Aussie Jingle Bells

It’s hard to believe it’s almost Christmas again, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem like that long ago since we were wrapping gifts and singing Christmas songs last year. 2009’s gone by so quickly. Or maybe I’m just getting older.

I enjoy Christmas but for different reasons than I used to. I’m not religious anymore but I still enjoy the spirit of the season and the message of peace and good will. It’s the little things about Christmas I enjoy most; seeing the lights and decorations in the city, spending time with family and friends. That’s what Christmas is about to me.

To help get into the Christmas spirit this year I thought I’d post a fun Christmas song, like I did last year. This is my take on Jingle Bells, one of my favourite Christmas songs. I rewrote it to reflect a typical hot Aussie Christmas. It turned out quite well in the end.

In researching it I actually learnt a lot about the song. Apparently Jingle Bells was actually written in 1857 for Thanksgiving, not Christmas. Which makes sense when you think about it as modern Christmas celebrations didn’t start until later. Also there are actually four verses to Jingle Bells, which I didn’t know; you rarely hear the last two.

In any case, I hope you enjoy it. And have a wonderful festive season. 😉

Aussie Jingle Bells

Dashing through the house
In an old shirt and one shoe
Running late again
And you need the loo
Front door starts to ring
As the guests arrive
Bringing lots of gifts and pressies
Up the front drive

Oh jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Your family’s gathered round you
On a warm Christmas day (hey!)
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Santa says g’day
Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way

Now the pressies are unwrapped
We’re sitting by the tree
Lights are all turned on
Looks pretty as can be
We talk about old friends
And have a glass of wine
While the kids play with their toys
Out in the sunshine

Oh jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Your family’s gathered round you
On a warm Christmas day (hey!)
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Santa says g’day
Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way

Soon it’s two o’clock
We’re by the barbeque
Eating snags and prawns
And drinking beer too
Grandma’s made the cake
It’s a little dry
We try to eat it with one hand
While we’re busy swatting flies

Oh jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Your family’s gathered round you
On a warm Christmas day (hey!)
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Santa says g’day
Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way

The light is getting dim
It’s almost time to go
We take a family snap
Under the mistletoe
The kids are fast asleep
We’re singing Christmas songs
Don’t you wish Christmas day
Could last all summer long!

Oh jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Your family’s gathered round you
On a warm Christmas day (hey!)
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Santa says g’day
Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way

Oh what fun it is to spend
Christmas the Aussie way!

Red Sun Rising

Sydney Harbour Bridge, blanketed by red haze

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, blanketed by a red haze (photo: Ian Sanderson)

Sydneysiders woke to a strange sight early this morning. A massive dust storm had swept across the state, blanketing Sydney in a plume of dust that stretched for over 600km. It turned the sky an eerie orange-red and I’ve never seen anything like it. It felt like we had been transported to Mars.

The colour came from the red soil and dust of the outback, which had been whipped up and carried inland by fierce gale force winds; it’s estimated the dust plume travelled over 1500 kilometres to reach Sydney. Scientists are saying it might be the worst dust storm in NSW’s history, which I can believe. The pollution in Sydney was awful all day and you couldn’t breathe easily, even after the haze had started to lift.

I was still awake when the dust storm hit. It was incredible; the wind howled and the entire sky seemed to go blood-red in minutes, so much so that I couldn’t see more than 20 metres down the street. The last time I can remember anything like it was after the Black Saturday bushfires, when the sky reflected the fire and there was an overwhelming smell of ash. But even those skies didn’t compare to this; this was like stepping onto another world.

With the UN climate conference beginning in New York, some green groups have suggested that it’s more evidence of global warming. I’m not so sure. Usually I’d be the first person to agree but nature doesn’t need a reason to be wonderful or terrible; I think sometimes these kind of freak occurrences just happen and we shouldn’t ascribe everything to global warming without evidence. I found it very beautiful, despite the chaos it caused.

Unfortunately I didn’t think to take any photos; I didn’t realise how widespread it was at the time. But there are some incredible photos on Flickr and I thought I’d post some of them to give an idea of what it was like. There’s still a dusty smell in the air and the winds are still strong even now, 18 hours later.

I doubt I’ll see anything like it again in my lifetime. Unless I go to Mars.

Under the Bridge

Another view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, from beneath, the eerie light reflecting off the harbour. The bridge just seems to fade away and you can barely see the other side. (photo: Ian Sanderson)

Opera House

Here the Sydney Opera House has all but disappeared, with the dust at its peak in the early morning. Ferry services were cancelled until the haze cleared. (photo: NSW Maritime)

Oxford Street

Sydney’s Oxford Street seems transformed, the sidewalks almost deserted. The sepia tones remind me of a scene from the early years of photography. (photo: Cowboy Dave)

Sydney Towerluna-park

Two of Sydney’s iconic landmarks, Sydney Tower and Luna Park, swallowed by the dust storm. Luna Park was closed due to the dust, winds and poor visibility. (photos: Cowboy Dave and Tolomea)

St Marys Cathedral

St Mary’s Cathedral, lit up a brilliant shade of pink-red. You can see where some of the dust has settled on the grass as well. (photo: JezKerwin)

QVB

Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building, in the heart of the CBD, as the haze has started to lift. Looks like many people found masks or are using tissues to cover their mouths. (photo: Dr. Snafu)

Sydenham Station

Sydenham station is one of the major railway links in Sydney. The station was blanketed by the red dust and trains were late or cancelled for much of the morning. (photo: MOles)

Sydney CBDDarling Harbour

The Sydney CBD and Darling Harbour; the streets are almost completely deserted on the left, while on the right it’s more like Baghdad than Sydney. (photos: Malcolm Tredinnick and Original Nomad)

Bondi Beach Park

Bondi Beach Park in the early hours of the morning. You can’t see it here but some people still took an early morning swim, despite the pollution and low visibility. (photo: sebr)

Traffic-Button

A traffic button at a pedestrian crossing, showing the accumulation of dust. It covered most vehicles as well. You wonder how much work it will be, cleaning up tomorrow. (photo: Malcolm Treddinick)

The Temple of Learning

reading

Do you have a favourite past-time? Something you love to do at the end of the day to unwind? Perhaps you’re a movie buff or enjoy exercising at the gym. For me it’s reading. I don’t think there’s anything better than curling up with a good book at the end of a long day to unwind.

Some of my earliest memories are of books, of my parents reading to me while I lay in bed and looked at the pictures. I often think that without those experiences I wouldn’t be who I am today. Reading is such a large part of a writer’s life; if you don’t take the time to read, you can’t develop the skills to write. But reading has never felt like a chore to me, largely because all of those stories when I was younger made me dream of my own.

If someone had told me when I was first learning to read that I’d become a writer later, though, I’m not sure I would have believed them; at the time I probably wanted to be a palaeontologist as Jurassic Park had just come out. At that stage I found reading difficult. I loved books but like many children – boys in particular – my literacy skills developed late and it frustrated me.

Generally the average age a child learns to read is 6; some learn earlier, others a little later. I was 7  & a ½ when I could finally read and write competently. Perhaps that’s not unusual for some children but it was extremely frustrating for me; my teachers said that I’d pick it up on the way, but the curriculum – at least 18 years ago – made few allowances for those who didn’t develop as quickly or were ill. Subsequently I kept falling behind.

Finally my parents, who’d gone against their instincts on my teachers’ advice, taught me themselves. They bought a range of reading aids to teach me phonics and they read with me, particularly my mother, for hours every night; I can still remember the Bangers & Mash series, about two mischievous chimpanzees who kept getting themselves into all kinds of trouble. They made learning fun!

Before long I had moved on to the Berenstain Bears series and Dr Seuss, particularly The Butter Battle Book. Soon I was analysing and sounding out difficult words on my own, associating words with different meanings, and my reading speed improved greatly. I devoured everything, hungry to learn, and within a month I’d leapt ahead and was reading books my parents had read to me like Matilda, The BFG and finally Narnia by myself.

My writing skills improved at the same time; my spelling was awful but my grammar and punctuation had come a long way. And before long I decided to write my first story. It was a Batman story, probably inspired by Tim Burton’s Batman film which I saw on TV. I didn’t like the ending, so I changed it; I killed Batman – so even then I had a thing for macabre endings.

Within six months I was reading and writing at an advanced level. I’d moved past most of the children in my class and within three years I was comfortably reading Dickens and Conan Doyle, which showed how far I’d been held back. I was writing poetry and short stories regularly and English became my best subject. I’d turned my weakness into my strength; that’s something I’m still proud of today.

That’s why literacy is so important to me, not just as a writer but as a person; I know how frustrating it is to feel like you’re being left behind, and the joy when all those hours of hard work finally pay off.

It saddens me when I hear of the falling literacy standards in Australia, of a growing gap between boys and girls in English and language skills. Officially Australia has a 99.0% rate of adult literacy, one of the highest in the world, but that doesn’t take into account the widening gap between genders, nor the differences in various socio-economic and cultural groups, nor the retention rate for school students (particularly among older boys, whish is rising). Many people are aware of these problems but we hear few solutions, other than the government’s “education revolution” which no one understands.

The situation with Indigenous literacy is becoming even more serious. It’s believed that by the age of 15 more than a third of Indigenous students don’t have adequate literacy skills and are disadvantaged, while in remote areas it is even worse, with only 15% of year 7 students achieving the benchmark in literacy tests. Coupled with high unemployment and mortality rates among many Indigenous communities, it’s a serious problem and something no one should consider acceptable. Yet for the most part the same policies continue to be implemented, only now under the intervention.

Likewise the fact that there are 776 million adults in the world lacking basic literacy skills (66% of them women) and 75 million children out of school is a statistic I find staggering. Surely in a modern society those kind of figures are unacceptable? Surely we can do more to help? Of course we do what we can, giving money to governments and helping to build schools and libraries, providing new equipment… but sometimes I wonder if even a fraction of the money spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan went towards addressing illiteracy and poverty instead, would the world be any different?

I suppose I just wish that we’d be a little more responsible, that instead of giving money to corrupt regimes we’d give it directly to the agencies that are trying to help. If we made a serious dent in illiteracy and poverty in the world, it would help us as well. One of the biggest factors in poverty, terrorism and AIDS is a lack of education. The only responsible way out of poverty is to learn, to educate yourself and learn not to make the same mistakes again. If that education begins early, with literacy and other skills, then children can learn and see ways of improving their lives and they’re less likely to fall under the influence of extremism.

That’s why I like the work many of the smaller organisations and charities are doing around the world. Working at grass roots level they can have more success and make a difference in peoples’ lives. Projects like Books for Cameroon, which is aiming to establish a library in 25 schools and help 20,000 students, or the 100 Mothers Literacy Program which funds a basic literacy program for mothers in Afghanistan. These kind of projects provide a greater level of transparency and average people can support them, trying to help in their own way.

Overall, though, I think if we’re to improve literacy standards we have to change our approach. Days like this International Literacy Day help to raise awareness but it’s by building new schools and libraries and training teachers in new methods that we might succeed overall, methods that make learning fun again. We need to move away from whole language methods, towards systematic phonics. Most importantly we need to take a larger role in our children’s education as parents and role models and help them; if we read to and teach our children, they’ll want to learn.

I don’t know if I will be a father one day but I know if a child asks me for help to read or write, I’ll always try to help them. I know what it was like to struggle with reading and it’s never too early to teach a child to read, to love books – if you do then you’ll give them skills for life.

The rest will take care of itself.

“The library is the temple of learning, and learning has
liberated more people than all the wars in history.”
~ Carl Rowan

literacy2literacyliteracy3

Image Credit: Reading Books At Home ~ hortongroup

A Trip to the Powerhouse

One of my favourite parts of Sydney is the Powerhouse Museum. Sydney has many interesting museums and galleries but there’s just something special about the Powerhouse. It’s existed in several forms for over 130 years (once even sharing a room with a hospital morgue) and it’s full of history. I could lose myself for hours just wandering around if I had enough time.

Recently there have been a couple of new exhibitions at the Powerhouse I’ve wanted to see, including one from the Star Wars films. With my health I hadn’t felt up to going earlier but I finally managed to go a few weeks ago with MQ, just before the Star Wars exhibit closed. It was interesting seeing the costumes; they’re actually very detailed, much more than you can see on-screen. And seeing Darth Vader was fun.

The other exhibit was the Inspired! Design Across Time exhibit, which was excellent and free. It looks at the history of art and design through different eras and has some wonderful displays. I enjoy studying design; some people may remember I designed my library units, so I found it fascinating.

I took some photos of both exhibits to share. Some came out better than others; I’m still learning how to use my camera and the damn flash keeps getting in the way. But they’re not too bad overall. Hope you enjoy them.

bench-fabric

Wooden Bench & Fabric DisplayHandcrafted Table & ChairArtwork MosaicClassic Pottery & VasesEdwardian Table & SilverwareEdwardian Armoire

Edwardian SideboardSilver Table CentrepieceEpergne PlaqueVintage Dress & CorsetEgyptian Renaissance DaybedLiberty Catologue (1920s)

These are all from the Inspired! Design Across Time exhibit. The photo of the bench is my favourite; it’s from the crafts revival and there’s just something very rustic and Australian about the display, blending with the background.

I also like the mosaic. It was made by Pierre Cavalan from recycled materials and each panel is embossed with a stylised face in a different expression. It’s very beautiful and must have been painstaking to create.

What was particularly interesting about the exhibit was following the evolution in design, particularly the rapid advances toward contemporary art. Art and design have changed so much over the years but what was obvious was how the same influences keep reappearing, just in different forms.

Princess Leia, C-3PO & R2-D2

Millennium FalconHan Solo & ChewbaccaWampaSnowtrooperAnakin Skywalker & Obi-Wan KenobiMaster Yoda & Mace Windu

Wookiee CostumesTusken RaidersYoung AnakinJawaLandspeederPadmé

Darth VaderVader's HelmetStormtrooperNaked C-3POTorture DroidPrincess Leia, C-3PO & R2-D2

These are from the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit. It had a mix of costumes and props from the Star Wars films, as well as displays of real world technology similar to the science from the films.

Seeing the costumes and props was interesting; you get an appreciation for the detail that goes into creating them that you can’t really see on-screen. But it was a little disappointing overall. The exhibit was quite poorly lit (which also made the photos darker) and the idea didn’t feel that plausible. Star Wars isn’t really about science.

Probably my favourite costumes were of Princess Leia and the droids, which were still in good condition. And Vader’s but that seemed to have aged more.

Pavlova (before)

Pizza (sauce)Pizza (veg)Pizza (ingredients)Pizza (after)Pizza (plate)Pavlova (before)Pavlova (after)

And what’s a day out without a nice meal to go with it? These photos were actually from a few weeks earlier as I didn’t get to photograph it in time but it was the same meal, except with more veggies on the pizza – I’d run out here.

And yes, I made it myself. I can cook quite well, believe it or not. The meringue was lovely too. 😉

Great Southern Land

Today was Australia Day, which is Australia’s official national day. It’s a public holiday and commemorates the arrival of Captain Phillip and the First Fleet in 1788. For most people it is an opportunity to display our national pride and you’ll often see flags in windows and people wearing green and gold at barbecues and lunches. It’s a patriotic day that brings unity despite our many differences: the one day where we are just Australian.

For me Australia Day holds a slightly different meaning. I am proudly Australian but my parents were originally English; they lived in Australia for more than 15 years before becoming Australian citizens themselves. Witnessing their citizenship ceremony was one of the proudest moments of my life. But perhaps because of that I have always preferred a quieter observation; while other people attend festivals I prefer to take time thinking about what Australia means to me, how far we’ve come and still have to go.

chris by the harbour

Something I always do around this time is to look back through some of our old photographs and I found this one earlier. I can’t believe it but it must be almost 20 years old now; I still remember some of that day, near the harbour and the botanic gardens. We had ice cream afterwards. And yes, that is me in the picture. I was 4 years old. Ugly little bugger, wasn’t I? 😉

Of all the photographs we have this is one of my favourites, not just because it captures the memories I still have of that day but also because it’s like a snapshot of how I see Australia. To me Australia isn’t a nation in the sense that America is; we’re much younger and don’t have the same history and culture behind us. We’re still growing and finding our identity and culture. That’s what I see in the photo: that I would grow, and Australia would as well.

Over the last 20 years Australia has changed a lot and it has been interesting watching those changes unfold. To be frank some of them have disturbed me, particularly as our civil liberties have unravelled, but we’ve also made progress. The apology to Indigenous Australians last year was a watershed moment in our development as a nation and raises the real possibility for reconciliation one day. That indigenous leader Mick Dodson was named Australian of the Year this year is another step towards that.

But we’re not there yet. There are still a lot of obstacles in the way and Australia Day itself is one of them. Some people think the date should be changed from January 26 so it includes all Australians and I agree; many Aboriginal Australians consider it to be “Invasion Day” and to have a national day which isn’t inclusive of the first Australians seems culturally insensitive to me and always has. Federation Day, January 1st, 1901, seems more suitable, the day we gained interdependence from Britain.

But when I think of all we’ve achieved as a young country, though – from the biggest townships to the smallest farms, from the beaches of Gallipoli to the villages of East Timor -, it makes me extremely proud. We’re a country that came about partially by accident; under other circumstances we could have been a Dutch or French settlement and if not for the American Revolution the events of our colonisation by Britain would’ve been very different. As the descendants of convicts, we’ve developed a stable democracy and are slowly moving towards becoming a republic. That is not a bad start for any country.

Today the thing I find myself thinking about the most is our landscape. That’s what I noticed most looking at that photograph, how after 20 years the harbour is still the same… the water the same brilliant blue. I think it’s something a lot of us take for granted; for many of us Australia is just there but how many of us have really seen it, have seen Kakadu or Kings Canyon? I know I hope to at some stage, to see Uluru at sunset and the ancient art in the Abrakurrie caves. I think it’s our landscape which defines our identity and it’s what I’m most grateful for.

There’s one song that always comes to mind when I think of Australia. It’s Icehouse’s Great Southern Land. I couldn’t hope for a better song to post on Australia Day. Hope you enjoy it.

Wherever you are in the world I wish you peace, hope and a Happy Australia Day. Here’s hoping one day it’ll be Happy Republic Day – a day we can all celebrate as one. 😉

The Year That Was

war_torn

Buildings Devastated By War

I have been following the scenes coming out of Gaza closely during the last five days. Like most people I have been stunned by how the situation has deteriorated so quickly… this period has been the bloodiest I can remember. I had hoped that a brief ceasefire might be reached to allow humanitarian aid through but that now seems to have been rejected. So far the air strikes have killed more than 390 Palestinians (60 civilians) and injured more than 1900, while more than than 250 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired into Israeli territory, killing 4 people and wounding dozens. The devastation has also overwhelmed hospitals and more supplies are desperately needed.

To be honest it’s happened so quickly that I’m not sure what to make of it all. I support Israel’s need to defend itself but I was caught off-guard by the sheer ferocity of the air strikes; in an area as densely populated as Gaza I would have thought Israel could have shown more restraint. Then again, no country in the world would allow its citizens to come under daily rocket attack and I’d expect a strong response from Israel, particularly when the rockets can reach as far as schools and kindergartens as we saw today. I just wish there was more of a humanitarian effort as well. And now the rocket attacks are penetrating farther than ever before. The whole situation is just chaotic and I feel sorry for the civilians caught in the middle on both sides.

Right now it seems that the best hope for a ceasefire lies with the UN and the European Union, while the US tries to bring pressure to bear on both sides for a more lasting agreement. I hope some kind of agreement can be reached but, with this ceasefire rejected, I doubt it will be for several days… and right now it only seems to be escalating. In the meantime I’ve signed a petition with Avaaz calling on both sides to stop the violence; reading about the destruction, watching the scenes, I just felt like I had to do something, and though it’s only a small thing I hope in some way it makes a difference.

Australian Money

The Economy: The Big Story of 2008

Watching what’s happening in Gaza at the moment has made me realise just how quickly 2008 went by. It’s hard to believe it’s already 2009, isn’t it? This time last year Benazir Bhutto’s assassination had triggered a deadly wave of violence in Pakistan. Can that really have been only a year ago? So much has happened since then that it feels like so much longer. But we’ve had the fireworks and music, so it really must be 2009.

Most years I find that events tend to blur together as the year passes and the memories aren’t as fresh for me by the end but despite 2008 being a busy year, it’s still vivid in my mind. It’s been a sad year in many ways; there have been moments of hope but I think looking back the overwhelming memories I have of 2008 are of pain and sorrow. I think they shall linger for some time

Of course the biggest story of 2008 was the economic crisis. Watching the scenes from the US as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other institutions started to go under was chilling; not only did it have implications for the global economy but these were ordinary people losing their money and jobs. And then of course the proverbial shit really hit the fan; the global stockmarkets crashed, thousands of jobs were cut, overseas banks were being nationalised or filing for bankruptcy, suddenly we were all talking about the R world, “recession” – and then there was the bailout which caused all kinds of consternation. And that was just in September.

It’s been a remarkable period and has been terrible for the people directly affected but I think it serves as something of a warning to the rest of us as well; we are extremely lucky to enjoy our lifestyle in the West but with that comes the danger of excess and perhaps this is a wakeup call for all of us. 2009 will be a difficult year with the rise in unemployment and living costs but if we learn the lessons from this crisis then perhaps some good can still come from it as well. There are more important things in life, after all.

Heath Ledger’s death is also something that still lingers in my mind. As I said at the time Heath was someone I had grown up watching; I saw him in Sweat, his first major role, and most of his films after that. We were only a few years apart in age, so his death at only 28 had a strong impact on me. I thought his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight was mesmerising, and sadly tragic, but it’s his performances in Brokeback Mountain and Monster’s Ball that I’ll remember best. His loss is a profound one for our film industry, one I feel we still have yet to fully recover from nearly a year on.

By far the worst news of the year for me was the devastation in Burma and China. The destruction Cyclone Nargis caused was particularly overwhelming, killing more than 150,000 people (and by some estimates almost a million). I’ll never forget the Burmese authorities claiming that they “weren’t ready to accept” foreign aid workers into the country even while Burma had clearly suffered a monumental humanitarian disaster. And then only days later an earthquake flattened schools and villages in China, killing 87,000 people (19,000 children). The scenes in China were some of the most heartbreaking I have ever seen, with entire schools destroyed and parents weeping.

Like everyone else I was stunned and saddened by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai as well. To see a metropolis of 12 million people brought to its knees for three days, particularly a city with such heritage and prestige as Mumbai, was troubling, as was the sheer scale of the attacks; a series of ten coordinated attacks leaving 178 dead and 308 injured. Then to see the peace that had started to form between Pakistan and India beginning to unravel was even more troubling… it is something the world cannot allow to happen.

2008 brought with it some interesting stories and moments as well. For Australians one moment was in February when the Federal government finally apologised to Indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generations. The apology was long overdue and while it’s only one step toward reconciliation, it is a moment I’ll never forget. Then in September we started to hear more about the Large Hadron Collider beneath the Franco-Swiss border, a particle accelerator which we were told could create an artificial black hole… and might destroy the world! Well, it didn’t (obviously); problem was, it didn’t work either – it sprung a leak and they’re going to try again in June. Great.

Also in July Thomas Beatie, the “Pregnant Man”, was rushed to hospital and delivered a healthy baby girl amidst a storm of controversy. Beatie was born a woman but kept his female reproductive organs after undergoing hormone treatments ten years earlier to become a man and conceived his daughter through artificial insemination. I actually found the process interesting and didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about; but then I like weird science. For those who are interested, Beatie is now pregnant with his second child.

But of course the reason most of us will remember 2008 is because of Barack Obama. To achieve what he has achieved is an incredible thing; to have an African American President is something many people did not think was possible and to see the tears on so many faces still moves me even now. It’s a moment in history for America and the world and I think no matter what your political persuasion is, that is something to be proud of. Of course one moment changes nothing; there is still racism and always will be, and we don’t know what kind of president Obama will be yet. But that doesn’t change the fact that November 4 was an historic moment, one I and I’m sure millions of people will always remember.

There were other stories as well. Paul Newman and Sydney Pollack both passed away, as did Arthur C. Clarke. Russia’s incursion into Georgia resulted in more than 500 civilian deaths. The Beijing Olympics were held in August; Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt ruled the world, while the Games themselves were overshadowed by issues far greater than sport. And Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer fought the greatest Wimbledon final ever, a match that lasted over 4 1/2 hours and ended in darkness; Nadal was a deserved winner.

Personally 2008 was a difficult year for me as well. I was ill for most of the year, which was frustrating; my work suffered and I’ve not been able to write at my normal speed for some time now. My grandmother nearly died and required an amputation and I also lost a friendship which meant a great deal to me; both events made me think about what was really important in my life. After a serious fire and several things with my family as well, it has been an exhausting year. So I’m quite happy to say goodbye to 2008.

I think the problems I have had through this year, though, have actually helped me overall. They’ve helped me to find strength in places that I didn’t know I had and I know I can rely on myself more than I believed I could before. I feel like I’ve turned a few negatives into positives and grown as a person, which is more than I could have hoped for from this last year all told.

So that was 2008 from my point of view. A busy year and a sad year, but also one with its moments of hope. As far as 2009 goes I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions but I do have some hopes to stay true to. I’d like to be in good health and happiness; to trust in myself and my abilities; to not take bullshit from anyone; to be good to others and to help where I can; to find someone to love. I do have one very big ambition for 2009 and that is to write something I can send away to an agent; I feel like I’m finally ready and after developing an idea for several years, I want to tackle my first novel.

Globally I hope 2009 is a more peaceful year than 2008 was. At some stage there will be a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas; it’s just a matter of time and, unfortunately, lives, and we just have to hope that it is sooner rather than later. Hopefully the economy will begin to stabilise and peoples’ lives can find some kind of normalcy again. I also hope that Obama’s transition to the presidency will be smooth and he can start bringing people together after so much division. I’m also looking forward to the release of the new Star Trek film (Spock!) and can’t wait for Wimbledon. Hope it’s as good as last year.

So Happy New Year everyone! Thank you for being a part of my 2008 and I hope you all have a peaceful and safe 2009. 😉

The Aussie 12 Days of Christmas

This is my first post in a while. I’ve had a lot on my mind recently but I wanted to do a Christmas post. I enjoy the time of year and I have a lot of fond memories of past Christmases with my family; hot and summery and typically Australian.

I’ve always found it funny that we celebrate Christmas with wintery songs in Australia, so I thought I’d try to come up with a more Aussie take on a Christmas classic.

Hope you enjoy it; it was a lot of fun to write. 😉

Surfing Santa

On the first day of Christmas
My good mate sent to me
A kookaburra in a gum tree

On the second day of Christmas
My good mate sent to me
Two platypuses
And a kookaburra in a gum tree

On the third day of Christmas
My good mate sent to me
Three black swans
Two platypuses
And a kookaburra in a gum tree

On the fourth day of Christmas
My good mate sent to me
Four cockatoos
Three black swans
Two platypuses
And a kookaburra in a gum tree

On the fifth day of Christmas
My good mate sent to me
Five Russell Crowes
Four cockatoos
Three black swans
Two platypuses
And a kookaburra in a gum tree

On the sixth day of Christmas
My good mate sent to me
Six kangaroos a-hopping
Five Russell Crowes
Four cockatoos
Three black swans
Two platypuses
And a kookaburra in a gum tree

On the seventh day of Christmas
My good mate sent to me
Seven koalas a-sleeping
Six kangaroos a-hopping
Five Russell Crowes
Four cockatoos
Three black swans
Two platypuses
And a kookaburra in a gum tree

On the eighth day of Christmas
My good mate sent to me
Eight emus a-running
Seven koalas a-sleeping
Six kangaroos a-hopping
Five Russell Crowes
Four cockatoos
Three black swans
Two platypuses
And a kookaburra in a gum tree

On the ninth day of Christmas
My good mate sent to me
Nine sharks a-biting
Eight emus a-running
Seven koalas a-sleeping
Six kangaroos a-hopping
Five Russell Crowes
Four cockatoos
Three black swans
Two platypuses
And a kookaburra in a gum tree

On the tenth day of Christmas
My good mate sent to me
Ten echidnas a-digging
Nine sharks a-biting
Eight emus a-running
Seven koalas a-sleeping
Six kangaroos a-hopping
Five Russell Crowes
Four cockatoos
Three black swans
Two platypuses
And a kookaburra in a gum tree

On the eleventh day of Christmas
My good mate sent to me
Eleven possums a-playing
Ten echidnas a-digging
Nine sharks a-biting
Eight emus a-running
Seven koalas a-sleeping
Six kangaroos a-hopping
Five Russell Crowes
Four cockatoos
Three black swans
Two platypuses
And a kookaburra in a gum tree

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My good mate sent to me
Twelve wombats a-wambling
Eleven possums a-playing
Ten echidnas a-digging
Nine sharks a-biting
Eight emus a-running
Seven koalas a-sleeping
Six kangaroos a-hopping
Five Russell Crowes
Four cockatoos
Three black swans
Two platypuses
And a kookaburra in a gum tree!

Update: It’s December 25th now so I just wanted to add that I hope everyone has a joyous Christmas and my sincerest wishes for a peaceful and safe New Year. I’ll see you all in a couple of days. 😉

The modern face of racism

<em>Racism</em> by temi00 on <em>Deviant Art</em>

Image: Racism by Temi00 on Deviant Art

Has anyone seen Lost in Translation? I’ve been catching up on some DVDs recently and I’d forgotten how good it is. I liked it at the movies but I think it plays better on DVD; it feels more intimate somehow. Bill Murray’s performance is wonderful and it’s a beautiful story.

One of the reasons I like it is the feeling of isolation in the film. Murray and Scarlett Johansson play two characters who feel increasingly isolated in Tokyo; surrounded by unfamiliar customs, they become drawn to each other. I wouldn’t say I feel isolated like that but I spent a lot of my childhood moving and the writer in me is always a little distant… I thought the film captured that feeling well, and Tokyo as well.

That’s why I was surprised when I read a past review of it on The Guardian’s website. Kiku Day is part Japanese and criticised the film as racist. She said that anti-Japanese racism formed the backbone of the film, from the jokes to the depiction of Tokyo and Japanese culture. “There is no scene where the Japanese are afforded a shred of dignity. The viewer is sledgehammered into laughing at these small, yellow people and their funny ways, desperately aping the western lifestyle without knowledge of its real meaning.”

Did we watch the same film? Where she saw a film about stereotypes and an exotic backdrop, I saw a film about disconnection; not just the disconnection between the two Americans and Tokyo but also in the direction their lives are taking. What I found interesting was the directorial style; it’s sparse and because the Japanese dialogue isn’t subtitled, it leaves viewers as disoriented as the characters. Perhaps that’s Day’s point as we see what Bob and Charlotte see, not the “real” Japan; but that doesn’t mean it’s stereotypical.

But I’ve never been to Tokyo. It looks like a beautiful city and I’d love to go there one day but obviously Day knows it better than I do. I thought Tokyo was depicted respectfully but perhaps she sees a caricature of Japanese life. I’m still not convinced, though… the film isn’t about Tokyo as much as the friendship between the characters; perhaps because of that it lacks some detail, but I don’t see anything racist in it.

After reading Day’s review I started thinking about the way race is depicted on screen. Some of my favourite actors come to mind like Denzel Washington, Lucy Liu and Zhang Ziyi, films like Crash, Monster’s Ball and To Kill a Mockingbird. But then I wondered about the films and shows I’d seen recently and with the exception of Crash, I can’t think of many which have depicted race well, particularly in Australia. The last Australian film I can remember seeing like that was Australian Rules, and before that Romper Stomper with Russell Crowe. As far as TV goes, the actors are still part of the supporting cast and are rarely very detailed; the way Indigenous Australians are portrayed is particularly troubling. Ideally a cast should be an accurate representation of our culture and it’s sad seeing such a narrow view still represented in the mainstream.

To be honest I thought we’d come further than that. It’s been 40 years since Star Trek had Uhura and Sulu, longer since To Kill a Mockingbird and In the Heat of the Night… shouldn’t we be seeing a more honest depiction of society by now or is that just naive? Perhaps the problem is as much political correctness. Racism has become such a loaded issue that people are overly sensitive to it; most people are respectful but mindful of what they say in case it’s taken the wrong way, and so for most films it makes sense to stick with a familiar cast and not make waves. I think that’s what happened with Lost in Translation. It’s a different kind of film and if you look long enough, you’ll find racism in anything, and Day saw enough to label it such. Really it’s the opposite of that but it does show how much racism is still a part of our society, the feeling it evokes.

I found this short documentary earlier and it’s a perfect example of the impact racism is still having today. It’s filmed by 17 year old Kiri Davis, who examines the importance young African American women place on colour. What stunned me was a scene recreating a 1940s experiment looking at internalised racism, where children were asked to choose between a white and a black doll and the majority chose the white doll. 60 years later it’s still the same. 15 out of 21 children said they preferred the white doll over the black, associating white with “pretty” and black with “ugly”. Worse they saw white as good and black as bad… it’s heartbreaking. No one should feel ashamed of their culture, their heritage, of who they are… but I guess it’s no surprise; how else could you feel, surrounded by such stigmatisation?

What’s so troubling is it leaves you wondering what we can do to change it and to be honest I don’t know. The problem is that racism has changed; it’s become subversive, an ideology permeating the culture that twists noble intentions to its uses. Economics, welfare, gentrification, poverty, all can be used as tools or justification for racism in the wrong hands. How many times have you heard someone say we shouldn’t donate to Africa because the money will be wasted, or that children should be removed from their parents because of poverty? It’s suggestive and almost makes sense, and that’s why it’s so dangerous.

The modern face of racism isn’t a group like the KKK or an individual. The truth is that it doesn’t have a face; it uses imagery and ideas to spread hate and often someone is not even aware of their own racism. There’s a test from Harvard which measures the difference between what we think we’re prejudiced against and what our impulses suggest. The results are very interesting; they suggest that most people have a higher level of unconscious bias than they thought. It doesn’t make someone racist but it does suggest a conditioning, which just shows how much racism surrounds us without our knowing it.

Perhaps racism is something we’ll never be completely rid of but I think the only way to start is by realising that we need to change the way we look at it. Racism has changed but we’re still approaching it like we did forty years ago; it’s not just a political issue but a personal one and unless people are willing to change the way they look at racism and themselves, nothing will ever change.

That’s why I’m still stunned by the review. Lost in Translation is a film about making connections and you’d think it’s a film that would create greater awareness of Japanese culture, not damage it… I guess Day sees it differently.

Anyway, what do you think? Do you think racism has changed? Have you ever experienced racism? If you’re interested in the IAT test there’s more about it here; I took it and it’s very interesting if you have time to check it out. And sorry for the long post! If you got this far I’ll owe you a coffee or something. 😉

Nature’s Fury

Sydney Surf

If there’s one thing I’ll never get used to it’s the weather. Sometimes it has a mind of its own. The last few weeks have seen some bizarre weather conditions across Australia; it was pleasant in Sydney over Christmas, but the other cities sweltered in 45°C heat and for the last week or so we’ve had wild storms sweep across the eastern coast.

The rain’s been intermittent but annoying; it’ll stop quickly, but you’ll get soaked if you’re caught in it. What’s been amazing, though, is watching the gigantic waves crashing against the beaches. I’m not sure how well the picture shows it; some of the waves are up to four metres high. Most of the beaches have been closed for the last week, but they’re still attracting people to watch.

Foam

Even stranger has been this sea foam that’s washed up on a couple of the beaches. I’ve seen it once before and apparently it’s a lather of crushed up plankton and seaweed; it almost looks like yeast. A few people tried swimming in it; not sure I’d want to, but it’s amazing to look at. This guy looks like he’s had the bath from hell. 😉

The weather’s caused a lot of damage but it’s still strangely beautiful. Just reminds me that with everything we can create, there’s nothing more beautiful than nature’s fury.