Lazing into a Christmas in Sydney

SYDNEY, Dec. 26 – On Christmas Eve it was quiet in the streets of Woolloomooloo, an inner suburb here. A Catholic church nestled at the end of a line of terraces on a back street had a small notice pinned to its front sign: Christmas Mass, 9am.


The solved question of biography

     CANBERRA, October 15. – I’m regularly faced with a dilemma. What should I write in my social media and internet biographies considering I’m fifteen and haven’t really done much?

The return of the combined masthead?

     CANBERRA, October 14. – Sixty-nine years ago this week Sydney was in the midst of a large newspaper strike. Four Sydney dailies – The Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph, The Sun and The Daily Mirror – printed combined issues as printers and journalists went on strike, demanding better pay and four weeks annual holiday.

The eleven newspapers, apart from the highly unusual feature of  four mastheads on the front page, rely mainly on copy taken straight from the wires, most the Australian Associated Press; they were produced with few people, little resources and appear to be assembled to a simple, repetitive formula.


A defence of socks and sandals

     CANBERRA, October 11. – Last night I couldn’t go to sleep. So I rolled onto my side and, while still in bed, opened my door just enough to put my sandals outside of my room. The plan was for their irreverent pong to go with them.

Today I had a different plan from the very beginning.



     CANBERRA, October 10. – There are just some things which are irritating. Most of them can’t be avoided, but they can be compiled into lists to share the irritating pleasure.

Immunisation: the effect of choice

     CANBERRA, October 10. – The Daily Telegraph in Sydney editorialised yesterday about the need for parents to stop turning down vaccinations for their children. It is a part of their campaign to make childhood vaccinations all but compulsory.

I don’t find myself doing this very often, but I’m mostly siding with the Tele on this one.


Sperry, the Split-Brain and the Perception of Consciousness

In a notebook Roger Walcott Sperry kept during the first semester of a university unit on psychology, he wrote: “Where does behaviour come from? What is the purpose of consciousness?” His work with split-brain patients did not answer either question, but it subsequently affected the way people thought about consciousness.


Brace Yourself

I sat writhing in pain as the realisation dawned on me that my Hollywood career would be over before it even began. Before I had even dreamed about it. Because no one wants an assistant director’s assistant’s delegator’s coffee stirrer with braces.

O! helpless, merciless life! O! painful hypodermic needle entering  my gum! O! the self esteem of yet another teenager dashed upon the rocks of vanity and societal pressures! O! misfortune and genetics, leaving me with shoddy teeth! O! the absence of justice!

As each component of the “appliance” was attached into place my Hollywood hopes kept sliding further and further down the small spitting basin at the side of the dentist’s chair.

The only hope that remained of my Hollywood career was playing a superhero. The 64,000-dollar man would be apt, because that’s about how much it cost to put them in – but pudgy, red headed teenagers aren’t the ideal candidates for those roles. No, I’d have to be an underdog, an experiment gone wrong. I would rise up as the hero of the film. I would save the day. And then I would disappear off into the clich├ęd sunset as a recluse, the hideous, rusted metal in my mouth off-putting to even the most liberal and forward thinking.

And then another one of those needles goes in and I forget about any dreams; smashes or otherwise. It’s long, sharp and bloody hurts. I didn’t know this was going to be happening; it’s a surprise sprung upon my at the last minute once I’m comfortable in the medieval torture chamber’s chair. Although, I have to say, it is possibly the most hygienic medieval torture chamber you’ve ever seen. There’s even Radio National Breakfast playing in the background, the announcer cheerfully unaware of the horrors I’m going through.

Presently, two teeth are removed. They didn’t tell me that was going to happen; only at the last minute, “And by the way, we’re just going to pop these two teeth out…” Pop isn’t quite the word I’d use.

I leave after an hour and a half unable to talk, two cotton wads shoved under numbed and rubbery lips. I’m sure onlookers can think of only one word to describe what I’ve been through: torture.


Gerald Murnane, “The Plains”, and the Australian landscape

Gerald Murnane is a widely travelled writer who rarely leaves Victoria, and who has never travelled in an aeroplane. His short novel, The Plains, first published in 1982, describes the Australian landscape in a haunting and mesmerizing way. Murnane’s novel has described the indescribable about the land, which slowly unravels to reveal his deep and grounded understanding of the nature of the Australian landscape.

The Plains opens with an unnamed narrator telling us about his journey to the plains. He tells us that he stopped when he thought that he had come far enough, after noticing distinct styles of dress and speech, noticeably different from what is, in the novel, called Outer Australia—civilisation around the coast. He also tells us that he is always on the lookout for “anything in the landscape ... [seeming] to hint at some elaborate meaning behind appearances.” (Murnane, p.1).

The narrator is a film maker, who is looking to capture the meaning, the essence of the plains on film, in a way that doesn’t leave anything out and pleases the plainsmen. He soon finds a patron in one of the wealthy land-owners and continues to work on his copious notes and endless research.

The film maker tries for year after year to work out how he can best capture the plains, how he can best show the subtleties of understanding that the plainsmen and himself share. He ponders which lens to use, and which angle to shoot from. But he can’t nut it out. Always something isn’t quite right; there is always something missing that he can’t quite put his finger on.

He’s missing the completeness of the nature of the plains, and he knows that. But he doesn’t know how to pin down the nature of the plains. He might work some it out, and pin that down, but there is always something just out reach. The film maker speculates, but can’t capture the encompassing completeness.

“You can never get to the end of a bit of country you love.”

—Les Murray

The film maker can’t get to the end of the plains, no one can. Yet he would have to if he wanted to make his film. The plains extend off into the distance unending and ever compelling; driving some forward and keeping others in their place—on their plain. The plains can’t be captured and explained because the plainsmen and the film maker will never get to the end of them, they stretch forever forwards as a hazy, captivating mirage. They are deeply grounded—absolutely in love—in their own plain.

Gerald Murnane imagines his Australian landscapes. He has never been to see them, but his writing reveals them as though he had set up shop and was describing the view in front of him. Murnane doesn’t need to travel, because he does it in his mind. It is a deep understanding of country and a burning desire to express it that drives writers to write. The landscape has a profound effect on writers, and this is especially profound in Australia—vast, open, isolating.

Murnane is grounded in Australia and his country expands beyond the physical experiences most of us are limited to.

The Plains has a large, flowing streak of isolation. The plainsmen are isolated, and they thrive on it. Their country is isolating, it is what marks them as different from Outer Australia. That’s what they cling to, it’s their livelihood, it’s who they are.

Gerald Murnane, at home in country Victoria, is isolated too. Australia, but its nature is isolating. The very fact that Murnane hasn’t seen most of this country proves it.

There’s something we all share, all of us who are grounded in Australia, but we can’t share it, we don’t know how. By saying it can’t be explained, Murnane manages to unearth it in each reader’s mind.

“Not only my years of reading but my long conversations with plainsmen ... assure me that people here conceive of a lifetime as one sort of plain.”

The Plains, p. 114, Gerald Murnane.

The “metaphors” of The Plains isn’t only applied to the interior of Australia, not just the whole country—but the whole of life’s existence. The Plains shows how culture is difficult to map, customs are hard to catalogue, and the nature and its effect on the landscape in which we live can’t be measured. It shows us that while expression of these things is difficult, understanding is not and it is often universal amongst those grounded in it. It also shows us that the landscape of our mind and the physical landscape are one.

“I told them a story almost devoid of events or achievements. Outsiders would have made little of it, but the plainsmen understood.”

The Plains, p. 11, Gerald Murnane

Gerald Murnane’s life is devoid of events or achievements when it comes to travel, and many, like the Outsiders mentioned above, would make nothing of a life spent stationary. They would question, with half interest, why Murnane chooses to stay at home when he could see the world and travel.

The reason is that he doesn’t have to. He is there, and he travels with his writing—those grounded and those who have an understanding of deep country will understand. Others may not.

The Plains speak on two different levels—the level of landscape and the level of the mind and existence. The mind and the land become one; what one thinks of the land is their land, that’s the intertwined connection between the two.

The Plains’ film maker fails to make his film, conceding that he will never expose celluloid to light in a controlled darkened box. Yet he is content, pleased almost. The film maker is completely taken by the nature of the plains, and is wholly in love with them. He knows that he won’t ever get to the end of them and that his film will never be made because it isn’t possible to. His greatest achievement, it seems, might also be his biggest failure. He fails to make a film, but he understands country.

Murnane’s landscapes are realistic and dense—their complexity makes them vivid. Within them you can see your own landscape, landscapes not yet thought of and landscapes that are themselves metaphors. It makes The Plains concisely broad, and every word is reaffirmed as being a part of a complex masterpiece.

Murnane, G., 2012, The Plains, Text Publishing Company, Melbourne.


A Younger World

Everyone says that the world is getting smaller, but it is also getting younger.

No longer do you have to have age on your side, you don’t have to have maturity that comes with years, and you don’t even have to have a fully developed brain. Teenagers, much to the disgust of the older generations, are inheriting the earth. No longer is age required to “make it”, or crack “the big time”.

Just last week, Nick D’Aloisio sold his app, Summly, to Yahoo! for a price that had enough zeroes to make anyone weak at the knees. This isn’t particularly interesting, until you reveal that Mr D’Aloisio is 17. In interviews with leading newspapers from around the world he said his investors, or business partners – including Ashton Kutcher, Rupert Murdoch, Stephen Fry and Li Ka-Shing – didn’t really mind that he was “only 17”; he had the brain, and the idea, and that was all that mattered.

No longer are we teenagers bound to going to school and then on to university if we want to make it and crack the big time. We can achieve it with a good idea and and a computer in our bedroom.

The idea of a “Younger World” does come with its risks. We need to be careful that we don’t become ignorant of experience earnt through age, and maturity that also comes with years and life experience. But if we teenagers keep our heads switched on and respect our elders’ advice, it will make for some exciting times.

Scarily, we’ll be able to challenge the establishment in more obvious ways. We’ll be able to expose our new, young ideas with great ease. Far from challenging the establishment, we may well be able to become part of it.

It gives us greater power and the ability to position ourselves in the world earlier than generations past. We just need to remember to be careful – and then get on with being creative and leaving our mark on the world.

The 21st Century is the Asian Century


This essay was written in September 2012, and there may be elements in it which have dated already. The main points, however, stand true.

It seems certain that many governments around the world are positive that it is no longer a question of whether it is the Asian century or whether it is not, it seems to them that it is a question of how do we prepare. The Australian Government has commissioned a White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century, due to be released later this year. The United States appears to realise too that the twenty first century is the Asian Century, illustrated in US President Obama’s speech to the Australian Parliament last year (Obama, 2011). The West relies on Asia for almost all of its electronic devices, a reliance that is helping to prevent Asia from going backwards in economic growth.

Questions are raised as Asia grows. China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate, for example, was 3.3 times larger than the US’ in 2011 (Fedec and Sousa, c. 2012). Will traditional alliances between countries remain the same, or will changes be made? Security, too, for many countries is at the front of their minds as Asia spends more and more on their defence forces and nuclear weapons’ programs; possibly soft politics on Asia’s part. Will Asia rise to the top peacefully, or does mild unrest in the region at the moment suggest that it won’t be as pacific as the name of the ocean next to it?

As Asia grows they are looking to expand. Private companies and consortiums are buying foreign farm land in capitalist ventures. Foreign investment in Australia continues to grow, and we question whether we should sit back and let this happen. If we do stop it will we just be getting in the way of progress and the full force of the inevitable Asian Century?

In a speech to the Australian House of Representatives, US President Barack Obama said that “Here among close friends I would like to address the larger purpose of my visit to this region: our efforts to advance security, prosperity and human dignity across the Asia-Pacific. … [In the] United States [we] are turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia-Pacific region” (2011, p 12847). This suggests that the US looks to possibly exploit what Asia, as it grows, has to offer. Perhaps, too, it suggests that US is the largest debtor nation (CNBC.com, c 2012). It suggests also that the US is still trying to cling to the prosperity and power that it enjoyed during the twentieth century. In April last year, in The Economist newspaper, an editorial appeared suggesting that Mr Obama was trying to maintain America’s economic position so that it could out-compete China and Asia to remain the dominant world power (The Economist, 2011). This all suggests that America is refusing to accept that they’re losing to Asia, but are trying to make out that in fact they do accept shift.

A Western reliance on Asian manufactured electronic goods is starting to benefit the country of origin. The Asian companies that make the electronics that we here in the West all like to have, make astronomical amounts of money. During the global financial crisis most of us would have bought some electronics, and Asia remained strong through this period.

While governments are perhaps in denial of an Asian Century the media is not. In a recent television broadcast of sci-fi classic, the BBC’s Doctor Who, an Indian space agency was featured prominently. In the story, this space agency— obviously made out to be a spoof of the USA’s NASA—had control of missiles to prevent an alien space craft from crashing into earth. This story-line was set in the future, but not a long way off. It can easily be read as a suggestion that the US is no longer going to be the leader in space exploration and space control. In real life

the Indian space agency has been around since the beginning of the Russian-US space-race, but have you heard of it? Has it featured prominently on global media? Did they land on the moon? No. But the allusion to India as a leading power in space in fiction, suggests that their current activities are going to get them there.

In Australia our culture is currently most controlled by the US. Will an increasingly Asian dominated century change that? Elisabeth Tarica has said in the Melbourne Age newspaper that business leaders and academics have long pushed for increased Asian language study (Tarica, 2011). Currently a predominantly monolingual society (Tarica, 2011), a move to a more multilingual society would suggest a move in our cultural influences. The US too seems also to be a mostly single-language speaking nation. If we do move to a multilingual society speaking Asian languages, it suggests that Asia’s cultural influence has gained and surpassed the level of America’s. Speaking an Asian language would be a hallmark of an Asian Century.

The GFC hit the West hard, partly because that’s where it originated. China, and the rest of Asia were less affected by this downturn, which was confined largely to Europe, and their GDP in fact grew in 2009; the US’s GDP did not grow in this same period (Sedghi, 2012). Growth in this area of the world goes to further suggest that the Asian Century is nigh, or has in fact begun. Growth in this difficult period highlights that Asia can, and most likely will perform; that they can grow and that they can become world dominant.

It may be thought that the Asian Century is a return to power, a power that it enjoyed before colonisation. In the 1700s, about sixty per cent of world economic production came from Asia (Irvine, 2012). This figure declined for eighty years, but since 1950, has continued to grow (Australian Government, 2012). This growth continues into the twenty first century, as the West’s world output continues to dwindle. The ability to say that a century belongs to any one nation, or groups of nations has only come about with full exploration of the globe, and a global economy. Centuries ago, when China and Asia were inventing paper and at the forefront of science, the Westerners—those who happen to write most of our history books—didn’t have a clue what was going on in the East. It didn’t matter that the East could well have been outstripping the West, the writers of history of the East didn’t know, so could quite happily say that the West was “the world leader”, something especially easy to say when the West is considered to be the whole world. Even though the West is still writing histories, they can’t really turn a blind eye to what is going on in the East anymore. They have to take notice or risk being called idiots. Now that Asia is coming back as a power, after shutting themselves away for many years from the rest of the world, we can see that they’re a world leader, and can be a world leader. And we can see that they’re becoming a world leader once more.

Traditionally Australia has been an ally to America; the most noted example is the Vietnam War. America started it and Australia joined despite public backlash. Now, however, China is also our friend. If America went to war with China, whose side are we on? If we’re against China we’re against nuclear weapons. If we’re against America we’re against nuclear weapons. We’re in a peculiar pickle if the situation does arise. As Asia becomes the world leader in this, the Asian Century, will they do it peacefully?

As I write Pakistan is witnessing violent protests over a video made in America that mocks the prophet Mohammed. Unrest in this way could lead to violence in Asia—home to a hoard of nuclear weapons. Violence in Asia might mean that America, as it is known to do, goes in to fight an unwinnable war in an attempt to control the place. If they do that we have to choose where we stand; do we do a Switzerland and just defend our borders, or do we side with someone? Presently, there are US troops up in the top end of Australia (Obama, 2011). If a nasty little war breaks out with an Asian country we’ll most likely side with our good friends in America. We will then be up against the dominant world power in this century, a dominant world power with immense defence spending budgets. For example, in 2011 China spent around 92 billion US dollars on defence, and most people know that they have nuclear weapons. The Americans spent around

684 million US dollars in 2009 on defence (Department of Defense US, 2009), but remember, they’re currently fighting in wars. China is not. China is spending money that it has. America is spending money that it doesn’t have. This just suggests that Asia’s military interests all around staple them at the top of the world’s page.

Recently, Cubbie Station—the largest privately owned irrigation property in the Southern Hemisphere—was sold to a consortium, the largest stakeholder in which is Chinese (Swan, 2012). Asia has the resources to expand into other countries, and if other countries are letting them do that then they’re riding down easy street to being world dominant. Not only will they buy Australian Cotton, but they’ll own the land that it is grown on. In a recent self-published magazine, Dick Smith shows us that many of our food companies are foreign owned. Among them are Dairy Farmers, owned by a Japanese company, Sunbeam, owned by the Chinese, and Safcol, owned by the Malaysians (2011). If Asian companies are smart enough to buy our companies and make a profit, helping their local economies, then we’re heading towards an age of Asian control, we’re heading towards and Asian century.

As the West dwindles amid economic uncertainty and continues to rely on Asian electronics to run their consumer lifestyles, the Asians will come out on top. The Chinese, Japanese, Indians; there are the world policy makers of the future. Their increasing control in countries other than their own shows that they will become the ones that the West answers to. The West might struggle to cling to power, but they must concede defeat in the face of a new time. A new time that will have benefits, especially for Asia, but will also have downsides, of which are unavoidable. It is a time of change. The East holds dear that the only constant in the world is change, and it needs to be the West that realises the change is in the direction of the Asian Century. The Asian Century is the twenty first century.


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Black Tea: making a single good cup – a “how to” guide

The brewing of tea is both an art and a science. George Orwell presented us with his own eleven golden rules, and much scientific study has been applied to the addition of boiling or near boiling water to dried leaves which have been transported thousands of kilometres. People become passionate and worked up about their tea-brewing methods, but in essence the addition to leaves of water is a simple act, which, if done properly, will yield good results every time.

It must be noted that there are very few detailed recipes that have been published for simple, old-fashioned tea. Orwell’s rules are in a class of their own. Not even Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts, boasting recipes for 316 “tantalizing” food recipes and 608 “Esquire-tested drinks” contains any mention of tea (Esquire, 1953). The “Every-day Cook-book and Enyclopedia of Practical Recipes”, by Miss E. Neill has only eleven brief lines on the making of tea, despite boasting to be “economical, reliable and excellent” (Neill, 1889). It is as though it is assumed the knowledge of tea is common, and it doesn’t have to be written about.

This essay deals only with the preparation of black tea, as the preparation for green tea is slightly different. Both teas come from the same plant—the difference lies in the processing of the leaves (Martin, 2007). However, black tea is what many refer to as “normal tea” (Faubert, 2009). Ms Neill, in her “Every-day Cook-book and Enyclopedia of Practical Recipes”, says that preparing black and green tea is the same (1889), however, this is not true. When preparing green tea, the water is not boiled, and only heated to around 80 degrees Celsius before being added to the leaves (How to Make Green Tea, 2011). Black tea is my personal preference, and these are instructions for its preparation.

I employ the aid of a modern convenience: the tea-bag. Orwell declared that there should be, “No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea” (Orwell, 1946), however the modern tea-bag isn’t a sickly, dripping muslin bag, but a device that can be relied upon to make tea brewing clean, simple and still produce good results.

The choice of black tea is entirely personal. Myriad varieties greet you if you care to visit the supermarket aisles, and personal preference will have to be relied on to make the decision.

First, you must assemble the instruments: the electric kettle; a teaspoon; and a cup or mug. The first two items are self-explanatory, however the cup needs thought. An old-fashioned style cup and saucer is appropriate, but a sturdy, thick mug with a good handle is the thing you need. A thin dainty cup is fine if you wish to discuss fashion and the social pages, but a mug is the modern choice of someone who would like to have a good cup of tea.

Secondly, assemble the ingredients: water; the tea-bag of your choice; and your favoured condiments. Condiments could quite possibly include salt and pepper, but the usual tea taste destroyers are sugar, honey, milk and cream.

Now, “put the kettle on”, as they say. Fill the kettle with fresh, cold water from a tap to maximum fill level as indicated within the kettle by a line or marker. Then, plug the kettle in to a power socket, and switch the socket and then the kettle on. Now that the water is being boiled, you have enough time to prepare the rest of the tea-brewing operation.

Set the cup or mug on a firm, flat surface. Place the tea-bag at the bottom, and wrap the cardboard tab and string in and around the handle of the mug. This prevents the tea-bag from being lost in the bottom of a scaldingly hot cup of tea, impossible to retrieve.

When the water boils, take the kettle to the mug and pour straight into the mug. Do not wait for the water to settle or cool. The water must be boiling when it begins its reaction with the black tea (Orwell, 1946). Without doing anything, let the tea-bag rest at the bottom of the mug in the water for twenty to thirty seconds.

Unwrap the cardboard tab and string of the tea-bag from around the mug or cup handle, and raise and lower the tea-bag, via the cardboard tag attached to the string, in and out of the water. Continue with this oscillating action for about ten seconds.

Add your sweeteners—sugar, honey, etc—with the aid of the teaspoon; which acts both as a carrier and a standard measure. Then, still using the teaspoon, stir your sweeteners into the water.

Orwell says that true tea-lovers don’t use sweeteners to “mask and destroy the taste of their tea” (1946)—so it is perfectly acceptable to ignore the previous step.

Remove the tea-bag. The cardboard tab attached to the string which is, in turn, attached to the tea-bag makes this process very simple. Holding the tea bag above the mug by the tab, use your index finger and thumb to squeeze the water out of the tea-bag at the sides, letting it drop back into the mug. Dispose of your tea-bag thoughtfully, either in waste to landfill or an appropriate compost bin.

Stir your tea once again with the tea-spoon.

Add your “condiments”. Add your milk and cream now, and stir once more with the teaspoon.

There are many who suggest that you should put your milk or cream in first, before the boiling the water and the tea-bag; however it is easier to judge how much milk or cream you require if you add it in after the tea (Orwell, 1946).

Lastly, remove the teaspoon—adding it to the washing up pile or putting it in the cutlery holder in the dishwasher—and your tea is ready.

Take the first sip carefully, as, if you have completed these instructions promptly, your tea should still be very hot, the way that it should be. You won’t want to ruin the entire cup by having to deal with a burnt tongue caused by the first mouthful.

Your tea is there to be enjoyed, and don’t take many little sips, but decent mouthfuls—the only way to truly appreciate the flavour of the tea.

The science of tea brewing has many different schools of thought, and the art has many disciplines (Goodwin, 2007). However, the creation of a simple and easy cup of tea doesn’t require articles published in leading scientific journals, or artistic peer assessment. It needs common sense and simple practice.

A warm comforting cup of tea should be both a pleasure to drink and a pleasure to make. All it needs is boiling water, a tea-bag and a cup or mug, plus the comforting sweeteners some require. Don’t overcomplicate tea, and you’ll be sure to enjoy it.

Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts, 1953, Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, New York.

Faubert, N, 2009, Black Tea: the So-called Normal Tea, Examiner.com, viewed 4 April 2013, <http://www.examiner.com/article/black-tea-the-so-called-normal-tea>.

Flickety, L, et al., c. 2012, How to Make Green Tea, WikiHow, viewed 4 April 2013, <http://www.wikihow.com/make-green-tea>.

Goodwin, L, 2007, How to Brew Tea, VeeTea, accessed 4 April 2013, <http://www.veetea.com/site/articles/how-to-brew-tea>.

How to Prepare Green Tea, 2011, Green Tea Base, accessed 4 April 2013, <http://www.greenteabase.com/how-to-prepare-green-tea>.

Martin, L, 2007, Tea: The Drink that Changed the World, Tuttle Publishing, Vermont.

Neill, E., 1889, Every-day Cook-book and Enyclopedia of Practical Recipes, Examiner Press, San Francisco; available at <http://archive.org/details/everydaycookbook00neiliala>, accessed 13 March 2013.

Orwell, G., 1946, January 12, “A Nice Cup of Tea”, Evening Standard.

The Common Sense Cookery Book, 1982, Angus & Robertson, Sydney.


A Vision, A Reality – and a Future

What kind of stir would be caused today if a nation announced that it was holding a competition to design a city, and that they were going to build it from scratch?
Would any nation even consider it, even as a joke?
Australia did consider it in 1911 and Walter Burley Griffin won the international competition to design a capital city, with help from his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin.
What resulted was a city of tree-lined avenues, impressive buildings housing national institutions, and large, slow magnificent roundabouts.
People may criticise Canberra for its shortcomings and its apparent lack of soul, but it is a time like this—100 years to the day since Canberra was named and the foundation stone laid—when we are given the opportunity to praise. To be thankful for our small, wonderful, bush capital.
We, the young, may dream of one day moving away from Black Mountain Tower, the Cotter, Parliament House and Lake Burley Griffin; but that shouldn’t stop us appreciating Canberra while we’re here.
We’re an educated population of a beautiful city, one with golden sun rises over our artificial lake. We have a small city, one that doesn’t sprawl on forever in crazy blocks and suburbs.
Our city, our Canberra, was built with a plan—a plan that held us, which at the time was simply the “future”, in mind.
Perhaps our city doesn’t have a soul, as many of our interstate critics suggest—but we have something that they don’t have in their large, congested cities. We have a shared, connected sense of pride. Every Canberran has a reason to be proud of their slice of Canberra; and every young Canberran like you or me has the opportunity to leave their mark on the city as it heads into its second century. Canberra is whatever we want to make of it.
We are able to shape which direction it heads in, we are able to guide it into the future. Canberra belongs to the future.
Canberra was once a vision, it was a dream. Stemmed from the disagreement between Sydney and Melbourne over who should be the seat of government, Canberra has grown into one of those rare cities that has something for every-one. One of those cities which we are all able to share and celebrate.
This article first appeared in “The Student’s Standard”, a student newspaper at Orana Steiner School in Canberra, Australia. Jasper Lindell is the editor.
It later appeared in the Orana Steiner School publication, "Orana Seasons".


The Discount Bookshop

The display boxes out the front are covered in a gritty dust, the spines of the books have faded to a lighter shade than their covers. Stickers on the inside of the door advertise new releases that came out two years ago and were commercial failures. The windows are devoid of any display, and through them you can see a few people idly sifting through the new stock display table.

It is a discount bookshop.

The red and white striped awning has faded, and the red stripes have become pink. A large sign – “BOOKS” – has faded, too, revealing where the thicker brush strokes were.

Inside, it feels empty. The shop looks like it is in the throws of a closing down sale, there aren’t enough books to fill the space, and they look like they have been shoved into the shelves with little regard to the shelves’ categories. The Twilight novels have been put next to Dickens in “Literature", while A History of English Spoons has been slid in next to Self-Analysis: A guide to the self diagnosis of Mental Illness in “Self Help”.

There are a few paper-bag readers scattered around inside, too, and a few more outside surveying the pickings in the display boxes, running their fingers contemplatively down the faded spines of cheap paperbacks.

Paper-bag readers are the sort of reader that will read anything, paper-bags included. They churn through books at a frightful pace and many of them accurately remember each and every one of them. They don’t care if the book is well renowned, or an airport paperback; if it is words on a page that tells a coherent story, believable or not, they’ll read it. They’re the sort of people with ten books always on the go, and they’re chronically starting new ones before they’ve finished old ones. But they always get back to the old ones, and even if they’re books of self-published tripe, they will read it. They read like machines, and they are the reason that these Discount Bookshops stay in business.

Discount Bookshops have no pretentions of being snobbish, and they don’t make false claims of having connexions to the world of literature. They sell books: awful cheap books, publishers’ remainders, printers’ seconds, they’re all books aren’t they? If they’re books they can sell them, and our friends the paper-bag readers will buy them and read them when no on else would touch them, normal readers wouldn’t go near them, let alone read them. It’s thanks to this that the Discount Bookshop will survive. Sure, they might get the occasional normal reader in, and they might even buy a book, but it is the paper bag reader that takes up the three books for ten dollars offers, keeping these sorts of shops alive.

I like going into discount bookshops occasionally. Sometimes I end up finding a bargain, other times you don’t. Just this week I bought an  Oxford published paperback on words that originated in the twentieth century. I definitely wouldn’t have paid full price, but $3.95 wasn’t a bad offer, was it now?

Really, they’re a funny little establishment, with a balding, short man for a shop-keeper and books that maybe should have never been published, but they’re good fun if you’re looking for a bargain, if you’re in the right frame of mind. 

January 16, 2013

Here we are then

There has to be therapeutic benefits to starting afresh, anew, all over again. But unlike times past, there isn’t the fit of rage that was once required. You no longer have to burn everything in a large pile on the drive way, while dancing around in the nude. I’m sure your neighbours will be pleased to learn that thanks to technological innovations we can no have this “turning over a new leaf” moments in private, and with our clothes on.

But it isn’t quite the same, is it? Pressing select all, and then jabbing an enraged finger into a grubby computer mouse doesn’t have the same emotions attached to it as burning archive boxes in the front yard in the nude once did. But although I would happily conduct one of these burnings – with my clothes on, thank you – there isn’t anything to burn. The only remembrance of the former incarnation of this blog will now be hidden away in the deepest bowels of Google’s Blogger servers. Everything was digital, and the only way to destroy it didn’t involve fire. There was the possibility of subjecting the hard drives in the servers to extreme heat – by fire – but I live far too far away for server arson attacks, anyway. So that was purely out of the question.

What happened after these burnings in the front yard in the nude, though? You would have got a hose, doused the flames, and put your undies back on, wouldn’t you have? Then you would have sat down and begun again on the revised version of your memoirs, trying to keep a level head. Do I get any of that? No, I just get to start writing again. Here I am. Building up once more a blog that I might have to spread the flames of my mind across, and once more douse it with a rebirth of this very ilk. Until then, though, here we are.

January 16, 2013