Archive for September, 2007

Jobs 1

September 30, 2007

I have decided to write a short series about jobs I have done. It is easiest to be specific about the distant past, which is also more picturesque, so I shall start with a short account of the jobs I had in (or starting in) the first year after I left school.

At the Bank 

Straight after the HSC, I started work for the then Commercial Banking Company Sydney (CBC) at the Gordon branch.  I was not very committed to this job.  I had thought that, if it suited, I might work at it for a while and then travel on my savings.  It didn’t suit, and I resigned and went straight to Uni.  In retrospect, that might have been a mistake.

At the time, the big mistake I felt I had made was joining the CBC rather than holding out for a job at the Commonwealth Bank (slightly more difficult to get because that bank was still run on public service lines).  The reason for my regret was that the Commonealth Bank had automated its systems without reducing its branch staff, or so it seemed to me.  Every afternoon I laboured mightily to reconcile the day’s batches of cheques, deposit slips and other vouchers on a wide-carriage adding machine known as a “batching machine” whilst, so far as I could tell, my Commonwealth Bank equivalents were free and out of the door half an hour after the branch closed for the day – which on Monday to Thursday was 3 pm.

Bank employees aspired to gentility, so did not have a “union:” I belonged to the Australian Bank Officers Association, which was effectively the same thing. 

Debating adjudicator

I got this job from Noel Cislowski, husband (though not for long after this time) of my then piano teacher, Neta Maughan, and then inspector in charge of speech and drama in the NSW Dept of Education.  This was not an extraordinary act of patronage: when we went for our training, there were about a classroom full of last year’s school debaters recruited for this purpose.  Whilst we were young for such responsibility, we were also very cheap.  You would really have to class the fee we were paid as an honorarium, though for me, with no other source of employment through the academic year, it was not to be sneezed at.  The price to be paid was middle of the day treks across town to far-flung high schools. 

I cringe to think now of some of the adjudications I dished out – principally on account of their inordinate length.  The kids never seemed to mind of course, since they were invariably getting out of some class.  They laughed at all my jokes (ah! vanity!).

I think I did this for 3 years, or possibly 4.  Later, I also did some private school adjudicating, which was slightly better paid.  I got that job from the secretary of the relevant debating association, who had been my year 12 English teacher. At least by then I think the standard of my work had improved.

Bus conductor

At the end of first year, I got a job as a bus conductor.  This was one of those things you could do as holiday work.  It was arranged through the university student employment service, and they trained a whole bunch of us (two days at Randwick Depot) to work for the long vacation to relieve permanent staff over summer.  I picked up my uniform at the old tram sheds (now derelict) just behind Newtown Station.

After the second day of training at Randwick, I also picked up a bicycle from Europa Cycles at Kingsford.  I needed it to get from West Pymble to Willoughby Depot, where I was stationed, since (and it stands to reason) the buses didn’t run early enough to get bus conductors to work.  I had not ridden a bicycle for years.  My first predawn ride (in bus conducting uniform) was one of the most physically exhausting ordeals of my life then or since.

But once again, I lacked the necessary commitment to the organisation.  This should have been a secure and relatively well-paid source of holiday employment for the remainder of my university vacations, but I was busted by the “Kellys” [Inspectors], ostensibly for selling a loose ticket (we had been assured in our training that people had bought houses with such lurks) but really for sitting down on the job as a queue conductor at Chatswood Station and reading W H Auden.  The Depot Manager persuaded me to resign at the end of that summer rather than face a disciplinary hearing.

You might think I’m bitter about this, but I think I’ve got over it.  The gruelling thing about working for/on the buses was for me the early starts and the split shifts.  And in the background were, of course, Christmas and the summer holidays.  We  took the shifts of regular staff who were taking their summer holidays, and I soon became aware that some shifts were distinctly easier than others.  There must have been a whole world of favours and privileges played out and pecking order confirmed under the guise of rostering.  

Unionism was compulsory.  I was member of the Australian Tramway & Motor Omnibus Employees Association.


September 29, 2007

I am not really a car person.  Even so, whenever I get a new car (and I mean new to me – I have never owned a truly new car) I am suddenly much more aware of other cars like mine – I see them all the time.

Do we have an instinctual thirst for self-recognition in others?  That thirst may be the  flip side of another tendency, to generalize about human nature from our selves.  I am sure I am not the only person to be prone to that, and of course I am indulging in it right now.

So all of a sudden, I have begun to notice flagging or lapsing blogs.  These are from among the blogs which drew me in to the game.  Now those people are hanging up their boots (or gloves – whatever, it’s a metaphor) and moving on.  This could be because my own energy for blogging is waning. 

For a while I wondered if this was an indicator of a trend: could blogging be past its peak?  I doubt that: even on a surging tide, some waves recede, and it’s my own little ripple that I’m responding to.

Of course, many social institutions encounter waves of people.  Some people stay longer than others, as, for example, teachers at schools (and universities) who remain whilst (possibly) knowledge-hungry generations tread them down.  There is a constant churning of people: to take another example, law firms recruit large numbers of young lawyers, but they know that, inevitably, many of those people will leave the profession or move on to other firms: there wouldn’t actually be room for them all in the business model even if they wanted to stay.

Viewed from the perspective of the institution then, waves of people pass through.  From the perspective of the people who pass through, their encounters with such institutions are phases of their lives.

All of this probably seems trivially true, but I think it is sometimes overlooked.  One example which comes particularly to mind for me is the concept of the gay community and the gay “scene.”  This has an institutional locus in the various commercial enterprises which in turn provide the advertising revenue to support the gay press, including, I suppose now, internet equivalents.  The gay scene (let’s simplify this, in Sydney terms, to “Oxford St”) provides gay men with a means of meeting like others (now supplemented by the internet) and finding a (comparatively) hospitable social space. 

For many gay men, “coming out” (or at least, self-recognition of their gayness) is followed by an Oxford St phase.  As they get older, settle down, acquire work commitments and (probably most important, given the meat-market function of bars and other venues) enter into relationships, the phase passes.  My own Oxford St phase passed long ago.  D, who still likes to go there sometimes, also tells me that his original cohort has largely passed on.  We are now (and I am, more than D) “suburban gays.”

In some respects “phases” are a trick of perspective.  We do lots of things in our lives.  We don’t continue doing all of them, for various reasons.  I still have the chess set from my childhood chess phase, and the stamp albums from my stamp-collecting phase: neither of these proved to be a lifelong preoccupation.  Before it slips into the ether or is erased from WordPress’s hard-disk, will this blog become such a relic?  Almost certainly, though maybe not just yet. 


September 26, 2007

On the weekend, Xk told me that he and his child, Qx, have finally been “granted” permanent residency.  (So now you know: the abbreviation above does not stand for “public relations” or “proportional representation.”)

I have known Xk since about 1990.  He has lived in Australia since not long before that.  Qx was born here.  For Xk, this was the end of a long struggle.  In many respects it has been a Quixotic struggle, and I can’t say I have ever felt optimistic about Xk’s prospects, even though I wrote a letter to the Minister which formed part of his last-ditch application for ministerial intervention in which he was successful.  Xk told me that Px, who has stood by Xk for as long as I have known him, cried for 10-15 minutes on hearing the news.  I can only imagine Px’s feelings: relief must have only been part of them.  Even I felt a small pricking at the back of my eyes.

There have been harbingers of a favourable decision in the past few months.  Recently Xk was permitted to work and (after all these years) given a Medicare card for himself and Qx.  I suppose the present decision is the result of the Minister clearing his desk before the impending election.  If so, the Minister may well be hoping that a batch of favourable decisions, rather like amnesties or other acts of clemency on royal birthdays or similar occasions in other countries, will send out little ripples of electoral goodwill.  I am happy for Xk and Qx, though I can’t say that my vote will be swayed.

Xk’s path to this point has not been an easy one.  It has imposed strains and costs on him and on others.  It has almost totally stalled his life (apart from raising Qx to school age) for the past 10-15 years. In describing Xk’s quest as Quixotic, I am prompted by both the prospects of its success and the question of whether success  has actually been worth the price paid.  Maybe that is not an accurate invocation of Cervantes but that is still the general territory.

Others have never got so far as Xk and Qx.  There is little justice in this, but that is really because there is so little justice in what is, in truly Orwellian terms, commonly known as “immigration law.”

Stephen Hough – Musica Viva

September 24, 2007

On Saturday night, D and I went to see Stephen Hough play a recital at Angel Place, Sydney, for Musica Viva.  The program was:

MENDELSSOHN Variations sérieuses, Op. 54
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor, Op. 111
von WEBER Invitation to the Dance in D flat major
CHOPIN Waltz in C sharp minor, Op. 64 No.2
Valse Brilliante in A flat major, Op. 34 No.1
SAINT-SAËNS Valse nonchalante in D flat major, Op. 110
CHABRIER Feuillet d’album from Five posthumous pieces
DEBUSSY La plus que lente
LISZT Valse Oubliée No.1
First Mephisto Waltz (Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke), S 514

There were also 3 encores, including, as predicted, what I take to be Hough’s own slow-waltz arrangement of Waltzing Matilda which we heard in Tasmania.

I don’t usually go to Musica Viva concerts. As a result it is a bit hard for me to determine to what extent the audience was a regular MV audience, and to what extent it was particular to this concert. There are reasons to suppose it might have been different from the regular audience, because Musica Viva does not, as a rule, present solo pianists in its big-city recital series. I also wondered whether the muted publicity, including references to Hough’s Ian McKellen-like coming out (and the consequential cancellation of a tour to Vietnam) might have brought a higher than normal gay crowd. And I did notice quite a few gay men (so far as one can judge, although in some cases, they were known to me) in the audience. Former NSW Treasurer, Michael Egan was there with someone who gave every appearance of being his boyfriend, in the company of Kim Williams (who many years ago was GM of MV himself). Egan’s status in this regard has long been regarded as “openly secret.” I don’t have any views to convey one way or another about Mr Williams.

Incidentally, this raises a little question. One of the Sydney gay papers has been running a kind of quest to identify the top 25 “power gays” in Australia. I’m not quite sure what the point of this exercise is, but unless some systematic “outing” is proposed, this exercise seems bound to miss its mark. Power and being openly gay are still largely mutually exclusive in our society. Let’s face it, if you can’t even play the piano in Vietnam if you are openly gay, then your chances of actually wielding power are correspondingly fairly slim. Sigh.

Before the recital began, the house lights went down, and Mary Jo Capps, the general manager of Musica Viva, walked up to the stage. Once again, I don’t know if this is typical, though it has happened at a concert I attended once in the past. She was there to spruik next year’s subscription season.

I hate such speechifying at concerts. It is always too loud, and so dwarfs the acoustical scale of the ensuing concert. It banally cuts into the atmosphere of quiet expectation and, yes, spiritual preparation (at least on my part) which precedes the music. But this time, there was something worse. Ms Capps told us that Carl Vine, the artistic director, would now tell us something about next year’s season.

But Mr Vine did not join Ms Capps on the stage. Instead, all the lights went out and we suddenly became aware that above the stage was an unfurled screen onto which a likeness of him was projected. The volume grew even louder, as we were treated to a series of mini-video clips of the various artists playing various bleeding chunks of music.

I put my head on my hands and shut my eyes. It was really unbearable, though somehow less unbearable this way, even though I could still hear it, loud (very loud) and not particularly clear.

I go to a concert to hear the music. It is bad enough at the Opera House these days when after the concert you have to run the gauntlet of amplified music from the Opera Bar. Imagine going to a restaurant and having a fine meal, but being forced, say, to scoff a Big Mac at the end. This was worse, because we were trapped. I regard it as an imposition. I don’t go to a live concert to watch a music clip, or to be exposed to even the concert organisation’s marketing. To make things worse, I am sure that there was a lingering loudspeaker hiss for the entirety of the first half of the program.

We sat upstairs on the non-keyboard side. I have never sat there before. My impression was that this spot received buckets of sound from the guts of the piano (we were looking down onto the strings) but the balance was unfavourable to the high treble. Once again, this is conjectural, since to be sure of this I would have had to attend the same recital in a different spot, or at least changed seats at interval, which I didn’t do.

I enjoyed the concert. I was too shy (and in too much of a hurry) to get Mr Hough’s autograph afterwards, but I did note a fairish queue of singlish-looking gents lining up.

Taking work home

September 18, 2007

On Saturday night, D and I went to see Il Trittico.  This is a trio/triptych of one-act operas by Puccini.  They are set, respectively:

  • on a barge in Paris, in about 1900 – a verismo (cf Cav & Pag) story of jealousy ultimately revealed from beneath a cloak (Il Tabarro);
  • in a nunnery, ostensibly in the 19th century, though it felt more eighteenth and the costumes wavered as to their precise era – an aristocratic nun signs her estate and kills herself on being told that her son (the cause, 7 years ago of her confinement to the convent) died 2 years earlier (Suor Angelica); and
  • 1299, Florence, a smart operator colludes with disappointed relatives in changing a will in their favour, but also favours himself (Gianni Schicchi).

I had never seen them before.  I can remember my mother telling me the story of Gianni Schicchi in particular, probably just after she had seen it, so it was rather nice to discover that this was still the original production, from 1973.

I also couldn’t help wondering whether both the second and the third operas raised questions which could either have been fixed up by or have given grounds for a Family Provision Act application.

Four months – review

September 16, 2007

Things have been a bit quieter here since I tapped out my two-month review

WordPress tells me at the time of writing the following:

Total Views: 5,259

Best Day Ever: 113

That’s a bit of an increase on the first two months, but most of that occurred in a flurry in the third month when I applied myself with some vigour to a few topical issues.

The allure of Pussy porn appears to have faded with age.  I still get regular clicks on  Never fall in love with a prostitute.

Barbara Bennett was my topical hit.

Maybe I now have 5 or 6 regular readers.

Domesticity II

September 16, 2007

I was 30 before I bought my own washing machine.  I spent most of my 20s without a washing machine, and as soon as I bought one, I rejoiced in it.  Free at last from the tyranny of the laundromat!

Doing the washing is the one domestic task that I can almost effortlessly engage in.  This fetish presents as a sub-clinical obsessive-compulsive disorder whenever I travel. 

One thing I like is that, at home at least, washing is connected ever so slightly to the natural phases of suitable drying weather.  That gives it something archaic, despite the occasional resort to elaborate constructions of clothes over the dimplex heater.

I have read somewhere that laundry is the one domestic task in industrialized countries  for which work has, on average, been “insourced” to the home in the course of the twentieth century.  Doubtless the principal cause of this is the improvements in domestic plumbing, but the washing machine must come close behind.

My present washing-machine is my second.  It is mechanically sound, but suffers from severe rust in its body work which I now regret not complaining about earlier when that first appeared.  I will have to buy a new one soonish.  When I bought my present machine, I converted from the top-loader to the front-loader. My faith in this regard holds.  The one thing I will look for in the next machine  is the fastest possible spin cycle.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have the final instalment of Saturday’s coloured and white washes to put away.


September 14, 2007

I am an abject failure in the art of regulating a home.

My failure was yet again revealed to me after returning to my own home after staying 2 nights with Rz in Hobart.  His house is neater, cleaner and tidier, in part out of necessity, but at the same time in the face of the considerable challenge, given that he and his wife have a child who has just started walking. 

I could say that it is because I have too much junk. That cannot be the only reason.  Other people have lots of possessions.

I could also say that it is because I don’t have enough places to put things.

This is partly true, but probably more immediately problematic is my capacity (or incapacity) to put things where they belong.  The shortage of suitable places to put things is merely a minor cause of this.  When Rz embarked upon the washing-up straight after dinner, D gave me a meaningful and implicitly admonitory nudge.

That’s my plight and my confession, though you might ask what I am doing about it, and would be even more likely to ask if you knew the state of the house at the time I am writing this.

A few years I was working in another city.  After I had endured a few months staying on and off in a hotel, I arranged to stay in an apartment, with cleaners coming in once a week.  There was a dishwasher.

It was bliss!  The apartment was uncluttered (all my junk remained in Sydney) and clean, sheets and towels were washed and changed. 

In my formative years, I was taught to consider domestic labour as a feminist issue.  Of course it was and it still is, though the extent to which it was then so was in part a product of the times.  It has also a class aspect.  Given the existence of gay and lesbian relationships, it is not always a feminist issue at all.

One aspect of this was the question of the value of domestic labour.  Only paid domestic labour counts when the standard economic measurements are taken.  This leaves an awful lot out of consideration, which only intermittently emerges to the surface – such as, for example, when contributions by reason of domestic labour are taken into account for the purpose of property settlements when relationships come to an end, though this is very imprecisely considered.

Put that way, it would appear to be a patriotic and rational contribution to Australia’s GDP to employ a cleaner, assuming that the value to me of this was equal to or greater than the price.  But I baulk at that, and in the light of my preparedness to be extravagant in other matters, I cannot claim to do so because of the price.

A few weeks ago I read a review  in the London Review of Books  by Rosemary Hill (whose book on Pugin has since been reviewed in the LRB – is this cosy or what?) of a book about Virginia Woolf and her servants, and particularly Nellie Boxall, her long-term cook.  It captured my attention, and has held it since.

Something of the flavour is caught by the arresting first sentence:

Ann Fleming once remarked that she was so depressed that ‘last night I would have put my head in the gas oven, if I wasn’t too frightened of the cook to go into the kitchen.’

Of Nellie Boxall,

For 18 years she and Virginia Woolf lived together, interdependent in a way they both resented, continually disappointed in one another. Nellie had begun her Bloomsbury career as cook for Roger Fry from about 1912. His house, ‘Durbins’, in Surrey was to his own design, a variation on the Arts and Crafts answer to the Kensington terrace, with a garden by Gertrude Jekyll and a bird bath by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Its ground plan had social as much as architectural implications. The accommodation was arranged over three floors with interconnecting spaces round the characteristic double-height living hall or ‘houseplace’ which brought everyone together. There was a single shared entrance for servants and family, no back stairs, and a frosted glass door replaced the green baize, suggesting at least a semi-permeable membrane between the classes. More interestingly, from Nellie’s point of view, there were radiators rather than open fires, water closets, a dumb waiter and easy-wipe parquet floors. She and the housemaid Lottie Hope found it very convenient. Their transfer to the Woolfs’ establishment four years later was therefore something of a let-down from the start.

Leonard and Virginia had none of the Frys’ enthusiasm for modern conveniences and without them the artistic spontaneity of Bloomsbury life could be hard on the staff. It was no wonder Nellie was ‘rather waspish’ when ‘Mary, Gwen, Julia, Quentin, Geoffrey Keynes and Roger’ all called in for tea on the spur of the moment during her few quiet hours in the afternoon. The Woolfs kept a printing press in the larder, which must have been inconvenient, and Mitzi, their incontinent pet marmoset, also added to the housework. In other ways, modern morals made things easier. Their staff were not expected to wear uniform, to call ‘Mrs Woolf’ ‘Ma’am’ or to wait at table, and they enjoyed an easier and more informal life than most servants. Nellie had a radio in her room and was allowed to borrow the wind-up gramophone. But the life of a live-in domestic was uncomfortable in many ways. She could be ‘lent’ to Vanessa Bell when needed, or transported for six weeks to the horribly spartan country home at Asheham, which the Woolfs rented until 1919, and where there were only oil lamps and the water had to be pumped from a well. When in 1924 economies were made and Lottie Hope was dismissed, Nellie found herself in charge of almost all the household duties, from emptying the chamberpots to making the dinner. Not only was she tired out, she was also, especially in the country, very lonely, sitting by herself in the kitchen night after night. Never once does Virginia Woolf seem to have considered any of this as an explanation for Nellie’s moods and strategic toothaches. Why, she wondered in all seriousness, if Nellie could have her friends to visit should she complain when Virginia had hers? It was egotism dressed as egalitarianism and it was at the heart of her inability either to get on with Nellie or to get away from her.

And (my favourite line): 

 On one occasion she [Nellie] threw Virginia out of her room, demanding to be left in privacy, an irony that seems to have been lost on the author of the recently published A Room of One’s Own.

See justice being done

September 12, 2007

One complaint I have read about the Refugee Review Tribunal is about its selective publication of its decisions.

My own view is that, because it is important that justice should be seen to be done, and because decisions about refugee status are not simply a question of private law (is this an oxymoron? discuss), there is an obligation on the Tribunal to publish its decisions as comprehensively as possible.  I am skeptical about the use of pseudonymous case names and the deletion of details which might identify parties.  This is justified on the basis that it serves to protect the parties or, alternatively, to prevent parties from using the publication of identifying details as a reason why they may face persecution if returned to their country of origin if they otherwise would not face such persecution.  Sometimes this is necessary; sometimes it just seems to make it more difficult to keep an eye on what the Tribunal is doing and to whom.

I looked today to see if the Tribunal has published its decision of 3 September to grant Motahar Hussein refugee status.

I don’t know to what extent the present paucity of recent published results of the Tribunal is owing to the Tribunal and to what extent it is owing to its internet publisher,  AustLII.   There were only two decisions available and the latest available was dated 13 August. Just to put this in proportion, for 2005 the AustLII site has 336 decisions, for 2006, 226, and for the first 6 months of this year, 132.

One recent decision I found concerned a refusal to accept as refugees an Indian man who claimed to be gay and his wife who also claimed to face persecution in India because of this. It is headed “DECISION RECORD” but I cannot tell whether this means it is a transcript of an oral decision or in fact something which purported to be a written document.

I don’t want to criticize the tribunal member, Angela Cranston. I have no reason to believe she wasn’t doing her best. But on what used to be called textual grounds alone, I don’t think you could fail to conclude that if the Tribunal constitutes justice, it evidently is justice on the cheap.

Away from APEC

September 12, 2007

 Callington Mill

As foreshadowed, I escaped the APEC brouhaha and spent an extra- long weekend in Tasmania.

D and I flew to Hobart on Thursday afternoon. 

We sat next to a nicely spoken young man of Indian extraction.  He told us he had participated in the APEC youth forum (he had a bag to prove it).  I chided him mildly for participating in such window-dressing (and particularly, window-dressing directed towards Mr Howard’s reelection campaign).  He almost returned a plate of fruit given to him pursuant to his mother’s usual preference (the flight was booked with her points) until I suggested to him that he could keep the fruit and have the normal “light refreshment.”  Later, he warmed to this sort of thing, and seems to have spent the latter part of the flight chatting up the flight attendants and getting extra meals from them for later consumption.  He took lots of pictures: of his meal; of the view out the window.  I guess that is what it means to be young.  There was just a little comedy when we got off the plane when he spotted the quarantine dog and had to disclose all to them.  Not all of the food needed to be abandoned. 

We drove as far as we could until nightfall and spent the night at Oatlands.  After dinner, we walked to the drought-depleted (and arguably former, notwithstanding partial replenishment) Lake Dulverton and gazed into the moonless sky at the never-seen-in-Sydney Milky Way.

The morning dawned unseasonably fine.  A total stranger exclaimed to me that you could get sunburnt.  We climbed the partially restored windmill, before driving on to the pretty and prettified Ross, where we sampled the famous Tasmanian scallop pie. Then to Campbell Town, Lake Leake (disappointing encounter with the Tasmanian shack phenomenon), Cole Bay and Cape Tourville lighthouse in Freycinet National Park.  After an overpriced snack from Swansea, we spent the night in Orford.  Of Orford, little to relate here, save for another moonless moment on the beach taking in the Milky Way which made me think of Matthew Arnold, though without quite the same post-Hellenic second-generation romanticism-tinged-with-Weltschmerz.

On Saturday morning, again sunny, we drove to Hobart, where we lodged with Rz.  With Rz we walked to see what he assured me was Paul Keating’s favourite Australian building.

Later, we walked  across town to the acoustically unsatisfactory Federation Hall to a concert given by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

Tasmanians are fiercely proud of the TSO, or so I am told.  Yet, all-too-typically, this does not translate into very much actual attendance at the TSO’s concerts.  I estimate the house at 60%.

The program was:

Bizet, L’Arlésienne Suite No 2
Saint-Saens, Piano Concerto No 5 (Egyptien)
Mozart, Symphony No 38 (Prague)

I will defer more detailed appraisal of the TSO until their three Sydney concerts in October.  Suffice it to say that the Saint-Saens (which had occasioned my trip to Tasmania) was the highlight of the program, notwithstanding a shocker of a chord from the woodwind right at the beginning.  As an encore, Stephen Hough played his own slow-waltz arrangement of Waltzing Matilda which I imagine will also feature as an encore to the second-half of waltzes which he is playing in his recital tour of Australia this month

After dinner we went on a sad search for a gay bar. Though there was no moon, no milky way was to be seen.

On Sunday we drove south and finished the day at sunset on Mt Wellington (eery).  We popped into St David’s Cathedral (spoken evensong in a side chapel, viewed from the west door).  Later, we dined with Rz on Tasmanian fish.  Still later, Rz demonstrated to us the joys of cable TV (Die Meistersinger, which, under pressure from me, we watched for the second half of Act III Scene i), before switching to something lighter.  In passing, Rz offered the opinion that, despite his often-mentioned Mahler fetish, Keating is really more of a Richard Strauss type of person.

I don’t mean to suggest that Rz harped on about Paul Keating.  Any particular fascination which might be responsible for giving that impression is entirely mine.  Our talk was wide-ranging. 

Rz and I started uni together.  He was one of those who had the incredible historical good luck of taking a Department of Education teaching scholarship (not, I am sure, from any economic want: he grew up in Mosman).  This was good luck because it provided a non-means-tested living living allowance but by the time he graduated there was a surfeit of teachers and (albeit having endured the pain of a Dip Ed year) he was released from the concomitant bond, so long the bane of many young teachers. 

Later, we were postgraduate students in the same department.  I was on the rebound from Canberra, whereas after he finished he was Canberra-bound.  There he very quickly (and somewhat surprisingly to me, though not, I hasten to add, because of any reservations I ever had about his ability) shot up the greasy pole.  Just now he is tending his garden in Hobart.

So we had a lot to talk about, including undergraduate and postgraduate contemporaries, as well as Canberra circles which he joined a few years after I had left them.

I doubt if Rz would think of himself as having been the hand that signed the paper, but he was often the man who wrote the minute and I am sure he signed plenty of pieces of paper consequent to such minutes.

What struck me in the course of our conversations was something which I would compendiously describe as Rz’s toughness of spirit. If you are a senior bureaucrat, you make or help make and carry out, decisions which affect many people. Some favourably, and some adversely. There is a kind of necessary hardening of heart to individual hardship. Rules are there to be enforced.

This is quite different from the lawyer’s approach, which is always tender to the hardship caused by rules adverse to the interests of one’s client, and endeavouring to use rules to bring about a favourable outcome for the client. Of course, there is still a necessary toughness to the plight of one’s client’s opponent or anybody else whose interests get in the way.

The night was again moonless, at least while I was still awake.

We flew home on Monday morning. In the afternoon I was back at work, preparing for a work-related trip to Orange on Tuesday. Casually picking up the newspaper in the foyer, I discovered that, unawares, I had just returned from a minor brush with fame. Staring out from the opinion page was a picture of our nice young neighbour of Thursday’s flight, identified as Vikram Joshi, “the school captain of Sydney Grammar School” [possibly they meant senior prefect: I understand these to be distinct offices at SGS].  His piece, about young voters and the impending election, seems to say not very much rather elegantly – he is a debater and English Speaking Union prize-winner, after all. Towards the end, he says:

“I’m not sure who I’ll choose for prime minister. Instead, I may just play up the stereotype and in typical teenager fashion, vote for myself.”

If I’d known this on the plane going down, I would certainly have bent his ear about whom to vote against and why.