Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Opera Australia 2017

August 25, 2016

Opera Australia has announced its 2017 season.  That link foolishly describes OA as “unperturbed” by the closure for 7 months of the Opera House opera theatre, which is clearly not the case.

It’s a pretty devastating announcement, so far as Sydney opera-goers are concerned.  In place of the closed Opera Theatre, OA has only managed to secure the 400-seat Playhouse, in which it will stage a pasticcio operetta, the Concert Hall (for three concert performances of Parsifal with big-name tenor Jonas Kaufmann) and the Capitol Theatre in October-November for an 11-performance run of the venerable Oxenbould production of Madama Butterfly (last seen here in 2015). The only other conceivable alternative venues, such as the Lyric Theatre at the casino or the Theatre Royal (which would really be a squeeze) are themselves affected by closures for renovations next year.

There are also a few other one-off events including a concert performance at the Town Hall of Massenet’s Thaïs.

Apart from the pasticcio, OA is staging no new productions of its own. Two new productions are brought/bought in from Covent Garden. One is a bold gesture: Szymanowski’s King Roger; the other, Cav & Pag. Otherwise, Boheme, Tosca and Traviata are all very recent returns.  The Handa opera-on-the-harbour is a repeat of Carmen.

Things aren’t much better in Melbourne with a run of The Merry Widow making up their summer season, though it is a new production with a homecoming Young Talent Time winner.

It’s obviously a belt-tightening year for OA. Will there be commensurate cuts for the upper management’s salaries? Don’t hold your breath.  I wonder whether the engagement of Kaufmann for Parsifal (one can only guess at the cost of this) is judicious as opposed to a defiant gesture.  Terracini says that people will pay to hear quality voices but even so he expects to lose money on this.  Personally I’d prefer that the money were spread a bit more evenly on employing local artists.  Even an expatriate would be more fitting and probably a bit cheaper whilst still being of interest to many even if not such a headline for the non-opera-going public.

No set subscriptions are being offered next year.  You have to make up your own series. When I tried to do that on the website my seats were assigned to me (never satisfactory) [Postcscipt: a commenter has not had that problem so it seems this was just me] which is odd because once I reached the minimum of 3 different productions to make up a subscription I was able choose your own seats off the seating plan. [I then rang up – it cannot have been an easy day manning the OA phones.]

As for my subscription, I’m keen to see King Roger and prepared to see Cav&Pag on account of the new production.  I’m making up the minimum 3 with a point seat for La Traviata which enables me to bag a couple more point seats for King Roger as well as extra seats for D for KR and C&P.  It will all be over by about the middle of Feb.  That’s a big retrenchment (and saving).

OA boldly suggests that subscribers make up the shortfall of available shows with a donation to their usual level of expenditure.  I suppose they can always ask.  The bigger risk is that people will break the subscribing habit altogether.  With any luck Terracini will then be free of that opera “club” for which he has expressed so much disdain.

 

 

Michael Spence

August 12, 2016

is the vice chancellor of the University of Sydney.

It’s been just a bit comical seeing his public road-to-Damascus moment about the “bamboo ceiling” – now that following his remarriage after the tragic early death of his first wife he has a child who might possibly come up against it one day.

Today Spence is reported complaining about the immorality of subsidising the costs of medical tuition for Australian students with the profit from international fee-paying students.  He says:

Australian universities “tax the poor families of Sichuan to subsidise the education of kids who went to Kings to become doctors and charge people a lot of money.”

That seems a bit colourful to me.  Plenty of medical students come from James Ruse rather than from Kings.

There is a university system in China, for which entry is competitive but which you can reasonably say is open to poor students of high ability.  General view in China would be that Australia is where the (relatively) dumb and rich ones come, and as to who the rich are and how they are rich there are plenty more views about that.  According to those views, maybe you could describe the origin of their wealth as a “tax” on the poor in a very loose sense.

Most Chinese would be astounded to learn that the Chinese students studying in Australia came from “the poor families of Sichuan.”

Do not leave the village

May 20, 2016

That’s what the original Inspector Barnaby in Midsomer Murders frequently said to witnesses or suspects.  Given the main way of being eliminated as a suspect in Midsomer, you have to wonder why anyone obeyed him.

Christopher Sharkey and Donya Nissi met in 2003 or 2004.  Sharkey, 20/21, was an internet whizzkid.  Nissi was just finishing or had just finished school.  They moved to Orange where Nissi went for her university studies.  At this time Sharkey’s business, Ozstays or Stayz (if there is a distinction I’m not sure what it is) was already doing quite well.

In December 2004 they became engaged at a concert by “The Whitlams” in Newtown.  Spectacularly, Sharkey set the proposal up by arranging for the lead singer, Tim Freedman,  to sing “The Lady in Red” (or a fragment of it, anyway) and announce that “this is for Donya from Chris” before he popped the question.  He had told Freedman that this was Donya’s favourite romantic music.

In 2005 they bought a house at [MM] Denison Road Camperdown in both their names.  Sharkey provided the cash for this, or most of it.

At the beginning of 2006, Sharkey (by now 23/24) and his business partner sold their interest in the Stayz business for $12.7 million.  Sharkey received half of this. He used some of that to pay of the mortgage on [MM] Denison Road.  He also gave substantial presents to his father and to Nissi’s parents to pay off their home loans.

In late 2007, Sharkey and Nissi bought the neighbouring property to No [MM], being [NN]Denison Road.  Sharkey paid for this.  Sharkey said that the property was put in Nissi’s name to protect it from claims that might be made against him.

Almost immediately after that, Sharkey decided he wanted to raise money for his business ventures and investments.  He set up a family trust which borrowed money for which both No [MM] and No [NN] were given as security.

The relationship between Starkey and Nissi broke down in mid 2008, though the break-up seems to have been clandestine – they still went as a couple to family occasions.  Sharkey moved out into shared accommodation and Nissi stayed in No [NN] with Sharkey’s dogs.  (No [MM] seems to have been tenanted.)

In 2011 Sharkey wanted to raise more money for his business ventures.  He proposed selling No [MM] for this purpose.  In March they reached an agreement (recorded in writing). Sharkey or the Trust would would not contest the ownership of No [NN] and would make no more loans against it and repay the loans then secured against it by the end of 2012.  Nissi agreed that the entire proceeds of sale of No [MM] would go to Sharkey.

Later that year Sharkey went to America where he worked with his brothers on their internet ventures.

Sharkey or the Trust did not repay the monies secured against No [NN] by the end of 2012, and stopped making payments on the mortgage at the end of 2012.

In 2013, after demands from the bank, Nissi refinanced the debt and rented the property out, presumably in order to meet the mortgage.  Sharkey commenced proceedings that in truth No [NN] was his and Nissi should convey the property to him; Nissi cross-claimed for performance of the March 2011 agreement (so far as Sharkey had agreed not to contest the ownership of No [NN]) and damages for its breach (so far as she had been put to expense to repay the mortgage when he did not).

The matter came on for hearing in February 2015 before Justice Robb.  Most of the facts above come from his judgment, finally handed down in September 2015.  Some of them may be a bit inaccurate because judges often don’t get every detail right and if such details don’t make a difference to the outcome or the matter is ultimately resolved they will stand uncorrected.  To save any suspense, I should add that Nissi was successful, though the amount of damages is yet to be assessed, mostly it seems because Nissi was unsuccessful in tendering in the course of the trial some of documentation proving components of her damages claim .  That just shows how hard-fought the trial must have been, because in fact the damages will presumably could well be continuing by reason of any interest on the mortgage debt that Nissi is probably still paying.  But maybe Sharkey, who is now in America, doesn’t really care all that much.

Which is what Nissi was worried about last February. If she won, she would be secure in her ownership of No [NN], but how would she get the money part of her claim?  Sharkey was now living in the USA.  Perhaps he had put his assets in the name of his new partner, as he said he had done with Nissi, to make himself proof against judgment.  When the hearing started, he gave evidence that he had negligible assets in Australia.  And in the opening by his counsel, some remark had been made about the witnesses returning to the USA as soon as they had given their evidence.

Nissi’s team jumped into action.  They engaged separate counsel, John Hyde.  On 18 February he went off to a different judge (the duty judge, Justice MacDougall) while the trial before Robb J was still going on and obtained an ex parte injunction preventing Sharkey from leaving the country.  Ex parte means they went before Justice MacDougall without forewarning Sharkey.

You can make ex parte applications when the nature of the order is such that if the other side knows you are going to seek the order (which is usually to stop them doing something) they might just go and do it before you can get the order, in which case it will be too late.  Such orders are always made in a way which brings the matter back to the court shortly after for the person bound by the order to have a chance to say why it should be discharged or should not have been made in the first place.  There is a duty when making an ex parte order to disclose all relevant circumstances to the court.  If you haven’t, that is the first ground on which the other side is entitled to have it discharged.

The problem for Nissi was that what was said by Sharkey’s counsel about Sharkey’s witnesses leaving immediately had been misinterpreted.  On a fair interpretation, and in the light of previous correspondence, it was clearly only a reference to witnesses other than Sharkey.  John Hyde told MacDougall that Sharkey too proposed to depart precipitately.

Justice MacDougall  made the orders at about 11.40am.  The orders required Sharkey to deliver up his passport to the Court.  They also provided for the matter to come back before him at 2pm.  This would normally be the point at which Sharkey would have his first opportunity to argue against the orders.  Pursuant to leave granted by MacDougall J, the orders were served on Sharkey in the precincts of the court during the morning-tea adjournment of the trial before Justice Robb.

It must have been a bombshell.  Sharkey’s side had just completed their case.  The matter had to be raised with Justice Robb because of the listing before Justice MacDougall at 2pm.

In correspondence over lunch Sharkey’s lawyers complained about the ex parte application and whether all relevant matters had been disclosed.  They even asked Nissi’s lawyers if they had disclosed to MacDougall J that Sharkey’s wife is more than six months’ pregnant and was also looking after a 10 month old child on her own.  Feelings were running high.

The matter shuttled backwards and forwards between MacDougall J and Robb J over the next day or so.  Robb J was reluctant to deal with an application to set aside an order made by MacDougall J.  There was also the question of the time available before Robb J to complete the substantive hearing, from which arguments over the ex parte orders would obviously be a distraction. Whilst Nissi had a separate barrister engaged, Sharkey did not.

Ultimately, the further consideration of the ex parte order was heard by MacDougall J on 25 February 2015.  His Honour set it aside on the basis of material non-disclosure.  Even then, transcript was not available of the 18 February ex parte hearing.  Once the transcript was available, John Hyde wrote to the judge and the other side apologizing for statements he made about what he had said on the 18th which proved to be incorrect.

This is an illustration of something that Macdougall J himself referred to when setting aside his earlier decision, because he accepted that the mistake about what had been said by Sharkey’s barrister about witnesses leaving was an innocent one.  As Justice Kunc later said (see further below):

It is, regrettably, an all too common experience for solicitors, counsel and even judges to think they heard something said in court which is ultimately not borne out by the transcript (assuming that the transcript is not itself in error). Context and preconceptions brought about by which side of the record someone is representing can have a powerful influence on the way something said in court may be heard. Different people will hear different things. Furthermore, particularly in circumstances of urgency, one person’s account of what they heard if given to another may create a predisposition in that other to read the transcript in a particular way. That is what occurred in this case

Just a bit ironically, given that his application to set aside the injunction was based on a misrepresentation to the court by Hyde concerning statements made on Sharkey’s behalf leading to an inference that Sharkey  was planning to flee the jurisdiction, Sharkey did in fact leave Australia for the USA on the evening of the day the injunction was set aside – though he was held up at immigration because the court order had not yet been taken off the books.  He eventually made his (delayed) flight but his luggage did not catch up with him for about 30 days.

This shows the strictness of the rule that an ex parte order will be discharged if there is a material misrepresentation.  The order was discharged even though the risk to Nissi of getting no money from Sharkey if she succeeded existed whether Sharkey left the jurisdiction immediately after giving evidence or at any time before he paid her what he might be found to owe or provided security for that amount.

Then again, you might think it a tall order to require Sharkey to remain in the country until then. Potential judgment creditors are usually only entitled to what was originally called a Mareva order preventing the dissipation or concealment of assets if it can be shown that there are such assets and there is reason to believe they will be secreted away in order to render the judgment futile.

Justice Robb delivered judgment in Nissi’s favour in September 2015, but the question of the amount of her damages was deferred to a further hearing.

In October, Sharkey changed lawyers.  His new solicitors, Bransgroves, wrote to Nissi’s solicitors complaining about the conduct of Nissi’s lawyers in obtaining the ex parte orders.  In this letter they said that this conduct was such misconduct that those lawyers could not be trusted to conduct Nissi’s case with the necessary dispassionateness and that they should therefore not continue to act for Nissi. The letter included allegations such as “grave misstatement of the law”, “recklessness”, “professional misconduct”, “complete fabrication”, “wilful deception” and “connivance.”

In February 2016 Sharkey filed a notice of motion seeking orders from the court that Mr Hyde and Ms Nissi’s solicitors, EMC, no longer be permitted to act for her.  In submissions for that application, Peter King (Malcolm Turnbull’s predecessor as member for Wentworth) repeated many of the accusations made by Bransgroves, albeit in more temperate terms.

Once lawyers’ personal interests are involved the forensic temperature always rises.  Classically, you see that in arguments about costs, where the argument (personal costs orders aside) is about loss of face and which side’s lawyers are going to have to get their clients to pay their fees and maybe also the other side’s.

This is all the more so when allegations of professional impropriety are made – if only because then it is likely that Hyde’s and the solicitors’ professional liability insurance policies were enlivened.  Even though it was unlikely that Mr Hyde would have any ongoing involvement in the case, he could hardly be expected for that reason to acquiesce in such a judgment on his conduct. The hearing of the notice of motion was a veritable festival of silk on the respondents’ side.

In the course of the hearing, before Justice Kunc, Peter King eventually resiled from the more florid accusations of professional misconduct, or at least no longer relied on them.  His Honour held, consistent with Macdougall J’s decision (and with the observations quoted above), that the mistake about whether Sharkey was planning to “abscond” immediately after giving his evidence was an understandable misunderstanding.  Sharkey’s application was dismissed.

Sharkey had applied for orders preventing not only the individual solicitors involved within EMC but also the entire firm be restrained from acting for Nissi.  Kunc J held that there was no basis for the application other than against the two partners involved so that the remaining partners were entitled to have Sharkey’s notice of motion summarily dismissed against them.  That’s over and above the fact that the application was eventually dismissed against the two partners involved.  The costs consequences for Sharkey of bringing an application with no basis (and at a time when the two partners who had been involved had undertaken or offered no longer to be involved) have yet to be determined.

EMC also applied for orders that the Bransgroves letter and Mr King’s submissions repeating the allegations made in it be removed from the Court file as containing material that was “scandalous and oppressive.”

Kunc J agreed that the letter was entirely inappropriate in tone and that this infected the submissions so that both were scandalous and oppressive.  But for the possibility that the matter would go further (such as by an appeal) he would have had them removed from the file.  Instead he ordered that they be placed in a sealed envelope in the Court file marked “Not to be opened without further order of the Court.”

Back to Midsomer.

Rather quaintly, the order preventing Mr Sharkey from leaving was described as an order in the nature of ne exeat colonia.  That’s a local adaptation of a historical English order ne exeat regna.

It means “Do not leave the colony.”

Afterword:

I speculated above that maybe Mr Sharkey, now in America and with negligible assets in Australia, doesn’t care all that much about the damages claim. Subsequently, Ms Nissi sought to amend her cross claim to include a claim for indemnity from the Trustee of the trust on the basis that, as a guarantor, she had repaid debts owed by it. I’m guessing this is because the Trust has assets which are amenable to enforcement even if Mr Sharkey does not (again the whole ne exeat problem). Ms Nissi had made a claim to be subrogated, described as “misconceived” and dismissed.  I can’t be bothered to rake through the facts to work out the misconception unless it is simply that it was back to front.

Robb J refused the amendment because it was too late and because, unless further evidence were to be led, consistent with his reasons to date it was doomed.  Robb seems to have taken the view (at [57]) that someone has blundered on Ms Nissi’s side.  Always an easy conclusion to reach in hindsight.

Build it and they will come

May 18, 2016

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Sydenham Station sits at the bottom of Marrickville.  When I lived at Dulwich Hill I sometimes caught the train there because of the quick and frequent service on the Eastern Suburbs line and even more often caught the train back there in the evening when services on the Bankstown line became (even) less frequent.  On the footpath approaching the station there were a few stands for tethering bicycles and always a few bicycles there.  Only a few and mostly rather broken-down looking:  it always struck me as a pretty perilous place to leave a bike.

Over about a year and a half from 2011 to 2013, Sydenham Station had an extensive upgrade.  By the time it was finished I had moved to Ashfield, and it’s only recently I’ve found myself back there to catch a train.

New “bike storage facilities” were part of the upgrade, as you can see.  In what the designers probably considered a magnificent and enlightened gesture, far more “facilities” were provided than I ever saw bikes there.

If you look in the glass in the picture above, you can see that demand has now well outstripped supply.  The picture is clearer but more more prosaic below:

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Angry

March 5, 2016

Homosexuals demand the right to work!

When, about 10 years ago, the push for marriage equality first emerged, the “establishment” gay and lesbian rights groups such as the NSW gay and lesbian rights lobby were caught on the hop. They were still focussing on substantive and de facto equality. It’s not as if they weren’t opposed to John Howard’s (with the ALP’s complicity) entrenchment of inequality by the amendment of the statutory definition of marriage (which would preclude any judge-made evolution of the definition of marriage at common low), but at that time gay marriage seemed like a symbolic and aspirational goal when there were so many other changes needed. Why try to run before you can walk?

That was my view, too. The most urgent need in gay rights was to improve the situation of gay adolescents in their high school years. That was based on my own experience at school and also as a teacher – experiencing homophobic abuse myself and witnessing the plight of the more obviously effete in the boys’ school where I taught for a bit over 10 years.

In your adult life, you can to an extent determine your social environment. You can seek out like-minded friends and to that extent protect yourself from direct abuse, though there remain some workplaces which are best avoided. It’s not that that prejudice against gays and lesbians (let alone (btqi people) does not exist, but abuse is rarely directed to your face except from strangers in public places.

School, however, is a bit like prison; it is a place you are forced to be by virtue of compulsory education, with company not of your own choosing. The same applies to your family whilst you are still a child/teenager. If there were any doubt about how tough adolescence is for gay [shorthand here] people, the statistics for youth suicide make the situation plain. And who can doubt that this trauma has a lasting effect into adult life for many?

But formal equality – where the availability of same-sex marriage is the great hold out, is also important – even if, in most respects, same-sex partners can arrange their affairs to achieve de facto equality. Even then such de facto equality is not even de facto equality because you have to take those steps. What it’s about is R.E.S.P.E.C.T..

Progress for LGBTIQ requires a pincer movement: on the one hand, the on the ground things like improving the plight of young LBGTIQ people; on the other, the higher order symbolic changes, like marriage equality.

That’s confirmed when the Tony Abbotts of this world obviously see things the same way, from the opposite point of view.

In part what they are reacting against, in the latest nasty political bout against the “Safe Schools” program is the fact that even anti-bullying requires higher-order attitude changing.  You don’t change the situation for kids in a school by saying “don’t bully [x] or [y]’ where X or Y are the specific children being bullied – although you also have to do that sometimes.  You have to change the children’s attitudes to the sorts of people that [x] and [y] are – create a more tolerant atmosphere generally.

That’s just what the reactionaries – truly, the homophobes – don’t like.  And we see it coming out in the arguments mounted against gay marriage/marriage equality, all about children when of course regardless of whether their parents are married or not there already are and will continue to be children with same-sex-partnered parents.

Right now I can’t be bothered spelling out more.  It makes me so angry.

I’ve used the picture above before.  In fact it’s of my elder sister in her Socialist Worker’s Party phase.   I’ve not asked her if she got up in time to go to the morning march and as she was a musician it seems unlikely to me.  But she was at the original 1978 Mardi Gras parade and a band she was in played at the first party in 1980.  Earlier this year she mentioned to me that the police violence was so unpleasant that it was 20 years before she could bring herself to take part in any demonstration/rally/march.

 

 

Agitation in Ashfield

January 17, 2016

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A bit more (physical) context:

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Danzig decay’d

January 8, 2016

2008 view:

danzig-enfield

As seen on my way back from Enfield Olympic Pool today:

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Tawnies

November 14, 2015

tawny frogmouths

In mid-September I cut open my shin when I tripped over a star picket as I wandered about in the night trying to trace the source of what turned out to be a tawny frogmouth’s call.

Later I convinced myself there were two of them, but that hope proved false. There was only one, oom-oom-ooming from a regular spot on a little platform of twigs which might have been a prospective nest in the event that another bird could be attracted.

It is the male that spends most of the time incubating any eggs. Let’s say it is a he.

At first I found him in the daytime in another tree a little way away from his nightly calling-place. More recently, he has moved somewhere more obscure and only sometimes do I hear him in the little park opposite my place and not, as before, always from the one tree.

I have since heard and seen another, in Haberfield by the Hawthorne Canal. It might be the same bird trying his luck at a different spot.

Generally tawny frogmouths are considered a reasonably common bird, rarely seen merely because of their nocturnal habits and terrific camouflage in the daytime. However, given the habitat, I’d say they are relatively rare in Ashfield or the inner west of Sydney. I don’t recall seeing one since my childhood in West Pymble when there was one living in our garden, which had plenty of native trees. For that matter, we had bandicoots digging up our sole patch of lawn. I doubt that the bandicoots survive there by now.

A colleague’s sister has allowed me to post the above picture taken at her home on Sydney’s semi-rural fringe. Possibly the birds were out in the open in daylight to dry out after rain. I think of the bird on the right as dad.

(Picture © CMSH. Rights reserved. For permission, contact via me by commenting and providing reply email. Your email will not be shown here.)

It’s my party

October 27, 2015

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– and I’ll die if I want to.

A cheap riff on a popular song. More accurately, I believe people should be able to die when they want to, if they want to.

Mostly people don’t end up making that choice: by the time the question arises they have generally lost the capacity to exercise it, and whilst they still have the capacity they tend not to want to. But for many it is comforting to think that they could. The problem is knowing how to bring their lives to an end in a manner which is not too traumatic – most of all, not too traumatic for themselves. That is perhaps selfish but after all we will all be found dead by somebody eventually.

The Medical Board of Australia has imposed “strict conditions” on the medical registration of Dr Phillip Nitschke. There are specific conditions preventing Nitschke from providing any information about obtaining nembutal and requiring that he not “recommend, sell, deliver or otherwise make available to members of the public cylinders containing nitrogen or any other gas.”

Nitschke consented to the conditions. According to his wife, he faced legal costs of $1 million for a contested hearing.

He may now concentrate on his career as a comedian.

Pause for Remembrance

October 26, 2015

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When driving down to Canberra, I often like to pause at Rose Lagoon.  It’s a pleasant spot.  It would be even more pleasant if the highway were further away.

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