousands of other First Nations persons to process what happened to Cassius Turvey. However, I do want to believe that what has transpired since the fatal attack gives them some modest cause for hope.
The totality of what happened in that suburban street on weekday afternoon has shocked a great many non-indigenous Australians. I am confident that most of them would have no doubt that vile racism was involved. There is no shying away from that; no wriggle room is available. The Prime Minister has said as much.
Meanwhile, the numerous vigils held across Australia have drawn large attendances and have been conducted with dignity and heart. The quality of the vigils has taken its lead from Mechelle Turvey, the mother of Cassius.
“I don’t want any more violence,” she said in a statement that was read out at vigils across the country. “I’m the only person who can get justice for my son … I need to call out for calm. I am angry, Cassius’ friends and family are angry, but I don’t want any form of violence at any of these rallies in the name of my child. Violence breeds more violence.”
Media coverage of all this has not only been extensive but has also been amplified by the fact that nearly all large media entities now employ at least one First Nations journalist. Their reporting and commentary has provided audiences with information and insights only they can provide. It has been quite a body of work.
Look, this might sound like I’m clutching at straws but I do believe that Australia has shifted slightly since Cassius was attacked. Firstly, we can’t undo our knowledge of the key features of this horrific event. The collective voice of all those Indigenous journalists will be heard more often. And we might forget his surname, but we will long remember Cassius and the fact that he was loved and respected.
As for the netball sponsorship matter, it too will have a lasting impact, albeit on a smaller stage. Compared to just a couple of months ago, many more Australians now know that Lang Hancock advocated for the drinking water of First Nations communities to be adulterated with a chemical that would result in widespread sterility. He espoused this repugnant proposal in a media interview in 1984, in the lifetime of half of Australia’s population! And we also know that his daughter, Australia’s wealthiest woman Gina Rinehart, is unwilling to dissociate herself from what her father advocated.
On the plus side, we also know that the majority of the netball community accepts that the Diamonds squad was justified in taking a stand in support of its Indigenous member, Donnell Wallam; that her presence on the court for her debut Test match was met with great warmth; that criticism levelled at the players by conservative commentators was widely rejected; and, most significantly, that moves to clean out racism in sport can no longer be resisted.
Is ‘Yes’ the answer to my question? I dearly hope so.
Senator Lidia Thorpe is an Indigenous woman from Victoria and is one of sixteen members of the federal parliament from the Australian Greens. The leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt describes her as “a warrior for her people”.
The Greens emerged as a political party from state and national environmental movements in the early 1990s, winning a handful of positions in the Senate before making headway in the House of Representatives, first in Victoria and then, spectacularly, in Queensland at the May 2022 federal election.
As well as having strong commitments on environmental matters, the Greens give priority to social justice in general and to the rights and needs of Indigenous Australians specifically. It is a long time since they could be portrayed as a ‘single-issue’ party and Senator Thorpe’s warrior qualities sit well alongside the Greens’ often combative approach to politics.
(There are ten other federal parliamentarians, from across the political spectrum, who identify as being Indigenous Australians, some of whom can rightly claim to have fought long and hard for Indigenous rights.)
Lidia Thorpe has been a Senator for just over two years. Following the recent election, she came Deputy Leader of the Greens in the Senate, where the party holds twelve of the 76 positions. On Thursday, she was obliged to resign from her leadership position, following a media storm over a hitherto undeclared personal relationship with a former member of a ‘bikie gang’.
Was that consequence reasonable in the circumstances? Has the media reporting and other commentary – which continues as I write – displayed undertones of racism and sexism?
To me, the answer to the first question is a clear ‘Yes’. At the time of the relationship – they “dated briefly” according to Thorpe – the Senator was a member of parliament’s Law Enforcement Committee. The activities of bikie gangs was one of the subjects considered by the committee from time to time. So, there was potential for Senator Thorpe to have a conflict of interest. The wisest course would have been to inform the other committee members and Adam Bandt about the relationship – it is understood they had ongoing, infrequent, low-key interactions – or to give up her place on the committee to another Greens parliamentarian. She chose to do neither and that – not the actual relationship – was an error of judgment.
The answer to the second question is not so clear.
One of the consequences of being a ‘warrior’ rather than a person who goes about their work somewhat meekly, is that you make enemies as well as admirers. For example, earlier this year, when freshly-elected Senators were being sworn in, Thorpe referred to the then Queen as being a “coloniser”. She was obliged to redo her oath of allegiance but she’d made her point. It quickly generated a brief storm of commentary, some congratulatory, some condemnatory. And there have been other negative headlines arising from the way Thorpe goes about her work.
Throw in the fact that Lidia Thorpe is from the combative Greens party, is unfailingly proud to be Indigenous and is an assertive woman, well, that widens the scope for her to face prejudice. So, when the error of judgment came to light, some of her detractors couldn’t restrain themselves.
I think some of the reporting of this episode has been factual and fair, while some has been salacious and unbalanced; and, as a whole, it has taken on a life of its own to create quite the pile-on. This has included provocative contributions from Labor – who are in a constant state of undeclared war with the Greens – and confected indignity from the Coalition, who are quite comfortable with being the pot that calls the kettle black.
However, the waters have been muddied a little by the fact that some of the most strident criticism has come from another strong Indigenous woman, Professor Marcia Langton, who has been at odds with Senator Thorpe for some time over Thorpe’s stance on the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Professor Langton seems to have taken this opportunity to seek to diminish Thorpe’s influence in the Greens ranks.
IF Lidia Thorpe’s political career continues – she has more to endure when parliament resumes next week – she will need to learn some lessons from this brouhaha. One is that perceptions do sometimes matter more than you would like. So, to be an effective, enduring warrior, you need to be particularly assiduous in being seen to have integrity in all that you do. And, to help ensure that is the case, you need to empower those who work for you.
10 years plus 10 days ago, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard made a speech in the national parliament that has become known as the ‘Misogyny Speech’.
Before long, the was something of a global sensation, especially among seasoned feminists of all ages. For example, workers in the West Wing of President Barack Obama’s White House would watch it from time to time on YouTube as a source of inspiration. Obama subsequently took the opportunity to congratulate Gillard on the speech personally.
I remember the speech very well. I was thrilled by Gillard’s controlled and eloquent feminist rage but even more so because her primary target was the man standing opposite her in the House of Representatives, Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition. Like many Labor supporters, my loathing for him knew no bounds.
I was also delighted because, for what seemed like an eternity prior to the speech, Australia’s first female Prime Minister had been subjected to the most egregious types of personal attacks, orchestrated by Abbott and his team, and supplemented by vile slurs from the nation’s most abhorrent conservative journalists and radio shock-jocks.
There are countless thousands of web pages devoted to or inspired by the Misogyny Speech. This Wikipedia entry provides a brief overview of some of the key facts.
The tenth anniversary of the speech has been marked in various ways, from newspaper stories to Twitter threads and, most significantly, by publication of Not Now, Not Ever. This book, edited by Julia Gillard herself, contains a variety of recollections, cultural analysis and opinion, as well as conversations between Gillard and ‘next-generation’ feminists. Learn more about the book and Julia Gillard here.
Now, regarding my choice of title for this post.
From the 2007 federal election until 24 June 2010, Julia Gillard was Deputy Prime Minister, serving under Labor leader Kevin Rudd. Then, after a few months of turmoil within the government, Gillard was persuaded to challenge Rudd, who resigned rather than face the humiliation of a party-room vote. A few weeks later, Gillard decided to bring on the federal election which was due later in 2010.
Prior to calling the election, Gillard had sought to deal with some issues that were reflecting negatively on the government. An example was the arrival of would-be immigrants/refugees/asylum seekers on boats operated by ‘people smugglers’.
Gillard’s performance through this period gave every sign of being stage-managed and she seemed almost wooden at times. This pattern continued into the early weeks of the election campaign, much to the despair of Labor supporters such as me who were expecting a much stronger and, dare I say it, feistier display from a woman we knew to be intelligent, strong-minded and articulate.
Then, possibly in response to feedback from ‘focus groups’ or perhaps because Gillard herself had had enough of being micro-managed to within an inch of her life, whatever the reason, she let it be known at about the midpoint of the campaign that, henceforth, we would see the ‘real Julia’. That might have been a good move if she’d live up to her vow – I don’t recall there being much in the way of dramatic change – but it could also be turned to her disadvantage by mocking doubters and it was.
In the end, the election produced a hung parliament but, with sufficient support from independent MPs, Labor was able to cling to power with Gillard as Prime Minister. However, it would not take long for a reinvigorated opposition to find their destructive mojo, culminating in her being replaced by Kevin Rudd three years plus three days after she had replaced him. Rudd’s premiership soon reached its denouement when the Coalition won a decisive victory at the September 2013 election. Gillard had already left parliament; Rudd soon followed.
I often felt frustrated through those six years, both by Labor’s inconsistent performance and diabolical internal ructions and by the extent to which Abbott and his ilk were able to conduct themselves in an unprecedented no-depth-is-too-low manner without attracting much by way of rebuke from both the media and voter opinion.
Worse than that, I felt quite sad, sad for what had been lost. I believe Julia Gillard could have been an excellent national leader for an extended period – her illustrious post-politics career to date seems to bear that out – so I can’t help but wish that what she brought to the table on 9 October 2012 had been the rule rather than the exception.
It is widely accepted that one of the key factors in the May 2022 federal election result was the Coalition’s unwillingness, throughout its nine years in office, to take any meaningful action to reduce Australia’s contribution to the emissions that cause climate change. Even some in Coalition ranks have said as much, eg Simon Birmingham.
Not only did the Coalition lose seats to Labor and the Greens, they also lost a swag of seats to independent candidates who campaigned strongly on climate change.
So, you’d think there might have been a change of tune by now, as well as signs of an effort to bring the relevant policies up to scratch. I mean, it’s not rocket science, is it? Well, let’s look at where they stand, five months on from their electoral humiliation.
Firstly, they opposed legislation to enshrine Labor’s commitment to reduce emissions by 43% by 2030. Why? Because that wasn’t consistent with the policy they took to the election and they received nearly as many votes as the ALP. So there!
Subsequently, they have continued to bad-mouth renewable sources of energy, especially those that involve sun or wind. (They daren’t criticise hydro because they initiated Snowy 2.0. Sadly, that project seems to be treading water.)
However, Dutton and his team have been positive about one type of electricity generator – nuclear power. Commentators are mystified as to why they’d be pushing this barrow when all the available evidence is that it can’t compete with renewables, even when you add in the cost of battery and other types of storage. It might be a point of difference with Labor but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.
Just a couple of days ago, the opposition’s nuclear folly was joined by something even sillier. Responding to suggestions that the new Australian government will join more than 100 other nations by signing up for the Global Methane Pledge, the leader of the Nationals claimed that this would bring an end to the great Aussie BBQ and Dutton himself chimed in by saying it would lead to “a tax on cows”. Udderly laughable! (Methane released by cows and the like is a significant component of carbon emissions but work is progressing to reduce the volume through measures including dietary changes. Barbecued beef sausages will continue to be on sale outside Bunning’s stores for many years to come, not that I’m a fan!)
Beyond this pattern of opposing for opposing’s sake, it is possible to find some logic to Dutton’s approach to the energy/emissions nexus. As the estimable Katharine Murphy explained yesterday towards the end of her weekly round up of national politics for Guardian Australia, the opposition leader might be banking on two scenarios that, whilst being bad news for the country, would work to his advantage electorally.
The first scenario envisages Labor’s pledge to bring down the average cost of electricity through a massive boost to renewable power generation proving to be erroneous. The second, in part a factor in the first, is that Labor will fail to orchestrate all the infrastructure required to fully integrate the large, disparate renewable energy producers into the main grid system that supplies the main centres of population and industry outside Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
I have to admit that I believe the chance of these scenarios becoming reality is real; not likely but not impossible. Despite what the Greens would have you believe, Labor’s 43% emissions-reduction target is ambitious. The path to its achievement – preferably, its over-achievement – is not a done deal. This is the very worst of the legacy of the Morrison government and its predecessors – the situation is urgent and Labor begins from a long way behind after years of wilful neglect by the Coalition. So, hop in the electric ute – yes Virginia, they do exist – strap yourself in and hang on for a wild, if quiet ride.
One of the hottest topics on my Twitter timeline is biased media coverage of federal and state politics. I will confess that I have occasionally thrown a bit of wood on the raging fires of discontent myself, especially during this year’s federal election campaign. However, I do part company with some of my social media peers in relation to how politics is covered by the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, our independent, non-commercial, electronic media institution (for my non-Australian readers)).
Firstly, it is a given that the local outposts of the Murdoch media empire will be anti-Labor and anti-anything-progressive close to 100% of the time. And, yes, the former Fairfax publications – The Age et al – sometimes seem to less independent and impartial since they became part of the Nine Media group. However, I am very confident that these ‘legacy media’ wield much less influence on public opinion than was the case, say, 20 years ago. Activity on social media such as Twitter is a significant factor in that declining influence. Another is that the audience for some sections of the legacy media – The Australian newspaper is the exemplar – has shrivelled to the point where it largely comprises persons who already hold the same views as the biased journalists.
I have some friends who browse conservative media to keep up to date with what ‘the enemy’ is up to but not because they’re too worried about their impact. I’m sure there are still those who feel agitated by the latest brazen distortion of something a Labor government has done or said but, from what I read on Twitter, there are many more who ‘laugh in the face of danger’.
Now, back to the ABC’s political coverage.
First of all, I suspect a lot of people whose paths I cross have an expectation, a hope at the very least, that the ABC’s political coverage will somehow make up for all the bias spewed out by the Murdochs and their ilk. Well, that’s not going to fly because the ABC is obliged, within reason, to try to cater for Australians of all persuasions. And, in my limited experience to date, social media activists, taken as a whole, do a pretty good job of correcting the worst effects of the blatant bias of other media.
Then there is a view that, now we have a new government and, in our opinion, it’s a pretty good one, the ABC shouldn’t give representatives of the federal opposition anything like as much airtime as it gives to government members. Well, Australia is a democracy and, outside of Western Australia, is not a one-party state. So, the ABC is never going to behave like the government-controlled media in, say, Russia and China. Besides, on any given subject, the ABC can, and often does, bring in one or more expert commentators who are not politically aligned
And finally, there is the position which was expressed in this example from my timeline this morning:
“Michael Rowland says he can’t understand the reaction of social media to opposition ministers being interviewed on the ABC. I’ll tell you why, because they are never asked about the shocking damage they did to this country, never asked about rorts which may see some at ICAC.“
Well, at some point after the last election, some questions that seemed so important, say, four months ago, must lose their currency. Besides, we the voters retain our memory of the failings of the Morrison government and we use social media to keep those memories alive. And, soon enough, an independent national anti-corruption body will come into existence, with powers to probe that will far exceed those of even the most diligent investigative journalist.
My last word on this topic is this. I am more than happy for opposition shadow ministers to be interviewed by ABC journalists quite often. Why? Because the opposition has been reduced to a rabid rabble and pretty much every time one of their number speaks publicly, they remind us of how lucky we are that they’re no longer in power.
Since the welcome change of Australia’s federal government in May, few, if any, political topics have been written and spoken about more than what is known as ‘the stage 3 tax cuts’. With the new government scheduled to introduce its first budget on 25 October, discussion of those tax cuts has become quite febrile, amid heightened expectations of a definitive decision. Will they be dumped, or at least amended? Or will the government be too scared of an electoral backlash to break their pre-election promise to leave them in place?
The tax cuts were legislated in 2018 and are due to take effect in July 2024. There are two main reasons why, four years after they became law, there is so much interest in the fate of the tax cuts.
Firstly, the cuts will give a lot of financial benefit to a small number of Australians whose income is already very high, and much less benefit, on a pro rata basis, to Australians whose incomes are about average or less (see this report by The Australia Institute). This is not what a Labor government would normally aim to achieve; the opposite in fact.
Secondly, the fiscal and economic circumstances have deteriorated markedly since 2018. The new government inherited a massive debt from its predecessor, with little prospect of that being reduced significantly any time soon. So, the cost of the stage 3 tax cuts – more than $200 billion over the first decade – now looks foolishly profligate. Meanwhile, inflation and slow wage growth are combining to push more households into dire financial straits. To help rich people through tax cuts when so many other Australians need help just to put food on the table looks plain wrong.
So, why wouldn’t the new government use its imminent first budget to foreshadow legislation to rein in the cost and improve the fairness of the proposed tax cuts? I am just one of the majority of Australians who would welcome that. I am also one of many who began to believe as recently as last week that the move was on – I said as much to Maggie – only for the week to end with a definite ‘it’s not going to happen’ slap-down from the Prime Minister.
My disappointment was assuaged somewhat when I read Sean Kelly’s analysis of what took place over the course of last week, which he characterised as even longer than the proverbial week in politics. You can read his column, published in The Age newspaper, here.
One of the characteristics of our new government, one to which we are adjusting slowly but happily, is that most of its senior ministers speak about challenging topics in a way that is not designed to feed the unquenchable thirst of professional journalists for ‘sound bites’ on a daily basis.
The Treasurer, Mr Jim Chalmers, is the leading exponent of this approach, which is in stark contrast to how ministers in the Morrison government behaved. In the Treasurer’s case, he understands that, in order for the Labor Government to do all the things over the next few years that it believes are essential for the nation’s well-being, it will have to persuade a majority of Australians to accept the need for government revenue to increase. And that requires a sustained and disciplined conversational process.
So, it might have sounded like there was going to be a decision about those tax cuts but that wasn’t the point of him talking about the imminent budget in terms of being ‘responsible’ and ‘fair’, or mentioning the need for a conversation about how we pay for what we want. (I pause to note that many of those who appear on my Twitter timeline have been much quicker to recognise and accept the change in the manner of discourse. Hoo-bloody-ray we say!)
Anyway, back to the budget and those tax cuts.
There are at least two main ways of looking at a budget handed down by a government. Obviously, it is a statement of expected expenditure and revenue for a period of, typically one year plus four ‘out’ years. This includes the array of assumptions that underly the financials.
Secondly, the budget is a political statement. It purports to reflect and articulate the government’s priorities, both specifically and by the use of themes and catch-phrases. I have been well aware of this way of interpreting a budget since the late 1980s, when one of my jobs in the Premier’s Department of my then home state was to prepare booklets and newspaper inserts that waxed lyrical about the state budget’s many virtues (and studiously ignored its few shortcomings).
For a new government, especially one that attracted an historically low primary vote at the election, it is imperative that the positive political impact of its first budget is optimal. The last thing it wants to do is give its opponents, rabble that they are, an opportunity to score political points of their own – think ‘tax increases’ and ‘broken promises’ – and generally create a smokescreen to cloud the electorate’s view of the budget’s strengths.
That is not a good reason to avoid amending those tax cuts but it is a very good reason to defer that decision until a time that is more advantageous politically for Labor.
Unless the government ends up disappointing the likes of me, I intend this to be my last word on those tax cuts. Let’s talk about something else!
This is my very first blog post about a subject – Australian politics – that has, in fact, been a keen interest of mine since the late 1960s, ie more than 40 years before I established this blog in 2014 (312 posts and counting).
My political leanings have always been to the left of centre. Indeed, my family on my late father’s side has had much to do with the Australian Labor Party (ALP or Labor) since the 1940s. His father and mother were both Labor members of the Tasmanian parliament and he campaigned actively for the ALP at numerous state and federal elections. I myself was a Labor candidate twice in the early 1980s and subsequently served as Chief of Staff for a Labor Premier.
Although my political position has remained more or less constant, I have not been as politically active over the last 30 years. My involvement has been limited to short letters and comments on media websites and busy, low-level input on Twitter.
My desire to write more earnestly in this ‘space’ has been prompted by two main circumstances. Firstly, after decades of being an optimist, by nature and conviction, I feel very troubled about the state of affairs in my country and worried about the future well-being of so many Australians.
We have slid from being a country which valued a high degree of social and economic equality to one where inequalities in relation to health, education, housing, food and other essential goods and the ability to partake of entertainment, recreation and travel have risen sharply in recent years.
Our national response to the threat of climate change has been pitiful, in terms of both reduction of emissions and responding to the impacts of a dramatic escalation in extreme weather events. We are also facing an energy crisis brought on by a parallel failure to plan for and invest in the inevitable transition away from fossil fuels.
And two generations of Australians – the young and the aged – are facing dire consequences. The quality and quantity of care and accommodation for older Australians is declining at an alarming rate, while an unprecedented proportion of younger Australians might never be able to afford to purchase a home or even find a suitable one for rent at an affordable rate.
There are many other situations and trends that concern me but I’ll get to those as and when they prompt me to address them in a specific post. Enough of the sad, bad news for now.
The second reason why I want to give voice to my political opinions is the May 2022 election of a Labor Government at a federal level after nine years of conservative rule.
Now, I have always believed that you can’t have too much good government. By ‘good’ I mean responding effectively and efficiently to identified needs for government activity. What I hadn’t considered was the possibility of an abundance of bad government, which is what we have had at a national level under three different conservative prime ministers since 2013. This culminated in a regime, led by Scott Morrison from 2018-2022, that strived not to govern in any meaningful way.
With the election of the Labor team under Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, I do feel a smidgin of renewed optimism. However, they face so many challenges, not only with respect to implementation of their policies but also the work that has to be done to repair the institutions, staffing and processes of government.
The next few years could be, should be interesting, in a good way, and I’m keen to bear witness to what unfolds. So, I will follow this introductory post with regular posts about events or issues that particularly pique my interest in relation to the governing of Australia.
In the second half of our week in the Kimberley, we made a road trip, taking in three major Kimberley visitor attractions over three days. Our destinations were Geike Gorge, 20km north of Fitzroy Crossing; Bungle Bungle, in the far east of the region; and Mowanjum Art & Culture Centre, on the outskirts of Derby.
It takes four hours to drive from Broome to Fitzroy Crossing, a small town with a majority Aboriginal population, that sits beside the mighty Fitzroy River. For much of the time, the topography is a bit monotonous; even the termite mounds lose their lustre eventually. But when the Napier Range – a large section of a once vast Devonian barrier reef – comes into view, things start to become intriguing.
The Fitzroy River drains a vast catchment – more than 90,000 square kilometres – and most of it is located north of the Napier Range, which runs for about 100km in an east-west direction. The annual wet-season torrent of water in the river has, over millions of years, cut through the limestone that forms the range to create a gorge that is 8km long and lined by 60m-high walls.
The English colonists named the gorge after a leading British surveyor. The traditional owners of the area around Fitzroy Crossing, the Bunuba people, call the gorge ‘Danggu’, meaning ‘the area where water is very deep under the cave’. You can see why – even in the dry season, there is usually plenty of water in the gorge. And when we visited, it was not long after some unseasonal rain had topped up the water volume.
Soon after arriving in Fitzroy Crossing, we explored the gorge on a boat operated by a senior National Park ranger. Over the course of an hour, we saw numerous features of the gorge and the the ranger provided us a wide range of interesting information. The tour was not very expensive and was an outstanding experience.
Personally, I was sad to hear that another cruise option, operated by two Bunuba men, had fallen by the wayside due to the impact of the Covid pandemic on visitor numbers in the Kimberley. The ranger is training some younger locals who already work at the park but he’s not sure if they will take the step to replace him at the helm of the boat.
Here are some of the highlights from our tour.
Geike Gorge/Darnggu, with its year-round supply of fresh water, is home to a vast array of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, including freshwater crocodiles. This species is much smaller than the saltwater crocodile and, thankfully, has no interest in humans, nor other large animals, as a source of food. Sure, if you step on one or give it some other cause to feel threatened, it might give you a nasty bite. However, if you are sensible, it is quite safe to take a dip in the waters of the gorge. Trust me, I have done it, albeit more than 20 years ago!
We were up early the next morning, as we had another four-hour-drive to reach a helicopter that would take us over the Bungle Bungles. We drove east to Halls Creek – a town teeming with Indigenous people from several different language groups – and then north to a caravan park just along the road towards the National Park. You need a 4WD vehicle to go further, which is why we booked a flight.
The Bungle Bungles are in Purnululu NP. The traditional owners of the area are the Kija people. In Kija language, Purnululu means sandstone, the rock of the raised plateau. Bungle Bungle is from the Kija word for a cockroach that has an abdomen striped like the famous domes
The western wall of the plateau is largely protected from the erosion that is caused by sand blown on harsh, hot winds off the desert country that lies to the southeast. However, rain and heat from the sun do slowly convert lines of weakness in the sandstone into gorges of various shapes and extents throughout the plateau.
As our helicopter approached the eastern edge of the plateau, the stunning effect of 360 millions of years of erosion came into view.
It takes up to three hours to drive a 4WD vehicle from the highway to the west side of the plateau – the access road is rough and circuitous. Once you get there, you have access to camp sites and a series of walking trails.
Large, double-axle caravans aren’t allowed in the park because they cause too much damage to the road. However, the caravan park where the helicopter is based has plenty of room. Indeed, while we were waiting to board our scenic flight, at least six caravans arrived in less than half an hour.
We had another early start the next morning to begin our return journey back to Broome via the town of Derby, where the Mowanjum Art & Culture Centre is located.
The closed community of Mowanjum was formed by three distinct West Kimberley language groups in the 1950s. Mowanjum means ‘settled at last’, reflecting a history in which the three groups were obliged to relocate more than once during the years after they lost control of their traditional lands before coming together to forge a new history. You can learn more about their story here.
The community’s art & culture centre is probably the most important in Western Australia outside the Western Desert, due to the fact that the three language groups share custody of and responsibility for Wandjina law and iconography. Artworks produced according to this heritage are unlike any others by Indigenous Australians.
This website provides an excellent introduction to the Wandjina story, the elements of the art & culture centre and the festivals that are staged by the community for public viewing. During our time at the centre, we viewed an excellent video about Mowanjum; explored the extensive gallery of artworks for sale; and took in the excellent displays and information of the compact but comprehensive museum.
I don’t have any photos to share with you. Firstly, photography is not permitted in the gallery section – fair enough! And secondly, we were so enchanted by the other elements of the centre that we just forgot to click! Anyway, their website is full of colourful images for you to explore.
We flew home to Melbourne feeling both refreshed and stimulated by our week in the Kimberley. Our program of activities was rich and varied but not so crowded that we didn’t have time to relax by the pool at the Mangrove Hotel, take advantage of its excellent location and food & beverage service and stroll around the nearby town centre of Broome.
Depending on our travel priorities, we might not return to the Kimberley but we know that we would be more than satisfied if we did.