I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gotta love those girls - and Antony Green

Spent a happy twenty minutes last night ordering my Maxine13 t-shirt, courtesy Ampersand Duck and Crazybrave. Gotta love those girls, all three of them!

Note to OS readers: Maxine McKew is former ABC journalist who has knocked out the PM from his own seat, although she has (graciously?) not yet claimed victory and he has (churlishly?) not yet conceded defeat. With three year terms, we reckon Kevin Rudd (his t-shirt was Kevin07) can have two, and then it'll be the turn of Maxine (she of the razor-sharp mind and the beatific smile on election night) to move into The Lodge in 2013. A side note: it'll be interesting to chart the Ruddster's transition from the rock-star reception at high schools, and the cheerful first-name address to the gravitas of the Prime Ministerial office. About as long, perhaps, as it's going to take some journalists to stop referring to John Howard as the PM.

Here's the ABC's call of the card, with 81.7% of the vote counted, as of this morning, after preferences, giving Maxine the seat by 51.6% to 48.4, a swing of 5.8%. It was certainly close, with the Greens vote down by 10%, where the ALP depended on Green preferences in lots of other seats to get them over the line. I didn't realise you can also do your own scrutiny, booth by booth, of votes: here are the Bennelong results.

And I've just discovered Antony Green's blog, whose first entry on November 16 uses encouraging words like "after resisting for a long time", "a terrible sense of ennui", "up to my armpits" and "hopefully interesting information". Wonder why this didn't catch on last week. Especially with such a cute photograph...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Who's next?

Update from The Age this morning. This is Katharine Murphy writing:

THE sounds of paper shredders can be heard in a discordant symphony around the ministerial wing of Parliament House.

Wheelie bins clutter the corridors. Shattered Coalition staff in tracksuits and jeans are gathering possessions and trying to remain civil.

Nameplates have been ripped off the walls, awaiting their replacements.

The Coalition, like Elvis, is leaving the building, or moving to pokey offices with modest ensuites and concealed courtyards.

Barnaby Joyce — whose Canberra office has always been out on the fringes of the building — confesses he is afraid. "I'm scared, I don't want to go outside because I might find a podium to resign from," the Queenslander says before breaking into one of those laughs where it's clear there is absolutely nothing to laugh about.

And so it goes on. I know it seems like I'm gloating, but it's exactly this kind of behind-the-scenes stuff that I love to hear about: the intersection of the personal with the professional. Hard not to see it all through eyes trained by watching West Wing, though.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Dropping like flies...

Gosh, who's next? 

I'm working at home today, finalising my marking and my documents for my annual appraisal tomorrow, doing some emails for our little forum on Early European research next month, and booking my flights to Hobart for another conference, but have to keep checking compulsively back to The Age website. It's all happening out there!

A week ago, as Howard and the Coalition seemed to be clawing back some support in the polls, it seemed we might be facing up to another three years of the same old team. But since then, the Coalition was wiped out; and four ministers had lost their seats by Saturday night. Yesterday, the Treasurer, Peter Costello, who's been just waiting for the leadership to come to him, announced he's going to serve out the next three years on the back bench then go off into a second career in commerce. Everyone who endorsed him so warmly on Saturday must be feeling a bit stupid and pissed off. Jeff Kennett (former Victorian premier) is contemptuous...

Then this morning Maxine McKew (former journalist) has all but claimed Bennelong from the PM in her very first electoral contest, making him only the second serving Prime Minister to lose his seat.

Alexander Downer (ex-Foreign Minister: these glosses are for the non-Oz readers), says he'll think about contesting the leadership but admitted he had been very bad at being opposition leader last time. Remember? At the time, the Coalition's slogan was "the things that matter". He turned this into an appalling joke about domestic violence: "the things that batter." Incredible. Though I must admit he has grown up a bit since then and to his credit, has apparently been quite good in East Timor...

Malcolm Turnbull (rich republican [i.e. in favour of Australia becoming a republican], recently turned politician) has put his hand up to lead the opposition. He's smart, eloquent, stood up to Howard and said we should sign Kyoto, but has little experience. And none of being in opposition.

Tony Abbot also says he'll stand, though he admits his electoral campaign went a little astray (understatement of the year).

Who else? Julie Bishop and Brendon Nelson (both former Education ministers) are being touted as possible leaders, but are yet to go public.

And now Mark Vaile (ex-deputy PM, and leader of Coalition's National Party) is stepping down too.

Paul heard someone say yesterday that the Mayor of Brisbane is now the highest status Liberal politician in the country.

I think that the party must have been on the point of implosion. And I bet this is not the end of the resignations, or the recriminations, either.

But the more I think about Julia Gillard, and Maxine McKew and Jodie Campbell, who picked up Bass and who looked phenomenal in her interview on Saturday night, and even Therese Rein, who's going to make a fabulous PM's wife, I am vastly cheered by the numbers of these clever, passionate women stepping up into leadership roles. Gillard hinted that Rudd would soon be organising an apology to Indigenous people, another thing Howard couldn't bring himself to do. I'm sure it's too much to hope that the meanness of the last eleven years can be turned around overnight, but it's hard to imagine a better start for Rudd.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Brand New Day: Election party wrap-up

Around about 7.30 last night, when no one would call it anything more decisive than a cliff-hanger, I started to relive the moments of despair I've felt in other years, as my optimism is confronted with the sheer determination of John Howard, and the success with which he has turned this nation into a bunch of individuals keen, at any cost, to propel their own fortunes forward. Well, I know there are forces larger than Howard responsible for the fracturing of community spirit, but his version of Liberal entrepreneurialism has really given it an acceptable face in this country. My recent example comes from a taxi-driver in Brisbane. We had skirted around the question of our respective allegiances a while before he came clean as a Howard supporter. I climbed up on to the moral high ground and said, "You know, the thing is: he's a liar, and I don't want my country run by a liar." "Oh yes, that's right, he's a liar," said the driver, "but look at what he's done for the country." 
Anyway, all turned out well enough in the end. I'm particularly thrilled about Julia Gillard as our first woman deputy PM. I've come to like her more and more over the last six weeks, monotonous pitch of her voice aside. I thought Howard's concession speech was just fine, and cannot see the great statesmanship it is being described as displaying. He appeared to me as a practised politician; nothing more, and nothing less. Rudd's speech was completely lacklustre: balanced, tedious, bland. Where is the great political rhetoric of yesteryear? But all he really had to do in this election was not be Howard; and I'm far from optimistic and buoyed by his programme. We sign off on Kyoto and make some headway there; there is lots of talk about higher education, but no major reforms to the university sector that I can see. It seems likely Labor will defer the introduction of the national RQF, the research-assessment exercise, and then probably streamline it, so it will be (a) easier to administer but (b) less finely tuned to the humanities. 
It looks, indeed, as if Howard will lose his own seat to Maxine McKew, former ABC journalist. I read in The Age this morning that someone at liberal party headquarters called out to a big image of her on the TV screen, "why don't you get a facelift, you slag?" Still some ways to go on gender equity, then.
The mood in our circles was optimistic and positive a few weeks ago: we had four invitations to juggle. But we spent the evening with our friends and neighbours (must have been the most optimistic, as their invitation came in first). I had laughed at Richard and Paula's seriousness: they wanted to keep the party small, so they could really concentrate on the television. But as it was, I was the one most glued to the set. One of the highlights is normally Anthony Green, the ABC's psephologist, and his computer graphics, but they were absolutely abysmal. They kept cutting out, and showing irrelevant information, like the shape of the electorate, rather than its location. The Foxtel box also had trouble managing the ABC screen, so we lost the side edges all the time. Had they counted .7 or 10.7 of the vote? We switched over to the commercial channels and stared, disbelieving, at the paucity of debate and analysis offered by Ray, and Kochie and Mel, and switched back. The kids (six boys aged between 12 and 8) waxed between enthusiasm and boredom, and requests for explanations of the voting system at inopportune moments. 
We ate extraordinary cheeses, meat from the barbeque, salads, and my favourite thing to make and take - mascarpone and prune tart. By the time Rudd came on, we were exhausted, and had started walking home around the corner, to the sound of fireworks. We turned on the TV at home to watch him, and I fell asleep. Will the nation change much? We can only hope.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Vote The Bastards Out

What this election campaign needs is ... more music! This is enough to make me want to head into the city: the Spooky Men's Chorale is about to perform this somewhere in the CBD very shortly...

Thanks to John for this link

Monday, November 19, 2007

Brisbane distractions

Back from Brisbane on Saturday night, after attending the symposium of the Australian Humanities Academy. Brisbane was gorgeous, though I took my customary approach to a conference — fly in at the last minute and leave early — so I didn't see that much of the city. Why do I do it this way? To fend off that awful feeling on the first day away, of wondering why in the world one would want to leave one's home, and hang around airports and burn up greenhouse gases, and sleep in a hotel. So I try and minimise the pain by not really committing to the city. Paul and I never seem to manage to go on such trips together, so that's another reason not to hang around.

I did manage to get in a couple of walks, though, along the boardwalk along Southbank. Restaurants, cafes, a Nepalese pagoda, and the little sandy beach built into the riverbank (where I swam, 11 years ago), though it was closed for renovation, with all the sand piled up under tarpaulins, while they sealed the base. It was mild for Brisbane, I think; a balmy 26, which made sitting outside in the evening extremely pleasant. The first evening saw me and two companions sharing a bowl of succulent mussels in a rich tomato and chili broth, sopped up with an excellent sourdough.

The theme of the conference was the nature of e-research in the humanities. There were some terrific papers showcasing wonderful projects and resources; and also some reflections on the nature of this work, too, so it wasn't just "show-and-tell".

One remark struck me, though, when a prominent Vice-Chancellor commented that the era of the lecture was dead; that students simply wouldn't tolerate being lectured to in the old way. I guess that's true, that our attention span has been horribly reduced. My companion at the conference dinner on the second night told me how Pascale had anticipated the "distractions", like email, that break up our concentration span into bits and pieces. But it was odd to speculate on the irony that the symposium was presented in a conventional lecture theatre, that had been adapted to take powerpoint, etc. So when speakers presented their sites and applications, they were in darkness at the side of the stage, while the screen was lit up. Most of these applications were text-intensive, too, so if you were sitting up the back, it was pretty hard to see what was on the screen, much of the time. Nor were the speakers miked up, so that when they were answering questions, you couldn't always hear very well. No wonder some of the academicians were seen nodding off. And in truth, it is hard to concentrate for a day of such presentations. It might have been an idea for the conference to be held in a lab, where we could have interacted with these resources ourselves.

In fact, the organisers had made several laptops available, and I got used to seeing people surfing around sites that were being discussed in front of them. Some were also checking their email, too... But if that's the best way of presenting this material, either to a conference, or to a class, then it's no wonder that the connection between audience and presenter is diluted. I'm not a luddite in such things: I do use powerpoint when I teach, for example, and I have offered minimal online sites for larger subjects; but I do also love the human connection it's possible to make in a lecture, and the way that quite unexpectedly, sometimes, the group goes completely quiet and you realise that something has struck them, collectively, and you had no way of anticipating what it would be. The symposium wasn't really concerned with teaching, though.

Oddly, it's the idea of the "distraction" that has stayed with me. I'm determined to try and exert some discipline over my own. I wonder if reading Pascale would help. Or is that just another distraction?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Anyone still in doubt?

Anyone still in doubt about the customary associations of pink, shopping and the infantilisation of women? Or about the way commercial enterprises might be capitalising on the pink ribbon breast cancer campaign?

Thanks to Paula for this one...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Thursday Frog Blogging

How cool is it when you get to blog about a blog set up by a friend of your parents? Bushranger posts about birds and plants and books in the Geelong area, and has put up a magnificent photograph of a poddlebonk frog in her garden.

Our own frog, Herbert, is much shyer, and I've only seen him once, swimming in the stone basin underneath the tap. But I can hear him as I'm typing now. And have even thought I detected a different cry. Perhaps Herbert has found happiness amidst the violets?

Monday, November 05, 2007

You know it's the first Monday in November in Melbourne when ...

... there is a big parade through the city streets, the day before the Melbourne Cup, and even though there are no horses in the city this year, because of the dreaded equine influenza, there are still thirty thousand people there to watch the jockeys and the trainers pass by. Heaven knows what the madness will be like at Flemington tomorrow.

It's "Cup Eve", and yet it's been a quiet day in our little corner of Fitzroy. I've finished writing up the second seminar paper in a week to submit for publication, and am just about all written out. But not quite.

Time, still, to speculate on the relationship between the Melbourne Cup and the medieval tournament.

From the weekend Age:

IN THE opulent corner of Flemington's Birdcage that houses the nearly completed four-level Venetian palace of Emirates, the top names in tents reach heavenward in the corporate game of "mine is bigger than yours".

Emirates yesterday fitted a century-old gate complete with authentic floodwater rust from a palazzo in Venice.

Moet has flown chef Shannon Bennett to France for inspiration for its finger food. Lexus will adorn its two-storey chandelier with 1000 flowers. And Saab has trucked in six tonnes of ice to carve a frozen bar.

The race that stops a nation has spawned a week of unashamed hedonism in the Birdcage's ever-growing palaces of pleasure.

This time tomorrow, there'll be hundreds of photos of silly hats, horses and excess of all kinds. People are already complaining that race-day fashions more nearly resemble nightclub wear than the stylish elegance of Ascot. There'll be people drunkenly staggering around in high heels and fantastic and fun constumes. Let's hope no horses get injured or distressed tomorrow, as they so often do.

Tim Costello, head of World Vision, in the same article valiantly tried to suggest that race-day excess was ... excessive.

World Vision chief executive Tim Costello yesterday condemned the lavish marquee scene as a sad indictment on society. "I think the marquees are the outward sign of great wealth and self-indulgence, but not necessarily the sign of great generosity and strength of spirit," he said.

Mr Costello, who returned from a trip to Africa for World Vision yesterday, said he was appalled that a marquee invitation was regarded as a sign of having "made it" in Melbourne.

"It's a sad aspiration for young people to being invited to an exclusive marquee, and if that is held up as having made it, then that is a fairly shallow, sad way to make it," he said.

It's hard not to agree with his assessment, but also hard not to see the similarities between the races and the tournament. Think of the elaborate jousts built at Smithfield and the Round Table at Windsor; think of the danger of the joust itself; and the chroniclers' complaints about the dreadful clothes of women, and their scandalous behaviour. Think of the pleasures, shared equally by both forms, of dressing up, in fancy jockeys' silks, high fashion, or silly, carnivalesque costumes; or, as in medieval times, knights disguising themselves as the Pope and his cardinals, or as Tartars, or cross-dressing. The Melbourne Cup is not just for the rich, either, any more than the tournaments were. Everyone gets a holiday (except the university), and most schools had today off as well. It is licensed mayhem.

I think my favourite detail about the Emirates tent, though, is the "century-old gate complete with authentic floodwater rust from a palazzo in Venice". The most extravagant and fantastic hoop-la still wants a touch of the historical real.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Bea Wight, Bea Wright, Bea Rich

Update: here is footage of the John Howard Ladies' Auxiliary Fan Club: Bea Wight, Bea Wright and Bea Rich... Worth getting to the end to appreciate the contrast with Ratty fawning over the commercial radio presenters...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Four women satirical protesters

Now here's a lesson for the Chaser: better frocks!!

I love these photos from The Age, and am proud to know one of these women well, to know another from the primary school over the road, and to recognise another from her mother's more familiar face...

Go Liz!!

Caption: Four women satirical protestors dressed in 1950's garb and wearing rosettes naming them as the "John Howard Ladies' Auxillary Fan Club' walked, sung, offered advice and asked questions as well as offering home cooked cake to the PM during his walk. Photos: Andrew Taylor

Actually, it was Yellowcake...