Monday, February 27, 2023

The Indigenous Voice to Parliament

While tomato-less Britains flick hungrily through their latest Jamie Oliver turnip recipe book, Australia ponders its next big mass information gathering exercise which is the referendum for an indigenous voice to parliament.

Australia approaches the referendum with a chequered recent history of data collection. The 2016 Australian census which encouraged 100% online participation flopped due to an utter failure of planning and testing. Assuming some distant out-back camel farmer would be as IT savvy as a public servant rushing from their desk to fill their keep-cup with a 9.30am latte was one thing, but the $10 million system built by IBM crashed on census night in a big way - insufficient ‘load testing’ apparently. The computer certainly did say no. Those who could get through also typically recorded their religion as Jedi beating Catholicism into second place which further screwed up the whole sorry mess.

By the following year in 2017 the Australian government introduced a new word into the vernacular with a national same-sex marriage ‘plebiscite’. Apparently, a plebiscite is kind of like a referendum, but the government has a get out clause in that it can ultimately change the result if it likes at the end of it.  Essentially it is the model that SHOULD have been used for the Brexit referendum, but instead was applied to marriage equality which the majority of Australians were happy to support, but instead the government threw $160 million at the question just to make really really really sure.

Australia now has a further two referendums to consider. An election promise when Labor swept to power in 2022 committed to a vote on an indigenous voice to parliament and assuming they win the next election (which given the somewhat sinister yet comical conservative opposition appears likely) we’ll next have a second referendum for an Australian republic in which the misdemeanours of Charles, Camilla, Andy, Harry and co. get raked over again before the inevitable conclusion that they head off into the sunset and we change our coins to have an effigy of Shane Warne on them. Presumably we’ll then also change the design of the Australian flag which is a little bit dated and embarrassing currently.

So, what exactly IS the indigenous voice to parliament that everyone in Australia will be voting on? Essentially, it’s a body made up of indigenous Australians (Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people) which is recognised in the constitution and allows them to provide advice to Parliament on policies and projects that impact their lives.

It represents the next step in a journey which goes back almost to the European invasion in 1788. A few years following this Governor Richard Bourke declared Australia ‘terra nullius’ (literally belonging to no-one) conveniently forgetting that there were possibly up to one million people living (effectively and efficiently) in the continent before convicts and settlers arrived bringing small-pox and other horrors from the ‘new world’ with them decimating indigenous Australia for ever more.

Electing a Voice to Parliament seems to make sense. The Close the gap campaign which commenced in 2007 becomes increasingly embarrassing every year as the ‘gap’ of indigenous disadvantage widens rather than closes. I was (and remain) optimistic about the Voice. Like the marriage equality plebiscite before it and the republic referendum which will follow it, I suspect it will be voted for by a majority of Australians.

What’s become interesting over the last few weeks though is opposition to it. Peter Dutton, the sinister looking leader of the Liberals has declared that he’s undecided on whether he’ll support it or not and given his previous questionable attitudes toward aboriginal inclusion it’s fairly easy to guess which way he’ll go. Opposition has also come from within the indigenous community. Senator Jacinta Price has declared the Voice as divisive and unfair. The issue she sees is that it’s almost impossible to build a truly representative panel. At the time of colonisation it’s thought that there were almost 500 tribes in Australia, each with their own distinct language and territories. It’s impossible therefore to imagine an advisory body genuinely representing even a fraction of that number. Unlike New Zealand where a treaty (The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi) was signed with the Māori’s no such treaty was ever signed with Australia’s indigenous population. As a result Captain Cook was revered and a copy of the Magna Carta is on display in Parliament House in Canberra.

So the Voice has opposition from two unlikely bed-fellows – the Liberals, trying to avoid the sheen slipping off their arguments to reveal their right-wing racist views and some within the aboriginal community saying that the Voice doesn’t go far enough and is not in the least bit representative.

The result therefore is likely that voters will most likely end up being confused. It could therefore go the same way as Brexit, but more likely will pass and be implemented. My fear for the advisory board then is that it has no real substance and awkward issues for Australia, which have built up over generations such as indigenous suicide and often appalling health and welfare outcomes are simply shunted for someone else to ‘fix’ I guess we’ll see. If nothing else I just hope the technology works this time.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Joe comes to visit

 My Godson Joe is visiting Australia from the UK at the moment. He's worked his way up the east coast to Cairns and then came to stay with us for a week in Canberra (and the south coast).

He's organised his trip really well and seems to be very on top of both his plans and his budget. It was lovely to see him and the kids both enjoyed having a new face around (rather than their nagging old Dad).

While he was staying with us we took a trip down to Pambula on the south coast of NSW. It's a lovely spot and both Pambula and its neigbouring bigger brother, Merimbula are nice towns. They have a real sea-sidey feel with a good split between locals and holiday-makers.

We'd last visited in January and so we knew our way around the campsite as well as the local streets and shops. It's a bit further on from Bateman's Bay (where most Canberrans take summer breaks) but we still ran into a neighbour while we were crossing the road in Merimbula.

We took a fishing trip with Scott who runs the excellent Fishpen Charters and caught about 8-9 decent sized fish, ranging from Sweep, through to Nannygai (Red fish) and delicious Snapper that we froze and ate on Christmas day. Poor Eli got seasick about an hour into the trip so didn't do much fishing on this occasion.

On our second day we took a great walk along the beach to Merlimbula. It's about 5km and so we took a packed lunch and ate it by the side of the lake before walking back to the campsite. We also took a trip to Bega Christmas fayre which was a fun (and local) affair.

Magic Mountain in Merimbula is always a fun day out as well and we spent a sunny day there, variously riding, putting and swimming.

We raced back to see a Christmas Carol playing at Canberra Theatre. It was a fabulous production and put everyone there in the Christmas spirit.

Gingerbread house

catch of the day

Our bag of fish and a snapper

Bega Christmas craft

Magic Mountain, Merimbula

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Day trip to Rendezvous Creek rock art

 Audrey and Eli spent the week with their auntie in Darwin. It was the first break I had had in (literally) years and so I took the opportunity to visit the beautiful Namadgi national park.

I was particularly keen to see the aboriginal rock art at Rendezvous Creek.

There's several (I think seven) locations in the Namadgi where aboriginal rock art can be found. The most 'famous' is the artwork at Yankee Hat. The Morrison bushfires of 2019/20 engulfed the area of the park where that particular rocky overhang is found but the ACT government and national park successfully saved it. The fires did however damage the area around it and the long boardwalk which used to allow access has now been removed. There are plans to re-open the rock art site (and archaeological site underneath) within a year.

The aboriginal community have not given specific approval for Rendezvous Creek and Nursery Swamp where other rock art is located to have official trails or be officially advertised. They are however 'open' and starved of the ability to visit Yankee Hat I decided to head out and see if I could locate them.

I'd researched the approximate area of the Rendezvous Creek artwork. It was a decent hike of about 14km return. I left around mid-morning and drove to the car park area.

More recently the national park has introduced a circular walk in Rendezvous Creek. It's a nice walk down by the creek and is a short circular walk of around 3 or 4km.

It had rained for a fair bit of the week leading up to my trip and so the ground was really wet underfoot. I initially wore trainers but quickly changed into my Bogs (my prized wellies/gumboots).

The walk by the creek is pretty, you pass over a small iron foot bridge and then by a picnic area. As I began to turn to head to my destination the weather grew worse and the ground below got steadily boggier. 

I took a bit of a wrong turn at one point and found myself on the 'wrong' side of the creek. As the water level was so high it would have been impossible to jump it and despite my (now) more suitable footwear I didn't fancy trying my chances wading through. I couldn't see the bottom of the water so I figured it was unwise.

Having back-tracked a bit (make sure you have the river on your right). I headed out across the fields.

There's huge mobs of kangaroos around. Some of the bigger males (boomers!) are pretty resolute and eye you down. Several were much taller than me and so I gave them a wide berth. They're skittish animals and I'd be more worried about being jumped on by accident than deliberately attacked.

After a short while I found the 4x4 trail. It was so muddy in places, but actually walking along the trail was easier than trying to negotiate the large grass tussocks.

Eventually I reached the hill where the rock art is located and headed into the trees. Much of the Namadgi national park is typified by large granite boulders (formed over 400 million years ago). The hills on the valley are covered with outcrops of massive boulders and with no clue as to which one housed the rock art it was a bit like a treasure hunt (on a big scale).

At one point I stumbled on a cave and peering in I couldn't see any sign of rock art. I'd seen some photos before setting out and it didn't look right so I continued my quest.

The area is quite heavily overgrown and I literally walked through a couple of bushes at one point. I searched the area for about 30 minutes and when I was about to give up I spotted an information sign and knew the 'right' rock must be near.

Sure enough, a little scramble upwards and I found the cave. The rock art is staggering. A lot larger than I thought it would be and in truth more significant that Yankee Hat.

The dating of this art is tricky. I believe that prior to colonisation artwork would be 'refreshed' so artwork might be as old as 15,000 years but could have been 'touched up' as recently as 200 years ago.

It's kind of irrelevant in this context though as the art is so beautiful. I entered the cave both respectfully and slowly (I'd read articles that one of the greatest risks to rock art is he dust caused by visitors.

Afterwards I scrambled down the muddy bank that had lead to the site and walked back to my car.

It rained again and I was muddy, tired but (very) satisfied when I finally reached the car and headed for home.

A decent sized wombat hole

dingoes in the area

Not this cave

beautiful rock art

Rowley's Hut (burnt down in 2003)

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Eli's turns 13!

Eli turned 13 yesterday. We both shed a tear together that his Mum wasn't here to celebrate with him, she'd be so proud about the kind and generous boy that he's become 

Eli's birthdays always land in the school holidays here in Australia and that makes it slightly strange as he then doesn't go to school to celebrate with his friends. I've never worked on my own birthday (I always take a day's leave from work) and this year it felt appropriate that I should take the day off work for Eli's birthday as well.

I have a Friday lunchtime football kick around in Yarralumla with some guys. I've played with them for the last three or four years but the group has been playing for much longer. People come and go but the core group of probably around eight or nine of them remain and it's usually a competitive (if slightly over-serious game). 

I offered Eli the option of going to the zoo or Questacon (Canberra's science museum which we haven't been to for years due to covid) but he opted to come along and play football with me. He invited one of his mates which was nice. Both the boys ran their legs off and as it was a warm and sunny lunchtime and I wasn't having to dash back after an over-long lunchtime to a work meeting we all had a good time.

In the evening we went to Guild in the city. It's a board game and pizza place and it's always packed. I'd luckily booked before we went. I'd read that Canberra locals had been a bit slow in returning to restaurants and cafes but this wasn't the case with Guild. 

Our friends kindly bought Eli an incredible cake and we were one of the last tables to leave at the end of the evening.

Eli had a football game on Saturday morning (the next day). His team won 5-2 against Cooma in a hotly contested game. Eli made a couple of great saves. I'd made cupcakes for the kids to help celebrate Eli's birthday and Eli enjoyed sharing them round.

As a footnote it was lovely to receive cards and presents from people all around the world. Some quite amusing ones too. Sadly nothing from Eli's surviving grandparents who haven't been in contact with him or Audrey and I for several years.

Eli handing out his cupcakes

Eli and his team celebrating a hard fought win

Enjoying cake at Guild

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Nature photography, wellbeing workshop, Lanyon Homestead

Some time ago I signed up for a 'Wellbeing workshop' which was a photography morning run by a local photographer, Ben Kopilow on behalf of ACT Historic Places.

The workshop had an early start (7am) which was a bit punishing for a Saturday morning especially as it was held at Lanyon Homestead, an original homestead dating from 1829 in the extreme south of Canberra and probably a 30 minute drive from home.

It's been a couple of years (mostly due to covid) since we've been to Lanyon we've been to a few Christmas carols there as it's such a nice setting with the rolling hills of the (somewhat unfortunately named) Scabby Ranges behind it.

Audrey did a photography elective at the end of Year 8 and so she joined me at the workshop - Eli had a pre-season game of footy. 

I'd just bought a new lens (Sigma 30mm f1.4) and I'd struggled through websites and youtube videos to choose it. It was quite an investment but a definite upgrade on the kit lens that came with the camera. I'd used it a little bit over the preceding fortnight (I'd climbed up Mount Tennent for the first time) but I was still very much a novice in terms of its capabilities.

After a hurried breakfast and dash in the car we made it down to Lanyon for the 7am start time. Fundamentally I'd made sure to remember my camera (and to charge it the night before). The light at that time was beautiful (sunrise was around 7.05am) and I could see why they'd picked the early start. The host, Ben was a really friendly and unassuming guy and he took us through a few fundamentals.

The plan was that we'd walk round the property and he'd accompany us on our first couple of stops to answer questions, but then would leave us to our own devices to take photos. Either way it was great having a professional on hand to ask questions.

There were a range of cameras on display, some people had big lenses and expensive gear whereas another couple were armed with small digital cameras it didn't seem to matter. 

Ben's big lesson was to take your time. It's true in a life with a million calls on your time and a camera on every phone it's easy just to snap shots and not worry about composition or the make up of the shot. He left us with a (valuable) information sheet, which started with the following;

Creating an image with intent - thought process and check list

The first step to creating better images starts, not with rules or formula, but with a few questions

What about his subject or scene is interesting to me?

What am I trying to convey about this scene or subject by the photo I'm about to take

Am I just recording a memory for myself, or do I want to show others how I see the world?

There were a number of other questions that we were to ask ourselves.

The checklist concludes with a quote from Leonardo Da Vinci 'Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication'. I liked it.

Anyway, we walked round the garden and Audrey took some shots, some were good, some were not so good, some dark some well lit. We sought the help of Ben and found him to be ever so helpful. He critiqued what we'd done so far. Interestingly some of the ones we'd thought to be poor he thought were good, he looked at a couple I'd taken (and had been proud of) and remarked 'anyone could have taken those'. I realised Ben was right.

We continued with a new found sense of purpose. We re-shot some of the pictures we had taken based on the advice Ben had given us and we noted the improvement. We took them back to him and he reassessed and gave us further tips and hints. Towards the end he showed us a technique of moving your camera when you take a shot to create an abstract image. Some photos just looked blurred, but some looked like real works of art. It's something I'll continue to experiment with.

The two hours went quickly and both of us enjoyed it. I was proud of Audrey as she took some great photos and was the only teenager there. We drove back home definitely better photographers than when we arrived.

Here's a few of the shots Audrey took.

Ben actually thought this was the 'shot of the day' based on photos he'd seen by others. He really loved the lines of colour. In truth it was probably more of an accident than anything, but I can see what he means and it was clever of Audrey to take it

This is from the cook's cottage and a second photo which Audrey 'cropped' in. Ben felt there's too much light to the left of the photo (caused by the window) but he was still impressed that she had chosen to crop it.

This blur is a deliberate technique to have a slow shutter speed and then move the camera as you're taking the shot. I actually really like the effect.

If you want to see all of the images they should be available here.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Captain Eli

After a couple of football seasons interrupted by covid, it's good to see Eli back and training with Woden Valley FC - the club had a shirt presentation last night.
The club has a great culture with a focus on player development and support for kids across all age groups and skill levels.

Eli has been made captain of his team for the forthcoming U13s season (I suspect because he's the most vocal of the whole team 🗣) but in reality it runs deeper than that as he's always so supportive of his team mates win or lose.

Friday, March 11, 2022

A sunny day at Forest Park

Audrey wore her new horse riding shirt for the first time in today's lesson and looked really smart.

The group went on a trail ride which meant that I didn't get to watch them do the usual circuits of the arena. When she returned from her ride Audrey told me that the girls had cantered quite a lot on the ride which is good as otherwise the well-worn trail ride route can get a bit familiar.