blamebrampton: 15th century woodcut of a hound (Default)
That is not a metaphor. In the Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney, where many of my favourite people live, a light plane got into terrible trouble this afternoon and started spiralling towards the ground. And then it deployed its parachute. And it floated to the ground with no serious injuries and only a fence and the plane's tail as casualties.



My favourite part of the story is a quote regarding a chap at the Sydney Flying Club who was describing how the chutes are deployed and what the pilot would have done: He said it was most likely that Saturday afternoon would have been the first time this pilot would have ever used this system.

I think that is simply brilliant.

blamebrampton: 15th century woodcut of a hound (Default)
So, this morning, your PM was Julia Gillard, right?
Correct.

And, this evening, it's Kevin Rudd?
Sort of. He is the new leader of the parliamentary Australian Labor Party and Julia Gillard has resigned the Prime Ministership in his favour, but he is only the Prime Minister designate at the moment.

So might he not be in the morning?
Eh, there are some complicated constitutional thingies that could see that happen, but they're not likely to take place, so I can't be arsed looking them up to make sure I get them right. He probably will be.

And this is the same Prime Minister you Aussies elected in 2007?
I'm only a part-Aussie, don't blame me! But yes.

And deposed in 2010?
Oh, that wasn't us, that was the ALP, his party, who turned on him because he had terrible polling figures and installed Gillard.

And now they've turned on Gillard and re-installed Rudd?
Yes.

Because?
Because Gillard had even worse polling figures than Rudd had in 2010.

Not because parliament and the mainstream media are a pack of sexist twats who couldn't stand being governed by a woman?
Well, a bit … but also because Gillard is a frustrating politician who is actually very very good at driving policy and designing legislation and building the coalitions to get it through a hung parliament full of gibbons, but who then can't seem to manage to communicate any of her plans or successes to the general public. So while she did an amazing job at passing legislation, she did a terrible job at conveying any of her messages to the voting public.

And then she turns around and gives a concession speech that is full of wit, personality, compassion and fortitude. Dammit, Gillard, where was that last week?

So those misogyny wars she started were just bollocks?
Oh, she SO did not start those! The coverage of her leadership in some quarters was staggeringly sexist from day one, and the Opposition's disrespect for her has been astonishing and appalling. There is no question that her misogyny speech was born out of anything other than genuine outrage and exasperation, and is one that most women in the Western world have felt like making at some point.

Never forget that while Julia Gillard was trying to shore up her numbers against Kevin, a woman named Wendy Davis spent 11 hours on her feet trying to prevent the state of Texas from legislating to control women's bodies. If you doubt that sexism is still entrenched in much of Australia, as it is in the UK and US, then you're Julie Bishop lying, or an idiot.

But what about what Tony Abbott says about it being outrageous the way she was rolled?
The way Kevin Rudd was rolled? The way Tony Abbott rolled Malcolm Turnbull? The way Turnbull rolled Brendon Neilsen? The way Kevin rolled Kim Beazley? Need I go on? Rolling leaders is an Australian sport. If only there were Test Matches in leader rolling, the upcoming Ashes wouldn't be such a dire prospect for everyone out here. (Except me, and all the other British expats who are wandering around cackling wildly at the prospect.)

But this is a terrible government, yes?
Not in terms of actual governing, they've actually been bloody amazing and Australia is in strong economic form and with wonderful new legislation regarding schools and disability insurance. In terms of PR, I admit they're a bit shitful.

What about the other leadership team changes, should we care?
No. Garrett is a much better rockstar than politician, Stephen Conroy tried to censor the internet and Wayne Swan is nearly as bad at mathematics as Joe Hockey. Although you can care that Penny Wong is now leader of the Senate, because that's BRILLIANT!

So what will Rudd do now he is back?
Be the dorky Ruddbot we all once loved. Travel all over the countryside shaking hands, saying 'programmatic specificity' and carrying suitcases through floods. Try to defeat Tony Abbott and win the next election then hopefuly get gay marriage legislation through. Sit up in bed at night looking at his business card, stroking the raised typeface where it says "K Rudd, PM", lovingly.

And will there be a Harry Potter version of this for the weekend?
Probably! I am very pleased that Mark Simkin, chief political correspondant for the ABC reported that Gillard and Rudd were like the Deathly Hallows, 'Neither can live while the other survives.' 
blamebrampton: 15th century woodcut of a hound (Default)
Tasmania is that place that exists within and without Australia. That triangular bit off the bottom that the people who do TV maps sometimes forget, or put in the wrong place. It's seen both as a place of tremendous culture and natural beauty, and as the place where the people with two heads live, because every country has one of those. And now tens of thousands of hectares of it are on fire.

The other day it was 41.8 degrees (107F) in Hobart, which is 20 degrees above average and the hottest temperature ever recorded there. It was even hotter on the Tasman Peninsula, a place that usually has pretty much the same climate and weather as Canterbury, and is a soft Kentish green.

Now swathes of Tasmania are charcoal, and over a hundred properties have been razed. Ten or fifteen of these are up in Bicheno, near Coles Bay and Freycinet, where the most beautiful walking trails in the world snake through forests of tall eucalypts, past white sand beaches, and granite ranges where giant trees soar up above orchids so small that you will only see them if you walk slowly, and look down.

Now the towns, mostly reliant on tourism and niche products, like jam and venison, are filled with smoke as volunteers fight to save them. The weather has cooled over the weekend, but there is no rain, in a place where there is always rain, and every day and night the fire crews fight to keep the blaze from jumping their lines. Boats are at the ready in the bays. If the roads are cut, people will shelter on them should the town be lost. 

On the Tasman Peninsula, the town of Dunalley is smouldering. Sixty-five homes have been lost there, and the school. People who did not get to their cars before the roads were cut off fled to the water, with mothers sheltering with their children under the jetty, and boats taking on as many people as they could before they started to sit too low in the water.

At the moment about 100 people are missing in the area. Most of these will be found alive: there are people sheltering in many parts of the peninsula and power is down, so communications have been patchy. The fire there moved quickly, so people fled with nothing, not even phones, and who carries numbers in their heads these days? The police are searching buildings, but it is slow, and they are sifting through ashes, so it will be a while before they know if anyone was caught. So far there have been no confirmed deaths, and because the Black Saturday fires in Victoria the other year have primed everyone to go as soon as the alert comes, perhaps this time luck will prevail and everyone will be found alive.

Over a thousand people sheltered at Port Arthur. It's a large historic site, that is haunted by its past as a penal colony, and as the site of Australia's worst mass-homicide, where 36 people were killed by a madman with powerful guns. His actions saw automatic and semi-automatic guns banned here, and since then – 1996 – there has not been a single mass-killing by a gunman. Out of something horrible, something good came.

And so it was again. In a place that has seen such anguish, this time there was hope, as emergency services held the roads open and the carparks filled with the vehicles of refugees: many locals with their treasures stuffed into the boot and pets on their laps, but also many tourists, who had expected a quiet camping holiday in the beautiful Tasmanian wilderness.

Tourist ferries ran every hour they could, evacuating all who wanted to go. In Hobart, which is safe, those who have nowhere else to go are camping in public halls. Locals are turning up with food, water, nappies, changes of clothing and toys. And money, because Dunalley is gone, and the sawmill is ash, and that was where most of the jobs were. A family of seven needed to catch a flight to Brisbane from an airport two hours north, and two Taswegians turned up with their cars, happy to be a free taxi service.

Back at Port Arthur, those who didn't want to leave are camping with the staff and locals. They have shelter, food and a place of safety for pets and stock they have brought with them. The children have games supplied, and generators are being shipped down, because the power may take a month to reconnect.

One man shakily said that he had filled the car: goats, dogs and the cat, and got them all out alive. Another, the owner of the sawmill, shook his head and said, 'That's six or seven million dollars gone. And fifty years of my bloody life.' Insurers will pay out, and the government will help, because this is a rich country, but Dunalley will still be a town that is mostly gaps.

Meanwhile, in Port Arthur, cars sit lonely in the carparks. Many of them are rentals. Several rental companies have told those who fled that they will charge them each day until the cars are returned.

On Tuesday, it will be 43 degrees in Sydney. Twenty fires are already burning in New South Wales, but volunteers from here and Victoria have still gone down to Tasmania to help put theirs out. They have family preparing to pick them up from the airport with their kit in the car should they need to do a quick turnaround. Around the country, fire bans are in place, and warning levels are creeping up: Severe, Extreme, Catastrophic.

People in rural and regional areas have made their plans, packed their Go Bags, prepared their stock and kept the pets close. Those of us safe in the cities can smell smoke on the air – hope it's from backburning – and make plans to put a bit of money into the Red Cross this month, and wish never again to have those days when the sky was an inferno and burned gum leaves fell on gardens in the inner city, 25km from the nearest blaze, but carried on heat-fed gales that dried jeans on the line to crispiness in minutes.
blamebrampton: 15th century woodcut of a hound (Default)
Ah Australian politics … It's been too long since my last update, mostly because I am focussing on good health this year and commenting on the situation is rubbish for my blood pressure. However, you may have seen some of the news coverage regarding Prime Minister Julia Gillard's recent speech in parliament where she called out the Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott for his pervasive sexism and misogyny. In case you missed it, here's a link (it's 15 minutes, but there's some fabulous fury):


And here's the transcript for those who dislike video. Now, you might wonder why she's so very cross. To begin with, let's start with a recap of this image from last year:


Yes, kids, that's the Leader of the Opposition standing in front of signs both depicting the female Prime Minister as Bob Brown's Bitch (Brown being the then-leader of the Greens) and demanding we Ditch the Witch. Abbott won an award for sexist behaviour for that one, known as an Ernie (one of nine he's collected over the years).

Those two women standing beside him are senior members of his own party, too. Shame. See the one on the left? That's Bronwyn Bishop, who today said that Gillard was 'pathetic', and had 'demeaned every woman in parliament' by 'playing the gender card', adding that if she couldn't 'stand the heat, she should get out of the kitchen'. Nice.

And no, 'Juliar' isn't from the same stable of ungrammatical commentary as the missed possessive apostrophe in Browns, it's a 'clever nickname' dreamt up by this man (himself an Ernie winner):

This is Alan Jones. Let's talk about him for a minute.


Oh, this goes on. And on. )
blamebrampton: 15th century woodcut of a hound (Default)
A recurring theme in Australian humour is the deadliness of everything. Snakes, spiders, sharks, gum trees, octopuses – as Australians say "Be careful of that, it'll kill ya."

I used to think that this was said in jest, but no, most things that are not sheep will have a go at killing you. Indeed, on some country roads, even the sheep will join in.

Of course, the locals lie, and lie shamelessly. The beloved J and I were walking home one night last summer when we saw a young Englishman taking a photograph of an Orb Weaving spider who had spun a magnificent six foot web across the pedestrian laneway near here. "I'm trying to capture the colours, I think there's just enough light from the streetlamp," the man confessed as we watched him twiddling with his camera.

"Did it come out?" J asked, after the shot was taken.

"Yeah, not bad," the tourist said, showing the display. "These ones are safe, aren't they?"

J looked at the display and nodded. "Looks good." Then he looked up at the sweet, harmless spider, and said, in his most laconic drawl, "But you want to be careful of that, it'll kill ya."

The problem is that, sometimes when you think they are lying, it is in fact true. As a little girl I had a much-loved copy of Seven Little Australians, a classic children's novel of 19th-century Australia. In it, and I'm afraid it's a spoiler, the wonderful Judy is killed when a tree falls on her. As a young lass, I thought this was a plot device. Then I moved here and realised. Trees fall on people All The Time. Usually on German tourists. And I can tell you why this happens, since, during my stint working in a park, I had this conversation several times:

Me: And I strongly recommend that you stick to the official campgrounds, the amenities are better and they're cleared of trees.
German Tourist: But I enjoy pitching my tent under a tree.
Me: Yes, look, I understand that and I sympathise, the problem is that Australian trees are homicidal and they drop branches weighing tens of kilograms down on tents with startling regularity.
GT: That is fine, I will only pitch my tent under trees with healthy limbs.
Me: Alas, that won't help, they look perfectly fine and then BOOM! Split in half and crashing downwards.
GT: So really not under trees.
Me: Really.
GT: Oak trees?
Me: If you can find one, they obey the normal rules.
GT: Thank you. Also, are Drop Bears real?
Me: No, do not believe that other parks employee, he is Australian and tells terrible lies.

The upshot of all this is that Australians grow up doing things like shaking out their shoes before they put them on, because in most major population centres there are at least two or three things that could well be lurking in there that will, at the very least, hospitalise you. I do this too. It's actually a very easy way to tell the difference between an Australian and a New Zealander if the accents confuse you. That and the fact that New Zealanders take wood from woodpiles without using a big stick or leather gloves, because the things that lurk in their woodpiles are usually cute and English, not angry and venomous.

And Australian warning signs tend to say things like "Do Not Swim In Waterhole. CROCODILES!! You WILL Die." They take their warning signs seriously over here.

The other notable thing is the lack of rain. Until last November, it had been about 11 years without a good stint of rain in New South Wales. The Sydney water catchment went down below 50%, below 40%, about 30%. The dam levels moved from being read out at the end of the agricultural program every Sunday, to being read out in the weather report every night. They were last full in 1998. But it's been raining this year, so much so that the dams approach 70% and we're actually allowed to wash cars again.

However, I think that Sydneysiders have forgotten how to function in rain, and have adopted a very Australian approach to it. This explains the announcement that rang out over the train station this morning, in elegant tones:
"Attention passengers, for your safety, please take extreme care. Surfaces may be slippery when wet."

And fair enough, it has been a long time and it's easy to forget. Though I suspect an average amount of care would probably cover it. The best thing?  It was about 19 deg C. Brilliant blue skies. Glorious morning sun.
blamebrampton: 15th century woodcut of a hound (Default)
A recurring theme in Australian humour is the deadliness of everything. Snakes, spiders, sharks, gum trees, octopuses – as Australians say "Be careful of that, it'll kill ya."

I used to think that this was said in jest, but no, most things that are not sheep will have a go at killing you. Indeed, on some country roads, even the sheep will join in.

Of course, the locals lie, and lie shamelessly. The beloved J and I were walking home one night last summer when we saw a young Englishman taking a photograph of an Orb Weaving spider who had spun a magnificent six foot web across the pedestrian laneway near here. "I'm trying to capture the colours, I think there's just enough light from the streetlamp," the man confessed as we watched him twiddling with his camera.

"Did it come out?" J asked, after the shot was taken.

"Yeah, not bad," the tourist said, showing the display. "These ones are safe, aren't they?"

J looked at the display and nodded. "Looks good." Then he looked up at the sweet, harmless spider, and said, in his most laconic drawl, "But you want to be careful of that, it'll kill ya."

The problem is that, sometimes when you think they are lying, it is in fact true. As a little girl I had a much-loved copy of Seven Little Australians, a classic children's novel of 19th-century Australia. In it, and I'm afraid it's a spoiler, the wonderful Judy is killed when a tree falls on her. As a young lass, I thought this was a plot device. Then I moved here and realised. Trees fall on people All The Time. Usually on German tourists. And I can tell you why this happens, since, during my stint working in a park, I had this conversation several times:

Me: And I strongly recommend that you stick to the official campgrounds, the amenities are better and they're cleared of trees.
German Tourist: But I enjoy pitching my tent under a tree.
Me: Yes, look, I understand that and I sympathise, the problem is that Australian trees are homicidal and they drop branches weighing tens of kilograms down on tents with startling regularity.
GT: That is fine, I will only pitch my tent under trees with healthy limbs.
Me: Alas, that won't help, they look perfectly fine and then BOOM! Split in half and crashing downwards.
GT: So really not under trees.
Me: Really.
GT: Oak trees?
Me: If you can find one, they obey the normal rules.
GT: Thank you. Also, are Drop Bears real?
Me: No, do not believe that other parks employee, he is Australian and tells terrible lies.

The upshot of all this is that Australians grow up doing things like shaking out their shoes before they put them on, because in most major population centres there are at least two or three things that could well be lurking in there that will, at the very least, hospitalise you. I do this too. It's actually a very easy way to tell the difference between an Australian and a New Zealander if the accents confuse you. That and the fact that New Zealanders take wood from woodpiles without using a big stick or leather gloves, because the things that lurk in their woodpiles are usually cute and English, not angry and venomous.

And Australian warning signs tend to say things like "Do Not Swim In Waterhole. CROCODILES!! You WILL Die." They take their warning signs seriously over here.

The other notable thing is the lack of rain. Until last November, it had been about 11 years without a good stint of rain in New South Wales. The Sydney water catchment went down below 50%, below 40%, about 30%. The dam levels moved from being read out at the end of the agricultural program every Sunday, to being read out in the weather report every night. They were last full in 1998. But it's been raining this year, so much so that the dams approach 70% and we're actually allowed to wash cars again.

However, I think that Sydneysiders have forgotten how to function in rain, and have adopted a very Australian approach to it. This explains the announcement that rang out over the train station this morning, in elegant tones:
"Attention passengers, for your safety, please take extreme care. Surfaces may be slippery when wet."

And fair enough, it has been a long time and it's easy to forget. Though I suspect an average amount of care would probably cover it. The best thing?  It was about 19 deg C. Brilliant blue skies. Glorious morning sun.
blamebrampton: 15th century woodcut of a hound (Default)
I spend a lot of time thinking about language. Its my job, and it's always been my hobby. So I expected Australian to be easy. Most spellings are English, while some punctuation is American (eg " " for quotes), so a few simple mental realignments are all that are required to acclimatise -- in theory.

When I moved to Sydney I was fairly confident that I knew a lot about Australian English. My mother is Australian, and I saw her a moderate amount during my childhood. I had many Australian friends. I had watched three episodes of Neighbours. I knew the words to Throw Your Arms Around Me. I was sorted.

As it turned out, Australians actually are laconic and friendly, so I enjoyed myself from the start even though it is always disgustingly humid and there are no good local shoes. But there was a problem. The denizens are incomprehensible.

Australian English is a mix of several lingos. Loads of British English, an increasing amount amount of American Engish, scads of Irish, Northern, Scottish and Welsh slang, and dribs and drabs of Aboriginal, Japanese, Maori, Italian, Greek and Lebanese.

The key trick to speaking Strayan is not to move your mouth. It is essential never to open your mouth wide as this is the only way to avoid swallowing flies. There are a great many flies.

Not moving one's mouth leads to strange pronunciations. The household Australian says that the reason it's pronounced Straya is that they were tired of being confused with Austria and shifting the pronunciation was one further point of difference -- because one being flat, dusty, filled with marsupials and in the Southern Hemisphere while the other is mountainous, snowy, filled with beer gardens and in the Northern Hemisphere wasn't enough for, say, the president of the United States.

So, for the first six months that I was here, I was mildly bemused by a common word: seeyasarvo. It was obvious what it meant: I look forward to continuing this conversation later in the day. I assumed it was a Japanese import and was impressed by the increasing Asian focus of the locals. Then I had an epiphany. It was: "See you this arvo (afternoon)".

My first tip: if it's incomprehensible, say it very slowly and see if any sections ending in 'a', 'y' or 'o' are contractions of longer words.
blamebrampton: 15th century woodcut of a hound (Default)
I spend a lot of time thinking about language. Its my job, and it's always been my hobby. So I expected Australian to be easy. Most spellings are English, while some punctuation is American (eg " " for quotes), so a few simple mental realignments are all that are required to acclimatise -- in theory.

When I moved to Sydney I was fairly confident that I knew a lot about Australian English. My mother is Australian, and I saw her a moderate amount during my childhood. I had many Australian friends. I had watched three episodes of Neighbours. I knew the words to Throw Your Arms Around Me. I was sorted.

As it turned out, Australians actually are laconic and friendly, so I enjoyed myself from the start even though it is always disgustingly humid and there are no good local shoes. But there was a problem. The denizens are incomprehensible.

Australian English is a mix of several lingos. Loads of British English, an increasing amount amount of American Engish, scads of Irish, Northern, Scottish and Welsh slang, and dribs and drabs of Aboriginal, Japanese, Maori, Italian, Greek and Lebanese.

The key trick to speaking Strayan is not to move your mouth. It is essential never to open your mouth wide as this is the only way to avoid swallowing flies. There are a great many flies.

Not moving one's mouth leads to strange pronunciations. The household Australian says that the reason it's pronounced Straya is that they were tired of being confused with Austria and shifting the pronunciation was one further point of difference -- because one being flat, dusty, filled with marsupials and in the Southern Hemisphere while the other is mountainous, snowy, filled with beer gardens and in the Northern Hemisphere wasn't enough for, say, the president of the United States.

So, for the first six months that I was here, I was mildly bemused by a common word: seeyasarvo. It was obvious what it meant: I look forward to continuing this conversation later in the day. I assumed it was a Japanese import and was impressed by the increasing Asian focus of the locals. Then I had an epiphany. It was: "See you this arvo (afternoon)".

My first tip: if it's incomprehensible, say it very slowly and see if any sections ending in 'a', 'y' or 'o' are contractions of longer words.

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