Category Archives: Other Attempts at Words

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

A little over seven years ago I did something that many of those also from the north and western sides of Brisbane would scoff at – I moved to the southside of Brisbane. Oh, the horror of being just that little bit closer to the bogans, apparently, aside from the fact there are people from all walks of life across this city.

But there was something else about moving to the southside that I began noticing and thinking about, not long after finding my first home away from home with a couple of friends. Pasty white young me was in the minority – even in my own little 3 bedroom townhouse in Mount Gravatt East, as well as in the wider complex.

My friends and I spent a year-and-a-half in that wonderful little spot. We were situated nicely between two big shopping centres, which we would frequent more than just about any other place during that time.

When our time was up, we moved to another townhouse complex a little further out, in a suburb called Wishart. The place looked almost exactly the same as our previous residence, yet somehow was not connected.

After having our application approved, and upon meeting with the complex manager, he asked us if we wanted to put a pin on the world map in his office to signify where we came from. I looked at the map and noticed plenty of drawing pins in the Asian countries, but none on Australia. We all shared a laugh at this.

It was a thriving little community and the sights, sounds and smells were indicative of families enjoying their time together, and at peace. I would go on to spend five years there, while the same two housemates completed their studies.

Then, in 2015 came a little bit of a shock. My housemates, international students from Malaysia and Nepal had to return back home. For the first time in my adult life I would have to contemplate living on my own.

I searched and searched for a one bedroom place. The constant disappointment at the cost and poor state of most of these places was frustrating, and perhaps hastened my balding process.

In the end I settled on a one bedroom duplex. The most annoying part of this was that I went from paying $130 a week for a room in a house, with access to a kitchen and living area, to paying $275.00 per week for basically the same privilege. And this time I would not be splitting the electricity or internet bills three ways.

But the most eye-opening part of this journey was moving to within cooee of a mosque, at a time when debate was increasing about the place of Muslims in Australian society. My neighbours in the duplex are also Muslims, from Somalia. We have different schedules but pleasant interactions when we do cross paths.

I have never felt unsafe living in this area in all of my time here, despite living alone. That is, except for one occasion when an overly aggressive neighbour from up the road, who was closer to me in appearance, baled me up and angrily demanded that I get him to mow my yard. I did not give in, and thankfully I have not seen him in a very long time.

At this point I can imagine that some will be thinking about ghettoisation, and that has been something that I have considered over the years too.

There can be little doubt that different ethnic groups do tend to congregate in certain areas of cities across Australia, and that is certainly the case around Brisbane, and I have lived it. We must however give more mature thought as to why different ethnic groups tend to stick together.

Is it not the case that if immigrants were back in their homeland, they would tend to live around people of the same background? Don’t we, the people who were born here, do the same? If you moved to a different country, or as is the case for immigrants in my little area of town, were forced to move elsewhere, wouldn’t you want to be closer to people with whom you have some kind of natural connection?

Perhaps too, part of the problem is us? If we could venture out into these areas more, aside from the occasional culinary journey, we would see that these so-called ghettos are not impenetrable. Australia is not quite like the United States of America, where divisions are so much more entrenched and lead to more widespread conflict.

My experience over the last seven years has been somewhat transformational. I have always accepted difference to a degree, but through my experiences, that willingness to embrace diversity has expanded.

To paraphrase Jimmy Buffett just a little bit, or perhaps not at all, when people seek changes in latitude, perhaps we can respond with a little bit of a change in attitude?

But One Story of Sacrifice

The month is April and the year 1945. The war with Germany is fast coming to an end. For now, the bombing continues but a victorious end is in sight for the Allied powers. There is just one month of armed conflict still to play out between the Germans and Allied forces. Towns and cities across Europe have already been liberated and some of history’s most shocking atrocities uncovered across the continent. At the end of the month Adolf Hitler will commit suicide after the Battle of Berlin, his reign of terror at an end, but his crimes left behind, leaving an indelible mark on that period of history.

Now imagine this: You are twenty years old, having just waved your teenage years goodbye the month prior. You are an Australian stationed with No. 462 squadron in Norfolk, England having previously been based in Yorkshire. You have been a long way away from home for a couple of years and overseas for almost one. You have been flying in a combat situation for a very short period of time.

Imagine your parents, at home, across the other side of the world, in relative peace and safety, though not completely at ease as we know. Imagine the ever-present worry they are experiencing, contemplating what every knock at the door might mean for your family. Imagine how difficult it would be for them to focus their family at home, the four other boys now growing into fine young men and looking forward to long and fulfilling careers.

John_M_Tait_-_ready_to_fly_web

Now back to Britain…

The date is the 10th of April. One day ago you returned from a very brief period of leave. You are back into the regimented lifestyle of the air force and likely to have to return to the skies at any time. You are a Mid Upper Gunner and late in the previous year you were promoted to the rank of Flight Sergeant. You have experienced flight in Tiger Moths, Ansons and Wellingtons, but now you are a part of a crew which man a Halifax bomber.

The 10th of April will be the day you find yourself back flying over enemy territory in Germany. You and your Halifax crew have been tasked with flying in a special duties operation over Leipzig. You partake in all the usual pre-flight rituals, tasks and briefings and then you take to the skies from your staging base.

From the beginning of the mission everything is as usual. You make the journey over the seas in the big, menacing flying fortress that is the Halifax, a big gun of the fleet. Your patrol has commenced over enemy territory and then something happens. Your plane is brought down in the dark of the night.

Back in Australia, on the 13th of April, your parents get a knock on the door. They have received a telegram to inform them that you are missing after your mission over Germany. One can only imagine the emotion they are going through. Should they think the worst and presume you were killed in action? Or do they hold out hope that you may have made it out alive?

After a month, your parents receive news: One of the crewmen has survived but he has no news about your whereabouts. This is where the tragedy, the hopelessness of the situation must surely start to sink in for your family, or does it? For months you are still considered missing, along with the rest of the crew of the aircraft.

Your parents finally receive official notification in November of 1945 that your death was presumed to have occurred on the night of the 10th of April. Your parents have been through the horrors of war first-hand, something that so many parents across the globe had to contend with over the period of World War Two. Your mother has not taken it well and has found your passing hard to believe.

This is the true story of my great uncle John Mickle Tait. His is but one tragic story in a war that saw over 39,000 Australians lose their lives. Let us hope that we and those who follow us never again have to experience the tragedy, death, division, conflict and horror that our forebears did.

Lest We Forget.

Zero Dark Thirty: Some Thoughts

I went to see Zero Dark Thirty on the weekend. For those unacquainted, and there’s probably few in that category who read this blog – Zero Dark Thirty is a movie that tells the story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, including the daring and surgical strike perpetrated by Navy SEALs  which ultimately killed the world’s most wanted terrorist. As always you have expectations of a movie based on both how interested you are to see the film and the opinions’ of other people who have seen the movie before you.

I have an amateur interest in all things military, including hardware and historical operations – a little strange for someone who likes peace a lot. I have described myself before, in conflict studies parlance as a dove with hawkish tendencies. I do however believe that a damn good reason needs to exist in order to justify acting in a hawkish manner.

So of course, given my interest in military missions , Zero Dark Thirty was a movie that I was really keen to see. Of course, I leave out value judgements here about the rights and wrongs of the mission and its aims which were and are contentious. The release of the movie has indeed sparked a little debate about the raid in Pakistan too.

Of course I was also interested to see if what I had heard people saying about the film was true from my viewing of it. I had heard, overall that it was a good film and you would expect that anyway from someone of the directing calibre of Kathryn Bigelow. Kathryn Bigelow is the woman who brought us The Hurt Locker, a gritty no-nonsense portrayal of the lives’ of bomb technicians in Iraq.

The movie was filmed in a very raw manner like The Hurt Locker. There was no colour and nor should there be in a film of the nature of Zero Dark Thirty. It was also very matter-of-fact, again something you would attribute to a well-made film about a subject that needs to be dealt with seriously and with no undue emotions.

Around the time of the release of this movie, debate started to spring up on the internet about the use of torture in the film. I was curious to see whether the movie, through its portrayal of torture techniques, had glorified torture as some writers have claimed in the time since the movie premiered. The glorification of violence is something often attributed to films so you initially consider the possibility that it might actually be so. And then you think how sanitised the world has become. We could not possibly cope with material like violence in a serious and adult manner, like some would have you believe.

Frankly, the claims about the glorification of torture in the movie are absolute nonsense. There is no gratuitous use of violence. The torture scenes are present in the film, but they are dealt with in a manner befitting the reality of interrogation techniques used by the US Government at the time. Nobody in my group of friends who saw the film was anything other than taken aback, even disturbed by the brutal honesty.

For what it’s worth, I thought the film was executed quite well as a whole project. It was a bit disjointed, lunging from episode to episode in the saga that was the hunt for Bin Laden, but overall it told the story with very little BS. There was, of course some artistic license used in the creation of the film, but I felt this was unnecessary and eroded a little too much of the authenticity of the film and its subject.

Oh, and the cinema could have turned the volume down quite significantly.

A Journey to Bundaberg

Every so often my father and I head to Bundaberg to help my grandfather out. Sometimes mum and dad go up and other times our whole family. We do his shopping and cook up a storm to make life a little easier for him. My father and I made the four-hour journey over the weekend. And with the floods having hit earlier in the week, we were more than a little concerned at what we might find along the way, but also in Bundaberg itself, which everyone saw has been absolutely devastated this week, so soon after the 2011 floods. Luckily my grandfather lives in an area unaffected by both the floods and the tornadoes which hit the area.

The thing that was in the forefront of our minds during the drive itself was looking out for potholes and worn roads. Thankfully on the journey up the Bruce Highway the road was in quite good condition, despite the sheer amount of water that had covered the major Queensland road in many places between Brisbane and the north of the state.

It was really when we drove through the outskirts of Gympie when we first noticed where the waters had been. The first hint was the dirt over the road, dried sludge left from the flowing Mary River. And then you looked into the flatter fields of grass and up into the trees and you saw more brown. One thing was clear: it must have been very high.

That’s what it was like the rest of the way to Bundaberg. It was not a constant thing. The waters, as they do, discriminated against the flatter areas of land and the valleys. There were however, some markedly high deposits of dirt on the sides of hills around the flatter areas nearer the river systems.

The other notable thing was just how much the water had receded. In most areas it was not a noticeable yet foreign feature of the landscape. And what was not coated in mud was a glorious shade of green, sitting proudly, belied what would have been the appearance of the landscape earlier in the week.

The journey took no longer than usual and before too long, we were in Bundaberg, coming into Kalkie. Coming the way we came we again noticed just how lucky some areas could be. We saw nothing remarkable as we made a beeline straight for my grandfather’s place.

Saturday was shopping day. We buy in bulk for grandpa and travel to a few different places relatively close to where my grandpa lives to make the required purchases.

Our first stop was Bargara. As you might recall, Bargara was hit, by of all things, a tornado. The ‘twister’ did some major damage too, ripping off roofs and knocking down trees and moving whatever else was in its erratic path. We saw some of this damage, including two yachts stranded on the usually quite tranquil, but then, empty beach. That’s when the gravity of the situation first hit us. If the damage from the tornado was bad in places, what would we see in the flood-affected areas we needed to traverse in order to buy supplies?

That question was answered as we headed towards home after visiting two of the local health food shops, both of which escaped flooding and were open for business.

We drove through part of Bundaberg East and began to see those familiar scenes we had spotted along the Bruce Highway. First it was the dried silt on the roads and then we spotted it higher and higher up into the trees. And then we saw dirt and high-watermarks on homes and businesses. I’m pretty  sure our hearts’ sank at that point. I shed a quiet tear and I’m pretty sure my dad did too.

As we continued to drive, the amount of property damage became clear. There were piles of household items and other destroyed property lining the side of the road. I bet we were both thinking at that point: ‘if this is how bad it is in East Bundaberg, then imagine the horror of North Bundaberg’. As it turned out, we were on the same page.

As we talked later, we discussed how we felt about what we saw. My dad said that he felt like we were intruders. In a way we were, strangers witnessing people living through their own tragic horror stories.

Bundaberg is so important to both the Queensland and Australian economies. A thriving Bundaberg equals a thriving economy. To that end, all that can be done to rebuild, prevent and mitigate future flood events must be done.

The few sad scenes that my father and I witnessed will probably stick with us forever. My grandfather was alright and our family are thankful for that, but there are so many others now facing broken lives and dreams.

The people of Bundaberg are tough, a lot are smiling. But many will be hurting for a long time to come.

Falling in Love with Sydney All Over Again

The Sydney part of the family roadtrip is over and there’s an empty cavity in my heart. Why? Because Sydney is simply stunning. Sydney has all the things you want in a city, plenty of restaurants, myriad shops, sights and sounds, and for the water-lovers, beaches.

The first part of the day was spent travelling to Sydney and then settling in at Haymarket near Chinatown. Unfortunately we were located near the offices of those wonderful Sussex Street inhabitants, the Labor Party- politics just could not stay away from me for more than a few days. Then it was time for a gut-widening lunch and a quiet dinner.

The first full day we had a quiet morning, aside from a futile search for the giant duck, with the plan being to journey to the Northern Beaches where my father lived from his early years until his 20’s. Instead we took the wrong road and ended up in Bondi which turned out to be simply gorgeous- a wonderful mistake for the chief navigator to make.

After lunch and a paddle in the slightly chilly water of Bondi, we ventured around the elegant and expensive eastern suburbs a little more. We drove past his old unit in Vaucluse and stopped off at his favourite old watering hole in Watson’s Bay. The day was just magical. I was to discover that day that I was falling madly in love with Sydney again- I’m sorry Melbourne, but you really cannot compete with Sydney except for food and culture but not scenic vistas.

The next day we actually went to the Northern Beaches, the chief navigator and driver had found his bearings. Newport was the destination for the day. Where dad grew up. We went to visit his old home only to find a new one in its place. Dad was happy to find that Keith Miller’s house (yes that Keith Miller), who drove him to school, was still standing. And what’s more, the home was still inhabited by a member of the Miller clan. We then drove back to Sydney, passing many picturesque beachside locations, with my love for Sydney growing even more.

Sadly that was the last night in an all-too-brief stay in Australia’s biggest and most beautiful city. I could seriously move there, but do not fret Queensland, Maroon blood still courses through my veins. I would still be one of the most vocal loungeroom supporters during the Origin series, even with the fear of doing so resulting in attempts on my life.

Until next time, Sydney, my love, au revoir.

Memories from Mount View

The all too brief sojourn in the Hunter Valley is over for the family and I. And on we have moved to the slightly busier city of Sydney for three nights. After that it’s on to Pretty Beach before heading back to Brisbane and the realities that being back home will entail.

The trip to the Hunter has created many memories. There’s the night in Tamworth, a place I’ve stayed in or driven through many times over my 28 years. And then there’s the wonderful stay in Mount View where we spent some time with my great aunt and her family over three days.

The Mount View part of the trip has produced the fondest of memories. I have spent the last three days catching up with my great aunt and her husband, one of their children and their children’s children.

Over the last few days we’ve visited wineries and gardens and stayed for the duration at Bonnay, a gorgeous French style farm cottage next door to Aunty Nita and Uncle Ron’s place.

Over a few lunches and dinners we have shared photos and memories, all fondly remembered. In particular, the ones I remember most are a photo of me, all of two years old ‘steering’ Ron’s boat. The other was of me using the boat’s radio as a phone, apparently because I dad had a car phone and I couldn’t tell the difference!

One thing in particular has dawned on me over the last few days- Ron and Nita feel like grandparents to me. Perhaps that is because of some subconscious void in my life, with all my maternal and paternal grandparents gone- the only one who remains is my step grandfather in Bundaberg. Or perhaps it’s because I feel so loved by them. Either way I will cherish my time with them.

I will not forget my time with Dale, Kelvin, Jade and Jenna either and the memories and laughs shared just as much with them as with Nita and Ron.

Yesterday we also spent a little time with another great aunt and uncle- Ron and Joan. That too was special as we have not seen them for well over a decade. But it was also sad. Joan is very frail and Ron in the early stages of Parkinson’s- a big change from their health during the last visit all that time ago.

I will cherish my short stay in the Hunter Valley. And I will never ever take for granted the beautiful, loving and caring extended family that I am blessed to have been born into.

A Night in Tamworth

Yesterday our roadtrip to see the relatives on my dad’s side of the family began. Our first port of call was a pitstop in Warwick, the ultimate destination for the day was Tamworth.

During the drive it was hard not to marvel at the stunning green plains, ranges and farmland either side of the New England Highway. The road itself is much more pleasant than the terrible Bruce Highway, north of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

The journey itself took a good six hours or so. But for much of it I was well occupied, adoring the scenery or engaging in some hardcore reading.

We’ve been through Tamworth many times as a family, on our way to my grandparent’s former home in Putty. The town hasn’t changed much, but at the same time it hadn’t stayed the same.

Tamworth is famous for a few things: farming, the country music festival and being part of New England, an electorate whose member helped deliver government to the ALP at the federal level.

The council area which envelops Tamworth is the Tamworth Regional Council. The town is represented by two state electorates: Barwon and Tamworth. And of course the federal electorate is New England.

It’s a beautiful town, and quite a big one. And it’s always worth stopping in.

Next stop: Cessnock.

Les Miserables was Le Best Film

Boxing Day finally arrived yesterday and there was one particular movie which I could not wait to see. Les Miserables finally opened in Australia and my excitement at seeing the latest iteration of the triumphant stage show was palpable. I had talked about the movie for months, and last night at 6:45pm, my long and at times painful wait came to an end. And my was it worth the wait.

Les Miserables is a movie adapted from a uber successful stage production, adapted from a 19th century literary classic written by legendary French author, Victor Hugo. The story begins in the France of 1815 and ends with the June Rebellion, also known as the Paris Uprising, which took place in 1832. The story though is more about love about the divide between the rich and the poor than it is about the attempt at a coup by the anti-monarchists in Paris.

The story focuses on two main characters- Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), Javert (Russell Crowe), but features an intertwining storyline featuring Fantine (Anne Hathaway), Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Eponine (Samantha Barks). The story also includes the not insignificant characters of Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Madame Thenardier (Helena Bonham Carter).

Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a convict jailed for stealing a loaf of bread, who, upon his release from two decades in prison, made tough by hard labour, fights to become an upstanding citizen. Valjean becomes the mayor of a French town where he meets Fantine (Hathaway). Fantine dies early in the piece and Jean Valjean pledges to raise her young daughter Cosette. All the while, Jackman’s character is pursued by Javert, played by Russell Crowe.

The story then skips about a decade and we find Cosette (Seyfried) all grown up, succumbing to the romantic advances of Marius (Redmayne), who is spellbound by her beauty. At the same time as Marius falls for Cosette, we learn that his friend Eponine has fallen in love with him. But alas Eponine finds that it is a classic case of unrequited love.

Preparations then begin for the uprising, with Marius joining the group of young men plotting to overthrow the monarchy. At this time Valjean rejoins the story taking care of Marius after he is wounded by a musket during the Paris uprising. Valjean, the determined pursuer of Jackman’s character Valjean reappears too, still wanting to catch his man.

There is very little wrong with this film. The weakest link appears to be Crowe, who appears unconvincing and seems to struggle with the musical dialogue in the early part of the film. But this improves markedly as the film progresses. However, the acting side of the equation when it comes to Russell Crowe all adds up. Despite his initially shaky voice, Crowe hits a home run with the expression of emotions and even hits all the right notes as the film heads towards its conclusion.

Hugh Jackman provides the most dominant acting display of his career. He is aided in breaking through to the viewer by great camera work from director Tom Hooper who manages to capture in the most raw, but beautiful way the whole array of expressions we see from Jackman in the most important role of his career. Jackman nails the vocals as any ‘triple threat’ should and if you do not shed a tear or two, especially during ‘Bring Him Home’ then you are probably not human, or something along those lines.

Anne Hathaway is stunning as Fantine. For the period of time her character graces the screen you experience the blossoming of an actress that has not had the best roles of late. Hathaway owns the role with a faultless expression of the poor Fantine who endures many forms of deprivation trying to care for her Cosette. If it could be put simply, the only thing that need be uttered is ‘wow’. It’s what I was thinking and what my tears were saying, especially during ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. And her tears screamed how real it was too.

The romantic chemistry between Redmayne’s Marius and Seyfried’s Cosette was another strong part of the film. The scene where the pair meet and speak for the first time is among my highlights from the film. Both Redmayne and Seyfried put in such polished performances and you experience and can feel the full gamut of emotions from the pair.

And Samantha Barks, playing Eponine, provides for another exceptional display of acting and singing. Why would she not? Barks after all has again taken on the role which she first played on the London stage in 2010-11. Barks in that version of the immensely popular story performed brilliantly and beautifully. Her onscreen reprisal of the role certainly lived up to the lofty expectations developed after her immaculate performance onstage.

This film works, not just because of mostly amazing casting, but because of the brilliant work behind the camera from two people in particular. Director Tom Hooper, an Academy Award winner for The King’s Speech, managed to capture absolutely everything on film, from different aspects of the French landscape, to the all-important facial expressions and human emotion which needs to be captured and displayed in pure form in a first-class drama. At times the computer-generated imaging looked a bit too fake, but there is not much more that could have been done. And producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who brought Les Miserables to the London stage, managed to bring all the magic of the theatre production to the silver screen.

Fans of Les Miserables will almost without fault absolutely adore the movie and hold it just as dearly in their heart’s as they do the stage productions they have seen. The movie just works. But for some, the movie will not be an option, and that is down to little else but the length of the film and of course some people’s aversion to the drama genre.

Hugh Jackman will win the Oscar for Best Actor and Anne Hathaway will come away with Best Supporting Actress. They would have to be odds-on favourites for the two gongs. Don’t be surprised too if Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne receive award nominations for their supporting roles.

If you want to experience the joy of cinematic and musical excellence combined, then you simply must go and see the movie.

Merry Christmas to All

‘Tis the day before Christmas and all through the house
There is family who are stirring, making food that tastes grouse.

The year has whizzed by. It feels like it has only been a few months, maybe half a year since I started this blog.

And now it’s Christmas Eve. The season is a time for family, for sharing both presents and love, as well as some bloody good grub. It’s also a time to think of those we have lost and the impact they have had on our lives.

Christmas is also a time to remember those less fortunate than us, and to give what we can to them.

We must also give thanks to our armed forces serving overseas away from their families. They have loved ones in Australia who will be apprehensive, who will be worried this Christmas.

I too must thank you all for reading, regular, semi-regular and casual readers alike.

Merry Christmas to all, right and left. I look forward to getting back to writing about politics and sport for you all early in the new year.

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