Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Summer Lovin', Happened So Fast

The television executives at SBS TV took a novel approach to programming this Summer. Drawing on the general understanding that the usual programming practice at this time of year is to show repeats of the-worst-British and American-sitcoms-ever**, they came up with a promotion that boasted ‘Thankfully, not everyone takes everything off over Summer’. I don’t know about the shot of the aging semi-clad woman—it seemed a bit uncalled for***—but it’s true that SBS has put on some remarkable television over the last couple of months.

I’ve always liked the way SBS creates themed programming over particular weeks or months. They might have a month of programming across various genres and formats that take as their subject AIDS or fatherhood or some other issue. In December, they had a series of programmes on globalisation. I’ve mentioned before a couple of documentary series that ran in this schedule.

Counter Culture was written and presented by Tyler Brûlé, the founder of the design magazine Wallpaper*, and looked at differences in retail culture around the world. Across the weeks the programmed considered retail in emerging capitalist economies, such as Russia. It stopped in Libya and Sweden (I missed that one). Then it moved from Italy, where the Slow movement was encouraging measured buying and personalised service, through to the retail takeovers occurring in the US, where traditional, family established department stores such as Marshall Field in Chicago were being absorbed into larger enterprises such as the Macy’s chain. I suppose the least familiar and, so, surprising retail culture to me was that of the Japanese. I had no idea they were the largest consumers of designer goods in the world and that companies like Versace and Louis Vuitton invested millions to create über-designed stores, all to ‘challenge’ the demanding Japanese consumer.

While I enjoyed Counter Culture for its nuanced exploration of the factors that characterise various retail cultures and consumerism, I was less enamoured of Decadence, which followed the Brûlé programme. Decadence was produced in Australia by Pria Viswalingam, who has previously presented documentary series on SBS, including A Fork In The Road. To my mind, the argument proposed in this series lacked subtlety. Perhaps the overstatement was an attempt to make sure the point was communicated. In my case I was put off by what seemed to be an extreme assertion, that wasn’t true a couple of centimetres below the surface. The suggestion was that the West was uniformly obsessed with material things at the expense of education, family, and spirituality. Of course, I don’t deny that many of our priorities need a good tweak, but the series seemed to be advocating quite conservative values, especially in its imagining of ‘religion’ and ‘family’. I recall walking away from the episode on religion. I did enjoy the discussion on education—even if I could detect a very strong English Men thread. In one of the better moments, Pria Viswalingam interviewed Graeme Turner in his capacity as a Fellow of the Australian Humanities Academy. He observed that we never know what kind of knowledge we will need, so to make decisions about funding education on the basis of what is explicitly utilitarian in the present is fatally short-sighted. Overall, Decadence seemed to idealise Eastern cultures, characterising them as having a somehow more authentic sense of family and spirituality than the West, which just isn’t true. We need only glance at the debates that rage in this country over family, religion and education; they are held as dear here as I’m sure they’re contested in the East. (And you just can’t blame Gretel Kileen and Big Brother for everything that’s wrong with society.)

There were some other one-off documentaries that screened as part of the globalisation focus.

Afghan Ladies’ Driving School told of former Taliban soldiers, who, since the fall of that regime, had become driving instructors. With Taliban law now rescinded, women could drive, so there was a decent business to be made in teaching them how to drive. This apparent volte-face was fascinating, and I suppose this is what piqued the documentary maker’s interest. In the end the film was as much about the film-maker’s presence as the curiosity of a former-Taliban-operated driving school teaching women. His presence, along, no doubt, with that of the camera, had the effect of smoothing the path of women as he and the camera operator followed them around. He noted at one point that, as a man, he was afforded every amenity and welcome, which in turn was extended to the women. It became clear that the women began to relax in his presence; they seemed to forget for a moment that they weren’t entitled to the privileges that men take for granted. In an extraordinary documentary moment, the women were laughing openly with the film-maker in the presence of the driving instructors, when one of them spoke sharply to the women, telling them (we learned in the subtitles) that they were behaving like animals; in a manner unbecoming to women. Here was the ‘enough rope’ moment, when the façade the men had put on for the cameras shattered. It was an appalling and brilliant moment; and to see those women go from carefree laughter to mute seriousness felt like a crack opening up to expose an unfathomable abyss.

Another documentary that began with an ostensibly humorous subject matter was Pickles. It followed a group of Arab Israeli widows who went into business together doing something they’d done all their lives, which is make vegetable pickles. This undertaking might seem ordinary in a Western society, but the documentary revealed that it was a veritable revolution that these widows went into business at all. There was some discussion by the women about the lowly status of widows in their society and the range of limits that were put on their behaviour, if not by physical force then certainly through social disapproval. The management structure of the women’s business was unique as far as I understand business practices. The chief executive position was shared amongst the women, each of them serving for a period of time. There was a major falling out with one of the women, because when she served as ceo she wasn’t terribly forthcoming with information on the finances. She was belligerent in her defence of her management methods, and she openly hoped the business would fail without her. Still, when her son died, the first people on her doorstep were her former business partners.

There were a lot of other wonderful aspects to this documentary, but even though it has already screened, I’m aware that I could be ‘spoiling’ the documentary for those of you who still hope to see it—not that anything will replace seeing it; I’m not talking a Crying Game level of spoiler here.

This post is becoming too long so, I’ll have to continue the SBS discussion in the next line of ‘Summer Lovin’’ tomorrow.

** What excuse can there be for My Family, The Worst Week of My Life, The King of Queens and ‘Til Death?

*** Here I might just mention the number of disrobed men I’ve seen walking the streets of Brisbane lately. It hasn’t been a pretty sight, believe me. It’s not often you find yourself wanting to lean out of a bus window and scream ‘Put your shirt on!’

* Ha! Nothing to explain here. That's how the title is written.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Had Me A Blast

Since next week is officially the start of Decent Quality Television and so the end of the much maligned season of Terrible Summer Television, I thought I’d look back on the Season That Was and pick out a few instances of Television That I Really Enjoyed over the last couple of months.

Yesterday’s post garnered me an invitation to join the American Idol Bloggers network. I like to think that said invitation was issued after they read my spirited defence of their favourite show against the sacrilegious element amongst Australian television editors and network programming executives, rather than due to a high ranking in the results of a Google search. (Please, let me maintain my delusion.)

Unfortunately, I’ve had to decline the Bloggers’ kind offer, not only because US Idol is far from being the main focus of this blog, but due to the lag between screenings in the States and here. It would only increase my frustration to be in regular communion with people who would have seen the next six episodes already. There’s no way there wouldn’t be spoilers on a minute to minute basis. And it’s difficult enough trying to remain insulated from the results of Reality TV in this era of the internet. I have to shut my eyes when I find links for the ‘Television’ list in the sidebar, there.

On three occasions so far, I have been singularly unsuccessful in shutting my eyes on time. The first was the series of Survivor where Aras won. I stopped watching, I was so disillusioned. I had no opinion about Aras one way or the other, so I wasn’t especially interested in seeing anyone get their come-uppance if they were only going to be defeated by him. Cirie was robbed, I tell you, robbed.

It was a different case about a month ago when I inadvertently spied a photo of the smiling Linz siblings on the Amazing Race website. I was happy they won—although I was initially barracking for the Gaghan family. I really wanted to see the Weaver family not win, because despite their constant accusations that the other teams were horrible to them, they managed to slip in a lot of unprovoked savagery towards the other teams themselves. I don’t think I’ve seen an entire family who is so completely lacking in self-awareness before, to say nothing of their total abdication of responsibility for their behaviour towards other living human beings. And to constantly be asking ‘Jesus Lord’ for assistance and ‘wisdom’ (!!) for things like finding the entrance to a stadium, just makes a mockery of faith as anything other than a justification for complete self-absorption.

Q: Ever wondered where God is in moments of humanitarian disaster?

A: He’s helping God-bothering Reality TV contestants get to the next round of the competition.

Another thing I discovered while trying not to look at the Amazing Race website was that another three seasons had already been made while we in Australia were watching The Amazing Race 8. Now that’s just ridiculous.

I also have to report that I know who’s won So You Think You Can Dance? I’ll keep watching because I love the dancing, but I do feel as though something is lost because the suspense of the uncertain outcome is just not there anymore. Dang!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Summer Lovin'

Since next week is officially the start of Decent Quality Television and so the end of the much maligned season of Terrible Summer Television, I thought I’d look back on the Season That Was and pick out a few instances of Television That I Really Enjoyed over the last couple of months.

I’ve just finished watching So You Think You Can Dance?, so, as it’s fresh in my mind, I’ll start with that first.

If you don’t know, So You Think You Can Dance? is a Reality TV programme by the same producers as American Idol. As the title suggests, it’s a dancing competition. The contestants audition as individual dancers, but throughout the competition they’re placed into partnerships. Over the weeks the couples have to dance a range of styles, from hip-hop to ball-room, Broadway to contemporary. It helps if the contestants get to dance styles they’re familiar with, but that is far from guaranteed. Since it’s Reality TV, there’s a phone voting component, and in the first weeks of the competition, the three contestants who received the least number of votes were required to do a solo performance, to ‘dance for their life’ in the competition. On the basis of their performance throughout the competition, the judges would determine which contestant of the three would leave.

The next part of the competition which started just last week, sees the couples split from their long term partner in the competition and draw a new partner every week. In this section the new couples have to learn two new partnered dance routines each week, as well as a solo routine, just in case they don’t get enough votes.

I’m not sure if Ten bought the series as it was screened in the US, but the first programmes that aired here were savagely edited, to the detriment of the contestants' character arcs and the overall narrative of the programme. It made for really unsatisfactory viewing, and whoever made those editing decisions seems to have little understanding of the appeal of Reality TV, which is all about the development of the ‘characters’, their trials, tribulations and triumphs, also known as ‘The Journey’.

It must be said here that Ten has made a similarly bad call with the most recent series of American Idol. Aside from shifting its timeslot from Sunday evening to Saturday, midday to two o’clock (without telling anyone, of course), what was initially three hours of television has been hacked down to one and a half. Of course, it’s dreadful. Of course, no-one will watch it. Again we encounter the Bizarre Logic of the television programming executive.

Now that there are fewer contestants in So You Think You Can Dance? it’s possible to get a much better sense of their personalities, their dancing, and the judges and audience’s responses to them and their performances. Last week, I believe I got chills from watching some of the dance routines. Not knowing much about dance myself, I didn’t really think that was possible. I know I’ve responded that way to singing, but I thought that was because you could feel the vibrations of the voices.

I think one of the really great things about So You Think You Can Dance? is that we see the contestants working with professional choreographers, who create the routines for the contestants. I enjoy seeing this glimpse into the routine and rigour of professional dancing. The choreographers also take stints as judges on weeks when they’re not working with the contestants directly. This makes for a rotating panel of judges, with the only constant from week to week being Nigel Lythgoe, the executive producer (also of American Idol, I might add).

Lythgoe seems to have created a constructive and respectful judging atmosphere. He, himself, is always honest; if he’s critical he’s constructive, but when he enjoys the performance and the choreography, he says so, and you don’t doubt his sincerity. I think perhaps it’s this paying of professional respect that makes me enjoy this programme so much. It’s wonderful to see that when the choreographers are judges, the way they compliment the choreography of their colleagues, who, of course, are sitting in the audience watching their protégés. It’s especially great when the choreographer in question gets to his or her feet to applaud the dancers. They don’t do that lightly, so it’s an enormous compliment, and the dancers know that.

Next week, I see that in their Infinite Wisdom, Ten has decided to push So You Think You Can Dance? back to nine o’clock to make way for the premiere of the new season of The Biggest Loser. I’ve got nothing against TBL, but it’s not my cup tea. I wish Ten would just stick with the existing 7.30pm Sunday timeslot for So You Think You Can Dance?. But perhaps Ten is aiming for a result similar to that mentioned by Nigel in tonight’s episode. He mentioned that the previous episode had been the most TIVOed programme in America the week before. Since So You Think You Can Dance? won’t finish until 11 pm on a school night next week, it’s more than likely I will be leading the charge in the TIVO stakes. ( If that’s the same as recording to a DVD hard drive?)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Paper Folding For Beginners

In response to an earlier post, 'Pretty', about the paper in an origami calender I bought, Mark Lawrence wondered if I was going to post any of the results of my new hobby. I assured him it was more than likely. I need no excuse to get my camera out and start blogging; getting a request to do just that merely encourages me.

January 1: A Nightingale

So, for Mark and his wife, who has also started origami recently, and their son, who helped with the important task of selecting an origami book for his mum, here is the first week of the 2007origami calendar sculptures as folded by me. (Of course, I hope everyone else likes them too!)

January 2: A Dog's Head

Already, I can see why wet orgami was developed. I did a bit of reading and discovered that wet origami allows for more sculpting of shapes, in addition to folding. I can feel my need for perfectionism creeping in, because I've decided that some of the shapes don't resemble what they're supposed to, to the extent that I would like.

But I'm certain that thought is against the ethos of origami, which must surely be about learning precise folding techniques first. And patience.

January 3: A Penguin

I got quite enthused when I saw there was a penguin to make. When my brother got married, one of the things I did with my family while we were in Melbourne was view the penguin parade on Philip Island. My niece called the fairy penguins, 'pengins', which made the whole experience even more delightful. This pengin is for Hannah.

January 4: A Sled

This sled can be for Lucy Pig Puppet, who admired the origami paper too. The weather is more appropriate for a sled where she is in the US, certainly more than in these subtropical climes where it's way to hot and humid. I didn't quite capture the soft lilac of the paper in the photo for this sculpture, unfortunately.

January 5 & 6: A Cupboard Base & A House

One of the things I've learnt about origami is that most of the sculptures start out with what's known as a base. There are a number of different kinds of bases. The cupboard base, shown under the house here (not very well), is formed by folding a square in half, opening it out, then folding the outer edges to the centre crease so you're left with a kind of cupboard. The house sculpture starts with this base.

Another base I've used to this point is the scarf base, which is just a square folded in half, along the diagonal line, to form a triangle, or a scarf shape. The calendar has a series of very helpful cards that detail these bases along with some other frequent folds. These guides help keep the instructions for each sculpture to a minimum.

January 7: A Bench

I like this bench as much as a photograph as I do as a piece of origami. I've always liked photographs with a shallow depth of field, but I tend to struggle to take very effective photos of this kind on my camera. I think I managed it much better in this instance than I have on other occasions. I guess I'll have plenty of opportunity to experiment further on this, because there will be more origami photos.

Consider yourself forewarned etc.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Take Me To The River

This past weekend I took myself to the river to photograph and review the newly open green bridge that links the University of Queensland with Dutton Park.

When I was leaving work one day, I came across a touch screen at the bus stop, and realised that there was more to this convenient new transport option than I had previously thought: there was poetry and music too.

For many more photos--although it must be said only a fraction of the number I took on my two and a half hour exploration--head on over to Sarsaparilla.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Spruce Goose

A guest post by Lucius Goose, a resident of the UQ Lakes

Today, I was minding my own business, getting myself ready for a busy week of picnic marauding ahead.

I was grooming myself, so I looked my best—de-fleaed and fluff-a-honk-a-licious—because those human beings tend to be more generous with the breadcrumbs and other lunch time morsels when my feathers are snowy and smooth.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a human girl with a camera, which she was pointing my way.

I tried to ignore her, pretend she wasn’t there, because, like, “I’m having a bath here, pervette!”

Still, paparazzi girl, wouldn’t go away, no matter what unco-operative position I contorted myself into. Sigh!

There was only one thing to do...

The prima donna pose: Yee-ahh!

That’s it, be-yatch! Photo time is over. Next time it'll cost you a cupcake. Ho-o-o-nk!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Erté and Byron

Moonlight (Erté 1984)


SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that 's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

(Lord Byron 1814)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Gastropod: Rocket

I’ve written before about those times when you get to the end of the day and discover that you haven’t managed to consume anywhere near the recommended daily servings of vegetables (I never have any trouble with the fruit quota, indeed, self-restraint is always required). I hear that for a lot of people, who, like me, ‘have no reason to be alive’*, cooking at the end of the day is a nigh on unendurable chore, a time of day when all pretence of self-care and worth is dropped into a toaster and served with baked beans. Well, aside from noting that baked beans are pretty good for you, even I, food obsessed that I am, have lived through such times—although I tended to stir my self-worth into tinned soup, because even toast was too much effort.

What I hadn’t discovered then was the virtue of rocket (arugula), that peppery, green, salad leaf that has risen from its humble beginnings as a roadside weed, to become the darling of the fine dining set, held aloft by prime rib fillet, truffles and other founding members of the ingredients elite. Lately, the towers of rocket may have slipped from their privileged positions in esteemed restaurants, to be replaced by... well, I wouldn’t know ... but now we, home cooks, with only ourselves to please, can celebrate its simple genius.

Rocket Engineering **

The night before last, I made myself a tuna pasta, and topped the whole dish with a big handful of rocket, lightly tossed in some extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. The rocket wilted slightly with the heat of the pasta, but that only assisted in stirring it through the rest of the dish, which made eating it more manageable. Divine.

The beauty of rocket is that I can imagine topping a serving of baked beans on toast with it. It would be perfect on melted cheese on toast too, another preparation which suffers from too little in the way of vegetables. You don’t have to go to the effort of making a marinated mushroom, roast capsicum, and fetta pizza to make the most of rocket.

But if you have some less than perfect mushrooms and a beginning-to-shrivel red capsicum that shouldn’t be wasted, you might like to.

And that’s only a pita bread pizza base I’ve used there.

I think I can declare that Cooking for One, Tip #2 is: Embrace the virtuosity of pita bread. I’m thinking pizza bases; dipping bread or chips, if you toast it in the oven first; pan fried sandwiches; the more traditional use as a wrap for falafel and salads, meat if you’re anaemic, left-overs (hey, that chicken saffron dish would be aw-right in a pita bread) ...

* From lyric of ‘Far Away’ by Martha Wainwright: “I have no children. I have no husband. I have no reason to be alive. Oh give me one.” I must admit I can only read that ironically if I ignore the later part: “Whatever happened to us all? Annie had two young baby boys. And Jimmy went crazy crazy crazy late last fall.”

** You know that pun is the only reason I decided to post on Rocket. 'Arugula' seems lacking on that score, doesn't it?

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Last year, I think I mentioned that I had started to make some Origami. When it was time to choose a new desktop calendar, I decided upon one that offered an Origami project for every day of the year, thinking it would be ideal for a beginner (some of this Origami is quite difficult).

Each page of the calendar has instructions for an Origami project on one side, and is coloured, sometimes patterned, on the other. The idea is that you save the piece of paper from the day before to use for the following day's folding.

It's a wonderful idea, but, as a guide to Origami, the calendar has presented me with something of a dilemma. The trouble is that I would like to keep the Origami instructions for future reference so I can repeat the projects and so build up my skills. At first I thought I would keep the calendar in tact and just use other paper. But then I saw the paper.

There are such nice colours and patterns amongst the sheets; colours and patterns that would make for perfectly decorated Origami objects. And I think they're just pleasing to look at first thing in the morning when I flip the calendar over to a new day.

After I made a nightingale on the first of January, I also discovered that the paper folds very easily; it stays firm and makes very sharp fold lines, which is the exact quality you want in Origami (at my level).

I've been holding off on folding any of the other pages until I remembered to photocopy the instructions of at least the first month of 2007. I did that photocopying today, and while I was around the office equipment at work, I decided I would scan some of my favourite patterns from January, so you could look at them, and maybe feel all lovely too.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

La Famiglia III


My brother, S, has recently launched a photography career, so he tends to carry some expensive equipment with him when he travels. He would never leave his camera equipment and laptop at home in Melbourne while he was away, and not simply because he always likes to be prepared to take advantage of any photo opportunities; he is concerned that someone might break into his home and steal the tools of his trade. At face value, I don’t think that’s a completely unreasonable concern: such equipment is expensive and portable, an ideal target for anyone who makes a living by breaking and entering. Still, while it would undoubtedly be distressing and inconvenient to have those things stolen, between insurance and taking the precaution of backing up files, it wouldn’t be an irredeemable loss.

After listening to him a bit more over the course of his recent visit, however, I said to him, amazed, ‘You live your life in constant fear. How can you stand it? It sounds exhausting.’ After a moment of reflection, he replied, ‘You’re right, you know?’ But whether that recognition lead to any epiphany that would lessen his constant vigilance, I don’t know.

I’m not even sure whether ‘vigilance’ is the right word to describe the starting point from which S and I. approach their daily lives. In a way not dissimilar to V’s fears about the potential for significant social strife, it borders on a kind of paranoia about what might happen, based on stereo-typed perceptions about various groups of people and the inhabitants of particular suburbs.

(Here, I have to pause and wonder as I recall Tim Sterne’s frustration with one of his relative's comments over Christmas about the ruin of Box Hill, because you don’t see any ‘Australians’, only Asians, there any more. The irony here, is that my brother is probably one of those apparently few ‘Australians’ Tim’s relative has sighted in that suburb. There he’d be, sitting, having dinner with his Chinese-Malaysian wife, hoeing into some kind of savoury pancake that he’s addicted to, oblivious to the ‘roon’ of Box Hill all around him.)

When S and I. were visiting over Christmas, they stayed with my mother who lives half-way between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. S expressed some concern about catching the train into Brisbane, where he wanted to take some photos of the cityscape. They would have had to travel through a number of suburbs that are always being mentioned in current affairs programmes as hotbeds of crime. Since it’s current affairs, the crimes are usually by groups of racialised youths, and I can only conclude that S imagined them boarding the train and breaking his very tight grip on his camera equipment. He said that Melbourne had ‘gangs’, and I asked, ‘What, like New York gangs?’

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this train of thought. I suppose I was struck by the extent to which scenarios were always being imagined where some threat to property needed to be guarded against. Another example is when both S and I. expressed horror that my mother hadn’t changed the locks on her house when she’d first bought it, because you never know what previous occupant might have kept a spare set of keys with the expressed intention of returning to steal from subsequent owners.

I’m trying to figure out whether I’m not treating these kind of fears with sufficient gravity. Is there an actual basis for these alarmist imaginings? I know that I am less concerned about threats to property—not really having any—but perhaps there are some parallels to the way I think about my personal safety (a topic on which I also received advice from my brother). I know that partly in response to an earlier series of posts I did, ‘The Public Transport Diaries’, Oanh from Halfway Between Ca Mau and Sai Gon noted the extent to which women, compared to men, took precautions against the possibility of assault. At the moment in Brisbane, this is not entirely in the realm of the imagination, the police are actively investigating a series of assaults against women that have occurred on bikeways and footpaths over the last eighteen months. Aside from the assumption that any attacker would likely be male, I haven’t identified any characteristics of that person/s much beyond that. I wouldn’t not catch a train on the basis that I might be attacked. I would catch the train and find the car with the security guards and sit there. When I alighted the train, or more likely a bus, I would look around me while walking and avoid any darkened areas. I have been known to walk in the middle of the road at night, so I’m not close to any darkened alleyways or alcoves. I’d rather be hit by a car than assaulted, but really, it’s not that difficult to get out of the way of an oncoming car and resuming your course after it’s gone.

I don’t know. It just seems to me to be such an exhausting way of being in the world, constantly attributing the rest of humanity with bad intentions, and letting that circumscribe your life. I wonder what would happen if we thought that people were basically good and that when an individual’s actions belied that it was an exception that proved the rule? That one action by one person did not condemn the whole social/ethnic/gender/age group he or she was from?

I don’t know.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

La Famiglia II


A couple of days before Christmas, I had an argument with my sister, V. It began soon after she asked me what I thought about the Howard government’s introduction of a test to determine whether those seeking Australian citizenship are sufficiently versed in the history and language of Australia and the apparently common values of its present citizens. My first response was that I’m not sure whether most present citizens of Australia, myself included, would pass such an examination. I elaborated, that as a way to ensure social harmony, since that is the stated goal of the test, it was a decidedly flawed idea.

I argued that the test assumes that people making the major decision to become Australian citizens are not already interested in finding out about the country of which they wish to be a part. It strikes me as a strange premise from which to begin assessing those who want to make their lives here. Why mark the beginning of the application process with such a divisive and damaging accusation of disinterest? Isn’t an application for citizenship an unequivocal expression of interest in Australia? It concerns me that as a people we can’t identify (empathise?) with those who want to be Australian citizens’ desire to belong to a relatively peaceful and democratic society. Isn’t that much of what is being expressed when an application for Australian citizenship is lodged? Where does the notion that applicants are not interested in Australia in any meaningful way arise? For what nefarious purpose do we imagine the applicants want to become Australian citizens?

V countered with the evidence that there are many migrants who have been in Australia for many years and still do not speak English. I’m convinced that this ‘evidence’ has been sourced from A Current Affair or Today Tonight, where one or two instances of something are invariably and dishonestly inflated to become a pervasive state of emergency. If someone doesn’t speak English in a country where the official language is English, then I imagine that it’s more of a problem for them than for the maintenance of social order. I think it would be beneficial to know English, so that social isolation might be avoided—if that’s an issue, which it can be—and I imagine it would be infinitely easier to do your shopping, pay your bills and complain to your local, state and federal government authorities with English than without it.

V then cited the Cronulla riots, saying quite strongly that ‘Something has to be done!’ This startled me, because as a statement, it was infused with such fear. She was obviously quite frightened, and she elaborated, envisaging that Australia would become like the UK, which, drawing from her experience of living in London for six years, she characterised as a society rife with racially motivated violence.

By this time, we had both accused one another of speaking disrespectfully to the other, and I was ready to drop the whole thing.

It isn’t that I don’t share my sister’s fear about the prospect of a violent society, and it turns out that she isn’t convinced of the efficacy of the proposed citizenship test either, but she would accept it as the start of measures to ensure a peaceful society, it would be ‘something’, whereas I think, as I indicated above, that such a test is premised on an uncharitable vision of those seeking a life in Australia, one that places them in an untenable position of having to prove themselves to an unforgiving audience. I’m not sure that placed in such a position myself I wouldn’t be seething resentment at having to constantly prove my allegiance. I would be more than surly if I was constantly found inadequate as an Australian. Is it any surprise that anger boils over in the face of such harsh judgement; anger and its expression through violence that itself is interpreted as irredeemable evidence of an Un-Australian character?

My mother has often told stories of feeling unwelcome in the years since our migration to Australia on account of her British-ness. To this day, she remains sensitive to being called a ‘pom’, because in the mining and resource towns we lived in for many years, she reports that it was directed towards her in its pejorative sense. She is also incensed when people correct her pronunciation, which she attributes to her West Midlands accent, rather than ignorance. There are many issues at work in my mother’s experience of migration that I wouldn’t want to discount: it must have been overwhelming to move away from established support networks of friends and family to the other side of the world with three children under the age of five. Still, as migrants, the British were wooed by the Australian government of the day. Virtually free passage eased the economic burden, and while the charge of ‘whingeing pom’ may have smarted, certainly no person of English extraction was being accused of not sharing Australian values and so destroying the fabric of Australian society.

The other aspect of my family’s migration that I can’t forget amidst the whole debate that my sister raised, is that we left England in response to my father’s fears about the influx of immigrants to that country, especially from the West Indies. Now that I’ve chosen to research in the field of Cultural Studies, I often pause to reflect on the irony that I was born in the very year, in the very place, that Stuart Hall assumed the directorship of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. And within a year, my father had ushered his family away from what he perceived to be a disintegrating society to one where the substance of the White Australia Policy was still celebrated, if not officially sanctioned.

I mentioned this, what I consider to be a shameful reason for our immigration, to my sister, and she retorted that our parents had wanted a better life for us. I can’t argue that moving to Australia didn’t afford us better opportunities than might have a been available to a tool-maker’s family in Birmingham. Still, while I’m aware that those same opportunities weren’t available to everyone, I can’t celebrate the fact of our comparatively comfortable lives uncritically. (Just this year, I attended a class, where a fellow PhD student related the story of his father’s unsuccessful attempts to migrate to Australia from Fiji, just a few years before my family moved. His father migrated to the UK.)

In an attempt to calm the waters between my sister and I, I told her about a Christmas card I had received from another office-mate of mine. Quite frankly, I was surprised to receive a card from J, because she is Muslim. And you know, I really don’t care about getting Christmas cards, being a heathen and all. In discussion with D, who had also received a card from J, we concluded that she had wanted to acknowledge that Christmas was a significant celebration in Australia, and she didn’t really know either of us well enough to know that she wouldn’t be hurting our feelings by not acknowledging it. J’s gesture was very kind and we took it in that vein. To my disappointment, V nodded approvingly and took it as evidence that J was making an effort to share our values. I began to say, ‘but she doesn’t want to move to Australia permanently, she’s studying here...’, and no doubt I would have gone into a rant about what a ridiculous thing this whole expectation that everyone from non-Christian, non-Anglo origins should constantly perform their allegiance to Australia, in an attempt to satisfy those who will never be convinced. But I didn’t.

To be continued...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Goodness! I've just had to walk away from watching Decadance*. I couldn't stand all that doom and gloom about the decline of Western civilisation anymore. What's with the easy equation where buying stuff=spiritually bereft? I rather enjoyed touring Japan with Tyler Brule.

Before Men In Trees starts, I am soliciting suggestions as to how I might get Maeve O'Meara's job.

I'd be that happy too, if I got to taste everything she did tonight. Fig Loukamades with Raspberry Syrup! Groan. If I don't win that gourmet tour to Vietnam, I'll be miffed.

* See sidebar for links to all shows mentioned (Decadence and Tyler Brule are accessible through 'Globalisation')

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

La Famiglia

My family is not an especially close one. Part of the reason for this is that my immediate family migrated to Australia from the UK very early in my life, and so there has never been an extended family network in easy proximity to celebrate special occasions, much less have casual visits with or share baby sitting duties. But even if we had remained in the UK, it isn’t certain that the sense of family would have been much stronger. Perhaps on my mother’s side, I would have grown up knowing my grandparents and my aunt and uncle, even had the opportunity to fuss over my younger cousin when he was born. On my father’s side, however, the disconnection would likely have remained the same. His family was a mangle of half-siblings and transient father-figures, which he distanced himself from as much as possible, evidenced most clearly in his decision to move his own family to Australia.

I’m mentioning this history now for several reasons. The first is the last minute decision by my brother, S, and his wife, I, to visit Brisbane from Melbourne for a week over Christmas. The second is the recent return to Brisbane from Toowoomba of my sister, F’s family (including the adorable Hannah). There has been a glut of family interaction over the Christmas and New Year period, which may not be unusual for most, but after a conversation I had with D, one of my office-mates, just before Christmas, I have concluded that it is unusual for my family. After some expert questioning from D, I told her the story of my family and she expressed mystification about the apparent lack of bonding between the members of my family. To some extent I agree with her observation, especially when I think of the parent-children bonds. Between the siblings, however, there are some strong bonds, although certainly not between all of us.

At any rate, the time spent with the various members of my family over this holiday period provided the opportunity for me to find out some more things about them. Whether this will effect the forging of stronger bonds between us is not likely, for the examples I’m about to relate are not really flattering. I suppose they’re things I’ve discovered over the last few days that mystified me and I need to express them to understand them as part of me or else conclude that there is some merit in the cabbage-patch theory of reproduction.

We were half-watching the news one evening, when it was reported that Saddam Hussein had been sentenced to death and so would be hanged. My mother responded with a jubilant cheer. I was surprised. I asked her if she was for the death penalty. She said she was for some people. I expressed my puzzlement because I had spoken to my sister F, who is Christian—born-again, like my mother—about the subject of the death penalty before. F had been quite adamant that anyone who was a Christian would be against the death penalty, if only on the grounds that it is for God to decide who lives and dies, not human beings or the governments, democratic or otherwise, of which they are a part.

When I’d had that conversation with F, I had also expressed surprise. At the time I was thinking about George W. Bush, who has often spoken about his faith in Jesus Christ, and the stance of his administration on the death penalty when he was the Governor of Texas. I’m sure I read something somewhere that credited his leadership as one that presided over a record number of state-sponsored executions in the US. I seem to recall that F made a disapproving moue and questioned the authenticity of Bush’s Christianity. I don’t know about any deficit of authenticity, but perhaps it isn’t too much of a stretch to suggest that Bush has Christian fundamentalist leanings, along with those who are prepared to kill because they are against abortion.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that my mother has some sympathy with George W. Bush, she has always been conservative in her politics, but I thought, perhaps naïvely, that her conversion to Christianity would somehow temper those more extreme political views, which have allowed her to express views about various groups of people, that just shock me with their intolerance. I thought that maybe she would at least ask herself in a non-ironic, Christian Socialist sense, ‘What would Jesus do?’.

To Be Continued...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Starting With Dessert

I've got a couple of fairly serious posts in the works. I'm having my usual anxieties about how revealing they are, not just about the people I mention in them, but, you know whether or not they offer irrefutable evidence that I actually am a terrible, self-indulgent, narcissist. I'm not sure that this post will counter those last two charges, but I'm offering it as a kind of sweetner so that it might mitigate the first charge--a bit.

Over Christmas and the New Year, I spent time with family and friends, and these are some things that made me laugh:

1. My niece's parents, my sister, F, and my brother-in-law, J, are practising Christians. As such, they have sent Hannah to a Christian kindergarten where she learned what is known as the Superman Grace. She likes to get her mother to promise that she can lead grace at meal times on family occasions. I found a copy of it online:

(tune of Superman -- da, da-da, da da-da-da-da)

Thank you Lord, for giving us food
(actions: standing, then crouch [thank you Lord] and raise right arm overhead as you stand [for giving us food])
Thank you Lord, for giving us food
(actions: same as above only raise left arm this time)
For the food we eat
(actions: standing with both arms over head, sway to the left)
For the friends we meet
(actions: standing with both arms over head, sway to the right)
Thank you Lord, for giving us food!
(actions: standing, then crouch [thank you Lord] and raise both arms over head as you stand [for giving us food])
Hannah delivers it with such adorable enthusiasm and, of course, all the adults, whether Christian or not, are obliged to join in. I do the actions for Hannah, but tend not to sing, because I would feel like a hypocrite since I'm not of the God-fearing persuasion.

On New Year's Eve, however, I found myself telling some friends about it. I managed to remember the words and the actions--although I delivered them sitting down. The trouble with the Superman theme is that it's quite catchy. It can be difficult to get out of your head, and when you've had a few melon flavoured sparkling wines, you might start to think of other lyrics to the prayer. Maybe something like:

Thank you Lord, for giving us booze
Thank you Lord, for giving us booze

For sparkling wine
For Vodka Cruisers

Thank you Lord, for giving us booze!
Yes, it's true, I will be going to Hell.

2. My brother, S, and his wife, I., made a fairly last minute decision to visit Brisbane from Melbourne over Christmas. I love the way the two of them interact. There is such warmth and laughter and appreciation for one another between them. I really enjoy I.'s company and she is a bit of a puzzle fiend like myself. Between us we have accomplished the seemingly impossible task of converting S to Scrabble. He has always said he doesn't have much of a vocabulary. I don't really like that he puts himself down about it so much, and whenever he used a more complex word in his speech, which he does often enough, I joined in with I. to say he might want to use that word in Scrabble. Soon we had him jokingly admitting that it had been his excuse for not playing Scrabble with I., which was a good sign that he's beginning to believe he's not a dunce. (He's never been a dunce; he was subject to a lot of unhelpful and negative bullying around his academic achievement or lack thereof, which made him believe he was.)

Anyway, I. is also a fan of Sudoku, which I'd recently down-loaded to my phone. There's a whole spiel here about how I find it, and Scrabble, relaxing, because I can feel that both games seem to use another part of my brain than I usually use in my academic work. Anyway, I. liked this idea, and said to S that they'd have to download an electronic version of the game when they got home.

She said that she wanted to prevent the onset of Alzheimer's Disease, so she could continue to nag him well into their nineties.

3. The last moment of hilarity occurred in the wee hours of New Year's Day morning. I was playing The Margaret and David's At The Movies Boardgame (I know, I know. I am such a party animal) with friends. I had a serious case of the hiccups, which is always an unfortunate thing when you've had a few drinks. There is no way you can convince anyone you're not drunk, but rather that you breathed the wrong way when you were ingesting a rice cracker while talking and messed up the proper functioning of your diaphragm. No one wants to hear that boring, but perfectly physiollogically sound explanation amidst New Year's celebrations.

The hiccups had been going on for a while and the usual cures had been discussed and passed over, when one of my friends turned to me and said, 'Did you hear that George W. Bush will be serving another term?' I looked at her quizzically, all the while thinking, but isn't he midway through serving his second term? It isn't possible for him to serve a third is it? Another friend at the table had been going through the same thought process, when the friend who had made this bizarre claim, said 'Did that frighten you?'.

I don't know if you'll find that as funny in translation as I did, but the timing was perfect, as was the choosing of the threat of an additional four years of George W. at the helm of the world as something sufficiently frightening to scare the hiccups out of me. I swear I laughed for five minutes, paused for a breath, and then proceed to laugh for another five. I laughed 'til I truly hurt, long after the hiccups had disappeared.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

All Together Now

My household appliances have horned in on the spirit-of-the-end-of-year-season action by taking the moment to collectively give up the ghost. Within a relatively short period of time my mishmash of second and third-hand-me-downs all thought to declare that it was ‘Out with the old!’, forcing me to join in a chorus of ‘In with the new!’

First it was the micro-stereo that I inherited from my sister about 15 years ago. In truth the CD player on that gave up many years ago (twice, even, since I had it repaired once), but the DVR had been doing a nice job on that score, along with the CD-ROM drive of my computer. But then the radio died too, and while I’m not a radio listener at all, I like the thought that one day I could grow up to become a Radio National listener, and as an old Brownie and Girl Guide, I always like to be prepared for any eventuality.

The limited options for playing CDs diminished even further when I started having difficulties with my DVR (neither second-hand nor inherited, I might point out). First it became rather recalcitrant in its recording duties, leading to many disappointing moments of randomly pixelated, frozen and unwatchable television programmes. (I suspect I demanded too much of it. It rarely had a day off from recording.) It still played purchased DVDs though, and, mercifully, CDs as well. But then it stopped playing CDs and I had no option but to play them on the computer which is in another room, away from where I usually like to listen to music. In order to hear the audio from the preferred room, I had to turn it up to a level that I think was a bit too loud for the neighbours in the adjacent rooms. Not that they said anything, but playing loud and, therefore, disturbing music is not something I want to make a habit of. Some people will do crazy things when subjected to the tortuous thump-thump-thump of a repetitive bass at 3am.

The next appliance on the Last Hurrah Tour™ was the microwave. It would count as an heirloom if it had been passed on within a family structure, but my sister—not the one who gave me the stereo—was gifted it by a couple she used to nanny for, just before she got married eleven years ago. I’m not sure how old it was when F first got it, but it’s large in the way that early models of computers and mobile phones were large when they were first invented. And it has a gorgeous, faux wood veneer that they just don’t make now in this era of stainless steel. Technically this appliance still works, if you don’t count the fact that the turntable no longer turns while it’s in operation, resulting in overcooked patches in your re-heated food, unless you open the door every 30 seconds to reposition the plate or container. I don’t even want to think about radiation leakage. My brother-in-law, who co-gifted the microwave to me, says that just because a microwave is old doesn’t mean it leaks, which is quite different to the advice I received while chatting with the administrative staff at work.

The award for the most dramatic exit by an ailing appliance goes to the vacuum cleaner. It was overwhelmed mid-performance when I was vacuuming my floor free of the hair that I seem to moult relentlessly. I knew the burning smell and wheezing noise weren’t on account of any strenuous effort on my part. I turned it off straight away and haven’t been game enough to switch it back on. I bought it from a friend, who bought it from his parents, for the princely sum of $50, and I tend to think that if I had been a more avid cleaner, it would have expired long before now, so I guess I’m grateful that it lasted as long as it did.

Since Christmas, I have breathlessly transferred a genuinely princely sum (for me) from my carefully accrued savings account to my spending account, and acquired the first new vacuum cleaner I’ve ever bought in my life. I feel rather arrested in my development that I can say the same thing about a microwave oven and a (mini-) stereo too. I’m sure most people purchase these everyday items sometime in their mid-twenties, don’t they?

Now, of course, I have the problem of what to do with the old appliances. On the new stereo speakers there’s a diagram of a Wheelie bin in a circle with a cross through it, suggesting that it might not be a good idea to discard the old ones in that way either. Whatever happened to the kerbside large rubbish collection? If I recall properly, my neighbourhood hasn’t had one of those collections in quite a few years. How can somebody who lives in the inner city, who doesn’t have a car, get rid of old appliances? I’ll ring the council. Unless of course there are any old appliance collectors out there who would like to come and take the microwave off my hands for their collections?