Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

Anzac Day 2018: wither our pride, Australia?

April 22, 2018

Anzac Day 2018: wither our pride, Australia? 

Anzac Day is one of those days that matters. It’s central to my being and even though I am far away, it’s a day, as is Australia Day, that causes me to pause and consider my home, my country, my nationality. I remember, as a child, attending Dawn Services at the Cenotaph on the Domain in Hobart, visiting the trees planted for the fallen of my family – handsome young men as you can see from the photos – who made the ultimate sacrifice on a foreign field far-far away.

As an Ozzie abroad you are more aware of your nationality than ever you are at home. You are defined by it: it makes you different, something of an outsider and so, to an extent, you cling to your Ozzie-ness even more. I think this is a common thing and might go a long way to explaining why exiles – be we self-exiled, or refugees or migrants – feel our nationalities more on foreign soil. To wit, I am more Australian here than ever I was at home.

And so, recent developments offend and upset me perhaps more than when I am at home because I feel a responsibility to be able to explain and, to an extent, excuse our behaviours, even though I am anything but connected to the idiocy that is our political land-scape, the callous treatment of the more vulnerable in our society, and the foolishness of our sportsmen. Actually, it’s because people here expect me to… I have become Australia– indeed my room at work is the warmest class-room around and was dubbed ‘a little bit of Australia’ by one of my wittier students.

And so as Anzac Day hoves into view I find I am quite angry. It’s not a matter of pride being an Australian abroad these days. It wasn’t under the embarrassment that was Tony Abbott but it isn’t any better with Turnball. I despair of the Greens and wonder about Bill Shorten too. I read about more tax breaks for big business, I read about big coal mines being subsidised, I read about the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. And of course the on-going stain that is Nauru and our reprehensible treatment of refugees.

Education is no better, health care is in decline. Home ownership is harder than ever; the under-privileged slip further behind, bullied by a vile Centrelink who pursue the poorest members of society over fake debt and bills. Young people have the invidious pleasure of huge debt if they go to university. Zero-hours contracts stalk the semi-skilled. Penalty rates are a thing of the past. We are one of the worst countries in the world in terms of standard of living for pensioners. And our Indigenous people moulder away in jail in numbers still hugely disproportionate to their numbers in society. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has grown inordinately.

What the fuck is happening Australia?

It may as well be England.

We are not the Lucky Country, we are no longer the land of the fair go. We have become a nasty country full of nasty people. A country that no longer cares for all, a country that is racist and sexist, and ageist and anti-youth as well. Indeed, how have we managed to be so anti-everything? So full of double standards and shut-you-down vitriol.

We used to be about fair-play, about having a go. We weren’t always about money and position and privilege. Or am I deluded? Am I remembering some imagined past that never really existed?

Yes, we’ve been an overtly macho society for years – the lone stoic stockman, the bronzed Ozzie surfer, the larrikin taking the piss out of everyone. It’s been a hard country for women, foreigners and the Indigenous inhabitants. But we were getting there. We were open to equality, to hard work and people being able to be who they wanted to be if they worked hard enough and long enough. Yes, our own American Dream. An ideal of equality, not of rank or status. Born of being a bunch of convicts I guess, a radical irreverence for position and rank – respect for the person not the title. (Something that certainly got me into trouble over here!!) And then hacking them down, because we don’t want no tall poppies here, mate.

So, because it is Anzac Day – a day that unites us, that reminds us of the debt we owe the past, we need to pause and consider what was fought for, what came out of that catastrophic slaughter over a hundred years ago so far away from home. Too many young men were sacrificed for the Empire, for an engagement that had no merit, that was certain death for those involved. Yes, members of my family travelled to Europe for the great adventure of war, but they didn’t come home. Yet, because we were in thrall to Mother England, to king and country, because we were young and naïve we signed up in droves and we died in droves too. Like thousands of other (mostly) young men: horrid deaths, many needless and then carrying home scars – external and internal – that were never healed. World War One was a brutal, pointless exercise, one that was meant only to last a few months and then to be the war to end all wars. Yes, we can laugh at that incredible irony now.

But out of the war, and especially out of what happened in Turkey in 1915, rose the Anzac spirit; the core of our character. We celebrate bravery and sacrifice; we thank those who laid down their lives for us, as we should. Those who fought and died, those who fought and survived, who protected us and make our country safe and fit for heroes. Our romanticism has it that Gallipoli was the event that turned us around: it was when we grew up, it was what made us into a nation. It was certainly a turning point. And it is right that we continue to acknowledge what happened, in that war and in the (too) many since.

But what has happened that we now are more like the England of WW1, when the gaps between the haves and have nots were appallingly wide and led to pointless sacrifices of young men who were mostly much further down the social ladder than those in charge, who remained at the back of the theatre of war, often not engaged in any sort fighting with bullets or gas or tanks? Why have we let ourselves become that sort of country? Why have we become callous and brutalised – uncaring of the suffering of others, unwilling to make a difference, unwilling to share the wealth of this great country.

Make no mistake about it, Australia is still a rich country, full of great things, good people trying to make a decent life: most of my friends and my darling daughter, her wonderful partner, and my gorgeous grandson are there. I count the days and months until I can go home. But I wonder, what am I coming back to, will I be horribly disappointed by what my country has become, will I regret coming home?

Consider the following:

*Why don’t big businesses care about their clients or employees; why is it all about profit?

*Why don’t the banks give a shit about their customers?

*Why do the politicians (on all sides, in all state, as well as Federally and locally) repeatedly sell out the population to the highest bidder?

*Why aren’t they, or government agencies, held accountable for their behaviour? Barnaby Joyce anyone?

*Why is it okay to hang sportsmen out to dry but not politicians, bureaucrats, CEO’s?

*Why is the media allowed to peddle lies and untruths and stir up hatred and division?

*Why are we not protecting our environment – the Great Barrier Reef, the old growth forests of Tasmania, etc?

*Why aren’t we investing in smart tech, looking at a clever future, dreaming big dreams, planning for a big future?

*Why are we accepting an increasing divide in our country between the haves and have-nots?

*Why do we pursue the under-dog so relentlessly and cheerfully keep on kicking him when he’s down – students, unemployed, pensioners, the disabled, refugees?

*Why do we remain so anti-women, why do we persist in out-dated sexist behaviours, advocating bloke culture at the expense of genuine respect and equality?

Australia is not a powerful international player, despite what various PM’s and others like to believe – there is so little about Australia in the media over here you wouldn’t believe it – but that doesn’t mean we should be sacrificing our national identity on some foolish belief that to be more like the UK or the USA is somehow a good thing.

We have people living it large on the international stage – usually our sportsmen bring honour to us – playing hard but fair, punching above our weight. Remember it was Australia that broke the longest running sporting record in history when Allan Bond with Australia2 finally won the America’s Cup after 132 years (no, we won’t go into what happened to AB…) Our celebrities do us credit – people love Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Kylie, Tim Minchin, Barry Humphries. We have world class creatives – Richard Flanagan, Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally, Clive James, Germaine Greer, Baz Luhrmann: AC-DC just keep on rolling. Our celebs are seen as grounded, good people, not part of the up-yourself-don’t-speak-to-me-now-I’m-famous lot. We can be proud of them; they bring credit to us.

So, Australia, on this Anzac Day, nearly 100 hundred years since the end of WW1, what do we stand for? How do we define our character now? Would the fallen of WW1 be proud to lay down their lives for what the country has become? How would those who died at Gallipoli feel if they could see us now?

Somehow, I doubt they’d feel their sacrifice had been worth it. (Images from Private Collection)

Advertisements

Poetry: Monsoon Night … Northern Morning

February 21, 2015

My friends in the North have been battered and bruised by the elements once again – but survived. Yes, Australia is a dangerous and terrible place – it’s also beautiful and special, especially the Northern Territory. Today I have a couple of poems for you written as part of a longer series about life in a particular Northern town.

darwinbats

Monsoon Night

Up there, in thick black clouds

Beyond the fat moon, far above the tree tops

the storm gathers, growls

smouldering away.

 

Clashing noises from the Gods

rumble and thunder across the patient night sky.

Winds rush up streets

slamming doors – open and shut

rattling vases, knocking down pictures.

A sudden and vicious gust.

Before the rain whips in

hard and vertical

marching in a line up and down streets

first on one roof and then another

precisely covering each suburb

of this hot little city.

A swift-savage downpour.

Crashing on iron roofs

flooding gutters

filling swimming pools

washing possums, dogs, cats

from their resting places in trees, gardens, parks

Scattering bats across the clouded skies.

 

Waking babies

wake their mothers,

who walk the night

fill bottles, offer a breast, change nappies

Sooth unsettled children, startled babies.

Then sit on bamboo chairs on elevated verandahs

Alone, to watch the night

The wondrous storm

taking in the cool of the air

deep into their lungs, their pores

feel their being change, becoming

part of the confluence of nature

part of the storm

pulled into its current.

Faces cleansed with rain

nostrils filling with freshly released perfumes

bodies bathed in breezes

Calmed by the rain.

Spirits soothed by the storm.

 

A mother’s breath exhales, and her home eases.

Storm-disturbed children

sigh and settle back to a dreamless sleep.

Men shuffle down passages

Feel the change in the air

visit the fridge

the toilet

stretch and scratch, snuffle and snort

returning to bed for a restful sleep – a deep slumber

before the day arrives to send them back to work.

 

A man

A woman

stand abutting their verandah railings

flesh to naked flesh

rain splashing skin

Looking into the night

the arcs of light across the sky

the shadows of cloud across the moon.

Nothing moves except the sky.

No sound except the thunder.

 

Above

High overhead

the storm moves away

rumbles mumbling out to sea

lightning now flashing feebly

over the black-blue water

losing passion

losing power.

A spent storm

Now all still over this northern most city.

 

Northern Morning

Still dark now

People waking, emerging from dreams

slip from ruffled beds, disentangle from sleeping partners.

Garbage trucks begin their guttural rumbling trek through

a snoozing suburb.

Light-creeping night-falling

sun fingering in through dawn-clouds

Streaky bacon sky.

 

Alarm clocks shrill

clock radios spring into life

walkers, runners, riders invade the streets

silently pounding, arms swinging, regular breathing

swimmers plough up and down backyard pools

The day begins.

 

Light floods

the flat blue horizon

Storm clouds roll away across the heavens

leaving the suburb coolly sighing in the moments

before the sun bursts upon them

firing up the day

firing up the week

firing up the temperature

so that by the time people step

from their morning showers

before they can even dry the water from their bodies

sweat is rolling down their skin.

 

The morning smells sweet

clear, crisp, lighter than the night

Light-blue smells

not the

velvet blue-black smells of the night.

Inhale the refreshed gardens

the flowers releasing cleansing perfumes

filling the nostrils of the waking streets.

Later, children strolling

spilling from cars

will breath in this morning air

smile and be revived for the week’s work

All – children, workers, mothers, babies, students, unemployed –

as they find their way in the world today

will be buoyed by the night storm

the fresh smells of their suburb

the bright blue of the sky

and go happily about their business today.

 

But now dreams are scattered with the early morning light

lost, taken with the dispersing clouds

only snatches left,

disturbing tendrils to bother and mystify throughout a day

busy with the needs of work, of other people.

Ah, to sleep the extra five minutes

to save the lost dream

the door to the soul, to dark wishes and desires

the book of ideas and inspirations

the path to the future (Images from Private Collection & Google Images)

Social Mobility: Australia v England – a bit of a rant

May 9, 2012

Social Mobility in the UK lags behind the rest of the world – who is surprised at that? Denmark and Australia are two countries where if you are born poor you have a better than decent chance of making it up the food chain to a successful life. Now, I know virtually nothing about Denmark – other than Prince Fred married Mary Donaldson, an ordinary Australian girl, which must have seriously helped her social mobility, or his – but I do know a fair bit about Australia and feel experienced enough to offer some comparisons on the gap between social mobility in Oz and the UK.

First of all, the gap between rich and poor in Australia is nowhere near as vast as it is in Britain. We have no royalty or massive indolent indulged group at the top. Most uber-rich and successful Australians have got there themselves – usually the product of social mobility (well most of us began life as criminals so how much more socially mobile can you get?). Most of our super-rich are media barons or mining magnates – have been for some time. Yes, we now have dynasties therein – Murdochs, Packers, Hancocks, etc but build on the back of work and sweat and not a lot of university educations in the founding generations. Fortunately for the burgeoning ego amongst this lot, every once in a while on of them comes utterly unstuck and ends up in jail. Most Australians are enjoying the current discomfort felt by the Murdoch gang.

Witness Alan Bond, the epitome of a self-made Australian. He was a painter with ambition, got into land deals, made a fortune and it was his syndicate that first won the America’s Cup from the Yanks back in 1983. He was a national hero, a testimony to hard work, self belief and ambition. He didn’t go to university and was feted by his countrymen. He blew it though: too many dodgy deals and ended up in jail for a while. He landed on his feet again but this story is a reminder to those who over-stretch their reach and forget about the law. Alan Bond is a good lesson to Australians on many levels. Dream, believe, work hard but stay within the law, or you’ll get yours. We love justice in Oz and no-one’s too big for that here.

Celebrity culture in Australia is nowhere near as invidious or all pervasive. We have our footy heroes and movie and rock stars, but they don’t earn the money that a Beckham or a Rooney does. They’re more likely to be Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, far more the actor than the star – still one of us, still accessible, even if living OS more than at home. Even Kylie, one of uber-stars is one of us – she got cancer and has troubles with her men, so very much mortal. Yes, we indulge in reality TV and kiddies dream of easy riches quickly gained but most know it’s not likely and the only way they’ll have a life is through a job.

Our politicians are as useless as the English but don’t come from an exclusive club that went to private schools and elite universities. We have some clever pollies, but most of ours do not come from the privileged elite– they tend to know the price of milk and they avoid the entrails fiddling in education that is favoured by the likes of Gove. A Michael Wilshaw simply doesn’t exist in Australia. We also avoid the plethora of Sirs and Dames and have limited respect for those with such titles – it keeps the playing fields and work places more even, more democratic. More based on merit, not so much connections.

Let’s to education, then as a main lever for social mobility. In truth I never heard the expression ‘social mobility’ until I moved here in 2008. In my naivety I thought schools were about preparing children for the world of work and to be decent individuals who would contribute positively to the world and lead a happy life. It didn’t mean everyone had to go to uni (or be a failure if they didn’t) and it didn’t mean schools were responsible for all the ills in society. (Although to be fair to Australian education systems – federal and state – they have, like their British cousins, believed this too. If only teachers were better then we’d all be rich and happy and nothing terrible would happen to anyone ever again – nor anything exciting or interesting come to that.)

Australia doesn’t have league tables, or anything approximating Ofsted, nor do they constantly inspect, observe or rate teachers. There is performance management and teachers pursuing promotion willingly undergo scrutiny, as do all new teachers into the various systems. Other than that we just get on with teaching the curriculum (constantly under review and change), marking, assessing, preparing for the next stage, developing relationships, keeping control, meeting deadlines, writing reports – doing our best. We don’t have much truck with data – that belongs to a boffin in an office somewhere. We simply teach children our subject area to the best of our ability. We expect students to take responsibility for their own learning.

This scenario describes both government and private schools (both of which I have spent years in). Unlike England there isn’t always a clear division between the quality of either camp. In the NT for years the government schools were clearly superior to any private educational establishments. In Tasmania the private sector was favoured over the government, despite A level equivalent honours results being evenly distributed between both sectors. It wasn’t just about results or getting into university – parents were concerned about the whole child approach that is the raison d être of private schools – music, sport, debating, drama, trips – that caters better to the individual child.

I’m going to say that again – Australian schools expect students to take responsibility for their own learning.

I never knew that was a radical idea until 2008, when a Year 9 child gleefully told me that if I don’t make them learn I’ll be sacked. I still have my job and that child is not at university. But that comment, flung across the room one cold January afternoon symptomises the state of play in English education. The teacher is responsible not only for their teaching but to make the child learn, to take responsibility for that child – and the other 28 in that class (plus your other 3-4 classes if you’re a high school teacher).

Ofsted fails teachers if students are not learning, if a child is sitting in your room doing nothing, off task, unengaged, for whatever reason. In Australia, the teacher does all they can – examines their own teaching, consults a senior colleague, contacts the parent (who either doesn’t care, or is struggling more with the child), negotiates with the child, does what he/she can and that’s it. The teacher is not held accountable for the child’s unwillingness or refusal to get involved in their own learning. The child has the democratic right to failure. Some do fail, leave school sooner rather than later, but some get their act together. It may not be in your class, in your year but something will go ‘ping’ and they’ll understand they have to make the moves.

This idea of personal responsibility is quite significant to me because if the covert curriculum is to inculcate certain values – which society tends to agree are worthwhile – such as co-operation, trying hard, persevering, coping with set-backs – the much vaunted resilience – then by making the teacher responsible for all that happens in a classroom you are failing the child and consequentially failing society.

You end up with what England has now – a passive underbelly which believes it is owed a living. That a job should be exciting and well paid and the employer should be grateful the employed have simply turned up to work. If schools in the UK have been running the no-responsibility approach to education for students (and their parents) for many years now this is the natural consequence. People expect to be given to, not to work for things, not to earn things, but to be given – as they were (and are) in school. The current approach simply tells students they aren’t responsible, it’s someone else’s role to make them… whatever.

Let me tell you a story from Australia, from a private school. Tim was completely off the wall in Year 9 – he hated school, didn’t co-operate in any lessons, let alone mine. He ruined my lessons, when he was there and the worst report I have ever written in my life was about Tim. His parents were educated and caring – they’d lost him too. All they wanted was that he was at school and safe until he was old enough to leave and in the meantime we hoped for some sort of miracle. Well a miracle did not eventuate but Tim made it through to university entrance subjects – we met up again along the way and while he had immense difficulties putting his now quite amazing and insightful ideas to paper he was growing up and becoming quite an actor. Between myself and his drama teacher we kept him going; she found him a course post year-12 and he was free of school, now a socialized and decent kid – a young man with prospects. He didn’t make it to uni but he makes a living and looks after himself – his friends love him and he remains close to his family. Is Tim a success story? He’s not a failure, he took responsibility for himself and lives a life independent of state support, still being an actor, if not a terribly successful one just yet.

These days I meet too many 12-16 year olds who think school is about being entertained, that if they are asked to complete a task that they deem boring they have the right to complain and refuse to do it. I meet too many children who have no idea how to deal with their emotions, who think it’s their right to be angry and sulk because they’ve been reprimanded for something inappropriate they have done or said. I meet students who have no idea about manners, taking turns, listening, respect for others and who think they don’t have to worry about such things. I meet too many children who have to be literally stood over to work, to put their pen (if they bring it to school) in their hand and put it to the paper.

I meet students who will not read. Despite visits to the library, to support from an excellent librarian, in a library with a plethora of books for teenagers, these children – and it is girls as much as boys – will not read. They’ll sit and look at the cover, pretend to read while staring out the window and someone, somewhere says this child must get a C+ in English to be able to go to University so they can move up the social mobility ladder.

The more governments fiddle with economics and education (health too) the worse they become. Australia is strong on personal responsibility – on being independent and able to look after yourself. You can be who you want and do what you want. Part of ‘The Lucky Country’ belief in self still exists. We have a healthy disrespect for authority, we hate being told what to do, we don’t care about titles. We believe in hard work, in not being a ‘bludger’, we don’t expect others to take responsibility for us.

Perhaps the difference in social mobility between Australia and the UK is more about national character than anything else. The resistance by teachers to be told what to do by successive governments, such that we can teach individually and creatively – across the states, across the government/private divide and students are not constrained by the insane examination culture that measures – well, what exactly? In Australia you learn, you don’t learn, in the end it’s up to the child with the help of their parents and the school. It’s not about the teacher, not on their own, not at all.

 

The current UK government seems to concentrate on three of the seven truths about social mobility –

1.Breaking the cycle through education…

2.Through the quality of teaching

3.The belief that University is the top determinant of later opportunities – so pre-18 attainment is key

 

Which is all well and good. But it ignores at its peril –

1.What happens at home before age 3

2.The importance of out of school time (like trips and clubs, the home environment)

3.Personal resilience and emotional wellbeing

 

These matters are not within the remit of the current educational climate of England. The relentless drive for progress, for C+ at GCSE, to pass exams means children know very little of any worth and their skills set is short term. In too many schools their grades are not their own (have a read of the TES chat rooms from time to time). League tables make this happen – make teachers scaffold work to such an extent that all students do is regurgitate their teachers words and interpretations. It is not really the teachers or even head-teachers fault, this is the system they know and even though they know it’s flawed have no idea how to work without Ofsted looming over their shoulders, tracking progress through numbers and passing exams.

Why do the English think schools need to be inspected? Is there some belief, some inherit distrust of teachers and schools, that says they won’t do their job unless someone is coming to check on them? How many professions suffer this indignity???

Take a long look England, David Cameron, Michael Gove, Michael Wilshaw – your education system is failing the most needy children. It’s not doing much for the bright ones either, but that’s another blog. Your systems do not enhance social mobility, they do not equip students for the world of work, further education, life long learning or how to be a good citizen. Have a long hard look at Denmark if you wish, but look at Australia too. Our education system is flawed for sure, but children are making it through their education to go onto better things. Perhaps that tells you something??

Social Mobility is not about schools, it’s not about teachers who can’t make students learn (learning is what you do for yourself– where you, the individual acquires knowledge). It’s much much bigger than that. So give teachers a break – look at your society, your massively unequal society, your massive inequity between the rich and poor and do something about that.

According to the Sunday Times Rich List 2012 those with a fortune between 330 – 750 million pounds have enjoyed increases of 7.8% while the poorest households have seen their income drop by 1.5%. Do you think this might impact on social mobility in this country? Do you really think any government is going to tackle this?

Don’t, for God’s sake, introduce more tests and benchmarks and hoops to jump through, especially not for the poor. Consider what to do about the fact that in the last twelve months the rich have got richer, the poor poorer – that would be the bold thing to do, the brave thing. The right thing to do. Go on, I dare you…