Monday, June 13, 2011

The Queen's Birthday

As happy as I am to have a day off work, I find it difficult to believe that in 2011 we are still part of the British Empire.
Quick History lesson. The USA: In 1775, George Washington led the American Army in their war for independence from Britain. India: In 1921 Gandhi began a long battle to remove British rule from India. Australia: A 1999 referendum asking Australians if they wanted their independence was defeated.
So why, when others have died for their country's freedom, did Australians say: "Nah, we'll be right, aye?" A fundamental distrust of politicians? A 'why fix it if it ain't broken' mentality? Not wanting to hurt Queen Liz's feelings? A concern we won't be invited to the Commonwealth Games anymore? Too much sun? Twelve years and a Royal Wedding later, there seems to be less desire on the part of Australians for independence.
We are still a young nation- there are paintings in our galleries older than white settlement of Australia. But surely we've outgrown Britain now. We're no longer a child, dependent on them for everything. There was a time when we showed some adolescent rebellion and dropped the British national anthem for "Advance Australia Fair", but we seem to have now settled into an adult-like acceptance of the status-quo.
However, I'm still optimistic that we'll be a Republic in my lifetime. Maybe we'll have a mid-life crisis: dye our hair, buy a sports car and divorce the old Mother Country.

Friday, November 19, 2010

WEDDINGS

NEWSFLASH: ROYAL WEDDING! The editors of women's magazines are salivating at the news of a royal wedding. Where will they marry? What will she wear? Who will be the Attendants? What do the families think? A loyal republican, even I've argued the merits (or otherwise) of William giving Kate his mother's ring! But will they make it? Nearly half of all marriages in Britain and Australia end in divorce. I'm sure there are many reasons for this, but one has always been obvious to me: we spend more time, money and energy planning the wedding than we do preparing for the marriage. From the moment of engagement, the focus of the couple, their family and friends is on the wedding DAY rather than the years (hopefully) of the marriage. Many couples are lulled in to a false sense of security because they've been living together prior to their marriage. However, the divorce rate for these couples is even higher. In fact, statistics show that the longer a couple lives together prior to marriage, the more likely they are to divorce. This seems bizarre- after all they know each other well and there are no nasty surprises after the wedding. But marriage does change relationships. Along with the increased commitment comes increased expectations. People become more intense about having their needs met by their partner. Behaviours which were once merely irritating become insurmountable. With no preparation for marriage, the "Until death do us part" oath is suffocating. Marriage guidance should be the most important part of planning a wedding, yet most couples labour over the seating arrangements more than they do their relationship. As a society, we need to focus more on marriage, the foundation of a strong family unit and less on the wedding. It is my hope that William and Kate prepare for a Royal Marriage so the Prince and Princess can live happily ever after.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dogs

1998: It was love at the first sight of his saggy butt as he clamboured over his siblings for our attention. $30 later and we had a new family member. Actually, we had a naughty child who required discipline and a firm hand. He barked, whined, dug holes, tore clothes from the line and snuck out of the yard when he didn't think we were looking. We took him to Puppy Pre-school and got a good understanding of how it feels to be the parent of the class bully. So we blamed the teachers and decided to home-school him. But we were judged. Our friends banned their dogs from associating with our dog. There were no sleep-overs or Santa photos; RSPCA fundraisers or runs on the beach. We tried to explain that he was just 'highly-strung' and we were confident that he'd settle down after the surgery... when he grew up a bit... when he forgot about the week he had languished in the boarding kennel as a pup.... Eventually, we had to accept that our much loved dog was a fruit. But he loved us with all his heart and his stomach. He had to be with us, on us, next to us. His outstretched paw or bony bum in contact with our legs or feet at all times. He followed us around the house like a child, albeit one who struggled to reverse out of the laundry. He ate us out of house and home and then farted so badly we actually had to evacuate. And then he got sick. Twelve years of love and laughter drew to an end. We held his paw and cuddled him while he passed away. The vet said our dog had "looked at the world through rose-coloured glasses". What a lovely gift to give a dog, I thought. So, we didn't buy our new dog in a store. We found one who needed rescuing. And we're having her fitted with her new glasses.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

WAR

On the 25th of April, 1915, a young bloke from North Queensland landed on a Turkish beach. He was 24 years old and the son of a German immigrant. Nineteen days later, he was dead. Never to return to his home, to marry or have children but he became part of the ANZAC legend which forged Australia's identity. Eight months and nine thousand Australian casualties later, the ANZACs withdrew from Gallipoli. One can only imagine what the soldiers were thinking as they sailed away from the shore which would remain forever sacred to Australians. But given that the campaign was a giant failure, it can be safely assumed that they thought of the mates they were leaving behind and wondered: Why? These brave soldiers went on to fight other battles in the Great War, many suffering the ultimate defeat. Their loved ones in Australia and New Zealand mourned their loss and vowed that they would never be forgotten. Unfortunately, though, it was not the "War to End All Wars" as the world then believed it to be and twenty one years later, Australia found itself at war again. And this time, it was closer to home. I have been to Pearl Harbour where, on the 7th of December, 1941, Japan shook America from its isolation by killing over 2,000 of its soldiers. I have stood above the USS Arizona, a war grave to over a thousand men who died when it was bombed. Its turret is still visible and seeping oil catches the sunlight to produce a rainbow effect on the surface of the Pacific ocean. It is believed by many that the oil will continue to rise until the last of the survivors passes away. And as I stood there, I too wondered: Why? I have also stood in the Chapel at Changi in Singapore where nearly a thousand Australians died as Prisoners of War and from where many, many more were sent on death marches. The strength of those soldiers is evident in the murals they painted on the Chapel walls. But the museum shows the horrors and suffering from which many survivors never truly recovered. I knew an old man growing up who had been a POW at Changi and who talked about every subject known to man, except the War. And at Changi, I could see why. As the Japanese moved from Hawaii to Singapore, they inched closer to Australia. I have made the short flight from Cairns to Port Moresby and stood on another site sacred to Australians: the Kokoda Track. Here I was overwhelmed by the harshness of the terrain and could only imagine the nightmare our Aussie soldiers lived as they bravely faced the onslaught of the Japanese army, raging its way through what was then an Australian territory. The Aussie soldiers were vastly outnumbered but knew that from Port Moresby it was only a hop, skip and a jump to Australia. For the first time in Australia's history, our men were fighting to save their homeland from invasion. And fight they did; thousands of our men died from wounds and disease but within 10 kms from the Port Moresby end of the Track, the tide turned in our favour and, slowly but surely, the Japanese were pushed back until they evacuated PNG. And as I stood at the Memorial on the Kokoda Track, I said: Thank-you. And on Anzac Day, 2015, I intend to be standing at Gallipoli's Anzac Cove as the dawn breaks. I will commemorate the Centenary of the ANZAC legend. And then I will find Uncle Albert and this middle-aged North Queensland woman will bend down and lay a flower on his grave, thank him for his sacrifice and assure him that we have remembered him. We will never forget.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

YEAR 8

Tomorrow thousands of children will begin High School, embarking on an exciting journey. There will be tears (from both children and their parents) because the start of High School marks the end of childhood. Year 8 is the fork in the road. There is more independence, friendships take precedence over family, image is everything and the hormones kick in. Not only do adolescents change physically, they are emotionally different people. In fact, they often bear little resemblance to their Primary School selves. Their behaviour can change so dramatically in High School that parents believe the teacher is mistaken when they call to discuss their concerns. "Wrong number, perhaps? But my child wouldn't (insert 'crime' here)." And last year, they may not have, but now that child is an adolescent and peer pressure is the major factor in their socialisation. The position of parents and teachers in the child's life has been usurped by other children. We can accompany children on this journey, but really their future is in their hands. Their success is dependent on many factors, but in my opinion the most important one is actually their self-discipline. In particular, their ability to delay gratification is the key to their success. There was an interesting study done involving children and lollies which followed a group of children as they grew into adults. A lolly was placed on the table in front of a 4 year-old who was told they could eat the lolly immediately. But, if they waited for half an hour without eating it, they could have two lollies. The children who had the self-control to delay gratification grew into more cognitively and socially competent adults. They achieved higher academic results and were more able to cope with frustration and stress. (Mischel et al 1989) So the children starting high school have a decision to make: have fun now (don't worry about achieving good results or following rules) or work hard now so they can have fun later (get a good job and have the money to live the dream). This is a difficult decision. Most of their peers will settle for the here and now and the pressure is on them to conform. The students delaying gratification may look like 'nerds' or 'goody-goodies', a fate worse than death for those who place far too much emphasis on image. Parents and teachers can support and offer our words of wisdom and experience, but ultimately the adolescent has to walk the path on their own.

"I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference" Robert Frost (1920)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

AUSTRALIA DAY

It's nearly Australia Day, a good time to focus on what it means to be Australian. Firstly, it means that I won Birth Lotto. There were 3.7 billion people on earth the year I was born and the population of Australia was 13 million, so my chance of being born in the Lucky Country was quite slim. In fact, most of the children were born into developing countries and lacked the opportunities I took for granted. Not surprisingly, many of their parents wanted the same life for their children that my parents wanted for me: sufficient food, an education, security.... But in order to provide their children with these basic human rights, these families had to move to countries where this was possible. I was born in the midst of the Vietnam War and so many of those seeking refuge in Australia during my childhood were from Vietnam. They came in boats to escape their war-ravaged country in the hope of a brighter future for their children. And they contributed to that bright future. These children grew into comedians, politicians, athletes, writers, directors, academics, chefs, human rights activists, singers, racing car drivers actors... Thirty years later, parents continue to flee the countries of their birth so their children can have more opportunities than they did. They still come in boats, but from Indonesia, Sri-Lanka and Afghanistan. They come to Australia because we really are the Lucky Country, particularly in comparison to our neighbours. To them we are a beacon of hope and they sell everything they own, cram in to unseaworthy boats and set sail for our shores. And as Australia Day nears, it's timely for us to remember the second verse of the national anthem:

"Beneath our radiant Southern Cross We’ll toil with hearts and hands; To make this Commonwealth of ours Renowned of all the lands; For those who’ve come across the seas We’ve boundless plains to share; With courage let us all combine To Advance Australia Fair.

In joyful strains then let us sing, Advance Australia Fair."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

ABORIGINES

I recently watched the most amazing movie- "Avatar". It was in 3D which required glasses much more advanced than the old cardboard ones of my childhood. The colours were brilliant and the characters came to life, jumping from the screen. But what really leapt from the screen were the parallels with the European invasion of Australia and our subsequent treatment of the Aborigines. I ached as I watched the indigenous Na'vi people connect with their land in a spiritual sense, not in terms of ownership but as if it was their Mother. I then squirmed when that connection was contrasted with the human desire to exploit the mineral reserves, regardless of its destruction of the beautiful land. I reacted angrily when the humans spoke of the indigenous people as inferior to themselves. I shook my head at the ignorance of the humans who believed the lives of the indigenous people had improved since their arrival. The Commander explains in disgust that he's given the Aborigines shoes and schools and taught them English. He asked in frustration: "What more do they want?" These words echoed along with the many similar platitudes I've heard over the years. These (and many other) parallels were obvious to me, yet other people don't seem to have noticed them at all. Why? Have our schools caved to the pressure of the Howard Government's instructions to not teach a "black arm-band view of history", thus denying and suppressing the truth? Are we so ignorant of the plight of our indigenous people that a story which mirrors their struggle fails to resonate with us? It is my hope that the students I teach will watch "Avatar" and clearly see the similarities between the indigenous people of Pandora and Earth. I hope they will be part of the solution, not the problem. But before we can heal the rift with our Aboriginal people, we need to accept that the history of Australia involves much more than Simpson's donkey, the Kokoda Track and Don Bradman. And it does require a 'black arm-band' to show our grief at the way the Aborigines were treated. The Rudd Government's apology has gone some way toward Reconciliation but now it's up to you and me. Some people argue that we have nothing to be sorry for, because it wasn't us who committed genocide, stole a generation of Aboriginal children from their parents and institutionalised racism in Australia. But we do regularly say "Sorry" when someone loses a loved one, even though we didn't kill them. Surely we can show this sorrow to our Aboriginal neighbours who continue to suffer. I am Sorry. Sincerely Sorry.