Thursday, September 02, 2010

Tom Petrie Memorial

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Originally published at

The unveiling of the refurbished Tom Petrie memorial was an amazing experience for many reasons.

I’ve written several articles here previously about Tom Petrie. The man was remarkable for the way he learned the ways and language of the local Turrbal Aboriginal people, and showed them a respect and honor that was more than a century ahead of his time. It was fitting to remember him on the 100th anniversary of his death.

I also had the chance to meet Maroochy Barambah, an elder, Songwoman and Law-Woman of the Turrbal Aboriginal people. This talented and dignified woman is the great grand-daughter of Kulkarawa, a young Aboriginal girl who ran off with a Sri Lankan man named Shake Brown in the 1840’s. Brown was killed in the 1840’s on the banks of what is now called Browns Creek. By some strange co-incidence I actually took some photos of this area and wrote an article about it a few months ago. So I was overwhelmed to meet someone who was actually related to Kulkarawa (Granny Kitty) and Shake Brown (Grandfather Brown).

This event was the first formal occasion that descendants of Tom Petrie and the Turrbal people had met face to face since Petrie’s death. It gives me hope that things like this happen. The mutual history of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia is something that can unite us, and strengthen our souls. It reminds us how precious is the place in which we live. It gives us continuity and reminds us that each of us is here for such a brief time, while the land is always here.

Tom Petrie Memorial - 26 August 2010Tom Petrie Memorial - 26 August 2010Tom Petrie Memorial - 26 August 2010

Tom Petrie Memorial - 26 August 2010Tom Petrie Memorial - 26 August 2010Tom Petrie Memorial - 26 August 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why I think the ALP will win this election

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One Dollar, Sir!

"One Dollar, Sir!" by Trey Ratcliff

Last election I predicted the Coalition would win the election, and I was wrong :)

This time, although I hope I’m wrong, I think the ALP will win with a reduced majority of 5 to 10 seats.

I believe the people will not vote in a Coalition Government this election for one simple reason.  Tony Abbott has failed to outline his vision for Australia.

He’s told us all how bad the ALP is, and how wrong their policies are, and why we can’t trust them.  He’s probably right.

But I think voters want a prospective leader to do more.  We want to know what a leader is passionate about.  Where do they want to take us?  What is the burning dream in their heart that drives them?  What makes their face light up with enthusiasm and say “This is what it’s all about – follow me and I’ll take you there!!!!”.  The prime example in recent memory was Barack Obama (“Yes we can!”) in 2008.  Tony Abbott hasn’t done this.

Which makes me ask “Why hasn’t he?”.  Either he doesn’t have a burning dream inside, or he (or his minders) decided to just run a negative campaign hoping we’d vote Labor out rather than vote him in.

It’s sad – the ALP has some pretty shonky policies on new taxes (Mining Tax, Carbon Tax etc), the internet filter, and borrowing to spend huge amounts of money on public projects.  And the Coalition’s failure to enunciate its vision means the ALP is going to get a chance to implement these policies over the next three years.

There’s a non-political lesson in this for all of us.  Find out what you love, what you’re passionate about, and go for it with all your heart.  BE passionate about something.  You’ll generate an energy which will attract followers, and you’ll get something worthwhile done, and have fun at the same time.

Or…. find something you don’t like, and complain about it, and tell everyone how bad it is.

I know which one I’d rather do!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Aboriginal Anthems

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Red Hand Cave, Glenbrook National Park. NSW. Australia by Jeannie Fletcher

Queensland beat NSW last night in the annual State of Original rugby league series.  This year was special for a number of reasons.

It was a clean sweep.  Queensland won all three of the games played this year – the first time they’ve done this in fifteen years.  I think State of Origin football is Rugby League in its highest form.  It doesn’t get much better than this, and to see your state win a series so comprehensively feels great!

But this series was overshadowed by some ugly racist overtones when the NSW assistant coach, Andrew Johns tried to inspire his team by making some racist jibes about some of the aboriginal players on the Queensland team.  Stupidly, he didn’t realize that those jibes would offend some of the aboriginal players on his own team.  Some people must be slow learners when it comes to interpersonal sensitivities.  The end result was that Andrew John’s racist comments galvanized the Queensland team, and tore his own team apart.

The highlight (in my opinion) came last night when the Australian National Anthem (“Advance Australia Fair”) was sung at the start of the game, first in an Aboriginal language and then in English.  Although not unusual by world standards (for example the New Zealand and South African national anthems) , it was a new experience for some Aussies.  In fact, some of them found it a bit hard to take.

Some of my friends made comments such as:

“Excuse me but since when was our AUSSIE national anthem in any language other than English?”

“In Australia we speak ENGLISH. Deal with it or piss off I say.”

“I have a personal issue, with the ones around here that come and steal ya shit while you are at work to pay for thier (sic) rent, drugs and booze”

It seems like a lot of people share Andrew Johns’ attitude towards Aborigines, and feel insulted that something as sacred as our national anthem should be sung in a language other than English.  After all, English is the only true Australian language, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

Admittedly, English was the native language of the boat people who arrived here  in the eighteenth century.  But before they arrived there were more than two hundred and fifty Aboriginal languages in use throughout this continent.  Most of those languages have become extinct, while a handful remain and are still spoken.  Indeed there are some Aboriginal people for whom English is only a second or third language after their own traditional languages.

For many of us who only speak, read, write and hear English everyday, we forget the importance of one’s own language.  Our mother tongue is bound inextricably with our culture and self-identity.  It is the language of our soul.  Without it we’re just foreigners trying to express the cries of our spirit in words we don’t fully understand.

Ian Waldron’s aboriginal ancestors come from around Normanton in western Queensland.  He says “I can’t speak my language properly. And that hurts. It was supposed to be mine. It unlocks the Kurtjar world and connects us to the stars and the rivers and everything. It came out of that country near Normanton. Just like we did.”

Perhaps the colonial masters of nineteenth and twentieth century Australia understood the importance of the traditional language when they tried to stamp out all use of Aboriginal languages.  Patsy Fourmile is an elder of the Yirrganydji Aboriginal people.  At a language revival workshop in Cairns she said, “If you were caught speaking language, you were dressed in a rations sack, had your head shaved and locked in the dormitory”.

Perhaps I should make this a bit more personal.  I’m  a whitefella who wasn’t even born in Australia.  I don’t know much about aboriginal culture.  The only language I speak is English, and a bit of high-school French.  I love Australia passionately.  Liz and I own a suburban block to the north of Brisbane.  But the more I fall in love with where I live, the more I realize that I belong to my country – not the other way round.  The words on the title deed to my home say that I own a bit of land, but the reality for me is that it owns me.  No matter where I go in the world, my guts tell me that this place is home.

And as this land infects who I am, I want to know more about it.  Whose feet stood in this dirt before mine did? Fifty years ago?  Two hundred years ago?  Two thousand years ago?  What stories did they tell?  What was important to them? It matters to me because it’s part of the story of my place.  It’s part of me.

And that’s the bottom line.

Whitefella’s like me who love our country need Aboriginal people, their stories, and their dreams.  We need the spiritual link to the land we love, and we can’t get that from a meager two hundred years of European-style land title and tenure.  We are blessed when an aboriginal woman sings our national anthem in an ancient language that was spoken thousands of years before Rome was built, before the Old Testament was written, when Englishmen were still daubing themselves with blue clay.  It gives Australians a sense of spiritual continuity that nothing else can.

The sooner we embrace Aboriginal culture as something that is part of us as a nation, the better.

(More info about Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Languages is available at

Friday, May 21, 2010

Australian Health Care – Simply The Best

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"Chest X-ray" by Aidan Jones

My mother had open heart surgery recently.

It was a big deal. She’s almost 70 years old, and had one valve replaced, one valve repaired, and a hole in her heart closed up.

She was in a world-class private hospital in Brisbane for a week in a private room with the heart surgeon of her choice.

She’s only in an average health fund which costs her and Dad a total of about $350 per month.

And she recently got the bill.

Including drugs, pharmaceuticals, theatre and anesthetists fees, the total cost to her and dad was….Nothing. Not a cent.

The hospital costs were covered by the public health care system (Medicare) and the other stuff was covered the private insurer (MBF).

Mum raves about the quality of care she received. She can’t praise highly enough the dedication and attention she got from the nurses and doctors.

Neither can I. This is amazing. And it makes me realize we’re lucky to live in a country that has such fantastic health care. You measure it by the quality of care that average (not wealthy) people receive.

Some of the redneck yee-ha’s in the USA would call this socialism and throw tantrums about it. But when I look around here, I see dozens of health care insurers thriving. Hospitals – private and public are doing what they’re supposed to do most of the time, and average people are getting good care for a decent price.

All I can say is thank goodness we live in Australia. The health care system isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it works well.

And Mum…. she’s recovering well!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Protecting Our Genome

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Human Genome by Dollar Bin

Human Genome by Dollar Bin

Mapping the Human Genome was probably one of the greatest achievements of our time.

Scientists were able to unravel our DNA and gain an understanding of how its building blocks, chromosomes, specifically affected our lives.  For the first time we were able to find out if we were susceptible to various diseases, where our ancestors came from, what might happen to us physically as we aged.  Companies like 23 and me, and deCode have sprung up offering a comprehensive low cost service to analyze and help you understand your own DNA for around $USD 500.  This is an exciting development which is changing the lives of many people, and offering hope to others.

At the same time, multinational drug companies such as Myriad Genetics obtained their own genomic information for use with tests such as the BRCA1 and BRCA2 which can determine a woman’s susceptibility to Breast Cancer and Ovarian Cancer.  The problem was they claimed exclusive ownership of the information, and legally threatened anyone else who tried to use this genomic information to do their own tests.  They charged women in the USA $3,700 for the test.

In other words, Myriad was saying “Information about this part of your genetic material belongs to our company, you’re not allowed to use it, but we’ll do the tests for you if you pay us a lot of money.  And if you try to do the testing yourself, we’ll sue you”.

Thankfully, a district court judge in the USA has ruled that Myriad’s patents are invalid.  The judge said that the company didn’t invent the genetic information – they just discovered it.  And you can’t patent something you discover, only something you invent.

The bigger issue in all of this is that the Human Genome belongs to all of us.  In computer jargon, it should be “Open Source”.  It’s abhorrent that a company can come along and try to hoodwink you into thinking that they own information about your genome.  Multinational drug companies try to tell us that unless they can own and exploit that information, they won’t develop life saving tests.

Rubbish!  These charlatans are building upon the freely available work of groups such as the Human Genome Project. They can’t then claim ownership of it, and bully anyone who disagrees with them.  If they don’t like the situation, too bad.  Some other organization will come along and quickly fill the gap.

This information belongs to the human race.  It’s inappropriate for it to be traded around like MP3’s or computer games.