Saturday 21 March 2009


“Prejudices are the chains forged by ignorance to keep men apart.” - Countess of Blessington

The United Nations has laid aside the 21st of March as the International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid "pass laws". At that time, the South African Government was a brutal regime that applied the theory of inequality between races, regardless of humanity’s moral and ethical advances. Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

Quality education is vital in eliminating racial discrimination. International agencies such as UNESCO have constantly advocated the importance of education for combating stereotypes and building mutual understanding and respect between the various peoples of the world. High quality learning materials and pedagogical approaches that promote social cohesion and respect for human rights are among the most powerful weapons in the fight against discrimination. Sport and physical education must also provide an effective framework for promoting dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding, in particular among youth. If children all over the world are brought up to respect diversity, celebrate differences and learn from each other’s cultures, the adults that they will grow up to be will be citizens of a better of world. Today, is an opportunity to affirm and intensify these efforts to eliminate racial discrimination, and to realize the right of every individual to live in dignity and peace.

Australia has a bad record in terms of racial discrimination, but I am glad to say that times are changing and people are beginning to become more open-minded. The way that the indigenous people of Australia have been treated since the arrival of the Europeans is a shameful chapter in Australia’s history and the compounding of injustices over the centuries perhaps reached its peak with the stolen generations of the 50s and 60s where aboriginal children were taken from their parents and given to white families or put in orphanages in order to “bring them up right” and “save them from their savagery”. This caused generations of pain and psychological damage, separated families and obliterated the cultural heritage of a proud and free people. In recent times our former prime minister, John Howard, refused to acknowledge this injustice and refused until he was voted out to say “sorry” to the stolen generations. Our current prime minister Kevin Rudd acknowledged the wrongs of the past and apologized to the aboriginal people for the past wrongs.

Aboriginal people in Australia nowadays are beginning to regain their dignity, their culture and are ready to play an important role in modern Australian society of today and the future. Here is a song from the Australian Aboriginal band Yothu Yindi, called “Djäpana”. Highly characteristic is the native wind instrument, the didgeridoo, providing the low cooing sound.

Friday 20 March 2009


“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” - Lin Yutang

I was in Brisbane for work today and was kept very busy all day, with not much time at all to enjoy the weather and the autumnal equinox. At this time of the year, Brisbane enjoys mild to very warm temperatures with occasional rain. Today looked like a good mix of these, with warm weather and the occasional drizzle. Notwithstanding the busy-ness of the day there was time to have some lunch, although it was in the cafeteria of the College.

This cafeteria is an interesting proposition, in that it is leased out to a group of people who run it very well as a private business. The food is an interesting mix, but the emphasis is on good nutrition with fresh ingredients and a good mix of world cuisine tastes. There are plenty of vegetarian options, some organic and macro-organic choices, a range of coffees (including decaffeinated), milks (full cream, half-cream, skim, soy, etc), fresh juices, vitamin drinks, etc.

The student body seems to enjoy eating there and also many of the staff, but I am quite surprised that there are also many people that walk in off the street. Why I should be surprised I don’t quite know, as the shopfront is right on a busy road. Perhaps it’s because I normally associate college cafeteria with gloppy food that one eats because one has no choice.

I had a very nice vegetarian focaccia sandwich today, which was not only delicious, but also quite appropriate for Earth Day! It also kept me going until this evening where I had a light dinner at the airport at the Club. Now, all I can say I’m glad it’s Friday and I’m very glad to be home…

Wednesday 18 March 2009


“The more we exploit nature, the more our options are reduced, until we have only one: To fight for survival.” - Morris K. Udall

Tomorrow is the Equinoctial Earth Day as designated by the United Nations. This is celebrated on the March equinox (around 20th of March) and marks the moment of astronomical mid-spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and of astronomical mid-autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. An equinox in astronomy is the moment in time when the centre of the Sun can be observed to be directly above the Earth's equator, occurring around March 20 and September 23 each year. In most cultures the equinoxes and solstices are considered to separate the seasons.

The idea of a worldwide holiday to be called “Earth Day” was first introduced by John McConnell, a peace activist at a UNESCO Conference on the Environment in 1969. This was adopted by the United Nations and at the moment of the equinox, it is traditional to observe Earth Day by ringing the Japanese Peace Bell (donated by Japan to the United Nations). Over the years celebrations have occurred in various cities globally at the same time as the celebration at the United Nations.

Amidst cries of increasing shrillness and alarm about our changing climate, our dwindling water resources, pollution of our environment and a runaway greenhouse effect, we still have time to actively seek innovative solutions for the future. Earth Day is a means of raising awareness of environmental issues and doing something globally to diminish the destruction of this very fragile planet we are living on. It is certainly a day for taking the message of “Think Globally, Act Locally” to everyone. This adage refers to the argument that global environmental problems can turn into action only by considering ecological, economic, and cultural differences of our local surroundings. This phrase was originated by René Dubos as an advisor to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. In 1979, Dubos suggested that ecological consciousness should begin at home.

Here are some suggestions for reducing your environmental footprint:

1. Become Carbon Neutral, purchase carbon credits (which are used to fund offset activities such as planting trees, or various energy conservation activities).

2. Convert to Green Power through your electricity provider (the electricity provider must produce your electricity needs through the use of clean, renewable energy sourced from the sun, the wind, water and waste, instead of burning coal).

3. Drive as small and fuel efficient car as is suitable to your needs. No status symbols or “Toorak tractors” (Australians are big drivers: Per capita we own more cars than any other nation except the USA. With average use, an Australian family car will travel about 15,000 km a year, generate about six tonnes of greenhouse pollution and cost its owners $7,700).

4. Be aware of the meat you eat. Don't eat Feedlot beef, or even become a vegetarian (animal products make up the biggest part of our Eco Footprint - 34% to be exact. Meat, particularly beef, has a very high environmental impact, using much water and land to produce it, and creating significant greenhouse pollution. In fact if you reduce your intake by one 150 g serve of red meat each week, you'll save 10,000 litres of water and 300 kg of greenhouse pollution in a year. Most conventional meats are resource intensive, but feedlot beef is particularly wasteful. Producing 1 kg of feedlot beef, on average, requires 4.8 kg of grain and over 19800 liters of water. It also results in the erosion of over 2 kg of topsoil).

5. Reduce the electricity consumption of your house and office by switching off lights and computers when not in use and installing energy efficient appliances and fixtures (eg: Replace existing incandescent bulbs with Compact Fluorescent bulbs or the newer LED bulbs. Turn off “power vampires” – ie, appliances on “sleep mode”. Such “power vampires” can cost a typical household up to 11% of the electric bill. Switch to a Solar hot water System if you have an electric hot water system. Switch from electric to gas appliances whenever possible. If you are buying new appliances, choose the product with the best Energy Star Rating that you can afford).

6. Communicate your views to people in power (encourage change by: Contacting your elected member of parliament; Emailing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper; Having face-to-face meetings with your elected officials, which can move them from having a passive stance to taking an active interest).

7. Pressure industry to change its ways (reward a company with your business for doing the right thing by the environment. Abandon them for doing wrong, but make it known to them why they have lost your custom with a letter or email).

8. Eat less fish and be aware of the types of fish that you do consume (the global wild fish harvest has begun a sharp decline since 2000 despite progress in seagoing technologies and intensified fishing. Long-lining, in which a single boat sets line across sixty or more miles of ocean, each baited with up to 10,000 hooks, captures at least 25 percent unwanted catch).

9. Join or support an action group or Green Project that you are interested in (larger groups like the WWF and Greenpeace, are aware of the most pressing issues and have the resources to keep on top of things, however, groups like these often get a bad wrap, but the truth is that most of them highlight and study important issues that governments and companies would otherwise ignore or cover up). See the following links:

10. Communicate with other people (family, friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, blog readers!).

Have a great Earth Day tomorrow!

sustainable |səˈstānəbəl| adjective
able to be maintained at a certain rate or level: Sustainable fusion reactions.
Ecology (esp. of development, exploitation, or agriculture) conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.
• Able to be upheld or defended : Sustainable definitions of good educational practice.
sustainability |səˌstānəˈbilitē| |səˈsteɪnəˈbɪlədi| |-ˈbɪlɪti| noun
sustainably |-blē| |səˈsteɪnəbli| adverb
ORIGIN Middle English: From Old French soustenir, from Latin sustinere, from sub- ‘from below’ + tenere ‘hold.’

Tuesday 17 March 2009


“Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.” - Omar N. Bradley

Railway stations and harbours have always struck me as rather sad places where many partings find a melancholy, albeit temporary, home. Unlike, say, airports or bus stations that seem strangely more utilitarian and associated more with business or pleasure; short-term shelters for people seeking to be conveyed to their destination as quickly and as efficiently as possible. The train and ship convey an image of a time past, of sad days of old (who said the old days were all so good?).

Perhaps, this attitude of mine is highly coloured by my own past experiences of trains, planes, buses and ships, but nevertheless, that may explain the fact that I still have to accustom myself to cruises and cruise ships as being for pleasure…


Every time a ship unfurls her sails and leaves the harbour,
Each evening when a ship begins her voyage,
A little part of me, deep inside, dies.

Every lonely, twilit evening when the sea birds cry,
Each night when the lighthouse beacon flashes,
A little part of me expires.

Every time the foghorn announces warnings, mournfully,
Each night as the mist covers all like a black pall,
A little part of me inside my heart dies.

Every grey twilit dawn as old sailors drink the last of the grog,
Each lonely, wintry morning when sickly sun is reborn,
A little part of my soul perishes.

Every time a ship sails away, as her image vanishes,
Each evening when a ship is swallowed by the horizon,
A little part of me dies;
And is it not a wonder that I carry within me
So much death?


“May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live.” Irish blessing
Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Saint Patrick’s Day is a predominantly Irish holiday honouring the missionary credited with converting the Irish to Christianity in the 5th century AD. He was born around 387 AD in either Scotland (near the town of Dumbarton) or in Roman Britain (the Romans left Britain in 410 AD). His real name is believed to be Maewyn Succat. He was kidnapped at the age of 16 by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. During his 6-year captivity, while he worked as a shepherd, he began to have religious visions, and found strength in his faith. He finally escaped, going to France, where he became a priest, taking on the name of Patrick. When he was about 60 years old, St. Patrick travelled to Ireland to spread the Christian word. Reputedly, Patrick had a winning personality, which helped him to convert the fun-loving Irish to Christianity. He used the shamrock, which resembles a three-leafed clover, as a metaphor to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. He died at 461 AD.

St Patrick is also credited with ridding Ireland of snakes (there are no native snakes on the island). When Norse invaders came to Ireland in the 9th century they noticed that the island also had no toads. The Norse word for toad is “paud”. When they heard the saint referred to as Patrick, they interpreted it as “Paudrig”, meaning “Toad-Expeller” in Norse. Toads became snakes, no doubt aided and abetted by the Old Testament symbolism of the snake as a reification of evil. Furthermore, the snake was revered pagan totem and the victory was two-fold. Thus a legend was born.

St Patrick’s day is celebrated in Ireland and in all parts of the world where the Irish have made their home. The St Patrick’s Day parade is a tradition that perhaps started in Ireland where during the holy day, the pubs were closed to locals but could serve travellers. Many inveterate drinkers got around this by walking in groups to the next town and as “travellers” could be served in the pub. In the USA the first St Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston in 1737 and then the event caught on in New York in 1762 when Irish military units were recruited to serve in the American colonies.

In Ireland the traditional parade did not start to be widespread until the 19th century, introduced from the USA, but its nature was rather more religious and family oriented. The Parade outside Ireland can often degenerate into a carnival-like celebration, lubricated by gallons of green beer and backed by local businesses that see it as a means of advertising their wares.

“Beannachtaí na Féile Páraic oraibh!” St. Patrick's Day blessing upon you!

Sunday 15 March 2009


“We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it.” - George Eliot

Yesterday we watched a delightful film that we enjoyed and recommend. It was Chris Noonan’s 2006 “Miss Potter”, with Renée Zellweger, Ewn Mcgregor and Emily Watson. It is a biographical film of the children’s book author, Beatrix Potter, of “Peter Rabbit” fame. Miss Beatrix Potter (1866-1942) was born into an upper middle class, family with aristocratic pretensions. Beatrix becomes a 32-year-old unmarried “Miss” who still lives with her parents, under her mother’s watchful eye. She refuses offers of marriage, preferring to write and illustrate children’s books, an occupation that is looked down upon by her mother.

The film is a story of a repressed woman’s liberation and journey to true independence so that she could follow her dreams. We become part of Beatrix’s journey through the publication of her books and the relationship that develops between her and her publisher, Norman Warne (another young person living at home and having to prove himself as capable in the family’s business – the Warne Publishing House). Norman’s sister, Millie, is another solitary female that helps Beatrix discover her wings, and who supports her throughout her first steps of independent life.

The film is very well made, the acting, direction, costumes, sets, music and cinematography excellent. I would have to be churlish to find fault with something, however, the animation used (albeit sparingly) to bring some of Beatrix’s drawings “to life” I wasn’t particularly impressed with. Her drawings are so eloquent, that the animations are unnecessary. Nevertheless, the gimmick is not too intrusive and it is easy to overlook it.

The genuineness of the settings and the authenticity of the costumes and sets is quite amazing and contributes to the engaging nature of the film. Add to that the stunning Lake Country, Cumbria, and Isle of Man scenery with touches of period mores (Miss Potter’s elderly chaperone accompanies her everywhere!) and the film is a winner. Besides which there is not a single scene of violence, sex or gratuitous slapstick in it – quite a rare thing in movies nowadays. The film makes a strong point about the environment and conservation, but it manages to do so almost subliminally. It is certainly no militant homily and Miss Potter demonstrates her views on the matter by actions, not words. If only all of the proselytisers were as gently persuasive as she was!

I recommend this movie to everyone who still has a child in their heart, to those who love a well made period movie, to those who wish to enjoy a movie where peace and delight are what matter and where the gratuitous violence, sex, expletives and special effects of most movies nowadays do not make one appearance and where they are missed at all.


“To send light into the darkness of men's hearts - such is the duty of the artist.” – Robert Schumann

For Art Sunday today, an iconic French Baroque painter, Claude Gellée (1604-1682) who was better known as Lorrain after his place of birth in France. He was a very influential and successful artist in the seventeenth century, who became famous as a landscape painter in Italy. His paintings were picturesque but also full of the rough textures of wild nature with romantic old castles or classical ruins. The paintings, drawings and prints by Claude Lorrain were very popular and widely collected. His style set the standards for what was worthy of appreciation.

Claude created landscapes that were expansive, dramatic and always eye-catching. In full color paintings or sepia toned washes, Claude used the scale of values to express near to far. Claude often gave the foreground strong contrasts of light and shadow while the middle distance had less contrast. The far background was rendered even lighter and with less contrast between shadow and highlight to give a sense of great distance.

While the subjects of his paintings and drawings were often from the Bible or classical mythology, the mood and atmosphere of the landscape was the real subject. His figures were were usually only a minor part of a scene to help set the scale and perspective. The dramatic lighting of his painting often relied on sunrise or sunset and the golden glow of his canvases seems to have inspired Turner.

Here is an archetypal Lorrain canvas of 1648: “Ulysses returns Chryseis to her father”.