Sunday, November 29, 2009

Adventures in the wilderness

The occasional wilderness experience is great for the soul, and while Mia Mia in the Bendigo district of Victoria might not be the end of the earth I have been enjoying periods of splendid isolation tending to a small property owned by my son and his partner.

When I first arrived at the place a month ago it was to find thieves believed they had a better use for items like the generator, the only power source, and water pump plus whatever they could carry off. They left the gas cylinders, fortunately so I’m not completely without creature comforts and don’t object to working my day around available light or enjoying the solitude of the stars.

So there are few real hardships, many fascinating features and lots of work to be done with a few basic tools. With the bush fires, in February this year, still fresh in everyone’s minds the first task has been to clear the tall spring grass from around the house; with the promise of an old slasher mower suggesting a good bit more clearing. The fires menaced the surrounding area, but were not as bad as elsewhere in the state. I believe I will be supplied with some cans of paint, so the picture of the cottage can be regarded as a ‘before’ shot for now.

The picture of the historic Mia Mia iron lattice bridge just shows the start of the property in the top left hand corner. Mia Mia and Redesdale are what might be called ‘non-nucleated hamlets’. That is they are mainly farms with Redesdale at least having a shop/service station and the historic pub. As far as I know Mia Mia has a recreation hall and little else.

The cottage is near the old Burke and Wills trail, with a number of consequent historic features. On this small property, for example, are the remains of Victoria’s first squatters cottage. There is not much to be seen under the old peppercorn tree, but there remains a rough paved area outside the huts foundations. It is believe Henry Munro was a bit precipitous in claiming his land and was soon moved on to the land actually allotted to him.

The colour

The pub, of course, has it’s own colourful past – and present. The young (by my measure)

owner, James, is doing a great job turning the old bluestone structure into a delightful oasis. Jamesis very much a family man, a fact reflected in the way the Redesdale Tavern is run. The bar area is quite small, but big enough to boast a visit from Ned Kelly. Apparently Ned charmed the locals in the bar, buying them drinks, then stole a couple of horses tethered outside.

It is a 25 minute walk to the pub, up a 1:10 hill, so any temptation is moderated be the effort of getting there. Still, on some days when the temperature has hit 40c, despite the heat the call of a cold beer was strong. Most of the ‘locals’ seem to be ‘blow ins’ like me but a genuine local character I met is Peter Rabbit, one of the countries last professional rabbiters.

It made me muse that my mother use to pay 2/6d for a pair of bunnies hanging skun and naked in the open air. Peter says his pairs must be prepared in approved conditions and hermetically sealed a chilled. Sort of takes the ‘romance’ out of the old trade, but then the restaurants pay far for than my mother did for a pair, even considering inflation. Now I know I often hear Peter’s .22 during the night and early morning.

Joys of isolation

Knowing there would be no power, at least until the insurance replace the generator, and against all my prejudices, I invested in a cell phone. Even if I could plug my computer in there is little hope of connecting to the internet. At the same time I rejected the so called comfort of a battery radio; the idea of that inane chatter breaking the peace was far too much to contemplate.

The thought occurs, at times, that the world could end and I wouldn’t hear about it unless someone sent an SMS. In fact my son did send a couple of messages regarding the Federal Liberal Party antics this week so I wandered to the pub to get the story. It was almost a joy to find that no one there knew or cared about the political circus.

I occasionally miss the ability to blog at will, and often don’t have the energy or even story when I get back to Melbourne. In fact just coming back into the city I’m yearning to be out on the block chipping weeds and saplings or moving dirt and rocks. Even the weekend paper has sat untouched this week, though I have a few days to get enthusiastic. Then I hope it is off to the block again to be sworn at by the cockatoos for invading their territory.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Accentuate the Positive Eliminate the Agnotology

My word of the week is agnotology, defined as the study of fear and doubt. Apparently some in the IT world prefer FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt) but I always prefer a word to an acronym. The word came up in a discussion on the practices of big corporations, bit coincided with my personal musings on the prevalence of negative attitudes.

Doubtless there is a lot in this world to be negative about, if that is your bent. More so when we can identify whole industries intent on spreading alarm and consternation to cover unsavoury messages; in this league I of course include politics. But let’s not forget industry and land development, or in Australia, the fight to control precious water resources. Let us not avoid the deliberate misinformation attending the climate change debate.

They are some of the big issues, my interest in examining all of this is how and why it plays out at an individual level. Just from personal observation it would seem that a majority tend to adopt and magnify the negatives in life. I just don’t really understand why negativity should be so popular when it is clearly limiting and debilitating.

Out of all the adults I know I could probably name just five or six who don’t consider themselves to be victims at some level, the most profoundly victimised being able to recount a daily list of ‘I’ve been screwed again’ episodes. In fact, the condition seems to have the ability to self generate, and I presume provide some kind of perverse pleasure. After all, we humans tend to seek pleasure from our activities.

For many years I was dismissed with accusations of just being a ‘Pollyanna’, a condition which apparently victimised those negative people in my orbit, so I was told. Personally I find it a real joy to interact with others of my ilk, those who would dismiss adversity in the belief that regardless of negatives there are always positives to dwell on.

True there are notable conditions which aid negative thought, such as depression. I was recently moved by the words of a prominent Melbourne doctor and writer who observed; no doubt from personal reflection: ‘depression is the in fact a lack of joy’. Simplistic to be sure, and no sure fire remedy, but in many cases I agree with that summary.

There are numerous reasons for us to lack joy, however many seem so trivial in reality and appear to me more an excuse to wallow in that sticky slough of despond, the ‘black dog’ as the Aussie depression commentators would have it. Any innate tendencies to negativity are surely fed by socially generated negativity designed for commercial/political advantage.

Long experience suggests that trying to convert negative thought is a losing game, so we just have to learn to live with each other. In certainly don’t have to knowledge or skills to intercede effectively, but equally will refuse to be sucked in myself. I doubt the old song, still current in my early days – Accentuate the Positive – had any effect in itself, but it still expresses a core belief.

Monday, November 02, 2009

America Trapped In Dogma Cycle

As a progressive it is easy to agree with the thrust of filmmaker Michael Moore’s stand on the many issues he addresses. The problem is not the issues but the dogged styles which allows no dialogue, simply polarizing and driving a wedge through society. I guess, as an Australian, that is easy to say as our governance is far more progressive; robust, but open to discourse.

Not to say Australia is devoid of debate, but arguments tend to be tribal (partisan) rather than substantive. Even the most contentious issues, such as the current climate change debate, are to a great degree about point scoring with just a conservative rump fully opposed to any remedial legislation.

Barack Obama, Year 1: Reality takes its toll on 'Yes We Can' optimism

We hear, outside America, much comment on that countries disappointment with the performance of President Obama, commentary encouraged by the likes of Moore: Michael Moore On Charlie Rose Gives Obama a Deadline for Fulfilling His ... Certainly I agree that there is urgent need for reforms on many fronts, but Obama never promised o one man miracle set; rather he made it clear that he needed the active cooperation of the American people.

It seems the old divisive ways, coupled with impatience and an unwillingness to engage is more likely to derail any real and immediate reforms. However politics, it is often said, is the art of compromise and certainly should include wide social engagement. Those standing in the way of the Obama plan only do so because they are allowed to by the American people.

Moore’s approach seems to create more discontent rather than galvanizing action, perhaps consistent with the way things are done in America. But taking a firm line on any issue, particularly an aggressive line which precludes dialogue is rarely helpful. Moore himself confesses to frustration at the lack of action, yet his method appears to encourage it.

I speak here from a long and curious background. I regard myself as a moderate, middle of the road sort of person, able to listen and discuss issues. Indeed, in North America I was accused of being a socialist, but regard that charge as a linguistic failing rather than a political reality. For some frustrating reason I’ve always found myself bonding more with people on the right of the political spectrum, even when I am arguing against their position.

Perhaps it just comes down to a mutual respect for those who are willing to discuss with opponents rather than simply attack and berate. If we are going to effect change for good in any society, mutual respect must be the firm foundation. Obama has shown that ability and it seems destructive to attack him for it after the fact. He can only succeed in starting on the road to change with the support of a significant number of voters.

The first step is learning to play the ball rather than the man. Give some respect to anyone who holds an opinion, and be ready to argue alternatives without demonizing the person. It is a gradual approach, but in reality society only changes for the better in gradual steps. In Australia, those who hold onto extreme and negative approaches in politics soon become the butt of humour. Better to laugh at the enemy than adopt their methods.

If Americans truly want change then it must happen at the level of individual. Not so much in activism as attitude or sentiment. Because like it’s sibling economics politics is driven by sentiment and dogma is the real enemy.