Posts Tagged ‘New South Wales’

As we celebrate cultural diversity, we sometimes fail to recognise the unique cultures that go to make up Great Britain. Everyone always talks about the English, of course – which is their reward for conquering their near neighbours, I guess – but the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh are actually quite separate cultures, and each with their own distinct cuisine, for example.

The three Celtic or Gaelic nations (depending on which part of them you’re in) were always historically much poorer than the dominant English. So many of their peoples lived off the land, at least in part, for centuries, and still do, at least to some extent.

For example, these three countries all have a tradition of eating seaweed, gathered from their shorelines. Everyone knows that Asian countries have seaweed as a part of their staple diet, but very few know that some northern European people do, too. And good on ’em:  seaweed is highly nutritious: a natural superfood that is packed with vitamins and minerals. It is high in iodine, prebiotic fibre, antioxidants and plant protein. Indeed, for the vegans amongst you, it is one of the only viable vegetable sources of vitamin B12 – and it comes at a relatively little cost to the environment, when harvested sustainably. It can be eaten raw, boiled or stewed, or dried and added to many other foods as a condiment.

Many different types of seaweed can be eaten, although Atlantic Dulse (also known as dillisk, in Ireland) is the commonest in the Glamorgan and Prembrokeshire areas where my family are from.

Fresh dulse resembles a leafy, red lettuce.
Photo: Stephen Ward/Oregon State University
Looks weird, tastes delicious.

If you are of Welsh descent, like me, then you’ll know and love your seaweed as an anthracite black, dense, strongly flavoured puree, called Laverbread or bara lafwr in Welsh.

It tastes something like a cross between olives and oysters and is traditionally eaten fried in a pan with salted bacon and cockles (a small shellfish similar to an Australian ‘pipi’) at breakfast-time.

It’s also eaten cold as a salad with lamb or mutton and is a wonderful and nutritious snack when spooned onto hot buttered toast.

Once freely available from docks and local markets, it’s now mainly sold in tins, but not, sadly, in my adopted home of Australia, although one can buy dried versions to add to soups, meats and teas.

Laverbread and Australia do have one very significant connection, however.

At 11.07am on 28 April 1770 Captain James Cook was midway through his cockles and laverbread breakfast when he ‘discovered’ Australia for the crown. Likening the coastline of the new found land to that of South Wales, and influenced by his breakfast, no doubt, Cook imaginatively called the area ‘New South Wales’.

As I write this, just two days after the Australian election, the sense of shock in the electorate at the Liberal-National Coalition’s narrow victory over Labor is still causing most citizens to mutter, confused, “What the actual fuck?” I am not being coarse for the sake of effect. That is by far the most common comment.

It’s not just that there was a widespread sense that the Coalition, victim of recent leadership instability, was long overdue a “pull yourselves together” kicking.

It was that a Labor victory had been predicted for so long, with “two party preferred” margins of as high as 53-47 in their favour being forecast in usually reliable opinion polls as late as the morning of election day, that the eventual win by their opponents was … well, flabbergasting. Stupefying. “Shome mishtake, shurely?” (Election night in Australia is universally accompanied by parties and heavy drinking.)

In its way, this result is just as shocking (and therefore interesting) as the Brexit vote and the Presidential win of Donald Trump.

So in the end, what was it that produced a result which looks like ending up as 51-49 outcome in favour of the Coalition and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, now owners of a wafter thin majority that will theoretically allow them to continue to hold the Government benches for another three years?

There are many factors and I will try and unpick them intelligently for any election tragics out there.

Bill Shorten in Parliament

All the natural charisma of a brick.

Firstly and most obviously, the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, was an unpopular figure, in part because he had a history as a dominant and powerful head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which is not an organisation which spends much of its time cultivating the affection of the middle class centre of Australia where most Australians sit, but also because in Parliament and on TV he exhibited all the natural charisma of a brick.

Ironically a decent, engaging and friendly character away from the cameras, once they turned on he became over-controlled, lecturing, somewhat superior and just plain boring.

And as he was Labor Leader for six years, that was a long time to bore people.

The recently anointed Leader of the Liberal Party, by contrast, has been a relentlessly cheerful “ordinary bloke”, with an ever-present baseball cap perched on his head, who made no pretence of any great intellectual heft, but insisted he had plenty of empathy for the “battlers” – Aussies who want a “fair go”, or as they picturesquely put it here, “a fair suck of the saveloy”.

As one Liberal insider put it: “When he got the job last year he immediately began building his persona as an ordinary, knockabout bloke who can knock back a beer and roll up his shirt sleeves to have a go. He knew the importance of filling in the picture before his opponents defined him to the public.”

By achieving this, Morrison captured the aspiration of many working people to not actually be working people, thanks very much, but rather to ascend to comfortable middle class status.

Not for nothing was Scott Morrison’s first act after his win to go to his evangelical Church on Sunday morning, and then to go to the football on Sunday night.

Whereas the Labor Party – with a complex and substantial “tax and spend” agenda that required endless explanation – appeared mired in the class-warfare battles of previous decades, stating, in effect, “We’ll tax you what we need and then spend it on you as we see fit”, to which many Australians on Saturday clearly said “Thanks a lot, I’ll just keep me money and spend it myself”.

Whether or not a new Liberal-National Coalition government will actually do anything much to help the people who switched their votes to them remains to be seen – they didn’t expect themselves to win either, so they have a very sketchy plan for government – but painting Labor as the party of higher taxation was certainly a successful part of their pitch. It will be a long cold day in hell till a political party in Australia again goes into an election promising significant tax reform or even tax increases.

This effect was multiplied by the Labor Party’s inability (wary of offending environmentally-aware/Green voters further south) to enthusiastically support the proposed Adani coal mine in regional Queensland.

The Coalition found it simplicity itself to portray Labor as wishy-washy on the mine (which they were) and by implication, therefore, as wishy-washy on jobs for regional people – estimated as maybe as many as 15,000 jobs from Adani alone. This effect was re-doubled by no apparent solution to endlessly rising power prices and problems with water supply to regional areas.

The wash up is that are now no Labour seats left in Queensland anywhere north of the Brisbane river. And the “don’t care about jobs” message hurt Labor in regional New South Wales, too, where the impact of Adani was little more than symbolic of two very different agendas for Government, but where Labor was portrayed as having forgotten their core base (and the extraction industries generally) in favour of chasing a more ideologically-driven pro-environment vote.

The scale of the rout is notable. Across Queensland Coalition candidates in fact polled 57 per cent to Labor’s 43 per cent. Unheard of margins.

Scott Morrison Victory speech

“How good is Queensland?!” If you’re a Liberal, very, very good.

“How good is Queensland?!” roared Scott Morrison when the results were known, and he was cheered to the rafters by an audience in New South Wales. It’s hard to explain to an overseas audience quite how unlikely that is. Maybe Manchester United supporters offering to go over to Anfield and cheer on Liverpool so the Kop can have a day off. Lakers fans cheering for the Celtics. That sort of thing.

By running dead on new coal mines and talking up their climate change credentials, Labor made a bold attempt to speak to inner city Sydney and seats across left-leaning Victoria in particular, which had recently delivered a massive electoral setback to the Liberals in a recent State election.

The attempt failed.

Although the Green vote around the nation stayed roughly the same at 10.5% (approximately, counting continues), blue collar voters were resolutely unimpressed.

It’s not that they don’t care about climate change, it’s just that they want to care about it without paying more tax on a second investment home, (often called a “bricks and mortar pension” in Australia), or their parents having to give up long-established tax breaks on shares in their superannuation portfolio.

Ironically in well-to-do Coalition seats in the centre of cities there were small swings to the Greens and even to high-taxing Labor – the so-called “Doctor’s wives” effect, where comfortably off people dabble in more progressive politics because whatever the outcome it won’t really affect them. But move into the outer suburban ring and the effect was reversed, leading to a clutch of vital Coalition wins in seats in marginal seats in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania where they should, by all expectations, have been swept aside.

So it is worthwhile considering why the Liberal-National scare tactics on tax were so effective.

Australians are not, in a general sense, anti-taxation in the way that some in America are. It’s not that they are selfish. Indeed, Australians donate more per head of population to charity – including to charities overseas – than any other country in the world.

It is rather that they do not trust Government to spend those taxes wisely.

The Bill Australia can't afford.

Simple idea, cleverly expressed, and devastatingly powerful.

As part of a growing trend worldwide, Australians are deeply suspicious of Government at all levels, so when the Coalition festooned all the polling stations in the country in bunting – in stark Labour red – with an unflattering photo of Bill Shorten looking, frankly, confused, with the slogan “Labor: It’s the Bill Australia can’t afford.” it was highly effective. At no stage did Labor ever manage to convey their contrasting priorities with such devastating and effective directness.

And it was this scenario – starkly similarly to Clinton’s shock loss to Trump in America – that led one member of the public writing in to a radio station on Sunday morning to dismiss the Labor effort as having been led by “Hillary Shorten”. You could hear the heads nodding in agreement around the country’s breakfast tables.

Or in the case of those who were yet to get up having drunk themselves to sleep in either distress or celebration just a few hours previously, there was a muttered “Yeah … what she said …” from under a pillow.

Perhaps the most significant thing to say about this election is that it shows, once again, that political parties in the Western world are no longer either mere vehicles for those who traditionally made up their supporter base or even perfectly aligned to those who they seek to lead, and especially on the Left.

Pennsylvania coal miners voted for Trump. On Saturday so did coal miners in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and those who want to be coal miners in Queensland. Voters in Wales and Northern England and the South West voted against their obvious self-interest for Brexit. On Saturday so did those working in the tourism industry in Queensland who said, in effect, we’d rather have a coal mine than the Barrier Reef.

This time round, Australia’s Conservative parties portrayed themselves as simple-thinking, straight-talking managers, eschewing the internecine struggles that have consumed them in recent years (the Coalition parties have been split between hard right cultural warriors and small-l liberals, much like in Britain) and opted instead for a pitch that they were just a bunch of good old blokes on the side of “ordinary” Aussies – yes, even those who work down coal mines, milk the cows, and for those – by offering vague and very unlikely promises on road building – who are stuck in commuter traffic queues for hours every day.

By contrast the Labor Party was simply too overly intellectual, too long-winded, and they constantly beetled off down obscurantist paths – all very noble in their own right, to be sure – without taking care of their knitting. As one radio commentator explained: “I went to see the mechanic who works on my car, and I asked him who he was going to vote for, and he said Liberal because he didn’t want to lose his tax break on the one investment property his family owned. When I told him there was no chance of that, because any change to the law meant that existing arrangements were grandfathered, he looked at me and said ‘What the fuck does ‘Grandfathered’ mean?’”


You couldn’t summarise Labor’s failures to explain their goals any more simply, nor could you sound a better warning to the Left around the world as they seek to come to terms with the appeal of populist right wing heroes.

It’s hard to know exactly what will happen next. The Coalition now have a clean slate and the thrill of a totally unexpected win, and they could take the chance to shift their party back to the centre, (especially as former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, leader of the hard right, lost his seat to an Independent), deliver modest but welcome tax cuts, finally make some progress on climate change – a notable failure for some years – and de-fang Labor for a generation.

Labor will retreat and lick their wounds, but they already show little sign of having learned their lesson, as their next Leader, far from a consensus politician from the centre, will very likely be a dyed-in-the-wool tub-thumping leftie. Which will do wonders for reviving the spirits of their own members, but very little for the electorate at large. Sound familiar?

In the meantime, Australians will move on to arguing about this week’s football, and saying “Thank God that’s over for another three years.” Although with a likely Government majority of just 1, they might be counting those chickens a tad early.

"I have seen the future ... trust me, you don't want to know."

“I have seen the future … trust me, Kevin, you really don’t want to know.”

We are on record as calling this election for the Liberal-National Coalition about two years ago, and at no time, even in the briefest of honeymoons enjoyed by Kevin Rudd after his re-election as Labor leader, have we changed our mind.

Accordingly, it’s a bit boring for us to say “Whoo-hoo, Tony Abbott’s going to win.” Blind Freddie knows Tony Abbott’s going to win.

But how big, hmmm?

Well, we are also on record as saying that this could be the worst result for Labor in living memory.

Current radio talkback scuttlebutt is predicting a Lib-NP coalition win with roughly a thirty seat margin. Say 90 seats to 60.

We’re prepared to go further than that.

We think the swing from Labor to the Coalition nationally could be as high as 7% overall, rarely lower, and in some places higher, meaning the final Labor haul could be as low as 40 up to 50 seats, and the Liberal-NP haul could be in the 100-110 ten seat area.

A win, in other words, of truly historic proportions.

Both options are currently paying just over three bucks on Centrebet – in other words, the market agrees with me. (Betting prices are always a great indicator of likely results, because the party apparatchicks supplement their earnings by betting on what they know the likely results will be.)

Does the size of the win really matter? Well, no, not really. Except that faced with such an utter repudiation, it is possible that Kevin Rudd will resign the Labor leadership immediately, where with a closer result he might have hung on for a bit to see what happened. Who will take over? Surely Bill Shorten, but then again, who really knows with the Australian Labor Party any more? Their dearth of Front Bench talent is quite scary. Anthony Albanese would be another possibility, but, excellent performer that he is, is he really alternative Prime Minister material? I doubt it.

Why do we think the result will be even worse than currently predicted? Well, bluntly, we think, when polled, many voters who are actually intending to very begrudgingly support Tony Abbott are simply too embarrassed to say so, but they are nevertheless determined to wipe the Labor Party from power this time.

So for the record, these are the seats I think the Coalition will gain – and there could even be more than this – listed here with their new Coalition winning margins. There will possibly be some real huge shocks, even bigger than some on this list.

If you happen to live in any of these seats, clicking the seat name will take you to a detailed breakdown of that seat. (Courtesy of the ABC’s consistently excellent psephologist, Anthony Green.) Or you can just read our rationale.

Richmond NSW GainedNAT 0.01%
The local Labor MP is popular and may resist the trend, but this is traditionally a conservative seat and we pick it to return to the Nationals.

Barton NSW GainedLIB 0.1%
With well-known local MP Robert McClelland retiring and the less well-known Labor candidate up against a Greek-extraction local Mayor, Doc Evatt’s old seat will be one of the more painful losses of the night for the ALP.

Werriwa NSW GainedLIB 0.3%
Martin Ferguson’s elder brother Laurie should be a shoe-in for this seat held by former Labor leaders Gough Whitlam and Mark Latham but it is another pick by us for a shock result in Sydney’s western suburbs.

Bass TAS GainedLIB 0.3%
Geoff Lyons turned this into a safe seat for Labor at the last election, but continuing economic malaise in Tassie and coming up against a decorated war hero for the Libs will probably see him off.

Hindmarsh SA GainedLIB 0.9%
The precedent to look at here is the defeat of the Keating Labor Government in 1996. Redistribution has made it slightly safer for Labor recently, but it’s older population are even less inclined to vote ALP than everyone else. Opinion poll in late August had it at 50:50 two-party-preferred. Labor have gone backward since then: gone.

Perth WA GainedLIB 1.1%
Labor have parachuted in a popular ex State MP and Minister and this seat may buck the trend, but no one is sure how big Stephen Smith’s personal vote was. (Our guess, it will still go.)

Chisholm VIC GainedLIB 1.2%
Ex-speaker Anna Burke is popular locally but Victoria is falling back in line with the rest of the country after its pro-Gillard performance last time, and an excellent ethnic-Vietnamese Liberal candidate and a clutch of stalking horse minor right-wing parties all preferencing him will see her gone.

Oxley QLD GainedLNP 1.2%
Pauline Hanson’s old seat has more couples with babies than any other in the state: no doubt paid parental leave will resonate here. And both Katter and Palmer preferencing the Libs will make this just one more of the overall ugly picture in the Sunshine State for the ALP.

Fremantle WA GainedLIB 1.3%
Melissa Parke is attractive, popular and talented, with a very impressive CV: she may hang on: but we pick her to fall in Carmen Lawrence’s old seat, somewhat unfairly perhaps, to the country-wide Liberal/NP tsunami.

Rankin QLD GainedLNP 1.6%
Craig Emerson’s retiring, and this rock solid Labor seat falling will be one of the news stories of the night. It won’t help the new Labor candidate that he was a policy wonk and then Chief of Staff to Wayne Swan, a man now actively detested in Queensland, nor by both Katter and Palmer interfering.

Kingsford Smith NSW GainedLIB 1.8%
Another “shock horror” news story. Bye bye Peter Garrett. Bye bye seat.

Dobell NSW GainedLIB 1.9%
Craig Thomson’s seat. Need we say more? 

Parramatta NSW GainedLIB 2.6%
Nearly went back to the Libs last time. Will this time.

Eden-Monaro NSW GainedLIB 2.8%
Australia’s most reliable “litmus test” seat, having been won by the party that formed government at every election since 1972. It will be again.

Blair QLD GainedLNP 2.8%
Labor’s Shayne Neumann is popular locally, but that won’t save him from the anti-Labor swing in Qld.

Page NSW GainedNAT 2.8%
Since 1990 the electorate has been another key bellwether seat, being won at every election by the party that formed government after the election. Sitting Labor MP Janelle Saffin is popular, but nothing will save Labor in NSW this time round.

Lingiari NT GainedCLP 3.3%
Combattive ALP member Warren Snowdon might buck the trend in the seat with the largest percentage of indigenous Australians in the country. But we doubt it. Then again, the NT is a long way from anywhere. CLP candidate confident.

Capricornia QLD GainedLNP 3.3%
Michelle Landry did well for the Libs last time in a seat with a large mining sector. With Labor MP Kirsten Livermore retiring, she’ll go one better this time.

Brand WA GainedLIB 3.7%
Kim Beazely’s old seat has been going slightly bad for the ALP for a while. The decline will be terminal for Minister Gary Gray on Saturday. Late icing on the Liberal cake.

Lilley QLD GainedLNP 3.8%
You really think Wayne Swan can win his seat again? Really?

Reid NSW GainedLIB 4.3%
John Murphy is an assiduously hard working local member in what should be rock-solid Labor territory. But we don’t think he can resist the swing … when it’s on, it’s on. 

Petrie QLD GainedLNP 4.5%
One of the more re-electable ALP members, Yvette D’Ath still looks very likely to be swept away in the landslide.

La Trobe VIC GainedLIB 5.3%
Redistributions, demographic change, and the national swing will see this seat return to its former Liberal MP, Jason Wood

Banks NSW GainedLIB 5.6%
Only ever held by Labor since it’s establishment, the local state seats have already moved to the Libs, and Labor’s Daryl Melham cannot resist how badly the ALP are on the nose in NSW. Gone.

Moreton QLD GainedLNP 5.9%
Doesn’t matter how many times electorate redistributions nudge the seat back to the ALP, it’s gone in the Queensland bloodbath this time for sure.

Lindsay NSW GainedLIB 5.9%
Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury has no Liberal cock-ups to rely on this time. He will be one of the early high-profile Ministerial casualties of the night.

Robertson NSW GainedLIB 6.0%
Deborah O’Neill was one of the surprise winners for Labor at the last election, but there seems no realistic chance of her resisting the pro-Coalition swing this time.

Greenway NSW GainedLIB 6.1%
Despite Liberal candidate Jaymes Diaz stumbling early on, there seems no reason why this seat will not head back to the Liberals. His popularity with local branches will help him perform credibly on the ground. And it’s Western Sydney. Nuff said.

Deakin VIC GainedLIB 6.4%
Will be one of the early gains for the Coalition. Always a Liberal-leaning seat, it’s a certain gain this time.

Corangamite VIC GainedLIB 6.7%
Popular local TV presenter and activist Sarah Henderson will win this most marginal seat easily. Indeed, she could even win on first preferences.

Anyhow. Please do not telephone after about 9pm on Saturday evening. We will be drunkenly incoherent at the prospect of a Government with a massive majority (always a bad thing in our view) which will be much, much more right wing than people realise. Just think, it if it wasn’t for the machinations of the likes of Nick Minchin, most of us could be even quite looking forward to the erudition and moderation of “small l” liberal Malcom Turnbull being PM on Sunday. O! May you rot in hell, Minchin! Slowly.

What will happen in the Senate is anyone’s guess and won’t be clear for some weeks. It is not impossible that we will have three essentially conservative independents delivering a majority of one to Abbott in the Senate, (with either Katter’s Party or Palmer’s Party picking up a Senator in Queensland at least), so he will be able to repeal the carbon tax over the head of Labor and the Greens whatever happens elsewhere. Much celebration will be had on the right of politics. That is by no means certain, however.

If that’s the case, the country will be left with an abiding problem. Climate change is not going to go away. Sans the carbon tax/price on carbon, international pressure will be brought to bear to ensure that Australia lives up to the carbon rebatement schemes of its trading partners. If we don’t have a carbon tax, then what do we have? Especially as the Coalition’s extremely expensive ‘direct action’ plan is widely considered unworkable and ludicrously expensive.

So. Last prediction for today? Expect to see some form of free market carbon-trading scheme introduced by an Abbott government inside the next three years. The very issue on which Turnbull was toppled.

Who’d be a politician, eh?

As for Labor, cue the most awful period of pained introspection a political party could possibly imagine. Labor has a dreadful paucity of talent, a miniscule and shrinking supporter base, is completely lost as to what differentiates it from the Liberals and Nats, and appears ever more comprehensively irrelevant. I have watched politics long enough to know that parties can and do bounce back from shocking election defeats, and sometimes surprisingly rapidly. But really: where is Labor’s Messiah? Where, even, is its light on the hill? To where does it turn it’s eyes, to which wheel does it place its shoulder?

Grim times indeed.

(For overseas readers who are not obsessed with Australian politics, Minchin was the eminence grise and now retired Senator who was behind the party room coup that toppled popular Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull and replaced him with hard-right Tony Abbott by a single vote. If he’s on a TV panel on Saturday night I will throw a shoe at the screen or worse.)

Related articles

Can we research the gun control issue with a minimum of opinion?

Can we look into the gun control issue with a minimum of opinion?

I am often being asked, particularly by United States residents, if I can help to elucidate the effects of the much-discussed Howard Government’s gun buy back (which removed about 650,000 weapons from Australian society, for which compensation was paid) following the Port Arthur massacre in which 35 people were killed.

It is difficult to be precise, as studies are still on-going, but in a bi-partisan spirit I post the following links for people to investigate for themselves if they so wish.

Results confused

This joint Canadian-Australia research study finds a drop in gun suicide rates of 80%. Suicide rates are often the forgotten element in the gun control discussion – a 2010 study found that the gun buyback scheme cut firearm suicides 74%, thus saving 200 lives a year. The Canadian-Australian study, by Christine Neill and Andrew Leigh also found that states such as Tasmania, which withdrew guns quickly, had a bigger decline in firearm suicides than states such as New South Wales, which withdrew more slowly. The authors found no evidence of substitution of method of suicide in any state, although other studies have argued that this has happened. The study finds other violent deaths unaffected in the main, although it believes that overall gun violence diminished.

Effect on massacre killings

The Wikipedia page on Gun Politics in Australia is helpfully unbiased and full of data. It shows, in effect, that the effect of the gun buy back is disputed (hardly surprising with strong opinions on both sides) but that one area where it is likely there will be agreement is that guns have almost disappeared from massacre-style killings.

Hypothetically, I would argue that this is because the nature of the weapons restricted are those that typically allow considerable damage to be done in a short space of time, as in the recent school killings in the USA. This may be helpful in considering, for example, whether the USA should ban semi-automatic weapons or large magazine weapons.

Cultural change

This study into an Argentine gun buy back programme notes the effects of the buy back in Australia, and particularly emphasises that any changes that have taken place as a result of it are because it was not just about removing weapons from the community but also about a wider range of restrictions, as in a similar scheme in Brazil, and also a concomitant cultural change, brought about by a generalised revulsion at the Port Arthur massacre. Interestingly, though, despite not finding much impact on the overall problem of gun violence, this study finds a significant reduction in deaths from gun accidents in the Argentine.

Gun suicide and gun accidents

The effect on the reduction in gun suicide and accidental gun deaths in the USA needs to be considered as a part of any overall gun control discussion there.

23,237 accidental non-fatal gunshot injuries in the United States occurred during 2000. Annually, about 600 people are accidentally killed. You either consider this a lot, thinking about 600 families losing someone, or a little, compared to the overall gun population. Or you can hold both thoughts simultaneously, as I do.

Just over half of all gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides, and firearms remain the most common method of suicide, accounting for 50.7% of all suicides committed in 2006with 17,352 (55.6%) of the total 31,224 firearm-related deaths a year later in 2007 being decided to be suicide. It is worth noting that some of these suicides also occurred after one or more murders, such as in a family murder-suicide situation. In this respect, there would seem to be some advantage to reducing the number of households in a society with firearms.

National may work, local doesn’t

My reading seems to imply that the success or otherwise, in any sphere, of a gun buy back programme is critically determined by whether or not the activity is national, rather than state based or city based. This seems to be because if one can simply travel across a border to buy a weapon or type of weapon that is restricted in a particular community then the effect of the buy back is reduced or negated. Also, small-scale gun buy backs (such as a city within the United States) do not have a large enough impact on the overall gun population to make a serious statistical impact.

gun deaths v traffic deaths

The role of guns in death and injury in the USA would seem urgent, and not just because of the recent sad mass murders. As this graphic and article from Bloomberg reveals, gun deaths will out-number traffic deaths within a couple of years.  As we work to make driving a car safer and safer in so many ways, it surely makes sense to make the same effort for weapon ownership.

One of the weirdest thing about being a northern hemisphere fellow in a southern hemisphere world is obviously the fact that it’s blazing hot at Christmas-time in the antipodes.

Readers who were on board this time last year will remember the article Home Thoughts From Abroad when Melbourne was visited by the thunderstorm to end all thunderstorms on Christmas Day 2011. I am pleased to report Christmas Day 2012 was much less dramatic.

Summer in the heat has its own traditions. Using the barbecue not the oven, for one. (Indeed, wandering the streets at this time of the year at any mealtime will leave most people salivating by the time they get home, as the air is perpetually heavy with the sweet smell of grilling steaks and snags – otherwise known as sausages or links, depending on where you’re from.) Oyster Bloody Mary shooters are a regular in the Wellthisiswhatithink household – they’re a hell of a good way to start the meal preparation time. Most people down here now choose seafood not turkey on Christmas Day itself – especially lobster, (hang the price), and, of course, the ubiquitous prawns. (Which down here are gigantic, not the shrimps you get around northern Europe.) Heading to the beach or the cricket on Boxing Day is another favourite.

(We actually prefer to call Boxing Day “St Stephen’s Day” in our home, for obvious reasons.)

And not least in the traditions of the Christmas-New Year is the annual “Blimey, it’s Christmas already, we really need to get the pool ready for use!”

It was particularly the case for us this year, because during the off season we had the pool re-painted, after years of it looking like a patchwork quilt of the previous three paint jobs, all of which had worn off the base concrete to some degree or other.

The ineffably beautiful Jacaranda tree, inspiration for our "new" pool.

The ineffably beautiful Jacaranda tree, inspiration for our “new” pool.

So the pool is now unique. No, I don’t mean it’s nice, or new looking, or all that. On a whim, we chose a colour that the pool painter said the paint company told him had never been ordered before! It’s called “Jacaranda”, after the flowers of that lovely tropical tree which abounds throughout Australia at this time of year, or if you feel a little more prosaic, “Purple” would describe it just as well.

We now have the only purple pool in Melbourne. Unless you know different.

So, sure as the most common comment you hear at this time of the year is “My God when is it ever going to rain?” Dad gets despatched to the pool to get the accumulated detritus off the floor of the pool so it can be enjoyed in the warmer months. Our pool is surrounded by very beautiful trees that shed constantly (not a smart idea to plant them in the first place, but we inherited the problem) so a decent blow and it can look like there’s a small field growing on the floor of the pool overnight.

The funny thing is, we have one of those automatic pool cleaners. The ones that quietly vibrate their way around your pool, vacuuming up the crap and cleaning the water at the same time. But ours is seriously old. It was given to us as a gift years ago, and has been quietly putt-putting around on and off ever since, gradually getting less and less efficient. But we can’t bring ourselves to chuck it out. It’s almost like a pet. We call it the Putt-Putt and nurse it back to life every summer with loving care, which this year involved actually taking it to the pool shop in desperation, whereupon Mr Putt-Putt Vet (known to the rest of the community as the man who runs the pool shop) diagnosed a near fatal hole in a critical part of the structure, which he repaired for free with something akin to cement. Thus far, Putt-Putt is well, and I am eternally grateful to his saviour. If you want to know a pool man who actually does something – anything – for free, call me.

But Putt-Putt has a problem. It’s on the end of a hose which doesn’t reach easily to the shallow end of the pool. In addition, the pool was dug many moons ago, when they didn’t make structures that are peacefully sloped to the deep end that isnt so deep anyway.

In our pool, the slope down to the deep end is like the north face of the Eiger and the deep end is so deep that you could drown a brigade of cavalry in it and no one would notice. Putt-Putt simply can’t make it up the hill.

Walking the Putt-Putt ... a time honoured Wellthisiswhatithink Christmas tradition.

Walking the Putt-Putt … a time honoured Wellthisiswhatithink Christmas tradition.

So every year, we undergo a ritual called “Dad’s walking the Putt-Putt”.

This involves me using the device exactly as it isn’t meant to be used, in other words, carefully shepherding it around the shallow end of the pool as if it was, indeed, a gentle old dog needing a bit of help finding his water bowl. Automatic it ain’t.

It’s all worth it in the end. There is nothing much as wonderful as reading the newspaper by a sparkling pool and plonking into it when one gets overheated. Friends come round and share quality time – once they get past worrying that we’ll think they only want to see us because we’ve got a pool – we are quite happy to acknowledge that they want to see us AND we’ve got a pool ready and waiting on a 100 degree day – bonus.

One Christmas tradition in Australia is not so welcome. The fires have started up in Tasmania over the last couple of days and it is feared lives have been lost along with plenty of homes. And today there are over 100 fires burning in New South Wales with over 20 of them out of control. In Victoria, we lost 173 hundred people (with another 414 injured) in February 2009 in an event called Black Saturday. The event is still seared into the minds of the entire community. For twelve terrifying hours the fire separated me from my family, still on holiday in an area with a fire roaring towards it, as I had chosen to return from our family holiday early. My daughter’s best friend was with her and my wife. At one point, her parents phoned my wife and asked for the numberplate of her car. No one needed to ask why. If they got caught in the firefront, they wanted to know how to identify that their daughter had died.

It is hard to explain the horror of the inevitability, the inexorability, the sheer uncontestability of a large grass or bush fire in Australia. Of course, we are not the only country that suffers these frightening events, but as the driest continent in the world we suffer them more often, and more severely.They are a natural part of the bush renewing itself. Essentially, humans were never meant to live here, and we do so at our peril, clinging to the land nervously, knowing full well we are not in charge.

As the world warms, the fires will come earlier, and harder, than ever before, just as they have this year. Indeed, the weather in NSW today was reported earlier as the worst fire danger day ever recorded.

As I walk the Putt-Putt around the shallow end, you can’t see it, but I am praying. You can read below about Australia’s “Dome of Heat”.