Archive for January, 2014

North of Newcastle (NSW) stretches a coast of lightly-inhabited, by humans at least, beautiful beaches and lakes, all the way to Seal Rocks. The ocean waters off Stockton, Port Stephens, Hawks Nest and the Myall Lakes National Park have been under study by the CSIRO. It turns out that there is a largely unseen additional population of great white sharks, also called white sharks or white pointers. This area is a key nursery for them, with up to 250 juveniles.

Check out SMH’s Damon Cronshaw report and photo. We now know that these shark youngsters, their parents and friends apparently spend a third of their time near the shore and in the surf zone, in water as shallow as a couple of metres. The scientists state the (bleeding?) obvious: “frequency of encounters between people and sharks can be high”. And they are a protected species, these sharks that is. Apparently unlike in WA!

On a camping trip to Myall Lakes your KC correspondent called in to the local Visitor’s Centre, where we were obligingly told without euphemism that it was indeed a known ‘sharky’ area – maybe good risk management policy for a tourist bureau, or just an honest volunteer staff member? Though maybe they need to update the beach signage for that extra danger. Here’s hoping the Great Whites keep minding their own fishy business.

Beach sign

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Winton’s Woes

Tim Winton’s latest book ”Eyrie” is a curious, indulgent rant of a story of disillusionment and alienation, set in that fetid state of mining nirvana known as Western Australia. Winton’s cynical critique of that never-ending boom and its grasping denizens comes via the main male character, Tom Keely.

Middle-aged Tom has been ejected from the environmental movement by his injudicious outspokenness. Licking his wounds on the top floor of a spec-built Fremantle high-rise, with the aid of alcohol and drugs, his laments bounce along in fits of stupor or engagement. Winton’s gritty portrait of that seedy and seductive city makes Freo the main non-human hero of the book.

The story is too long with it’s winding plot. Maybe Winton doesn’t get serious editing these days? And his new party trick of repetitious recycling of clunky Aussie metaphors is like a dunny door in a gale. You quickly get annoyed by it. Like catching farts in a butterfly net. Flying like shit off a shovel. Nuttier than Queensland batshit. Bold as a mudlark. Loyal as a cattle dog. The ducks nuts. All examples from the book.

Truncated. Sentences. Are. Also. Annoying. Who said that was allowed? Ditto conversation without quotation marks, that other modish technique, which requires constant vigilance to see who’s talking, if anybody. The maestro’s over-written virtuosity (aka showing off?) gets in the way of the story. It kept me reading, but increasingly impatient. You have to wade through bucket-loads of colourful language and florid description. Ok, scrofulous is a cool word, but once is enough.

Redemption is available to Keely in his new relationships with a childhood friend and her fragile grandson, who also carry their fair shares of woes. Much is left unresolved, like life, some would say. But we are not rewarded with a proper ending or denouement. Left up in the air, as it were. More airy than eyrie. Like a soaring osprey in an updraft (my work!) that doesn’t land. Maybe we are just meant to enjoy the flight. There is an osprey in the story too, but it’s the most uplifting (oh yeah) image in this tale of woes. Such is life, indeed.

P.S. If you work out what the damp carpet in the opening scenes is all about, please let me know.


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Mombassa Musings

How Chris O’Doherty became Reg Mombassa is not clear. In a recent profile by Nick Galvin (SMH) it’s explained as a nonsensical pseudonym but Chris must have heard of the Kenyan coastal city of that name (single s). Research throws some light on a possible explanation.

Originally the place was known as Kisiwa Cha Mvita, Swahili for Island of War. But when peace arrived it became Mambo Ni Sasa, meaning literally ”things are now”. Shortened to Mambasa from the first and last letters and later changed to Mombasa. I reckon Chris must have known this and probably liked the philosophical statement. Notice the Mambo brand has appeared too.

Now, at risk of losing the plot, Mombasa also turns up in the 1950 Bollywood classic musical called Sargam that you may have missed.

In any case, Reg’s cartoons, prints and paintings are in a class and genre of their own, and have literally become iconic images of our Wide Brown Land. His outlook on our fellow humans and life is worth sharing:

“I’ve always been fairly quiet and I’m very terrified of humans. I think they are really dangerous creatures – irrational, violent, governed by intense competiveness. Being alive is a ruthless constant battle. There’s nothing relaxing about it.

Obviously, I try and hang out with people who are not too terribly violent. It often astonishes me that people can be tricked into having wars because most people just want to live a relatively quiet life with their family and do whatever work they are interested in.”

Why did Chris add an extra s? Go figure. Mombaasaa mombasa, indeed.

reg mombassa

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The Indonesian government is implementing a ban on the export of some raw mineral ores, particularly nickel and bauxite, to encourage the construction and operation of local smelting and production facilities. To ‘add value’, as the economists call it, which is their ideal development path for mature economies.

As always China holds the key. It imports a quarter of its bauxite from Indonesia for aluminium production, and holds nine-months supply of stockpiles in anticipation of the ban. What will happen then? It will be very instructive to see how this bold move by Indonesia to capture more of the benefits of its ore reserves plays out.

Meanwhile, in the short term, Australian miners are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of replacing the Indonesian supplies with our ore, hopefully at higher prices.

Longer term Australia is in a quandary, with giant aluminium manufacturer Alcoa (US-owned) expected to close one of its two Victorian smelters. BHP has declared the production industry here ‘structurally challenged’, but somehow their smelters in Southern Africa are profitable. And so value-adding goes north, to Indonesia, Africa or China.

Australia slips back to what we do best. Digging the stuff up and shipping it away, without any fancy new taxes or government ‘red tape’. Minerals Resource Rent Tax anyone? Or a Norway-style sovereign wealth fund to better capture the benefits of our depleting common-wealth? Yes, the stuff in the ground actually belongs to all of us! Tell ’em their dreamin.

Indonesia’s government has also introduced laws to restrict foreign mine ownership to 49%. Imagine the outcry and fear campaigns by the mining companies here if our government tried either of these sovereign initiatives.

Go the Lucky Country! How about re-naming it Her Majesty’s Quarry? The place isn’t called Down Under for nothing.

Ore train

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Or, as Lonely Planet announced without apparent irony in a headline article, How to go OFF THE GRID when you TRAVEL. Full of wonderful advice about leaving your devices at home, reading books, writing letters, using paper maps, talking to people instead of listening to your music, taking film for your camera, etc. Who would have thought. Maybe people could print a copy of the article to take with them when they go.

Putting sarcasm aside, the idea of reminding us (them?) that travel can actually be about the experience and the importance of being in the moment rather than a series of selfies or photo ops, is worthy of discussion for sure. But the article reads like a serious ‘how to’ guide, with all the authority of LP to help hapless souls find their way in this addicted always-connected world.

Now, as a surviving dinosaur from the Poste Restante era, who went travelling four decades ago without a camera, for almost a year, I must have anticipated this full circle in the art of travel. And I got my comeuppance, with no proof of experience or images to prompt an ailing memory. But tant pis, as the French would say, too bad. I’ve literally a few photos taken by others (like below). Apparently early memory gets sharper as you get really old, so maybe I’m in for nostalgic treats later on. Oh yeah, the last two words are carefully chosen.

POH walking Toradja

POH & funeral stuff Rantepao

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Going bush is of course all about getting close to nature and respectful admiration of her manifest beauty. Unless you’re one of the many bogans who seem to think that a free campsite is somewhere to have a party and trash as you see fit. The isolated access road to Abercrombie River National Park, west of Sydney and the Blue Mountains, is a steep fire trail definitely only usable by four wheel drives. Bogans love driving them too.

This second (see previous Bundy Bogans) photo reportage on bush boganism shows a total lack of respect for our fragile natural environment. The half-burnt table speaks for itself. The bubbly white smear of film on the waterhole results from happy campers’ oblivious shampooing and dish-washing waste. That dry country has not seen rain since October, and the river is reduced to a series of waterholes. Remonstrating with the young family concerned was met with a tiny sign of comprehension and culpability but no immediate expression of regret. At best, maybe they chewed on it on the way up the steep track home, and were embarrassed enough to change their ways. But don’t bank on it!

Bush bogans

Bush bogans 2

Just a short distance from this pollution are other pools with schools of hardy carp trying to survive their reduced habitat until the river’s flow is restored with sustained rainfall, which is unlikely for months to come yet. And the local red-neck, wallaby that is, enjoys some left-over human food from the bogans, which is not really best for him either.

Trout cod

Wallaby red-neck

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