Saturday 20 June 2009


“Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons. You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes

Today is World Refugee Day. Refugees are a growing concern worldwide and most of the developed nations around the world have many different types of refugees entering their borders legally or illegally. Prior to the 19th century movements from one country to another generally did not require travel documents such as passports and the right to asylum was commonly recognised and honoured. Although there have been numerous waves of refugees throughout history, there was no refugee problem until the emergence of fixed and closed state frontiers in the late 19th century. By the 1920s and 1930s the tradition of political asylum had deteriorated considerably, partly because of growing insensitivity to human suffering and partly because of unprecedented numbers of refugees.

For many centuries, refugee movements were a result of religious and racial intolerance. Entire groups were uprooted, exiled, or deported by various authorities in an effort to enforce conformity. For example, the expulsion of Jews from Spain in the late 15th century, the exodus of Huguenots from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and the eviction of Jews from Germany, Austria, and Sudetenland (now in the Czech Republic) in the 1930s. Political and economic refugees are more common nowadays, as in most countries religious tolerance and freedom of belief has meant that religious persecution is less commonly seen.

International relief for refugees did not start until the 1920s. In 1921 Fridtjof Nansen of Norway was appointed by the League of Nations as high commissioner for refugees and devised a so-called League of Nations Passport (“Nansen Passport”), a travel document that gave the owner the right to move more freely across national boundaries. After Nansen's death in 1930, the protection of refugees was entrusted to the Nansen International Office for Refugees, but this office accomplished little before its mandate expired in 1938.

Other refugee-assistance organisations have included the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (1938–47), the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Refugee Organisation (1947–52), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), established in 1950. The Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (renamed the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration in 1980) was founded in 1951. Several nongovernmental and voluntary agencies, such as the International Rescue Committee, have also been established throughout the world.

Since the 1960s large populations of refugees have been located in Africa and Asia. Although the numbers varied from year to year, each of the two regions accounted for more than three million refugees in 2005. In the same year, the total number of refugees worldwide was estimated to be roughly nine million. Western Europe, North America and Australia have seen an increasing number of economic refugees in the last ten years or so. This has created special problems for both the nations receiving such refugees as well as for the refugees themselves. The economic downturn over the last few months will no doubt influence the number of refugees throughout the world.

To commemorate the day, I am giving you Ariel Ramirez’s “La Peregrinación”, which comes from his song cycle “Navidad Nuestra” and describes perhaps the most well-known refugees, Mary and Joseph, taking flight to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath and save the life of the baby Jesus. It is sung by José Carreras.

La Peregrinacion

A la huella, a la huella, Jose y Maria,
por las pampas heladas, cardos y hortigas.
A la huella, a la huella, cortando campo,
no hay cobijo ni fondas, sigan andando.
Florecita del campo, clavel del aire,
si ninguno te aloja, adonde naces?
donde naces florcita que estas creciendo,
palomita asustada, grillo sin sueño.
A la huella, a la huella, Jose y Maria,
con un Dios escondido... nadie sabia!

A la huella, a la huella, los peregrinos.
Prestenme una tapera, para mi niño.
A la huella, a la huella, soles y lunas,
dos ojitos de almendra, piel de aceituna.
Ay, burrito del campo! Ay, buey barcino!
que mi niño ya viene, haganle sitio
un ranchito de quincha solo me ampara
dos alientos amigos, la luna clara.
A la huella, a la huella, Jose y Maria,
con un Dios escondido... nadie sabia!

The painting is Guido da Siena’s “Flight Into Egypt”.

Thursday 18 June 2009


“I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” - Thomas Jefferson

I travelled to the Gold Coast and to Brisbane today for work. Once again it was a very full day, with hardly any spare time. An early morning flight and late evening flight back to Melbourne ensured that I was able to get everything done. However, it was quite pleasant to catch the train from Brisbane Airport and commute to the Gold Coast, about 60 km away for a morning meeting and then on the train again for my meeting in Brisbane in the afternoon. The Airport train ensured that I was bale to get to the airport quickly during peak hour traffic conditions on the road. I am a strong supporter of public transport and utilise it at every opportunity, including of course, my daily train commuting to work.

The Gold Coast meeting was extremely interesting as it involved getting together with representatives of an Australian company that have developed health science-related imaging and animation products that can be used in secondary and tertiary education, medical illustration, research and public education. The facilities at the Gold Coast are state of the art and the staff includes many talented graphic artists, computer programmers, health professionals and administrators. I have been invited to become an Advisory Board member and it was very illuminating to see the operations and meet other members of the Board, as well as the company owners.

Lunch at the Gold Coast was very enjoyable and once again I was able to acknowledge just how fortunate we are in Australia in terms of our produce. We enjoy an immense variety of fresh food products that are available year round, given the length and breadth of our island continent. We are also very lucky in having a very wide variety of international cuisines available. Often the food is better in quality and preparation than the food in the country of origin!

The lunch was provided by a natural foods café in Helensvale, which has a Japanese emphasis. It was a beautiful spread of sushi, sashimi, smoked salmon, salads, fruits, vegetarian rolls and wonderful organic, freshly baked bread. Real orange juice to sash everything down with provided jus the right tartness and cleansing touch for the palate to wash it all down with.

The afternoon meeting at work went very well also and we achieved several important outcomes. Although I believe that modern technology can do a lot to assist communication and can help people meet over long distances through teleconferencing, skyping, video-linking, face-to-face meetings are sometimes best for achieving some outcomes.

Are there any times when you feel at work that a face-to-face meeting is the only option for a meeting and teleconferencing cannot substitute effectively for it?


“If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.” - Aristotle

The recent events in Iran in the wake of that country’s elections fill me with a great deal of apprehension. They are reminiscent of so many other such “elections” where the ruling party is overwhelmingly returned to power in an election which seems to be rife with “irregularities” and is not transparent. The will of the people seems not to have been represented in the Friday 12th election, the 10th presidential election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran's presidential elections are tightly controlled, and, once elected, the office holder has limited power, but it remains the highest position determined by popular vote.

The decision of the people was whether to keep hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power for four more years, or to replace him with a reformist more open to loosening the country's Islamic restrictions and improving ties with the United States, represented by Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former Prime Minister of Iran. Mousavi's campaign was propelled in recent weeks by young voters using high-tech campaign tactics. This is significant, as more than 66% of Iranians are under the age of 30 years.

Iranians became very angry at the results of last week’s election since it was quickly announced following the poll. They began daily protests and tens of thousands of people swelled to flood the streets and public squares of the capital, pushing their protest ever forward. Six soccer players on the national team wore opposition green wristbands at a World Cup qualifying game in open support of the official runner up Mir Hossein Mousavi and the favourite before the election.

The government worked on many fronts to shield the outside world’s view of the unrest, banning coverage of the demonstrations, arresting journalists, threatening bloggers and trying to block Web sites like Facebook and Twitter, which have become vital outlets for information about the rising confrontation in Iran. Deaths of about ten protesters were cause of yet more protests and people dressed in black objected to the government’s imputed fraudulent victory. The 63 percent of the vote to Mr Ahmadinejad contrasting to 34 percent to Mr. Moussavi is being hailed as ridiculous and the demonstrators who represent a cross section of Iranian society and part of the clerical establishment have called the official results a fraud.

Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on state matters and who certified Mr. Ahmadinejad’s re-election, apparently made two concessions to the protests, ordering an investigation into the election and calling for a partial recount. Mr. Moussavi and the protesters are rejecting anything less than new elections.

This is yet another tinder box in this troubled part of the world, waiting for a spark to ignite…

despot |ˈdespət| noun
A ruler or other person who holds absolute power, typically one who exercises it in a cruel or oppressive way.
despotic |diˈspätik| adjective
despotically |dəˈspɑdək(ə)li| adverb
ORIGIN mid 16th century: from French despote, via medieval Latin from Greek despotēs ‘master, absolute ruler.’ Originally (after the Turkish conquest of Constantinople) the term denoted a petty Christian ruler under the Turkish empire. The current sense dates from the late 18th century.
Jacqui BB hosts Word Thursday

Tuesday 16 June 2009


“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” - Thomas Fuller

Today is the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, as endorsed by the United Nations. It was in December 1994, that the United Nations General Assembly declared June 17 the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. The assembly acknowledged that desertification and drought were global problems because they affected all regions of the globe. The assembly also realised that joint action by the international community was needed to combat desertification and drought, particularly in Africa.

The day is dedicated to highlighting the urgent need to curb the desertification process around the world. It aims to strengthen the visibility of the dry lands issue on the international environmental agenda. Inherent in the various events that are used to publicise this day around the world are issues relating to climate change, as these play an important role in the desertification and drought conditions that are seen in many parts around the world presently.

In Australia, especially in the centre and the southern states, drought has been a perennial problem. In Victoria we have had a persistent drought for the past 15 years. Our water reservoirs supplying the megalopolis of Melbourne are down to 25.8% full today, despite massive campaigns to raise public awareness of water economy, rising water consumption tariffs and stringent water restrictions. We once prided ourselves by saying we lived in the “Garden State”, but many a garden and park are now looking parched, even in the middle of winter…

Flexmore Hudson (1913 - 1988)

Midsummer noon;
and the timbered walls start in the heat
and the children sag listlessly over the desks
with bloodless faces oozing sweat
sipped by the stinging flies.

Outside, the tall sun fades the shabby mallee
and drives the ants deep underground, 
the stony drifts
and shrivels the drab sparse plants:
there's not a cloud in all the sky to cast a shadow
on the tremulous plain.

Stirless the windmills, thirsty cattle standing
despondently about the empty tanks
stamping and tossing their heads in torment of the flies
from dawn to dark.

For ten parched days it has been like this
and, although I love the desert,

I have found myself dreaming of upright gums
by a mountain creek where the red boronia blooms,
where bell-birds chime through the morning mists,
and greenness can hide from the sun;
of rock-holes where the brumbies slink
like swift cloud-shadows from the gidgi-scrub
to drink when the moon is low.

And as I stoop to drink, I too,
just as I raise my cupped hands to my lips,
I am recalled to this drought-stricken plain
by the petulant question 
of a summer-wearied child.

Born in 1913 in Charters Towers, Queensland, Flexmore Hudson was educated at Adelaide High School and graduated from the University of Adelaide. He began a teaching career in 1934 and taught in the Mallee, and at Scotch College in Adelaide and Adelaide Boys' High School. During the period 1941 to 1947 Hudson founded, edited and published the literary journal, “Poetry”. He also edited the 1943 anthology of Australian verse for Jindyworobak and contributed to the Jindyworobak anthologies from 1938 to 1953. He died in South Australia on 4th May 1988.

Some of the inspiration for his poetry came from his pupils. Whilst teaching at a small school (14 pupils) in the Mallee district of South Australia, the children would tell him of the things they had seen on the way to school.

Jacqui BB hosts Poetry Wednesday. Please visit her blog for more poems!


“If you make money your god, it will plague you like the devil.” - Henry Fielding

A childhood memory I have is being given a traditional clay money box in the shape of a fat bell (see picture!). I would put there all the coins that I had and rattle it every day to hear the jangle of the metal against the clay. Learning about saving money was quite an important lesson and when the clay money box was broken, it was satisfying to see all of the hard-saved coins gush forth. I can’t remember what I bought with that money, but many other money boxes followed that first one, metal, wooden, plastic…

Coinage was the first type of “proper” money that was devised and it looks as though it may be the first to become extinct. A news item today reports that Australian Central Credit Union chief, Peter Evers, predicts that loose change will be a thing of the past within ten years. He quoted the situation in Hong Kong and Singapore where already low-value transactions by coin have all but disappeared. What has replaced them is a rechargeable, pre-paid card that can be used everywhere cash would be used.

In Australia, we may soon see a similar situation with technology stepping in to make coins (and perhaps all other forms of “cash”) a thing of the past. We all know about credit cards of course, but they are not legal tender and they attract fees. The technology now exists for “credits” being put in microchips, on mobile phones, on cards, or on an internet-enabled account that can be accessed by wifi. In some holiday resorts a chip on a wristband that can be scanned for credits and the owner can purchase anything that their chip can afford…

The Australian Reserve Bank’s Payment Systems Board is investigating all of these options and is preparing to move Australia to a cashless society. Surprisingly, not much “selling” of this idea has occurred within the population and most people are unaware of it. Needless to say that many may be dead against such a cashless system. People feel safe with cash in their pocket and even nowadays, some are against credit cards. To move towards such an abstract system of credits is quite foreign to most of us.

So, I wonder what sort of moneyboxes kids will save their allowance in the future? Most probably an electronic chip embedded somewhere on their person. Dad will scan his chip over junior’s and perhaps one may even hear the electronic sound of a penny dropping?

Monday 15 June 2009


“The more I see of man, the more I like dogs.” - Mme. de Staël

We saw a beautiful and well-produced film at the weekend, which I can recommend without reservation if you, like me, are a dog lover. It is Jay Russell’s 2000 film “My Dog Skip”, based on Willie Morris’ book. This is an unassuming film that is honest, down-to-earth and deals with everyday situations, feelings and a believable, moving plot. Part of its charm is in its no-gimmicks, gentle exposition, and the exploration of a serious topic – war and how it affects everyone, not just the soldiers on the frontline, but also the families back home.

The plot revolves around a family of three, Jack, Ellen, and Willie Morris during the summer of 1942. Jack (Kevin Bacon) is the heartbroken father who lost a leg in war some years ago. Ellen (Diane Lane) is the ever-resourceful housewife working much harder than even some men do. Willie (Frankie Muniz) is their ten-year-old son. He has no friends, is bad at sports and teased at school. A mechanic named Dink (Luke Wilson) is the only person who befriends him, but even he is called up by the army and Willie is left all alone. 

Ellen (against her husband’s wishes) buys Willie a puppy for his birthday. Although Jack opposes the gift because he thinks Willie is too young to look after a dog, Ellen finally wins and Willie gets to keep “Skip”, as the puppy is named. We follow the special relationship that develops between the boy and the dog, and as Willie and his family get involved in the war brewing in the background, he grows and learns about life and death.

The film is a funny, touching, heartfelt coming-of-age story. It’s a wonderful memoir of another time and yet the story of the little boy and his dog is a timeless one. The dark part of the story, of course, comes from the war that’s waging outside the confines of Yazoo and small town America. Dink returns from the war, not as a hero but in disgrace as he went AWOL. Willie will have to cope with the demolition of his former hero, as well as learning about his relationship with his father. Dink doesn’t show up at Willie’s first baseball game, and the disappointed Willie takes it out on Skip, who runs away. The dog’s disappearance and subsequent recovery teach Willie the strength of forgiveness, and give Dink a chance to embrace the power of redemption. Ultimately, it is a dog’s love that teaches Willie Morris lifelong lessons of the human spirit.

This is a movie to watch and enjoy. No special effects, no shoot them up, no big production, but warm and human and full of the every day feelings and emotions we all lived through as children. Skip is the catalyst for Willie’s growth and incipient understanding of himself and the world.

Sunday 14 June 2009


“The world today doesn't make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?” - Pablo Picasso

For Art Sunday today, a painting by John William Godward (1861-1922), “In the Days of Sappho” (1904). Little has been recorded of the life of John William Godward, and he was active from the end of the Pre-Raphaelite/Neo-Classicist era until his painting went out of fashion during the revolutionary art movements of the early twentieth centuries.

He was inspired by the painter Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema, and Godward imitated Tadema’s Neoclassical style. Both were counted among the members of the “Marble School,” known for its depictions of subjects drawn from ancient Greek and Roman life placed in elaborate settings, with especially careful and realistic rendering of details like marble and flowers.

Godward regularly exhibited his paintings at the prestigious Royal Academy in London, where they were initially greatly admired by the public. By the time he was in his fifties, however, the Marble School’s approach had fallen out of favour. Godward nonetheless continued to paint in this manner until his suicide at age sixty-one. He is said to have written in his suicide note that “the world was not big enough” for him and a Picasso.

His already estranged family, who had disapproved of him becoming an artist, were ashamed of his suicide and burned his papers. No photographs of Godward are known to survive.