Bloody old Barry O’Sullivan

February 19, 2019

In Senate Estimates today, Queensland LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan was inveighing against the proposed/impending levy on stevedores, which has been justified as helping to fund Australia’s biosecurity efforts.

His claim is that biosecurity is more threatened by people entering Australia than by imported goods, and that if a levy is to be raised it should be raised from them.

That’s an arguable point. I’ve no idea of the respective risks.  Let’s leave to one side for a moment the legerdemain of “levies” as taxes dressed up as some kind of user-pays impost.

But I  was taken aback at how the senator chose to make his point.  The transcript isn’t up yet, but according to AAP, and reproduced without comment in the regional and national press:

“There’s a bigger chance of us having a biosecurity breach from some bloody old Chinaman that brings in his favourite sausage down the front of his undies,” Senator O’Sullivan said at Tuesday’s hearing.

And later:

“I’m not opposed to a tax to raise money for biosecurity, but from those that pose a risk. So start with the Chinaman,” he said.

Why pick on the “Chinaman”?

It is a word which which all  Chinese-background people I know find offensive because of its historically derogatory usage.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that Senator O’B apparently doesn’t know this.

Update here.

And here.

I have been surprised at the slow reaction to this (only SBS and Junkee took up the story at first), because the Chinese-background (and not only Chinese – Japanese Americans have also complained about this) reaction to the term is pretty unequivocal.  The slow media  reaction goes to show how deeply ingrained casual racism is. Meanwhile, I like to think “Bang goes Bennelong.” John Alexander will have to hit the streets at Eastwood to dissociate himself pdq.



Shitting in their own front yard

February 17, 2019


This is the approach to the Sydney Opera House last night.

The temporary structures on the right are for the “stage” which takes over the forecourt for much of the summer.  If an event is actually on the obstruction will be even greater, assisted by black-screened “no peeping” barriers erected to preserve the commercial advantage of those running whatever event it is.

Tonight, nothing was on, but the entire forecourt was still fenced off.  A sign announced that this was for safety because of the construction involved.


The approach continued.  People had to negotiate a kind of fencing maze to get to the front steps.


Note the area in the middle distance of this shot, to the right of the gent with the white t-shirt and jeans fiddling with his phone.  We’ll get back to that.

Meanwhile, here are the men keeping it safe and the scattered objects about the stage from which we need to be protected:



As you negotiate the maze, look more closely at the fenced off area, previously spotted in the middle distance:



That’s right, a fenced off area devoted entirely to fencing off….





February 12, 2019

IMG_20190212_130807A surprisingly large lizard killed on the road directly outside our house.  My shadow for scale.

It must have been headed either from or to our yard.

I would never have imagined such creatures were running around in our relatively built-up area.

I guess this explains why sightings are rare.

Season opener

February 11, 2019

The Sydney Symphony  sent me an email on 30 January.

I only read the heading: “You’re invited to our Season Opening” and in a burst of efficiency consigned it to the Deleted Items folder.

Marketing has debased the word “invite.”

Then there came a reminder email on 5 February.  Maybe the word “Reminder” made me pay more intention.  It turned out that they were, indeed, really, inviting me to the concert.  For free.

Not an invitation to treat but an invitation to a treat!

Specifically, the concert on Saturday night featuring:

Also sprach Zarathustra (also known as the opening music to 2001 A Space Oddysey)
An oboe concerto by Nigel Westlake featuring Diana Doherty and
Percy Grainger’s The Warriors.

After some wrestling with the web-page I snapped up about the last two A reserve tickets – one in row K of the stalls (a bit low) and the other in box B.  I invited my old friend LW. It later turned out LW had received a similar offer but not detected it amongst a backlog of emails.

Out of caution born from experience of the vagaries of weekend trains, I offered to pick LW up at Dulwich Hill and drive to Sydenham.


This turned out to be a wise move because the Bankstown line trains were terminating at Sydenham and we would have had to change trains there anyway.  It was good to have my suspicions vindicated.

At the SOH, my frequent-concertgoer friend C, who keeps up with this sort of thing, had the good oil.  The concert had been a box office disaster.  Hence the free seats.  He was in one too with his friend D. (in another)

I held our tickets behind my back and asked LW to choose.  There was to be no interval so it wasn’t as though we could take turns.

LW got Row K.  Immediately I regretted my even-handedness and even more when I got inside and found my seat was right up against the wall on the left hand side of that box.  Actually I knew that already but I’ve never sat in one of these before.  Note to self: never buy any of those seats!

David Robertson conducted.

I adjusted as best as I could to the pokey seat which detracted considerably from the splendour of the sound, though the view was comprehensive.  My favourite bit is the moment in the waltz where you can imagine someone clicking their heels in the air for a hemiola, but there are other felicities.  David Elton seems still to be here notwithstanding his London gig, and did the trumpet solos proud.

Emma Dunch gave a little talk as the stage was being reset for the Westlake.  I took the opportunity to squeeze out of my seat and sit in the front row of the box.  My mood lifted.  What a splendid seat!  My new neighbour, who had moved from a seat on the aisle where she said she couldn’t see the back corner of the orchestra, agreed.  She all-but unwrapped an Anticol so that it rested on the wrapping paper, “just in case.”

The Westlake was delightful.  The scoring for the orchestra is hollowed out to allow space for the oboe to be heard – no woodwind and with only horns as the other blown instruments, plus harp, piano and lots of percussion.

The gent at the end of the row began to get a coughing fit and my neighbour passed the Anticol, still sitting on the paper as though on a platter, down to him.  He gratefully (and trustingly) accepted it.

As ever, I most enjoyed the slow movement.  It was only in the last movement that I felt the inability of the oboe to play really loud, as DD launched into what could easily at times be thought of as electric guitar licks in a rather funky finale.  She must have been exhausted by the end.

The applause was warm.  NW came up to the stage,  I thought a bit more might have been made at that point of the contribution by “Justice” Jane Matthews who had provided funds to assist in its commissioning.  Still, she looked happy, from a distance.  Good on her!

“Asthma” explained the gent, and introduced himself to my neighbour.  By now we were all friends and quite chatty – though not, of course during the music.

And then the most enormous orchestra reemerged for the Grainger.

It was a big night for double-reedists because this work includes a prominent solo for what the program notes told me would be a Hecklephone (extremely rare) but what was more probably a bass oboe.

“The Warriors” is an eclectic work: I fancied I caught reminiscences of Stravinsky (‘The Firebird’) and Offenbach (the can-can – though this was more rhythmic than melodic).  It was written by Grainger as an “imaginary ballet.”  Maybe he was just too late to the party because the commission from Diaghilev never came.  Harmonically it’s nothing way out but there is a kind of naive inventiveness – think Charles Ives.  My new seat was perfect to catch the offstage brass playing from outside the north-east upstairs doors.

Afterwards LW was dismissive of the Strauss – the work rather than the performance – he’s such a snob! – but we both agreed that it was a most enjoyable concert.

Circular Quay was packed with Chinese New Year promenaders – lots of families out to catch the festive illuminated “zodiacs.”  This year pride of place next to the Opera House went to the  pig – constructed from luminescent sticks which changed colour most beguilingly.

Owing to the trackwork rearrangements we had to take a train first to Town Hall and then change to the Eastern Suburbs line to Sydenham.  I could not restrain  an inward frisson of smug satisfaction as LW and I slipped away to the car whilst our fellow-Bankstown-liners trudged across and down to platform 1 to await their connection.

Property vs lives

February 5, 2019

There have been floods in Townsville.

On Monday, Qld police issued the following bulletin:

Missing men, Aitkenvale
myPolice on Feb 4, 2019 @ 7:22pm
Townsville police are appealing for public assistance to help locate two men possibly missing in the Aitkenvale area.

The men were last seen in Ross River Road, Aitkenvale early this morning (February 4) near flood waters.

Extensive enquiries today with family and friends have failed to locate the men.

A water and land search has commenced of flood waters and the general area as a precaution.

One is described as an Aboriginal man, approximately 165cms tall with a slim build and short black hair.

The other is described as an Aboriginal man, approximately 165cms tall with a proportionate build and short black hair (image: blue shirt).

It is unknown what the men were wearing with police appealing for anyone who may have seen them or has any information in relation to their current whereabouts to contact police (details below).

Late on Tuesday afternoon, there was an update:

Update: Missing men, Aitkenvale
myPolice on Feb 5, 2019 @ 4:50pm
Townsville police conducting a search operation in flood waters at Aitkenvale have located the bodies of two men this afternoon.

The bodies were found near Aitkenvale Park around midday and have been identified. Next of kin of the men have been advised.

The discovery follows a search operation which commenced after two men, aged 21 and 23, were seen near flood waters on Ross River Road early yesterday morning.

Police will prepare a report for the Coroner.

The Ethical Standards Command will investigate the matter for the State Coroner with oversight by the Crime and Corruption Commission.


The Quiet Australian

January 14, 2019

quiet mr morrison

I don’t normally go out of my way to get past the Daily Telegraph paywall so I am reliant on The Guardian (which provided the above photo) for news that, in a piece published in the DT, Mr Morrison has declared an intention “to reframe the Coalition government as the champion of ‘quieter Australians.'”

If that means a break from Mr Shouty, I’m looking forward to it. A longer and more permanent break later would be even better.

The promised emphasis is on “security and native species.” The latter apparently means  “local” environmentalism as opposed to the too-hard global warming.

Keep your eyes peeled for an Indian mynah trapping program.  It wouldn’t cost much, and could well kill more than one bird with the same stone.

Right to silence

January 11, 2019

I had mail. Voicemail.

This is senior constable [HH] from the AFP.  I’m ringing about (sight pause) an event last year.  Please call me on [a Canberra number].

HH also provided a case number.

It was that slight pause which put me on my guard.  Why wouldn’t HH tell me what she was ringing me about?  I have had no dealings with the AFP last year or, indeed, since my father died in Canberra in 2016 when they came round to his house to get some information for the coroner.  I hadn’t reported anything lost or stolen which she might be getting back to me about.

I rang the number.  HH wasn’t available.  I gave my name and the case number and said “Please tell HH that unless she says what it is about I won’t return her call.”

The young policewoman (these days they are all young to me) bristled.  I should ring.  It would be to my advantage to do so etc.  Don’t not answer if HH rings you again.

I had never said I wouldn’t answer.  I told the young policewoman so.

My elder sister, visiting from the UK, overheard my end of  that conversation. She told me I sounded quite rude.  She hadn’t known to whom I was speaking or to what kind of message I was responding.  Perhaps she thought I was returning a call by a potential instructing solicitor.

By now I was reasonably sure that I was the suspect.  But suspected of what?

It’s not a pleasant feeling waiting to be accused of you know not what.  I weakened and rang again before HH got round to ringing me back.

This time I was put through to HH.  She told me that the “event” was that payments had been made for a number of (fake) AirBnb bookings last year and the moneys had been paid to and then withdrawn from what HH called “your [ie my] account” with the XXX bank.  It would probably have been more accurate for her to say “an account in your name” but you have to remember I was a suspect.  From HH’s perspective, why mince words?

This is the tough moment.

You have a right to silence.

Police have their own agenda and no question is asked without it.  Even in my limited practice of the criminal law I have had enough cases where my clients have said something to the police which they supposed to be exculpatory which has ended up being used against them to be wary.  I have read of many more such cases.

Imagine if you are pulled over by a Highway patrolman (OK, it could be a patrolperson) for speeding.  You might not be able to contest your guilt but the penalty may well be a lively controversy.  The policeman’s first words are likely to be: “Did you know you were doing XXX km per hour?” What can you answer?   “Oh, yes, wasn’t it fun?” won’t help you at all.  “I had no idea” would look equally witless.  It takes willpower to remain silent or training as a politician to answer with some kind of non-answer.  (“Really?” “Is that how fast you say I was going?” or “We’re stopping the boats.”)

I buckled, but only because I was reasonably confident.

I have never had an account with the XXX bank.  I have become aware of some incidents of identity theft over the past couple of years starting with when I received a letter from a credit company telling me they had rejected my application for a card or a personal loan (I can’t remember which). I had never made any such application.  My theory is that whoever did was working off an old driver’s licence they’d got hold of somehow.

I told HH this and later sent her a copy of an email I had sent to a credit reference agency back in 2017 outlining what I knew.

I haven’t heard back from HH, not even to acknowledge receipt of what I sent her.

Maybe I’m still in the frame.





90 years ago today

December 15, 2018

This week I spoke to two people who were about to turn 90.

One is the youngest of my father’s 4 paternal  cousins. She is still in her own home.  Her elder brother died aged 92 about a month ago.

The other is the father of a very old and good friend.  I saw him in hospital and it was a grim occasion.  It is hard to see him ever returning home or even leaving the hospital.

I don’t know many 90-year-olds – in fact these are the only two I can think of – and they both turn 90 today.

What are the odds?

Wrapping up

December 13, 2018

Christmas is coming.  I don’t think I am going to any more live performances this year, so this is a post to wrap things up for the year.

26 10 SSO, de Waart – Beethoven 9

This was a hot ticket:  the orchestra sent out an email requesting any who weren’t going  to return their tickets and receive a credit in exchange.

I expect it was the Beethoven 9 that brought them in.  Once it would have been the return of “Edo” but maybe that aspect is weakening as memory of his tenure as chief conductor fades.

For me, the Haydn Symphony No 104 (also his last; one of the “London” symphonies) was more intriguing.

In the Beethoven, the Chinese bass (or bass-baritone), Shenyang, was phenomenal.  And everyone sang from memory!

De Waart is now 77.  He doesn’t look much older to me than when I first saw him though that is in part a trick because my perception of others’ age has been moving forward (or back) with my own.  The one giveaway is that he has developed a little mannerism of steadying himself on the handrail when he steps down from the podium.

17 11 SSO – Robertson, Capucon, Dvorak, Korngold & Mahler (5)

This was billed (and priced) as a gala concert on the eve of the SSO’s European tour.  We got to hear a kind of fantasy orchestra, with a few choice guests, soon-to-be principal flute Joshua Batty, and I’m guessing soon to go principal trumpet, David Elton, who was appointed principal trumpet at the London Symphony Orchestra this time last year and has been a purely paper presence until this recent return.

4 12 Pinchgut Ataserse

An extreme rarity, performance of the 1740 version of this work by Hasse for the first time since it was performed in Dresden.

At first wasn’t sure whether I would go to this. I was persuaded by the second half caught on the radio on Sunday night (it’s fun these days to follow the score, courtesy of IMSLP) and the availability of reasonably-priced restricted-view seats.

Pinchgut fans seem always to be saying to each other “I think it’s their best yet!” I expect there is a bit of confirmation bias in this or maybe a trick of perspective, but this was probably the most consistently well-sung Pinchgut performance across the 6 principals in recent memory.  Vivica Genaux, though very much promoted as the star of the show, did not stand out incongrously above the rest of the cast.

Orchestrally, the first half was all a bit the same, with long sweeping lush string lines, flutes introduced for moments of pathos, horns for martiality.  There was more variety in the second half.  I most enjoyed Artabano’s aria Pallido il sole (here at 2:39:20 while the link lasts; cf Carlo Vistoli singing a bit slower in 2014 here), not least because the strings managed a sound a bit like muted strings.  In the gloom I couldn’t make out any actual mutes and didn’t see the players removing them.   I remain, as ever, a sucker for muted strings – even if simulated.

7 12 Ensemble Apex

This is a group of young musicians either at or recently from the Sydney Conservatorium.  It’s been going since 2016.  I’m guessing it owes its existence to the conducting ambitions of its director, Sam Weller and the willingness of his fellow-students to assist those (and have some playing opportunities themselves).

Earlier this year, the ensemble gave a  rare performance with dancers of Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin.  I missed that, but in the aftermath  there was an opportunity to sign up for their last concert of the year, to include a performance of Rhapsody in Blue.

I signed up to go, then forgot about it.  So it’s just as well that a reminder email popped into my inbox on Wednesday.

Simon Tedeschi was the the piano soloist.  As well as the Gershwin, he played the Brubeck Blue Rondo as an encore.

The concert was held in the “Music Workshop” at the Con.  This is probably a bit small for an orchestra in full cry.  When they play loud you got that kind of sonic constriction of too much music in a confined space that to me says “Band Practice.”  T.hey could do with a set of risers

The other works were:

Adams- Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Koehne- Powerhouse
Marquez- Danzon No.2

Maybe the Adams and the Koehne one after another were a bit too much of the same sort of thing – even though they are really quite different.

Oliver Schermacher played a truly wild clarinet solo at the start of the Gershwin.

I hope the Ensemble comes back next year.


8 12 Sydney Youth Orchestra, Briger, Barker et al, Strauss

I got a tip-off on Friday from someone who goes to many more concerts than I do.  The attraction was that Cheryl Barker would be singing the Four Last Songs and the Marschallin’s part in excerpts from the end of Rosenkavalier. Strauss’s Don Juan rounded out the program, and for completeness I should add that Peter Coleman-Wright had a walk-on moment as the police officer to whom the M replies with the famous “ja ja.”  Alexander Briger conducted.

Cheryl was definitely the highlight of the concert.  She had no difficulty being heard above the orchestra.  Her vibrato is a bit more pronounced than when I last heard her.  In September I felt the orchestra perpetually lagged in a way which must surely have tested her nerve.  Otherwise they made a good fist of things.  The horns were in particularly fine form.  Everyone else could have quietened down a bit more for the woodwind twitters near the end of Im Abendrot.

The gleaners

December 7, 2018


That is the classic image.

So what about this?


That’s meant to be a picture of the woman by the bin. She had a male companion whom I saw first but he spotted me taking this picture and I was shy to take another. He probably thought I was photographing him as a prelude to dobbing him in.

They were both collecting containers from the “yellow” bins left by people outside their houses for council to collect, evidently with the intention of themselves collecting the statutory 10 cents for each one.

I had read about this  (see also here) but this was the first time I’d spotted it.

Councils are not happy about it. The standard council line is:

“The contents of someone’s bin is the legal possession of the property owner when on private land and of council when on the kerbside for collection.”

That’s very cutely expressed. It’s probably correct so far as it goes but there is a bit of a fudge there between possession and property. For example, whatever possession the council has (because the containers are in a bin which is its property and on the street which is also probably its property) is at least subject to the householder changing their mind.

Presumably  councils want to suggest that removing items from bins is stealing because under the container-recycling  scheme, councils themselves (or their contracted recyclers) collect the “deposit” (inverted commas because the 10 cents paid is only about two-thirds of the upfront charge) for containers which they collect.  They probably also are not keen about the contents of bins being scattered on the street by scavengers.

To be fair to the two scavengers I saw, they were perfectly tidy.

D spoke up for them.  “It’s a hard job.”  God knows, the effective hourly rate for collecting containers at 10 cents each cannot be high.

I don’t want to  dob them in.  But I do resent what they are doing.  It is an abuse of the scheme because these containers were already headed for recycling.

Where the abuse hits is if you bother go to a recycling depot.  These  are too few and too widely scattered.  There you will face a lengthy wait behind professional recyclers with enormous sacks containing hundreds of plastic bottles, which they feed into the machine one by one.  It’s like the supermarket transaction cost of being stuck behind people doing enormous weekly shops, but much, much worse.

The only silver lining is that the professionals generally only bother with the lighter plastic cans and bottles, so that the queue for glass bottles – not in truth worth the trouble but most of what I have to dispose of, is relatively short.