Archive for October, 2009

Christopher Henning’s review (SMH Sep 26-27) of a new biography of early C19th wheeler & dealer W.C. Wentworth, is worth quoting from:

“Like Australia’s landscape, with its weather-beaten mountain ranges that look more like hills to outsiders, the tectonic plates of Australian politics do not produce towering figures who dominate their time or grip posterity’s imagination. Our founding fathers’ names slip easily from memory – and more easily still slip the details of their conflicts and debates. Great issues are decided elsewhere. Out on the fringes of Western culture, Australia’s debates establish no general principle. They just tidy up local anomalies in principles set elsewhere”.

“So our leaders tend to be politicians, not statesmen – men (and more recently women) too closely engaged with the day-to-day to transcend it. If we are lucky, they will draw a line between the everyday and a general principle but usually there will be some self-serving quality to the link they make. Think of Kevin Rudd’s convenient logic in his prolix essays before and after he became prime minister”.

As Henning suggests, Wentworth may have been a quintessential Sydney ‘colourful personality’, dabbling in politics, law, publishing and above all property speculation. Even negotiating with Maori chiefs to buy the entire South Island of NZ in exchange for peppercorn rents! An occasional supporter of democratic reforms, as a wealthy squatter he also tried to limit the voting franchise to landholders, while creating a gerrymander for country voters. In other words, he was a chancer, with an eye on the main event of his own self-interest and self-aggrandisement.

Any resemblance to the current federal Member for Wentworth is entirely coincidental, but its indeed an aptly-named political seat.


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‘The English Surgeon’ is a masterful documentary film about hard lives, brain surgery and hope in Ukraine. Brain surgeon Henry Marsh has been coming from his London home to Kyiv for 15 years to operate on desparate Ukrainians considered inoperable, misdiagnosed or unable to afford surgery. Working with his protege Igor Kurilets under primitive conditions, in a former KGB hospital, they manage to prolong potentially short lives, save others and lose some too.

The strong bond and professional respect between Henry and Igor is at the core of the story, and along comes Marian, a poor man from a distant village who suffers increasingly severe epilepsy from a brain tumour. Marian’s prognosis is poor as his condition declines with tumour growth, and he travels to Kyiv for an operation to remove it.

Henry and Igor are humanitarians, full of good humour. Although touched by the tragedy around them, they are practical men, who handle life and death frankly and with grace. Marian shares their optimisim, putting his life literally in their hands, and agreeing to remain awake during his operation to ensure the best outcome by answering questions and movements.

For each trip Henry packs a suitcase with surgical equipment recovered from English hospital disposals of once-used items, and also sends old operating theatre items to the Kyiv clinic. Nevertheless Igor must improvise with a cordless Bosch drill for his cranial drilling, and during an operation Henry worries about him running out of battery power!

In the final operating theatre scene with Marian’s brain open to the surgeons, we witness a wonderful interaction between doctor and patient. The whole story is suffused with humanity and redemption that make it truly inspirational and hope-giving. Henry’s visit to the mother of a deceased girl who died under his hands is a tender counterpoint.

A beautifully-told, unembellished, real story, it should not be missed. By the way, Nick Cave co-wrote the film’s soundtrack.

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Dole Doldrums

Against the backdrop of ongoing excessive executive pay packages, and the recent increase to federal politicians’ salaries, an OECD report has confirmed that in the Lucky Country even the unemployed are living high on the hog. 


It found that Australia’s unemployment benefit of $121.92 per week was the lowest in the developed world and $122 a week below the poverty line.

Now that’s a global record we can really be ashamed of, and it gives that lovely Aussie term ‘dole bludger’ some perspective in our nostalgic dreamland of mateship and a ‘fair go’.

Overnight accomm

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