Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tom Collins House Writer in Residence

And that would be me. I'm very grateful for this opportunity because, as all writers know, the hardest thing to find is uninterrupted time to write. To have a place to go to every day with no demands being made on you by the outside world is an incredible luxury. The last time I had this was last year when I had the use of an unoccupied flat for four weeks. I was amazed at how much more work I managed in a day without the distraction of phones, housework and garden and I'm hoping for the same over the next four weeks.

There's an added frisson to be working in such an historic building. It was the home of Joseph Furphy after he moved to Western Australia from Victoria in 1904. He, as Tom Collins, wrote the Australian classic Such Is Life. The heritage listed house is now the headquarters of the Fellowship of Australian Writers WA.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Anzac Day

Lest we forget.

In memory of Captain Horace Chamberlain King MC, 28th Bn Australian Infantry who died of wounds, aged twenty two years, on 7 April, 1918 and was buried in France, Flight Lieutenant John Ellis, Royal Australian Air Force, who died on 22 March, 1944, of injuries received earlier and Warrant Officer Robert Ellis, Royal Australian Air Force, who was killed in a flying battle 14 December, 1944, and all the others who gave their lives in the name of their country.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Asylum Seeker Tragedy

I've been listening appalled to the suggestions - all made with no supporting evidence - that the boat people involved in the dreadful tragedy off the Australian coast set fire to or blew up the boat they were on after being intercepted by the Australian Navy.

It seems obvious that fuel ignited somehow but what could possibly lead anyone to assume that means it was a deliberate act? Of all the scenarios I can think of that seems to me to be the most unlikely. We're talking about a boat here, people. Fuel hoses leak and fuel gets spilled while vessels are being filled all the time and boats blow up as a result.

We don't know if a cooking gas bottle exploded, or a cooking stove got knocked over or whether somewhere in this obviously not well maintained craft there was a build up of petrol fumes that ignited when someone lit a cigarette or if there was a crazy person on board who decided to kill himself and everybody else so why should we conclude it was an act of sabotage? It could be, although I'm at a loss as to what the motive would be, but let's wait until we actually have some evidence before we decide.

This has happened before. Remember the "children overboard" scandal when asylum seekers whose boat was sinking ended up in the water and we were told they had deliberately thrown their children overboard? That was another one of those scenarios that after a few moments thought should have been seen to be obviously ridiculous but a large part of the population swallowed it and those of us who said "Hey, wait a minute. That doesn't make sense." were regarded as somewhat weird, out of touch, soft on "queue jumpers". After all it was on the news and in the papers. It must be right, mustn't it?

But it wasn't. Let's not jump to conclusions. This time let's wait and see what really happened.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Shop-opening Hours

There's a deal of discussion going on where I live about extending the hours that shops are permitted to open - driven mainly by the large supermarkets who say it is about providing for their customers but are more likely to be driven by a desire to gain more market share because small businesses won't be able to compete. There's much talk about how convenient this will be when you can go and buy what you want whenever you want. The claim is that as businesses decide their own hours those who don't want to open won't have to but this is obviously not going to work. If you don't open your competitors will attract your customers away and your business will suffer. Of course, it will also suffer if you do open because your turnover will be affected by increased wages with little likelihood of more customers compensating for it because they have only a finite amount of money they can spend and the only difference will be the time at which they spend it.

No-one would deny that shopping hours are a complicated mish-mash here. Except in the city tourism precincts large retailers including supermarkets are open six days a week for varying hours according to the day of the week while smaller ones can - but usually don't - trade twenty four hours a day seven days a week. Shops that are deemed to be necessary for emergencies, convenience or recreation may trade between 6:00 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. seven days a week. This includes among others hardware stores, garden centres, boating shops, motor vehicle spare parts, video shops, souvenir shops, newsagencies and bookshops. You will note it doesn't include motor vehicle sales which have their own rules - consisting of five days a week with one evening and Saturday morning trading. The sale of fuel is unrestricted. However what can be sold at the service station shop is restricted.

Personally I have always found it simple enough to work around these hours because my hours have been nine to five, five days a week. There is ample time to do the shopping for anything I want if I give it a little thought.

It's not so simple for Pisces or Virgo, both of whom are in jobs that involve weekend work and are frequently rostered on Saturday or Sunday or both. Neither begrudges working but they both resent the social implications of working these hours. Obviously this applies to a lot of people - nurses, doctors, those who work in the hospitality industry, transport providers and many others. They all have the same problems. Here are a few.

When you work on weekends you can't:
1. play sport as part of a team because you can't play in a weekend match
2. attend sporting matches to follow a team on a regular basis
3. attend daytime events scheduled for weekends - festivals, concerts, picnics etc. Even twilight or early evening times mean the function is half over before you get there.
4. meet up with friends for a chat because when they are free you are working.
5. meet new people.

I heard someone ranting about this recently. Her view was that she can't buy what she wants because she is at work when the shops are open. This is not true, of course. She is a public servant who works in the City and doesn't work on Saturdays or Thursday or Friday evenings - depends on where you live - when all shops are open and she has lunch breaks as well.

I don't find this at all convincing - more, I think it is very selfish. Perhaps it should be all or nothing. I will support extended shopping hours when all businesses, including the public service, banks and other corporations, are also obliged to be open for the same time. Something tells me that she wouldn't find this as reasonable.

At present only a limited number of people's lives are affected but if we make the kind of changes that are proposed we are going to find there are hidden costs - those that the shift and weekend workers are already well aware of. We need to consider those costs before we follow blindly what has been done elsewhere. My personal view is that we, as a society, are better off when we keep one day a week free for the majority of the population to function as a family day. The irony of those supporting daylight saving as being better for family time while calling for extended trading hours which will take even more family time away has not escaped me.

Keeping things as they are won't improve my family's life much (Pisces will still miss out on social activities as will Virgo and I will still have to accept invitations to go by myself instead of as a couple) but if it is better for most people I think we should stick with it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Another Reason Why I Don't Like Daylight Saving.

I've always had cats living with me and, out of consideration for the wildlife and neighbours, they are not allowed out at night. For the last twelve days, Puss has got up somewhere between 5:15 and 5:30 a.m. and rampaged around the house demanding his breakfast, trying to open the container it's kept in (we put it away to discourage the ants) or wake us to feed him. He's not at all happy and neither are we but it wasn't until yesterday that I realised why this is happening.

Daylight saving ended on April 1 and we are now getting up at normal time around 6:15-6:30 a.m. instead of 5:15-5:30 a.m. in real time by the interfered with clock. Unfortunately Angus can't tell the time and in his view breakfast should come when it always has.

Can't blame the cat (it's not his fault he doesn't run his life by the clock) but I'm sure blaming the politicians.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


A few weeks ago I wrote here about a hard life lesson. Someone I know, a young man with a wife and baby, had a cardiac arrest, was revived but is still in a coma. We don't know what the outcome will be.

It has made us think about our lives and reassess where we are and where we would like to be because if this can happen to a healthy, young man, it can happen to any of us.

We have done this in very different ways. Virgo has decided that now is the time to travel and she and her partner have booked and are off in a couple of months while Pisces and I have seriously started work on changes in our lifestyle. We all feel as if those things we have taken for granted are now on very unsteady foundations and that we need to be better prepared for whatever life may throw at us. It has meant among other things that we all are looking at what we should do to make things easier for family and friends in the event of injury or death.

So we have been looking at what everyone should have in place - and it's a scary but not difficult to achieve list.

Everyone needs to make a will and keep their will up to date.

Everyone needs to have in place an enduring power of attorney.

Everyone needs to make sure that someone they trust knows or can access important information like who needs to be notified in case of death, where assets are kept, are there life insurance policies and with which companies, are there outstanding loans or mortgages and with whom.

Everyone needs income protection insurance.

Everyone needs have some life insurance to protect their family.

Everyone needs either a pre-paid funeral plan or insurance to ensure that funeral expenses are covered.

Everyone should keep a regularly updated written record of their medical history including their doctor's contact details and what medications they are taking and make sure that someone knows where it is. If you are unconscious you are not in a position to give that information and even close family might not know or forget the details under stress.

It's so easy to think you're too young to think about this or that it won't happen to you, that it's too expensive or it can wait but the truth is age has nothing to do with it and you really can't afford not to be prepared. It's too late to do anything about it once you are in a tragic situation.

None of these things are difficult to arrange but we keep putting them off. I'd rather be safe than sorry. Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Night Visitors

On the arch over the steps: a tawny frogmouth doing a spot of hunting. This is unusual here although I know there is a nesting site a couple of kilometres away. It clung to the curve, rather out of place as it tried to look like part of a tree trunk. That might have worked very well if it had been on a tree but instead it looked as though a small log had fallen from oout of the sky and landed on the wire.I brought the dog back inside but left the lights on for a few minutes and it gradually gained confidence, slowly turning its head so we could see the bristles over its beak. Then I turned off the lights and when I let the dog out again later it had gone.

Mostly we get southern boobooks, with their mournful boobook call. We know by the shrieks of the mice and frogs it catches that one is a frequent visitor. We don't see it very often although it too likes the arch. Occasionally it sits there focussed on its task, big-eyed, head swivelling, and completely ignoring the lights, the dog and us.