Saturday 14 February 2009


“Take away love and our earth is a tomb.” - Robert Browning
Happy Valentines’ Day!

Friday 13 February 2009


“Ah me! Love can not be cured by herbs.” – Ovid

On Valentine’s Eve, lots were drawn for Valentines in Northern England and Southern Scotland. Equal numbers of maids and bachelors assembled together and each wrote their name on a slip of paper. The girls names were put into one bag, the boys in another. Each boy then draws from the girls’ bag and each girl from the boys’ bag. At the end of this, there is a choice between two Valentines; generally one prefers the name one draws to the one that has drawn them. However, if the same names are drawn by a couple, then surely they will marry.

Alternative means of prognosticating a potential mate is to write each candidate’s name on a slip of paper and roll each slip of paper in a little ball of clay. Put the clay balls in a basin and pour water on them. The first to rise to the surface will contain the name of your Valentine.

And what to drink on such a night of fun while the wild weather rages outside?

4 cupfuls dry claret
2 sticks of cinammon
12 cloves
3 heaped tablespoonfuls caster sugar
1 cupful of brandy
pared peel of one lemon; freshly ground nutmeg

Heat the claret slowly and stir in the cinammon, cloves, sugar, brandy and lemon peel. Stir until almost boiling (do not boil!). Pour into warmed pewter mugs and dust with nutmeg.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday 12 February 2009


“Optimism is the foundation of courage.” - Nicholas Murray Butler

We are thankful today as the weather has been kind the last few days and this has greatly helped firefighters in the fire-affected areas. Some rain has made the job of fighting the still burning fires a little easier. However, the weekend and next week promises a return to the hot, dry conditions and this has everyone of us worried. The raw wounds in everyone’s psyche cannot take another tragedy of the sort we are dealing with at the moment. And there are warnings aplenty that we have not seen the end of the fire season.

While the news has been horrific, some remarkable stories of courage, determination, selflessness, heroism and compassion are now emerging. While I have been focusing on the negative aspects of these bushfires for the past few days, today I would like to pay tribute to those individuals, many of them volunteers, many of them simple everyday people who have responded in the face of a great crisis with a magnitude of spirit and true selflessness to help fellow human beings.

The first of course are the volunteer firefighters of the Country Fire Authority (CFA). They have been right at the forefront of the bushfires from the very first moments the flames started licking the tinder-dry bush. Since then they have worked tirelessly with almost no breaks, risking life and limb to save their fellow human beings, homes, the bushland, the hapless native animals and the farm animals that were also threatened. These are remarkable people that deserve a medal for their altruism and heroism.

So many stories are coming in now of ordinary people that were forced by circumstance to do extraordinary things. People sacrificing everything to save not only their home and family, but also to aid complete strangers in need. Human beings can be remarkable in this respect and there are countless examples of such actions in history where one person risks their own life to save that of their fellows. Australians are a rare breed and when the going gets tough, a fighting spirit stirs and together with a tough attitude achieves great things.

Now, in the wake of the horror, those countless volunteers, give freely of their time to help the victims rebuild their lives. So many people that have gathered around the survivors to help them with donations of food, tents, blankets, clothes, furniture, money are there where they are needed to do the right thing. Great disasters show us also this face of humanity, that part of the human psyche that can truly be considered to be divine. This is the face of the altruist.

altruism |ˈaltroōˌizəm|noun
The belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others: Some may choose to work with vulnerable elderly people out of altruism.
Zoology behaviour of an animal that benefits another at its own expense.
altruist |ˈøltrəwəst| |ˈølˈtruəst| noun
altruistic |ˌaltroōˈistik| |ˈøltrəˈwɪstɪk| |ˈølˈtruˈɪstɪk| |altrʊˈɪstɪk| adjective
altruistically |ˈøltrəˈwɪst1k(ə)li| |ˈølˈtruˈɪst1k(ə)li| |altrʊˈɪstɪk(ə)li| adverb
ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from French altruisme, from Italian altrui ‘somebody else,’ from Latin alteri huic ‘to this other.’

Tuesday 10 February 2009


“We circle in the night and we are devoured by fire.” - Heraclitus of Ephesus

The bushfires continue to burn and threaten more townships, destroy more bushland and are poised to involve Melbourne’s water catchment areas. If this happens, our dwindling water supplies and the drought will no doubt cause greater hardship and even more propensity to fire. Things are terrible now, but unfortunately they will get even worse…

More property, wildlife and human lives are still threatened by over 20 fires that still burn. We are living through hellish, nightmarish times made all the more horrific from the knowledge that some fiends out there are lighting more fires. There has been an outcry to repeal our arson laws and sentence these murderers as severely as they deserve. How can any human being be failed to be moved by the senseless destruction unleashed by the sickening perversity of the firebug?

The Burning Fire
The fire, it burns
The smoke, it chokes.
Trees become torches,
Houses vapourise.

In walls of hellish heat
There is no time to scream,
The flames, they run
The fire, it scorches.

A tremulous hand
Strikes yet another match
Excitement barely contained;
A laugh as the crackle
Announces the demon’s arrival.

A crying child,
A mother, helpless;
A father watching
Unable to stop death,
Powerless to fight.

The fire, it kills
The smoke, it strangles.
Animals carbonise,
Vegetation, now ash.

A glint of crazed eyes
A slavering mouth
Delights in the destruction,
Oblivious to the hell
He has unleashed.

Cars overcome by flames,
Families incinerated.
Homes, now smouldering ruins,
Gardens, now scorched earth
Lives extinguished as fires still burn.

The wind, it fans the flames
The drought, it makes tinder of our homes.
Lives lost, lives destroyed, lives unlived
As the arsonist strikes yet another match.

Monday 9 February 2009


“Death is for many of us the gate of hell; but we are inside on the way out, not outside on the way in.” - George Bernard Shaw

The immensity of the disaster that our bushfires have wrought is interfering with carrying on as normal, although we are all desperately trying to keep on going. Most people are doing something in order to help the victims of the blazes, be it a donation of money or blood ($13 million has been donated already), doing volunteer work, organising help in terms of donations of tents, clothing, food or doing what they can at work or community in order to raise money or help.

The death toll has risen to 173 people this morning, but unfortunately, this is expected to climb even higher as police and fire crews move through the devastated landscape and sift through rubble and ash. The pictures coming back form towns like Marysville and Strathewen are heart-wrenching, these two places already having yielded the remains of 45 people and having been literally obliterated from the map as over 95% of all buildings have been razed to the ground.

Disasters such as these reveal the very worst and they very best in people. The police are investigating arson in many of the destroyed areas and our Prime Minister has characterised these sub-humans as “mass murderers”. Our neighbouring state, New South Wales is currently reviewing arson laws and I think that the time is ripe for a nation-wide revision of these laws and the introduction of more severe sentences to deal with offenders. The Police Commissioner has initiated a massive operation to apprehend the arsonists and our Premier has announced that a Royal Commission will investigate the circumstances surrounding the bushfires and possibly look at redrafting official government and CFA policies regarding the “ stay and defend or evacuate” directives.

Most of the towns affected by the fires were idyllic spots amongst the bushland, with towering, magnificent eucalypts around the town and beautiful native flora undergrowth. These forests provided many an opportunity for bushwalks, encounters with the plentiful wildlife and a respite from the urban hustle and bustle. There, where the creeks trickled in amongst the fern gullies and the cries of the birds provided a constant natural symphony, now only ash and burnt-out stumps of trees. There, where thriving communities were welcoming visitors with their country hospitality and smiling faces, now only rubble and utter devastation. There, where the city folk could go and visit their relatives and friends now only a tragic notice that their loved ones either perished in the flames in a horrible death or that they are still missing…

The present threat to Healesville about 50 km to Melbourne’s Northeast is especially worrying for us, as we have friends living there. They are doing their utmost to protect their property, but have already packed bags, just in case they need to evacuate. This is a terrible feeling, firstly what to pack in a couple of bags, knowing that all that you leave behind may be destroyed by the flames? Then, waiting, listening to the latest bulletins phoning neighbours, relative, friends to tell them that you are ready to leave your home. Healesville is another beautiful town on the outskirts of Melbourne and home to the famous Sanctuary of native wildlife. The toll on the animals, both wild fauna and farm animals in these bushfires must not be forgotten either…

Even as I write this, more than twenty fires keep on burning around Melbourne. Exhausted fire crews are continuing their fight against the bushfires and are relieved by crews that have flown in form neighbouring states, ACT, NSW, Tasmania. New Zealand fire crews have made themselves available and volunteers are also helping as much as possible. Cooler temperatures around the low 20˚C mark are helping also. However, by the end of the week the hot weather will return and firebugs may become active once again, despite the horror of the pictures that their actions reveal. Within each human being there is devil and an angel. Each one of us hovers on the razor thin edge that separates these conflicting identities, and any one of us totter and fall in the abyss of evil or climb tenuously and laboriously to reach the side of the good.

Sunday 8 February 2009


“The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.” - Thomas Carlyle

The magnitude of the bushfire tragedy is beginning to hit home, even as we woke up to a cool morning in Melbourne. Yesterday we were aware of several large fires still burning out of control around Melbourne and to the Northeast and East, despite the cool change following the 45˚C temperatures of last Saturday. Although we expected the cool change to help in fighting the fires, the immensity of the blazes and the tinder-dry state of the bushland has made the fire-fighting situation extremely difficult.

This morning I was listening to the news bulletin on the radio and the death toll was 108 as at 6am, making this the deadliest natural disaster in Victoria’s history. Unfortunately, many people are still missing and the death will continue to rise. At least 750 homes have been completely destroyed and more than 330,000 hectares of bushland burnt out, some of the fires expected to continue burning for weeks ahead. We are hoping now for some decent rain that will help the efforts of the fire crews who have been fighting the blazes heroically.

Fire alarms have been going off incessantly and as I jot this down I can hear them outside my window, here in the City. Fire trucks are going by, and I can only imagine what it must be like in the areas hard hit. The television is showing some truly hellish images and the people who has survived are in a state of shock. Scores of injured and burnt people are being nursed in hospitals across the state and emergency services are being stretched tot heir limit. One of our staff here at the College has lost her house in Kingslake just to the north of Melbourne and we are all rallying around our staff (more of whom will doubtlessly by affected) by starting a special fund to help them in the immediate future. We are also helping the community by organising various activities that members of the public can join and help by donating money and goods.

It is times like these that one realizes that we humans are a big family and we need to help each other out as much as we can. Today it is my turn to help you, tomorrow it may be your turn to help me. As people look upon the burnt our shells of their homes and cars, as ash has replaced the gardens and trees that surrounded their homes, as they take stock of all they have lost, it becomes important to realise what our priorities are, what is truly of value to us. Forget the possessions, the things, even those that are irreplaceable… People and feelings are the only that matters. This is driven deep into our consciousness as we see those people that have lost members of their family, friends, neighbours to the flames.

Human lives lost to the hellish flames remind of us of the importance of the people that surround us. People whom we take for granted on daily basis. A partner that we’ve argued with just yesterday, parents that we haven’t called on the telephone for a few weeks, children that have moved form home and we haven’t seen communicated meaningfully with for a while. Family, friends, those who matter to us. Think of the things that have been left undone, things that have been unsaid, interactions and relationships that are now irretrievably lost to those 108 people now dead and the thousands of survivors around them who will miss them terribly.

This terrible calamity has affected me profoundly and here at work, everyone feels the same way. The talk this morning is of nothing else and we are activating in order to help our fellow workers affected by the fires, but also the community. I am proud to live in a country where this community spirit is still alive and where people still feel strongly about helping one another and contributing to the community in which we all live.

Here are few links that will really make you aware of what we are going through:
Video report, including the PM’s and premier’s visit to the affected areas:

The really mind-numbing news that arsonists may be at work in some of the bushfire sites is one of the worst possible things that I can think of:

A well-known and loved retired newsreader, Brian Naylor and his wife Moiree perished in the flames at Kingslake:

Some photographs of the fires:

ABC News site:

The Australian Red Cross, Bushfires Appeal donation site:

I hope that things in your part of the world are better. Hug your spouse, partner, family members, friends and tell them how much they mean to you. Ring your family and friends who are far from you and tell them how much you love them… We shouldn’t wait for a natural disaster to remind us to do these things…


“I cannot imagine how the clockwork of the universe can exist without a clockmaker.” - Voltaire

Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” fresco in the Sistine Chapel, in the Vatican is one of the greatest works of art of Western civilisation. The scope of the work, its immense scale, its striking iconography and the brilliance of its execution is surety enough of the genius of the artist, however, it also attests to the line of development of Western art through the centuries to its culmination in the Italy of Michelangelo.

One cannot fail but to be struck dumb with admiration as one enters the Sistine Chapel and is surrounded by the magnificence of the images on ceiling and walls. The biblical days of the Revelation are illustrated on the wall behind the altar while all around one, are the rest of the stories competing for prominence in this pictorial rendition of the Bible. For me, it is one of the highlights of visiting Rome and I always make time to visit the Vatican, its museums, St Peter and the Papal Apartments.

Michelangelo (Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, to give his full name, 1475-1564) was considered the greatest living artist in his lifetime, and ever since then he has been held to be one of the greatest artists of all time. A number of his works in painting, sculpture, and architecture rank among the most famous in existence. Although the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are probably the best known of his works today, the artist thought of himself primarily as a sculptor. His practice of several arts, however, was not unusual in his time, when all of them were thought of as based on design, or drawing. Michelangelo worked in marble sculpture all his life and in the other arts only during certain periods. The high regard for the Sistine ceiling is partly a reflection of the greater attention paid to painting in the 20th century and partly, too, because many of the artist’s works in other media remain unfinished.
Have a good week!