Thursday, September 30, 2010


The Oberammergau passion play (about the crucifixion of Jesus) is the last of the Medieval passion plays. They were once common but even in Oberammergau the play is now put on only once every ten years. So it is of course a great and famous cultural event.

And 2010 is one of the years that it is performed. And knowing how much Anne likes such things, I would not have been able to rest easily on my deathbed if I had not sent Anne to see it this year. I wrote her a cheque that made it possible.

Below is her comment on what she saw:

"What a magnificent show! Perfectly done and just the grandest occasion. A large choir, orchestra, wonderful props and costuming and a great story. I just loved it... Thank you so much. I have bought a book and a CD which I think you will enjoy. 400 in the audience and not a spare seat. And they came from all over the world. I followed the English translation all the way using my trusty torch for the last 3 hour session. The weather has been great and even though I took lots of warm clothes to wear only 2 layers were needed."

While Anne was in Bayern ("Bavaria" to the English) she also saw Neuschwanstein and Cosi fan tutti (by Mozart) at the Bayerische Staatsoper so she made good use of her time in Germany.

Her comment on what she saw at the Staatsoper:

"The opera was great. I went in early to find the place as I have found finding the entrance to these places can be tricky. I had dinner and a beer over the road.... traditionally Bavarian of course and then wandered over. I had read the full libretto in the morning and just took the synopsis with me. Was a beautiful opera with all the cast having great voices. Female conductor who also played the harpsichord. The venue was just magnificent..... similar in the theatre to the one in Paris. I was impressed with the velvet on the hand rails."

Seeing one of Mozart's most marvellous operas in Muenchen was actually an unusually good opportunity. Bavarians and Austrians are quite closely related and speak much the same Southern German dialect so Mozart's thinking would have been very easily followed there.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A small anecdote and some reflections on race and culture

A few days ago I went in to a private hospital to get my hearing tested and a hearing-aid prescribed. I've already got one plastic eye lens so a computerized ear comes next! That's aging for you.

Greenslopes private hospital does however have one of those murderous automated car-parks. You have to deal with a machine to get in and out. And it is not easy. I got so frazzled trying to get the machine to let me out that I left all the documentation from the audiologist on top of the machine concerned and ended up driving home without it.

It was only when I got home that I realized that I did not have my receipt etc. So what did I do? One thing I was NOT going to do was negotiate that accursed car-park machine again. So I just thought to myself that some kind person would find my documentation and take it to the audiologists -- who would return it to me. And that is exactly what happened. I received it in the mail today.

Now isn't that nice to live in a largeish city and still get treated with village courtesy? But it is no coincidence. I find that my fellow Anglo/European-Australians are generally like that: Good kind people.

And that largely happens because the Australian population is still overwhelmingly white. You would have to go to Eastern Europe to find a whiter country.

The most recent figures  I can find show that Australians are 70% Anglo-Celtic, 18% European and 5% East Asian, with most of the latter being Han Chinese racially. The balance are mainly Indians Pakistanis and Arabs, with Africans less than 1%.

Now it does of course sound racially bigoted to attribute Australia's friendly civility to race but it is in fact mainstream sociology. Robert Putnam in particular is known for his studies of racial homogeneity. Sociologists are almost universally Left-leaning and Putnam is too -- but he was man enough to publish his findings (after some hesitation) even though they did not suit him ideologically.

What he found was that people who live in racially mixed neighbourhoods (he is American so that means neighbourhoods with a lot of blacks or Hispanics in addition to whites) were much more likely to keep to themselves. They stayed home at night a lot more, for instance. Racial admixture killed community feeling, to put it bluntly.

Fortunately Australia has largely escaped that. Until recently our population had ancestry that was almost exclusively from Europe or the British Isles. And regardless of whether your origins were Lithuanian, Irish, Italian, German or English, we all saw one another as simply Australian. Ancestry made no difference in most cases.

In more recent years, however, Australia HAS acquired one largeish "minority": East Asians, mostly Han Chinese -- now about 5% of our population. But the Han are admirable people. They are in general quiet, peaceful, patient, intelligent, hard-working people who strive to get on well with everybody. So they fit in very well and do nothing to cause anyone to stay home at night. So even though they have disrupted Australia's racial homogeneity, they have, if anything, enhanced its social harmony.

So it was no accident that some kind person returned my papers. It is what happens in a society where people are in general kind to one another because they can identify with one another and sympathize with one another.

But all silver linings have a dark cloud and Australia has recently acquired one of those too. Australia has in recent years accepted a considerable number of African "refugees" and they already figure prominently in crime . Sad that they may destroy the remarkable and valuable harmony that Australia still has.

Mind you, Australia's native blacks -- Aborigines -- are not bad people. They often live in appalling squalor but they mostly keep to themselves and are undoubtedly one of the most polite populations on earth. They also have an excellent sense of humour and some perceptual abilities that are quite eerie at times. But alcohol is their great downfall. The lady in my life -- Anne -- knows them particularly well and has great affection for them -- something that I understand.

They are actually extraordinarily sociable people -- which is why it is so effective when they "sing" transgressors among them. The transgressor dies of grief.

Much to learn of human diversity. And shrieks of "racism" when it is discussed come only from fools or the ill-intentioned.


With my permission, David at Majority Rights has posted there an "amped-up" version of this post in which he says more about the social science involved.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Travellers night

I put on a small discussion night last night for the recently returned travellers, Paul Susan and Ken. Jenny also joined us. The idea was to add a bit of background to things that the travellers had seen.

I shouted curry and champagne for the gathering and Susan brought along her latest creation -- a torte that even a Yiddisher Momma would have found entirely acceptable for her Kaffee Klatsch.

I talked initially about the UK being in fact a DISunited Kingdom and the conversation went on from there. Nobody knew what a Cockney really was and the West Lothian question was also a mystery. I dispelled both mysteries, remarking along the way that the people born within earshot of the bells of St. Mary le Bow are in fact most likely to be of Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin these days.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A small memorial to "Bluey" Ray

Frank Ray with my wife Joy

My father's real name was Frank Edward Ray but only my mother and his kids called him "Frank". To everyone else he was "Blue" or "Bluey" -- because he had red hair -- a feat of logic that you may have to be British or Australian to understand.

His religion was work -- hard manual work -- and he did that throughout his life. He started out cutting down forest trees for the sawmills -- with an AXE and crosscut saw -- long before chainsaws were heard of. And he also was a cane-cutter in his younger days. He would come home "as black as a n*gger" from that work -- as sugarcane was burnt before harvesting in those days,

But in his later years be worked in the tallow rendering section of the Queerah meatworks outside Cairns. He used his very developed biceps to move around 44 gallon of drums of tallow -- a job in which he seemed to be much appreciated by his employers. And if you have ever tried to move a 44 gallon drum of anything (usually motor fuel) you will know how heavy they are. And when filled with a dense material like tallow (rendered-down animal fat) they are REALLY heavy. But he would have enjoyed that challenge.

I also remember him while I was just a kid sharpening and "setting" his crosscut saws -- something that was part of his trade as a "timber feller" (lumberjack). He would be out in the bush during the week and come home for the weekend. And that was saw sharpening time.

He also had an old .22 rifle. He said that where he was camped out in the bush he could hear crocodiles roaring -- so he was definitely wary of them. What good a .22 would do in an encounter with a croc I do not know. If you were a good shot it might help, I suppose. But I remember him buying bullets off "Thompson" (the Stratford store keeper) as a prelude to a trip.

My brother still has the .22 concerned. If I ever had to deal with crocs, I would want a .50 cal sniper rifle for the purpose -- though I suppose an old .303 might also be useful enough (and a lot more available).

And, as I think I have mentioned before, Frank was a "king hitter". The biceps developed through many years working as an axeman were very handy for flattening anybody who disrespected him. He once hit a man so hard that he broke his hand. He did have a short temper. I remember his flashing blue eyes when he was annoyed. Though he never laid a finger on any of his family and was a real gentleman unless provoked. How can eyes flash? I don't know. But his did somehow.

I am sad that my father is no longer among us. He was a man of his time but was perhaps the better man for that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Red hair

There is a lighthearted article in the Emerald City rag about red hair. The female writer says being a redhead is only a minor bother to her but some redheads get a bit disgruntled. Excerpt:

"I think I have suffered enough for my colouring," wrote one woman, who noted she had occasionally been asked if the carpet matched the drapes. "I don't think my own government should contribute to the belittling of a minority."

The carpet DOES match the drapes in my experience!

I have brown hair (now grey) but I claim associate membership of the red hair club on the basis that my father had red hair and my son has a red beard. My first girlfriend was a redhead, the first lady I lived with was a redhead and I have twice married redheaded ladies! So I am comfortably ensconced in my genetic niche, it would seem. I am always delighted to see redheaded children about the place.

England would seem to be the only place where there is actual prejudice against redheads, probably because they associate it with the Irish and the Scots. Old enmities linger on.


I should have mentioned that in my youth I did myself actually have some red hairs in my beard (all now gone white). So I am not only an associate member of the red hair club but am also to a very marginal degree an actual member of it!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Judith Middleton

This is just a small and disorganized memoir of a lady of whom I still think highly. Jude was the lady in my life before Anne. A curious thing about her was that she was what American sociologists call a "skidder" -- someone who moved during her life from the middle class to the working class.

Her father was a successful Melbourne businessman who sent both his daughters to Melbourne MLC (Methodist Ladies College) so she had just about the best education money can buy. MLC ladies acquire an accent, attitude and manners that enable them to glide easily into the "best" circles of English society.

An educated Australian accent is in any case pretty close to RP (Received pronunciation: The accent taught in British "public" [meaning "private"!] schools) and at MLC and other Melbourne private schools that accent is refined even more towards an English upper class standard. And Judy's sister did make that transition -- marrying a rich Englishman.

Judy however is a born rebel and all middle class values were not for her. She looked with horror at the middle class life that lay before her and wanted out. So she left school as soon as she could, took a humble job and never wanted anything more.

Mind you, she was very good at accents and could slip into a very good facsimile of RP if ever she wanted to. Though she normally spoke with a fairly broad Australian accent.

Another curious thing that quite stunned me was the effect of shoes on how she presented. I have never understood the way women collect shoes but Judy gave me at least a hint of it. She normally wore very flat shoes and in such shoes looked like the hippy she is. She just had to put on heels, however, and she immediately became a lady. Amazing. She is quite a pretty girl so that had something to do with it but I doubt that I will ever understand it fully.

And it was of course she who looked after her father in his final years. I am pleased to have known her.


I know this is completely mad but I thought I might note another way in which Judith seemed to me to be something of a chameleon.

Optometrists make a great play of spectacles being some sort of fashion statement and it is undoubtedly true that different spectacles do somehow seem to convey different images of the person. And Judith's choice in spectacles did somehow convey the impression of a Melbourne Lady to me. She could be sitting in bed with her specs on talking on the phone and I definitely got the impression of being in the presence of a Melbourne Lady.

It was for a few moments almost like being in the company of the ultimate Melbourne Lady -- the redoubtable Susan Rossiter/Peacock/Sangster/Renouf -- a lady who definitely cut a swathe through her social circle in her time -- but in the nicest possible way, of course. No wonder Barry Humphries found/finds his native Melbourne infinitely amusing. Perhaps Jude was well out of it.

Addendum 2

I suppose this post is getting a bit discursive but maybe memoirs tend to be like that.

As I said, Jude was NOT a Melbourne Lady (and didn't want to be) but she did fleetingly remind me of where she came from occasionally. There was in fact another lady in my life who reminded me of Susan Rossiter/Peacock/Sangster/Renouf quite strongly: Jennifer Warner Wilson. And she was a Sydney lady rather than a Melbourne one. Jenny was a lecturer in Social Work at the Uni. of NSW while I was a lecturer in Sociology there. So we were formally well suited to one-another. She is a fine woman (do I ever get involved with any other?) and we got on well in lots of ways.

And she was demure and feminine but also with quiet assurance and a strong eye -- things that I see in Susan Rossiter (etc). I liked her confidence. Did she go to a private school? I don't remember but probably.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lunch with Simon and Tracy

My sendoff for Simon in connection with his recent deployment to Afghanistan was a bit of a mess as I was too ill at the time to attend it. But a good time was had by all who were healthy enough to attend so when Simon got back to Australia recently, he and Tracy were kind enough to invite Anne and myself to a roast dinner at around midday last Sunday.

Simon is a talented cook as well as his many other virtues so he served up a feast.

One thing I particularly liked is that Dan and Becky ("the kids") joined us at the table and to a degree took part in the conversation.

Simon was in great form so our conversation covered a wide range -- from Jeremy Bentham to Julia Gillard. I was a bit surprised by Simon's wide reading. It would normally be only academics who had heard of Bentham (the "father" of utilitarianism in moral philosophy) but senior members of the military are often well-read and Simon is obviously one of those.

An exceptionally pleasant afternoon.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A welcome home night

On Saturday 5th I hosted a welcome home dinner at my usual Indian restaurant in Stone's Corner (the "Bollywood") for Paul and Sue after their 3 month world cruise. They got off the ship in Sydney on Friday 3rd so I left them a little time to to get a breather.

Ken and Maureen had also returned from a month of cruising around the Mediterranean a few days earlier so it was a welcome home for them too

We had a good turnout with 15 of us present. Suzy couldn't come because baby Sahara was ill so she sent her apologies at the last moment.

The conversation never stopped but I as usual spent most time talking to Joe and Paul: my "boys". They are both grown men by now but old guys like me are allowed to live in the past. I mostly talked to Joe about his academic activities and to Paul about the conclusions he had drawn from his trip. A pic of the occasion below. I'm not in it, thank goodness.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The clock in my head

I have in my head something which is, I think, exclusive to people of Northern European ancestry: A clock.

It is a clock which has both conscious and unconscious components -- and even works in my sleep. For instance, I wake up most mornings pretty well on the dot of 7am -- Sometimes literally on the dot of 7am. These days I mostly just look blearily at the clock and turn over and go back to sleep but 7am was once my getting-up time and my subconscious still thinks it is.

Another interesting example was when I booked my car in for servicing with Dieter, an old friend who also is my mechanic: He keeps my cars on the road. Dieter is German (as the name implies) and I told him that I would bring the car over at "about" 8am. I of course arrived on the dot of 8am and there was Dieter waiting in the driveway with his arms folded -- waiting for me. We understood one-another. Neither of us are in fact in any ancestral way Prussian but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. And there was a second occasion quite recently, when I said to Dieter that I would bring the Humber over for servicing at "about" 9am. I of course arrived on the dot and, as I arrived, Dieter had just completed the preparations he needed to deal with the servicing concerned.

There are many examples of this unconscious clock (Could I make it work deliberately? Perhaps not) but the most recent example is quite eerie. These days I buy a lot of frozen dinners that just need 5 minutes in the microwave to produce a very acceptable dinner at the end of it.

So I put on the dinner in the microwave and set it for 5 minutes. I then leave the kitchen and return to my computer at the other end of the house. After a while on the computer, however, I feel that my frozen dinner should be just about cooked so I get up to go and check it. And as I walk towards the kitchen what I often hear is the last chirp of the microwave announcing the end of its program. In other words, I go and get my dinner at exactly the right SECOND!

Even I am amazed.