July 31, 2011

Within cooee*

It must be because the novelty of living in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, hasn't worn off; or maybe it's because I've now got a decent camera, and am constantly on the lookout for arresting views and angles. Whatever the reason, I can't get enough of wherever I am. Obviously, exploratory forays further afield are enormous fun, but there are numerous delights on the doorstep.

The daily or weekend routine often yields new takes on the familiar. As I cycle back from Oxford (Street), the river is always a good subject on a fine day.

Brisbane's latest sky-reacher isn't finished yet but it's already dwarfing the rest of the CBD. Cranes in the city continue to proliferate: work has now started on the new Teneriffe CityCat terminal just across from Bulimba.

I found a particularly pleasing view of the CBD the other day while house-hunting in Hawthorne. I was delighted to find when I got it home that there was a chunk of Story Bridge in there. This is a favourite photographic theme – bridge bits when you're least expecting them.

There are numerous such themes. The Botanic Gardens on Mt Coot-tha provide material for many, such as reflections...

bamboo stems...


and just nice plant bits and pleasing juxtaposition.

I am long over the fact that Brisbane doesn't have idyllic tropical sandy beaches within a few minutes' drive. Manly's and Wynnum's mangrove coast rarely fails to deliver.

And, finally, a random visit one Sunday arvo to the recently opened Queensport Rocks Park on the south shore beneath the Gateway Bridge (or should I say, the Sir Leo Hielscher Bridges) produced a wealth of photographic opportunities.

* 'not far from' in Australian English

This post was last updated on 26 September 2011

July 29, 2011

Second class citizens

My mother had an expression. 'They looked at me,' she would say, 'as if I'd just crawled out from underneath a stone.'
By second class citizens, I am not referring to those in Australia who might feel like them sometimes, such as Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders; or asylum seekers who try to sneak in on 'the boats'; or boguns or westies or bevans or ockers or hoons. No, I'm talking about people who rent property in Queensland (and, I assume, the rest of the country).
We cannot buy a house in Australia: we're not residents. We can only rent. My friend has a responsible job, a decent salary, and a 457 visa. We are legal, but we are low life in the eyes of estate agents. They don't return calls; they ignore emails; they promise to do things, then don't. If you're seriously searching for a new property to rent, they won't give you a heads-up if one comes on the market. You have to trawl their website frequently or collect xeroxed lists, which are often out of date before you've put your glasses on.
When you walk into a real estate shop, the moment they know you want to rent rather than buy, their eyes go dead, the smile fades, and the distinterested demeanour is effected.
We could be told at any moment to leave our house, with four weeks' notice to vacate. It was last October when a nice man called me with the bad news (we would have been quite happy to stay here for the whole of our stay in Brisbane) that our landlord was putting the house on the market. He has since been stuck in a stagnant market of falling prices; he's on his third agent. The latest one is ambitious and officious and unpleasant and doesn't give a monkey's about our predicament: we have family from the UK staying with us for a month and are largely unable to house-hunt; neither do we want strangers traipsing through our house while our guests are taking a shower or eating their lunch.
I now don't return her calls or emails.
I suspect this may not be the last you'll hear of this...

July 22, 2011

At last... a voice of reason

A week after Julian Gillard announced details of Labor proposals for carbon pricing, the 'carbon campaign' began. The government is spending millions of Aussie dollars ($25 million, allegedly) on promoting their policy – from TV advertising to leafleting. The Australian Trade and Industry Alliance, backed by the coal industry and the Minerals Council, is also forking out a lot of money ($10 million) on anti-carbon tax ads. And many politicians are hitting the 'hustings', just as if a federal election were in the offing.

On day one of the campaign, Tony Abbott, leader of the Federal Opposition, was at Melbourne fish market at 5 am, complete with wife and a pair of daughters. He gutted a fish and lobbed in a few caustic comments about the government's proposals for carbon pricing before moving on to the next photo opportunity.

Ms Gillard went to Hazelwood power station in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria where they use particularly dirty 'brown' coal to generate electricity and will supposedly be hit hard by a carbon 'tax'. ABC television crews had been here, too, talking to father-and-son power workers worried about their jobs. The prime minister was reassuring.

Then, the following week, Malcolm Turnbull stepped up to deliver the Virginia Chadwick Memorial Lecture in Sydney. Turnbull was Minister for the Environment in the Howard government. Then, in 2009, as leader of the Opposition, he encouraged his party to support Kevin Rudd's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS): he subsequently lost a leadership contest to Tony Abbott (who later famously described climate change as 'crap'). Speaking in honour of a former Liberal minister in the New South Wales government who was responsible for a significant increase in protected areas on the Great Barrier Reef, Turnbull pleaded with Australians not to lose sight of the science behind the great climate debate. No one can discuss future protection of the Reef, in fact, without considering the impact of rising sea temperatures and increased acidity.

To polite applause from his largely Liberal audience, Turnbull declared that
'The question of whether, or to what extent, human activities are causing global warming is not a matter of ideology, let alone of belief. The issue is simply one of risk management.'
He spoke in favour of increased spending on carbon capture and storage technology: after all, Australia has a vested interest in clean coal production. He likened coal-exporters who attempt to discredit climate scientists to tobacco companies decades ago who denied the link between smoking and cancer; and he disparaged those who suggest that Australia should defer action on emissions until India and China take steps to reduce their carbon footprints.

Unfortunately Turnbull stopped short of criticising the man who replaced him as Liberal leader. But his wiser words highlighted the ineptitude of carbon campaigning based on soundbite sniping by Abbott and, to a lesser extent, Gillard. Cross-party cooperation and initiative is the only way forward, and the sooner Australian pollies appreciate that, the better-equipped for climate change their descendants will be.

July 11, 2011

Carbon pricing: read all about it

It's been an extraordinary week for Queensland. Last Wednesday, the Maroons won the State of Origin for the sixth consecutive year, and on Saturday the Queensland Reds beat the Crusaders from Christchurch to win the Super 15 rugby.

Then yesterday, Julia Gillard's government finally announced details of its proposed carbon pricing scheme to be introduced in July 2012. The impact of this measure on Queensland's heavily coal-dependent economy has been debated long and hard in the run-up to the announcement and will doubtless continue.

Australia has the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world. Following years of augmenting the nation's carbon footprint willy nilly, industry and individual citizens alike must apply the brakes before rapidly reversing the trend. Enormous sacrifices have to be made: it will not, at this point in emissions history, be a painless process. Australians cannot continue to live their extravagantly energy-hungry lives; the obsession with economic growth must be exorcised and the idea of 'wealth' redefined; and the nation must act upon the advice of experts, who may not be saying what anyone wants to hear but are urging what everyone must do, even the ostriches.

The other week, I would have laughed had it not been so galling when a chap phoned in to local talkback radio and declared that he was was not going to pay a carbon tax 'because I've got no carbon in my house'. Since then, I've often had to turn off the radio because I could no longer bear to listen to the ignorance pontificated about global warming, carbon emissions and what should be done about them. A large fat nothing is what many people are prepared to do about it if it's going to hurt their pocket or their feel-good factor.

There are some industry leaders in Australia who fully realise what is required of them and are preparing for a very different future, economically and meteorologically – www.csiro.au/science/adapting-mining-climate-change.html.

And a growing number of Australian women are just quietly getting on with it in their homes, supermarkets and local communities – www.1millionwomen.com.au.

I can forgive people for not fully understanding the science, although, if they have internet, there's little excuse for not trying – www.bom.gov.au/climate/change, which includes links to other, much more detailed information sources.

If anyone is in any doubt about the poor quality of political debate in the Australian media, they should read Lindsay Tanner's book Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy before finding out the facts for themselves rather than depending on the largely inadequate reportage of the climate debate and the need for action.

To determine what the government actually proposes under its carbon pricing scheme, go towww.cleanenergyfuture.gov.au.

And get on with it. Read all about it, now.

July 4, 2011

Aussie blokes

You know Aussie men. They're often in a huddle in the barbie corner of the backyard, stubbies in hand, having a laugh, analysing the footy, tending slabs of meat or snags. They'll be a bit loud, brash, strident even; they'll be calling a spade a spade, exhibiting their 'mateship' and drawling 'nyee-air' (yer) a lot in agreement with each other. Their womenfolk will be elsewhere.

Go to the beach and you'll see a fine Aussie male stereotype: the surf lifesaver. He'll be tall, tanned and probably blond; and even though he's got to wear a funny little red-and-yellow cap, most women will swoon as they swim, and even harbour a vague fantasy that a rip might necessitate rescue.

If you head out the back o' Bourke, you may come across a bushman. He'll be wearing a Driza-Bone (riding coat) and Akubra (hat) and be accompanied by his trusty blue-heeler (Australian Cattle Dog). He'll be a man of few words but he'll know his red-bellied black from his copperhead and how to get down and dirty in the merciless outback.

On ANZAC Day, you'll appreciate the extent to which soldiers are revered here. Since thousands lost their lives on foreign battlefields during the First World War, the heroic Aussie 'Digger' has come to epitomise this nation's identity and character more than any other icon. Recently an American entertainment company, Warner Music, tried to trademark the word 'Diggers', which caused an outcry here. (Which reminds me, an Aussie sporting hero, Lleyton Hewitt, is trying to trademark 'C'mon' as his unique slogan. This seems equally unacceptable to me, since millions of sports fans the world over urge their sporting superstars on with that cry. There was little admonishment of Lleyton, however; 'Come on, Aussie, come on' being, from what I can gather, one of very few original Australian sports chants.)

Last, but not least, in the parade of Australian male icons is the Aussie Rules footy player: a beefcake with tattooed biceps and impossibly tight kit. He'll play for a team with a name such as Essendon (aka Bombers) or Richmond (Tigers) or the Western Bulldogs (Bulldogs, naturally). If you're like me you won't have a clue where these teams are from until I tell you that Melbourne is where Aussie Rules was invented in 1859 and where the game is followed even more fanatically than elsewhere and where more than half the teams on the AFL Premiership 'ladder' are based.

If I had to sum up Aussie blokes generally, in one word, it would be cocky. Overconfident. About most things, even those well beyond their ken. You can't tell them anything, especially if you're a woman, and especially if you weren't born here.

Many of them drive large vehicles pulling trailers carrying fishing gear, camping stuff, watersports paraphernalia, boats, kayaks, jet-skis, ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) and all manner of things outdoorsy. The vehicles are often utes – some of them very smart utes, in lovely colours...

– or huge 4x4s, many of which are embellished with an assortment of extra bits. These might be roo bars, bull bars, nudge bars, smart bars, sports bars, rear bars, side steps, side skirts, side rails, rock sliders, weathershields, roof racks, access ladders or tow bars. 'Some spurious, savage token of manhood' is how American author Jonathan Franzen (in Corrections) describes the disconnection of silencers on motorbikes and other vehicles, which is very common here.

In Australia you seem to be able to put whatever you like on a number plate, or rego plate as it's known. So you see all manner of personalized plates. You do have to wonder, however, what kind of impression some drivers are trying to give to their fellow road-users.

Aussie men own lots of gadgets, for all sorts of purposes: most of them are motorised and therefore noisy. They love using them, from dawn until dusk if necessary. I get the distinct impression that the more gadgets you have, the more manly you are. A guy recently moved in close by. Almost the first thing he did was power-hose his front steps and mow and strim the nature strip, even though the grass wasn't very long. It was as if he was spraying his new territory, although technically the land belongs to Brisbane City Council, who expect residents to care for it – which, of course, they do, without question.

Everyone knows Australian men are passionate about sport. Not content with two types of rugby – union and league – they have invented their own version, which curiously they call Australian Rules Football, or footy. I defy anybody to watch Aussie Rules and find any similarity with football. The pitch is circular; a rugby ball is used; there are 36 players on the pitch; they score points by kicking the ball between tall posts; they handle the ball a lot (although they can't throw it, only fist or tap it with an open hand); they run with the ball; they are permitted to tackle people to the ground; the scoreline usually resembles that of basketball; and even if a team tops the Premiership, they then have to compete in a 'finals series' (of semifinals, preliminary finals and grand finals) before they actually win it. Players are required to be tall and strong with great stamina – this is a game of four quarters – which makes their tiny 'jerseys' and short shorts even more disquieting.

We have tried to get to grips with Aussies Rules, but, as with other rugby, an appreciation of the nuances of the game comes with a lot of watching. A couple of weeks ago we dipped into a game that came up while my friend was channel-hopping, as boys do. He turned to me after a few minutes and said: 'This game is a mess': we moved on.

Proper football here is called soccer, which is very American and rather irritating (for an English football fan).

Of course, Aussies blokes love many other sports, and they take winning very seriously, never more so than at international level. But they are not very sporting. They are, frankly, bad losers. After England won the Ashes in Australia last summer, I sent my friend an innocuous piece of fun to send round at work.

What do you call an Australian with a champagne bottle in his hand?
A waiter.

This was met, at best, with stony silence and, at worst, with a 'jokey' threat to do him some damage. If Australians lose on a significant sporting stage such as a world cup or a grand slam, it is reported very late in a news bulletin; if a traditional foe loses, it's fairly high on the agenda; and if the Wallabies or the Socceroos win, it's the lead. Basically, Aussies blokes don't do losing.

Politically, Australian men appear to be a rather conservative lot. It appears to me that many of them are more likely than not to vote Liberal rather than Labor; and therefore be more likely to defend the seemingly unboundable rights of mining companies to excavate Australia's vast mineral deposits; and more inclined to forgive irrigators for draining river systems of their water; and, rather like Americans, believe they have an inalienable right to drive off road, and fish, and hike, and climb, and build marinas and harbour developments, and generally gobble up their natural resources wherever and whenever it takes their fancy. I believe they are more likely to doubt climate scientists, trivialise the Greens, be unconcerned about damaged coral, and be disinclined to reduce their carbon footprint if, in so doing, they think it might jeopardise jobs or lead to increased costs of living for 'Australian working families', whom they are likely to describe as 'battlers'. And many of them were, I suspect, rather less than excited about the election of Australia's first female prime minister last year.

There are some Australian men who are nothing like this, of course. They are more measured, unassuming; less brazen, know-it-all. While you're sitting in the sun down by the riverside, contemplating the good life, you won't be disturbed by one of this latter breed on his mobile phone loudly as he randomly casts a fishing line of an afternoon, barely a couple of metres from where you're sitting; he won't have a crow-harsh voice* that cuts through your tranquillity like a knife.

Instead of depleting fish stocks without a second thought, he might have taken on board the words of a few of Australia's many highly acclaimed scientists and other academics who are well-respected the world over but, alas, rather less so in their homeland. And he might therefore be considering his country's responsibility in today's climatically challenged world; setting an example rather than waiting for others to take the initiative.

He'll be friendly, helpful and fairly laid-back, like the vast majority of Aussies. But a gentler, softer, altogether more attractive version.

* so described by Thomas Keneally in Australians: Origins to Eureka Volume 1