Don’t forget the plight of Afghans in Australia

Further to Stuart Rees’ eloquent exposure in Pearls and Irritations of the Prime Minister’s cruelty toward those Afghans already in Australia on temporary visas, below is my letter to the Prime Minister arguing for a more humane and pragmatic asylum seeker policy. Pragmatic because times have changed – the boats are no longer coming – and because among those temporary protection visa holders are talented, resilient and determined young people.

 

I know this from reading the applications of young refugees, many from Afghanistan but also Syria, South Sudan, Iran and elsewhere, for tertiary transition scholarships made available by the Public Education Foundation. Over the last five years the PEF has awarded almost 300 refugee scholarships (both for secondary school students and those going into full-time tertiary study). More than 100 scholars have gone on to university, studying in courses as diverse as engineering, pharmacy and construction management. They’ve been school captains and student council representatives. Many are young women who have spent years away from schooling because they have lived under regimes which do not permit girls’ education. Others have spent years in limbo in UN refugee camps. They face a myriad of difficulties on arrival in Australia, from the legacy of trauma to adjusting to a new language and school system.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these difficulties as students struggle with access to laptops, broadband and even physical spaces to study. Despite this, they remain driven to attain educational success, while also helping their families, for example with English translation and, until lockdown, by working part-time. They even find time to demonstrate their commitment to the broader community by volunteering.

It is not enough to say, as the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have, there are no plans at the moment to return Afghan TPV holders to Australia – what an absurdity. It is time instead urgently to set in train processes to allow them, and other asylum seekers, to apply to become Australian citizens.

The Prime Minister responded to my letter but made no commitment to offering permanent protection to Afghans in Australia, saying ‘please know Afghan temporary visa holders currently in Australia will be
supported by the Australian Government and will not be asked to return to Afghanistan while
the security situation remains dire’. The Opposition spokesperson, Kristina Keneally, told me that: ‘Abolishing Temporary Protection Visas and converting those refugees to permanent visas has been long-term ALP policy and was recently re-adopted at this year’s ALP Conference’.


20 August 2021

Dear Mr Morrison

Re: Afghanistan crisis and Australia’s asylum seeker policy

I join calls from over 300 organisations to urge your government to take more, and more immediate, action to assist the Afghan people, including here at home.

I was appalled to hear your emphatic refusal to reconsider Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers who have arrived here by boat. It was cruel at this time when people who fled Afghanistan (and other war zones) watched the scenes of horror playing out in Kabul. It was also futile, given there is no chance in the foreseeable future that these people will be able to leave Australia.

In other areas of policy, your government has rightly conceded that changed circumstances call for changed policy settings. This is most obvious in the decision in the face of COVID-19 to abandon a goal of achieving surpluses. It is now time to recognise that the policy (of both the Coalition and the ALP – I am copying this letter to Mr Albanese) of ‘turning back the boats’ and not allowing maritime arrivals to receive permanent protection is obsolete. Migration to Australia is all but halted.

That brings me to the new reality: labour shortages across the country, notwithstanding the slight drop in the latest figures caused by lockdown in NSW. Australia has a valuable resource of potential workers among those on temporary visas. I know from assessing applications from young refugees for tertiary transition scholarships what tenacity and hard work these people can harness. For the last three years, the most highly ranked scholars have been on temporary protection visas. A good many of the successful applicants are Afghans. Deliberately to squander such talent and drive is mean, obstinate and against Australia’s interests.

I ask you to reassess Australia’s refugee policy with both humanity and pragmatism.

 

July issue of Australian Garden History

In this issue of Australian Garden History, the array of images expands many fold the word limits necessarily imposed on contributors. Photographs of NSW’s sweeping high country and its tell-tale flora reinforce the point made by Warren Foster, a proud Yuin man, that evidence Aboriginal gardens have been around for millennia is right before our eyes.

Capturing the entirety of a Californian redwood in a single image is nigh impossible. Gillian Jenkinson’s photograph of part of the sequoia on the front cover conveys the marvel these giants evoke. Her husband, Jeff Jenkinson, tells the story of South Australia’s Champion Tree in the Adelaide Hills.

Thanks go to the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria for the magnificent images of the new Arid Garden in the Melbourne Gardens, whose cacti have a 100-year-old story.

Andrea Whitely, a Perth-based garden consultant and writer, tells the history of a Subiaco rose garden. The current owner of the property, Fairview, Thomas Murrell, is preserving the history of his house and garden, including in artworks he has commissioned.

Other images inspired by history are the exquisite botanical drawings created to mark the 250th anniversary in 2020 of Captain Cook’s voyage in the Endeavour. These will be on show in a free exhibition from 21 August to 12 September, 10am to 4pm, at the Lion Gate Lodge in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.

This issue introduces two professionals working in the world of gardens, both of whom see the value of understanding history and preserving traditional methods. James Boxhall is the only Australian accredited by the National Hedgelaying Society in the United Kingdom; Ian Carroll is the head gardener at one of the Southern Highlands of NSW’s oldest gardens: Oldbury Farm.

The mission of the Australian Garden History Society is to promote awareness and conservation of significant gardens and cultural landscapes. It is pleasing then to see that one of those gardens at Yarrabin in Bowral, NSW, has escaped demolition. The story of the house and garden appear in the journal’s occasional series, Remarkable Gardens.

Available at: https://www.gardenhistorysociety.org.au/journal/ 

Australian Garden History April issue

The April issue of Australian Garden History features the exquisite paintings of the Australian bush by Marion Mahony, the wife of Walter Burley Griffin. Mahony deserves to be better known in her own right, as award-winning journalist Glenda Korporaal demonstrates.

The cover shows the remarkable rainforest built on the side of Black Mountain in Canberra, with another article discussing the landscape design  of Canberra’s parliamentary triangle.

For this and more, you can buy a digital or hard copy at Australian Garden History

 

 

 

Perspective needed: one death in many

 

On Friday 9 April 2021, a certain gentleman died. His full name/title was:

His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich, Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Extra Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Member of the Order of Merit, Grand Master and First and Principal Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Knight of the Order of Australia, Additional Member of the Order of New Zealand, Extra Companion of the Queen’s Service Order, Royal Chief of the Order of Logohu, Extraordinary Companion of the Order of Canada, Extraordinary Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Lord of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, Privy Councillor of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, Personal Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty, Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom.

That’s 133 words. In the time it takes you to read it, at least 100 people will have died somewhere in the world. For the average daily death toll around the globe is 150,000 people. How many of their names will we know? How many of them will attract the media feeding frenzy that the passing of certain 99-year-old gentleman did?

How much media or other scrutiny will fall on the 800+ women who died on that very same day from what the World Health Organization describes as “preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth”? How many pub conversations about that particular gentleman’s legacy will pause to consider that in high-income countries a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death is one in 540; in low-income countries it is one in 45?

We don’t know exactly what the 99-year-old gentleman expired from, though old age is clearly a suspect. We do know he suffered heart problems. That puts him in strong company – nearly one third of the other 149,999 deaths on 9 April resulted from cardiovascular disease.

The gentleman’s family, especially his wife—a woman of some renown—will mourn him deeply. That is as unremarkable. Will their sorrow be any more heartfelt, any more profound, than that of all the other wives, husbands, children, mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, companions who lost a loved one on Friday 9 April 2021?

 

Scomo banks on denial

PM:     Did you do it?

MINISTER 1:     No I did not!

PM:     Atta boy, but there’s room for improvement. Let’s try again.

Do you do it?

MINISTER 1:     I definitely did not.

PM:     Only definitely? Can’t you do better than that?

MINISTER [taking a deep breath]:     I absolutely, categorically deny I had anything to do with it.

PM:     That’s more like it! Take a break and we’ll polish it later.

MINISTER 1:     Um, sorry PM, what was I denying?

PM:     Come on, I explained it all in Cabinet! I want blanket denials from every minister. We’re bound to need them so I’m stockpiling.

MINISTER [smiles broadly]:     You’re a thinker Scotty. That’s why we made you PM.

PM:     Send in the next one, will you?

MINSTER 1:     Sure thing.

PM:     Right. Did you do it?

MINISTER 2:     I am offended to the core that you could even ask that question. Never in a month of Sundays would I ever contemplate action so vile in spirit and horrendous in application that it would leave decent people everywhere shuddering with revulsion. If you persist with that malicious line of enquiry I will not hesitate to be very upset to the point that I might cry.

PM [laughs]:     You’ve been practicing! Great work, though you might need to look at the word count. A bit long for a 30 second grab.

Send in the next one will you?

MINISTER 2:     You got it, El Scotto Supremo.

PM:     Okay, you know the drill. I explained it before.

MINISTER 3:    Did you now?

PM:     Yes, I did. Oh, bugger, you got me. I answered in the affirmative.

MINISTER 3:     I didn’t mean to embarrass you PM, just to show that we can all slip up.

PM:     I know, I know, a good lesson too. Forgot my own rule: always deny until it’s certain the media are all at the pub.

MINISTER 3:    Or move to hypotheticals. “You have just asked me if I assaulted that woman. I have never responded to hypotheticals and don’t intend to start now.”

PM:     Yeah, that’s a great line. We can thank Christian for that one. He’s the gold standard.

MINISTER 3:    Just one thing though. What will we do about Julie Bishop?

PM:      That flirtatious sow. You saw what she said? That we should actually know the substance of allegations before we deny them. Outrageous, pedantic nonsense. It’ll undermine our whole system of open government.

MINISTER 3:     That’s what happens when you get the wrong lawyers in Parliament.

PM:     Or the wrong women.

 

 

Bundanoon History Group bushfire archive project

Amid the restrictions of COVID-19, the Bundanoon History Group managed to complete phase one of its bushfire project in time for what turned out to be a cool and wet summer. Its messages have been distilled in a poster hanging on the History Shed in the main street and in a short video made for the National Museum of Australia’s Momentous online project.

We live with fire in this beautiful part of the world, so recording its history and is important, as was ensuring that a local perspective on Black Summer was included in the national record. One gap in our archive remains the Indigenous perspective, which the BHG will seek to rectify. Knowing about Aboriginal fire practices is now acknowledged to be an important way to avert some of the disastrous consequences of bushfire.

Wingello is said to be an Aboriginal word meaning ‘place of fire’ or ‘to burn’. It was indeed such a place, not just in 2020. In 1965 – in the month of March – 31 houses were burned down in Wingello. Bundanoon fared better thanks to 1000 firefighters, volunteers, troops and police who fought back the fire, helped by wind changes. In January 1939, Bundanoon escaped the fate of Penrose, which lost nine houses, two stores, a fruit-packing shed, a church and eight farmhouses. Bundanoon’s own Holy Trinity Anglican Church was destroyed by bushfire on New Year’s Eve 1904.

When reading about these previous incidents, the similarities are stark: both the causes − climatic conditions and human error – and the way we cope with them. Writing in the Sun Herald, Max Suich observed that three things would be remembered about the horror of that week in Bundanoon in March 1965: courage, generosity and humour, sentiments familiar to all those who lived through last year’s Black Summer.

Thanks to a grant from Oral History NSW this project will continue in 2021. Contact Francesca Beddie if you wish to know more and can see how our project links with others recording the events and impact of Black Summer.

Post-Brexit: “leave us be!” Queen demands

Buckingham Palace has announced that the Queen has restored the ancient law of lèse-majesté to the United Kingdom.

The law makes it an offence, punishable by up to 145 years in jail, “to publicly criticise, mock, make derogatory remarks, or otherwise offend the sensibilities of any member of the royal family, including Her Majesty’s corgis”.

There will be a one-week grace period during which anyone who accidentally says anything unkind about the monarchy or the corgis will merely be cautioned and banned for life from watching Premier League football.

LM training sessions are being rolled out across the country in conjunction with the Covid-19 vaccination program.

A Palace spokesperson explained the background to the restored law and Her Majesty’s thinking:

  • As the United Kingdom enters a new era of friendlessness it is vital to show those Euro[expletives deleted] that no longer can they get away with constant cheap pot-shots and high-speed car chases through Parisian tunnels involving the British royals, their assorted hangers on and, of course, the royal corgis.
  • With Philip is on his last legs, the Queen is all too conscious of the many unkind things that may soon be said about him. She has said many of them herself already.

“I know he often comes across as a bigot and a misogynist who makes a habit out of stupid, offensive remarks,” the Queen observed. “I well remember the time he said to the President of Nigeria, splendidly dressed in traditional robes, ‘You look like you’re ready for bed!’ It was so hard not to laugh but I tell you this: Philip was never so insensitive that he made a joke about the royal corgis.”

  • How hurtful it was for Her Majesty when recently she overheard her grandchildren guffawing at a joke told by one of them:

Prince Charles was driving around his mother’s estate when accidently he ran over her favourite corgi. He alighted from his Range Rover and sat down, totally distraught, knowing the Queen would go ballistic. Then he noticed a lamp half-buried in the ground. He carefully dug it out and rubbed it clean. Instantly a genie appeared. “You have freed me at last,” the genie cried, “I shall grant you one wish”. Charles pointed to the mangled animal, “I don’t suppose you could fix Mummy’s dog,” he asked. “Sorry, no can do,” the genie replied, “even my magical powers have their limits.” Charles thought for a moment, then reached into his pocket and took out two photographs, one of Diana, the other of Camilla. He stared at the photo of Camilla and said, “I know it’s a big ask but could you possibly make this one as beautiful as her?” He held up the picture of Diana. The genie thought hard for a moment and replied, “Let’s have another look at that dog”.

  • Her Majesty has noted that Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn is an ardent fan of lèse-majesté. His country recently sentenced a public servant who had criticised the monarchy to 43 years in jail.

“Many people would see that as excessively harsh. I beg to differ. It’s a clear sign of royal magnanimity. The original sentence was 87 years, cut in half for no better reason than a guilty plea from the defendant. King Vajiralongkorn is the world’s richest monarch. His $40 billion fortune makes my $500 million look positively paltry. It would seem this lèse-majesté stuff offers real opportunity to boost the royal cash flow.”

  • That said, and ever attentive to her subject’s simple needs, the Queen has acknowledged the financial impact of lèse-majesté on satirists everywhere. She has created a special fund to assist them.

“They can laugh as much as they like, as long as they leave me and my retinue and, of course, the royal corgis, well out of it. And the best thing: the fund’s coming from withdrawals I’ve ordered from former Prince Harry’s expense account. That’ll teach the ungrateful little shit,” Her Majesty chortled before adding, “I’m sure Andrew will chip in too. He owes me big time for not locking him in the Tower and throwing away the keys.”

 

My Beethoven dilemma

I’ve written a satirical novel called Beethoven’s Tenth and the journey which saved the world. It’s about a small group of fictional characters with grudges against their authors. Led by Dr Watson, of Sherlock Holmes fame, they set out to publicise their grievances. This revolves around one of them, Johannes Kreisler, a brilliant eccentric created by the real composer, E T A Hoffman, finishing Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony. After a roller coaster ride it all ends triumphantly, with grudges resolved and, thanks to the new symphony, the world a much rosier, hopeful place. Beethoven, at least in spirit, has saved the day.

But have I perpetuated a terrible wrong? Not a single character in my novel considers that Beethoven’s music might embody the ‘racist, misogynist, patriarchal tradition’ that some claim has ‘colonised’ Western classical music. How could I possibly have missed the fact that Beethoven’s famous Ninth Symphony overflows ‘with male violence and female subordination, its narrative primarily based on phallic sexuality’? Why was I so blind to the ‘bisexual narrative’ and ‘Oedipal configurations’ lurking in Beethoven’s grand works?

Foolishly, I thought also that ‘masterful’ and ‘masterpiece’—derived from Latin and German—signalled skill and refinement. How embarrassing to discover that, according to some modern commentators, they are little more than codewords for slavery and sexism. I’m so relieved I don’t hold a Masters degree.

In my novel’s defence, I often spell out Beethoven’s name. The book’s dedication is to ‘Ludwig and Francesca’ (my partner). But that was more good luck than good management. Only now do I know that the mononym, Beethoven, is also a source of offence. I feel badly, then, about the title and the cover. Thank goodness I wasn’t writing a politically correct novel about Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Puccini. There’d be little space for the actual story.

From now on I’ll make sure it’s always William Shakespeare and Dante Alighieri. I’ll go only to art galleries who display names such as Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali y Domenech, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva and so on. I’m not sure how to handle Aristotle and Sophocles, who seem positively name deprived. By contrast, Jesus of Nazareth Son of God is both a mouthful and consciously gendered. I’ll need advice on that one.

I will try to make amends, though aspects of my novel may cause readers unease. Johannes Kreisler hero worships ‘the noble, the miraculous Ludwig van Beethoven’. So too does one of the villains. Influenced by hearing LVB’s Third, Fifth and Ninth Symphonies played over a jail intercom, he declares he loves the composer’s ‘string quarters’ (sic) more than he loves his mother.

And there’s not a single word in my book about LVB’s fractious relationship with his young relation, Karl. If I’d done my research I would have discovered a 1945 book, jointly authored by Richard and Editha Sterba, Beethoven and His Nephew: A Psychoanalytic Study of Their Relationship. It reportedly ‘marshalled evidence to prove that LVB was a repressed homosexual whose inability to reconcile conflicting male and female impulses deprived him of a secure ego and left him without tenderness, warmth or most other human qualities’.

Oh dear. Could that explain why LVB never married? Or maybe he was just too busy with his music. Perhaps he never found the right woman, or at least the woman who thought he was right for her. He certainly doesn’t seem to have lacked self-confidence, commenting to his long-term supporter, Prince Lichnowsky, that while there were thousands of princes there was only one Beethoven.

Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, has noted that a pattern emerges among the women in LVB’s life: affection, friendship, respect, passion, though probably mostly platonic. His loves ‘were usually impossible or at least unlikely, often because the objects of Beethoven’s affection were women of noble birth or already married. As a result, what we would today call a “stable relationship” seems to have always remained just out of reach.’ Not a whole lot out of the ordinary there.

In a wonderful new book, Oxford academic Professor Laura Tunbridge suggests there were very human qualities both of light and dark in LVB. She paints him as brilliant, flawed, often irascible, shrewd if not wise about money, with a keen taste for good coffee and wine. (On his death bed he lamented that wine he had ordered had arrived ‘too late’.) I’ll have to consider carefully the future of Beethoven’s Tenth. I could take the easy way out and switch on the shredder. But a book burning during a fierce thunderstorm would be more to LVB’s style. Maybe I should just relax and let his extraordinary music wash over me. It’s worked pretty well for the past 50-plus years.

 

Palace Letters – the Queen’s Hard Quiz

We interrupt this repeat broadcast of the 2019 Sydney to Hobart yacht race to bring you exclusive coverage of the Queen’s preparation for her New Year appearance on Hard Quiz, hosted (how could anyone forget?!) by Gold Logie winner, Tom Gleeson.

A courtier is putting the Queen through her paces on her special subject:

How One definitely knew nothing  whatsoever about the plot to sack Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and any suggestions otherwise will be regarded as treasonous slurs, prompting aforementioned One to pursue maximum redress through legal channels.

COURTIER:    May it please Your Majesty to start?

QUEEN:         Yes, Thomas, please be as frank as you dare.

COURTIER:    Thank you Ma’am, though if I may beg your indulgence I will observe in passing that my name is other than Thomas.

QUEEN:         So many years, so many faces, so many names, all so bothersome. Please clarify the situation at once.

COURTIER:    The name of the individual bent before you, Ma’am, is Alexander.

QUEEN:         Are your new?

COURTIER:    Yes, Ma’am, I was formerly His Excellency the High Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Australia to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

QUEEN:         One forgets so easily those who One has no call to remember.

COURTIER:    Indeed so, Your Majesty. Perhaps we best continue.

QUEEN:         One consents.

COURTIER:    Begging your further indulgence, Ma’am, may I point out that the special subject Your Majesty has nominated is of such extensiveness in the nature of its description that it may not actually leave sufficient time for meaningful answers.

QUEEN:         That, Alexander, is precisely the point.

COURTIER:    Yes, Ma’am, of course, Ma’am, a wise strategy indeed.

QUEEN:         One does not require grovelling compliments from One’s staff, Alexander. Now get to the questions, so One may practice not answering them.

COURTIER:    Of course, Ma’am, of course. True or false:

Her Majesty had no inkling that Sir John Kerr was planning to sack a democratically elected Prime Minister?

QUEEN:         Such impertinence. Next question.

COURTIER:    Without delay, Ma’am.

Is there a smoking gun?

QUEEN:         Of course. Many of them in fact after the Royals have been out in the fresh air blasting away at pheasants and grouse and other wonders of nature.

COURTIER:    Brilliant deflection, Ma’am. Now, multiple choice:

When did Her Majesty first learn that Prime Minister Whitlam had been replaced. Was it—

QUEEN:         One so looks forward to clarifying this, once and forever. It was 1977. One’s Silver Jubilee. With One’s consort occasionally by One’s side but mostly trailing rearward, One visited Awstralya. One could not help but observe that the Prime Minister looked quite different to the one One encountered on an earlier visitation. Only when One queried One’s staff did One learn they had forgotten to advise One of the change. Very sheepish they were. One assured them that such a trivial matter hardly required One’s attention.

COURTIER:    Multiple choice again, Your Majesty:

When Sir John Kerr—

QUEEN:         Oh, him again.

COURTIER:    If I may, Your Majesty.

QUEEN:         Proceed.

COURTIER:    When Sir John Kerr sacked Prime Minister Whitlam for being a Labor Prime Minister—

QUEEN:         Oh, so that was the reason! One always thought it had something to do with the constitution. Sir John’s was never very good; drank far too much poor man, stress of the job, that sort of thing.

COURTIER:    If I may continue, Your Majesty;

What were Sir John’s stated reasons:

  1. Your Majesty had ordered abovementioned dismissal
  2. Sir John could not recall why he had done it
  3. Sir John could not recall when he had done it
  4. Sir John could not recall if, in fact, he had done it at all.

QUEEN:         Tricky question this one. One thinks it was 2) but cannot be certain. Could One possibly phone a friend? Well, acquaintance actually, One does not really have friends in One’s exalted position.

COURTIER:    With your Majesty’s permission I will contact Mr Gleeson and ensure a phone is readily to hand on the great occasion. May it please Your Majesty to be informed that I would be delighted to fulfil the role of “acquaintance”.

QUEEN:         Good boy, Alex, it seems you can play at almost anything!

COUTIER:      Begging your indulgence yet again, Your Majesty, may I offer a final thought.

QUEEN:         If you must.

COURTIER:    Play hard!

QUEEN:         I always have. Remember Diana.