Tag Archives: Australia

Drones instead of fireworks!

In a recent post, I raged about Sydney staging New Year’s Eve fireworks when so much of Australia is burning. This is a fantastic alternative for New Year’s Eve 2020 and beyond:

My thanks to Carol Cooks 2 for bringing this amazing video clip/technology to my attention.

cheers

Meeks


Fireworks 2019 – let's call this spade a bloody shovel

Photo of evacuees on the beach at Bateman’s Bay, from the Twitter account of Alistair Prior.

This is the beach at Malacoota, on the Victoria side of the border. Photo taken from the Twitter account of Bluesfestblues.

This is, or was, the historic township of Cobargo, NSW. Three people are unaccounted for. Photo taken from the Twitter account of Siobhan Heanue.

Despite being ringed by fire, despite whole communities huddled on beaches watching their towns burn, despite the growing death toll due to these unprecedented fires…the Sydney Fireworks will go ahead.

What are we celebrating, exactly?

Both Gladys Berejiklian [Premier of NSW] and Clover Moore [Major of Sydney] have made glib remarks about ‘community’, and staging the fireworks for the community.

But which community? The ones with no homes to return to? The ones who’ve lost loved ones to these fires? The ones watching their towns burn even as I write these words?

Those communities don’t have tv’s to watch, but even if they did, do we honestly think they’ll enjoy watching pretty fireworks when their own skies are red with flame and ash?

Do we really think the fireworks will make the victims feel better?

Ah, but Clover Moore says she hopes the fireworks will make people donate to the victims…

Does she really think Australians are that callous, that selfish, that uncaring?

We didn’t need fireworks to donate after Black Saturday. We gave and we gave and we gave. We gave until it hurt because we all knew someone who knew someone who died in the fires, or lost everything. So much less than 6 degrees of separation.

We gave out of shock, out of survivor guilt, out of a genuine desire to help.

But it was more than that. We gave because it was the only way we could show our solidarity, our respect.

We gave as a way to mourn.

It was Australia and Australians at their very best.

No, the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney have nothing to do with community, or caring. They’re all about the tourist dollar, and as such, they are obscene.

We are better than this.

I won’t be watching any fireworks, anywhere in Australia, because we are still burning. Every state, including my own. And things are likely to get worse as the fire season progresses.

There is nothing to celebrate this year. Not a single, bloody thing.

Meeks


Review – ATO's myTax

Is there such a thing as minus one? -grinds teeth-

In a nutshell, the ATO [Australian Taxation Office] website functioned quite well, and by that I mean the way the computer side of things worked. If you are familiar with the general workings of a complex website, you should be able to follow the logic fairly well. The problems arise from the content, in particular the terminology.

Any teacher will tell you that the single biggest hurdle to learning is new terminology. Not only does the student have to learn new terms specific to the subject matter, they often have to learn new meanings for familiar words and phrases used to describe very unfamiliar concepts.

The best software programs deal with the problem of terminology by having context sensitive lookups. For example, if a question is about ‘Sole Traders’, there will be a little [?] at the end that can be clicked. Clicking that lookup displays a short definition of the term.

Lookups are a great idea…if they’re executed properly, and that’s where assumptions come in. Experts have so much knowledge of their areas that they cannot put themselves in the shoes of someone who knows nothing. So many basic terms do not have lookups because… “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

Duh no, it isn’t obvious. Not unless you’re a tax accountant.

I’m not a tax accountant. That’s why it took me well over two hours to lodge a couple of years’ worth of returns. The first was relatively easy because I was doing it as a normal person. The second was much harder because I was doing it as a ‘Sole Trader’. Basically, Sole Traders are people who work for themselves with a company name and an ABN [Australian Business Number]. Casual tutors like me often work as Sole Traders.

But all Sole Traders are not equal. Working out what variety of Sole Trader I was involved yet more terms I didn’t understand. I used every lookup, accessed Help, tried the so-called online chat help [basically just an algorithm] and even tried DuckduckGo. Despite all that, however, some of my answers were the better of two bad choices. In other words, pretty much guess work.

Surely there’s a better way?

Yes, there is. It’s called paying for a professional tax accountant.

Decades ago when I could afford the money, I actually had a tax accountant. These days I have to DIY and hope for the best.

I can’t be the only person having issues with the ATO’s myTax software because there is a real live group of volunteers who have been trained to ‘help’ with myTax! Whether they just help with the website side of things or the actual tax side I don’t know. What I do know is that myTax is a major disincentive to retirees thinking of working for themselves.

One exhausted retiree signing off.

Meeks

p.s. While I’m in a venting mood, here’s one for the Guttenberg developers – it’s really annoying when you go back to edit a paragraph and the floating toolbar covers up part of what you’ve written. This seems to happen when the paragraph is at the top of the screen area:


Ad Hominen…add who??

Ad Hominen is a form of argument that occurs a lot on Twitter. This is the long winded definition:

Ad hominem (Latin for “to the person”),[1] … typically refers to a fallacious argumentative strategy whereby genuine discussion of the topic at hand is avoided by instead attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, …, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.[

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

I prefer the much shorter one: intimidation.

Too strong? Think about it. Why do people argue in the first place? To win. So if you can make your opponent back down, or back off, you will have won the argument…right?

Wrong. The argument has not been won. The argument has not been addressed at all. It’s still there. All you have achieved is to scare your opponent off by attacking them personally.

Isn’t this precisely what happens when a woman is sexually harassed but remains silent because she fears for her job if she speaks up?

Isn’t this precisely what happens when people in an organisation witness wrong doing but don’t speak up for fear of ruining their careers, or even ending up in jail as ‘whistleblowers’?

Intimidation can take many forms, but at its heart it is the need to win at any cost. Correction, the need to appear to win at any cost because intimidation doesn’t actually change things. It doesn’t solve any problems. It doesn’t persuade. It doesn’t change hearts and minds. It simply sends them underground where they fester.

In my head I see a weedy little guy shouted down by a big, burly guy. Mr Weed slinks away in humiliation, but in the privacy of his own mind he knows he’s right. And so the anger builds. The next time he sees the big, burly guy, he’s got a gun in his pocket. Bang. Take that. And so it goes.

I grew up respecting facts and logic, courtesy and genuine debate. To me, name calling was the last resort of a loser. I guess I really have become an old dinosaur because these days, name calling has become the first resort of many people on Twitter.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Western democracy is in trouble, people are becoming more and more polarised, and we all feel as if we’re not being listened to, or even heard. But intimidation only escalates the problem.

Intimidation also has the capacity to turn potential allies into foes. I discovered that yesterday on Twitter. I thought I was having a polite discussion with someone I follow when The Pack descended and launched a personal attack against me for daring to disagree with something. I became angry at the form of the attack and any sympathy I may have had for their cause went flying out the window.

The people carrying out this attack belong to one of Australia’s smaller political parties. I’ll simply call it party X because the followers of the bigger ones are no better.

I’ve never voted for party X, but I actually agree with some of their principles. But not all, and that was the problem.

“O con noi o contro di noi”—You’re either with us or against us. [Benito Mussolini]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You%27re_either_with_us,_or_against_us

Group think demands that there be no dissent, or else. As a result of yesterday’s ‘or else’, any chance party X had of winning my vote in the future is gone. That is the flip side of intimidation.

As an individual, my vote counts for very little. But there are a lot of people like me. We may not subscribe to the ‘group think’ of a particular party, but we do care about significant issues. We are potential allies in the fight for those issues, so using intimidation tactics against us is the equivalent of cutting your nose off to spite your face.

If we are to have any chance of saving the world, and ourselves, we have to start treating everyone with respect.

cheers

Meeks

p.s. this post was written using Guttenberg for the first time.


Ageism

I met a man today. I was strolling around my garden with Mogi, and my first coffee of the day, when he came to read my gas meter.

On the way out, the Gas Man made a smiling comment about Mogi, my pint-sized chihuahua cross, and we got to talking about dogs:

Be sure to get my good side

A lot of conversations start with dogs in Warrandyte. The Gas Man has two Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

One thing led to another, and I soon discovered that the Gas Man spends most of his working life walking the hills of Warrandyte, checking meters. I’ve walked some of those hills, and they are bloody steep.

I must have looked utterly horrified, because the Gas Man quickly explained that there were very few places where he could [safely] park his car, so in between parking spots he had to walk. On really hot days he’s ‘allowed’ to start at six am so he can finish by about 1pm.

I looked at the Gas Man and saw someone in his mid fifties, with a weathered face and a bit of a paunch. He was cheerful and well-spoken, but he looked older than me, and I’m 66.

“You haven’t considered a career change?” I asked.

The answer shocked me. No, he hadn’t considered getting another job because he knew that if he left this one, he’d never work again. Ageism.

The Gas Man is doing the kind of job men twenty years younger would hate. What’s worse, he’s going to have to keep walking the hills of Warrandyte until his body fails, or the company decides he’s not efficient enough any more. I can guess what happens after that because it happened to me too. You apply for NewStart to ‘tide you over’, but no one wants to employ you, so you scrape along until you finally qualify for the pension.

Why does no one want to employ you?

I’ve thought about this a lot. I imagine that in physical type jobs, older workers are seen as less ‘strong’, or perhaps even as a liability – e.g. what happens if they have a heart attack on the job? Given how many physical type jobs are already automated, why employ an older person when there are hundreds of younger ones available?

White collar workers are in a slightly different boat. We may have experience and skills, but will we be able to learn the new technology? More importantly, will we expect to be paid commensurate with our skills and experience? And what happens if we get sick? The statistics show that older people fall prey to all sorts of debilitating illnesses. Better to hire someone with lower dollar expectations and a longer [working] life expectancy.

And then there’s the perception that older workers will retire soon so why bother training them up?

I’m not saying that I have had personal experience of these scenarios. I haven’t. Most of my experience is of silence. You send off your CV and nothing comes back. You ring up a few places to inquire if they received your CV, and there’s a kind of embarrassed ‘oh, we’ve got you on file’. That translates to, ‘yes, we probably got it and binned it straight away’. I have very good qualifications, but the earliest ones date back to the 1970’s. You can’t hide that.

No one admits to ageism because it’s ‘illegal’ to discriminate against someone based on age, but it does happen. More importantly, the bar to employment is getting lower all the time. I shudder to think what will happen when the workers of the ‘gig’ economy become too old to maintain that frenetic pace. Age may be ‘just a number’, but it’s a very important number.

When the Gas Man went on his way, I finished my coffee and dragged out the lawn mower. If he can walk up and down our hills, rain or shine, five days a week, I can do a bit more mowing, even if I my bones do creak a bit. Motivation can come from unexpected sources.

Have a great day, my friends,

-hugs-

Meeks

 


A review of ‘The Memory Tree’, by Jennifer Scoullar

I write quite a bit about the dangers of the Australian bush, but there’s a reason we all continue to live in it. That reason is love. I keep rediscovering that reason in the writing of Jennifer Scoullar, a horse-mad Aussie who lives on a property right smack dab in the middle of the bush.

You want to get a feel for what rural Australia, and Australians, are like? Read The Memory Tree. This is the review I left on Amazon:

 

 

Jennifer Scoullar is known as a writer of Australian rural romances, but ‘The Memory Tree’ is something more, it’s a love story that begins where the ‘happy ever after’ ends.

Penny and Matt are married and united in their desire to help save Tasmanian Devils from the terrible cancer that’s decimating their populations in Tasmania. But they both have insecurities, especially Matt whose relationship with his Father has been fiery for years. So when Penny decides to learn the finer points of taxidermy from Matt’s father, she decides to keep it a secret. Just to keep the peace.

And then Matt accidentally kills an animal on the way home one night, a very special animal. For reasons that become apparent as the story unfolds, he can’t tell Penny, and guilt starts to drive a wedge between them. When American geneticist, Sarah, arrives to map the genome of the Devils, the tense situation between husband and wife becomes a whole lot worse.

One of my favourite lines in the entire book is this: ‘Matt froze, but apparently Sarah’s vision wasn’t based on movement.” To me, that line encapsulates Scoullar’s writing perfectly: understated, funny, sharp, intensely vivid. [For those few readers who have never seen Jurassic Park, the deadly T-Rex tracks its victims by movement]

And yet, while Sarah turns out to be a bit of a man-eater when it comes to her love-life, she is utterly dedicated to her work and not a two dimensional villain. In fact, there is not a single character in the entire story that’s two dimensional. Even those with just a walk on part seem to move in 3D, and that capacity to make characters come alive extends to every creature in the book, including the ones with fur and feathers.

The thing that kept me reading long past the point where I should have stopped, however, was the question mark that hung over the story. How could Matt extricate himself from the whopping big hole he’d dug? How could he save the animals he loved without totally betraying Penny and his own integrity? How could a marriage survive so many secrets and lies?

I was prepared for the ending to go either way, so long as there was a resolution that felt /real/. I was not disappointed.

For my money, The Memory Tree is simply the best thing Jennifer Scoullar has ever written, and I hope she continues to write love stories about the bush and the living creatures that inhabit it, no matter how many legs they have.

Very highly recommended.‘

https://www.amazon.com/Memory-Tree-Tasmanian-Tales-Book-ebook/dp/B07TTM6R72/ref=sr_1_4?crid=19FYZIUYCTVLA&keywords=the+memory+tree&qid=1573765382&s=digital-text&sprefix=the+memory+tree%2Caps%2C384&sr=1-4

cheers

Meeks


Augmented Reality [AR] game set in Melbourne

As a gamer and denizen of Melbourne [Australia], how could I resist this New Atlas article about an AR game set in the city I love?

‘The game is the first in the True Crime Mysteries series by indie studio 10Tickles, helmed by husband-and-wife team Andy Yong and Emma Ramsay. The couple are both fascinated by true crime, history and the city of Melbourne itself, and so set out to build an augmented reality experience that tapped into all three.’

You can read the entire article by clicking the link below:

https://newatlas.com/games/true-crime-augmented-reality-game-misadventure-little-lon/

cheers

Meeks


How to save $$ in Victoria [Australia]

This post is for Victorians on a tight budget – i.e. people on Newstart, the Age Pension, Disability Pension or young people working in the GIG economy – and concerns energy bills such as gas and electricity.

The first, critical step to saving on your energy bills is to understand that utility companies bank on us being too busy to go out and actively look for better deals. The new initiative by the Victorian government only means that energy retailers have to inform you of their best deals. But those best deals could still be very expensive when compared to the rest of the marketplace.

To give you an example, I changed my gas supplier about a year and a half ago. At the time, my new gas supplier offered the best deal according to the Victorian government’s own comparison website:

https://compare.energy.vic.gov.au

This morning, when I did a fresh comparison, my existing gas supplier was close to the bottom of the list, and their best deal was over $400 more expensive [per year] than the new ‘best deal’. As a result, I got on the phone [contact details supplied by the government website], made sure the quote was still accurate and…signed up:

When AGL’s best is no longer the best, I’ll move my gas account again.

Gamers would recognize this as ‘churn’. The term refers to how gamers move from one ISP to another to get the best deal. I don’t ‘churn’ often, but since I became an age pensioner, I’ve learned that loyalty simply doesn’t pay. These days I ‘churn’ my gas, electricity and comms suppliers on a regular basis.

So what’s involved in comparing prices?

Once you land on the government’s comparison website, you’ll be asked a series of questions about how you use your gas [or electricity]. It pays to make your answers as accurate as possible so dig out your most recent bill and keep it handy. After you’ve completed all the relevant questions, the website will do some kind of general comparison and present you with a list of the best matches for your circumstances.

Gas pricing is a mess with about five different rates in both the ‘peak’ and ‘off peak’ categories, but don’t let it scare you. One easy thing to compare is the daily supply charge. Essentially this is the amount you pay for the privilege of having a gas connection. In other words, even if you don’t turn the gas on at all, you’ll still be charged that daily supply charge.

All retailers charge you for supply, but the amount varies. AGL’s daily supply charge is 62 cents. Another retailer I looked at [not one of the most expensive ones] was charging 83 cents. Assuming the rates don’t change for 365 days, that’s $226 vs $303 per year [or a saving of $77 per year].

When the cost of living means you have to think twice about buying that latte, a saving of $77 is nothing to be sneezed at. And when you add that small saving to the actual cost of using the energy, the savings really do add up.

So please, bookmark that government comparison website and check it out, at least once a year. Doing your homework and making a change will probably take an hour, all up, but the way I see it, I’ve just earned over $400 for that hour. Not a bad hourly rate, don’t you think?

And finally a word about keeping all your eggs in one basket. Energy retailers that supply both gas and electricity will try to convince you to move both utilities to them. Doing so may be more convenient. It may also be cheaper, sometimes. But…a cheap gas price does not automatically mean the electricity price will be the best available price as well.

Remember, the best price a retailer offers is not necessarily the best price from all retailers. Compare…and save.

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 

 


Climate change & Australia’s National Security

Australia’s current Federal government has been flogging the dead horse of ‘national security’ for a long time now, yet when it comes to Climate Change, they’re incapable of seeing the potential for true national security impacts.

What impacts?

Answer: the refugee crisis looming amongst low-lying pacific nations.

As sea levels rise, many of these small, island nations will either cease to exist altogether, or they will lose so much land mass that their populations will be squeezed past tolerable levels. One of the first to go will be Tuvalu:

Click the photo to be taken to Alltop10.org

As the largest, and emptiest land mass in the region, Australia will have to take responsibility for its share of displaced people. These Refugees won’t be from the other side of the world, they’ll be on our doorstep, and we will have a moral obligation to help.

In the Innerscape trilogy, I forecast that Australia would accept its responsibilities in the region, albeit grudgingly. The way things are going, however, I’m no longer sure we will. But what if we don’t?

If Australia’s government continues denying the impacts of Climate Change, we’re going to be caught without a paddle when reality proves the deniers wrong. There will be refugees, and if we refuse to accept them, our poorer neighbours will not be able to cope. That’s when they will look at our large landmass and tiny population and say “this isn’t right”, “they shouldn’t be allowed to shirk their duty”, “they’re letting us suffer while they live selfish, greedy lives”.

Guess what happens then?

Haven’t we, and our Western allies invaded other countries for similar, ‘humanitarian’ reasons?

For a more detailed analysis of the impacts, please read the article by Chris Barrie on the Conversation Room[Chris Barrie is Honorary Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University]

We have to stop thinking of Climate Change as a ‘choice’. It isn’t. We’re going to be hit from all sides in the not-so-distant future, and only a concerted, united effort with our neighbours will save us.

If the military can see that Climate Change is a problem for national security, why can’t the Liberal National Party?

Meeks

 

 


Drought proofing Australia

Drought is nothing new in Australia. Dorothea McKellar wrote about it in My Country, a poem that I, and all Australians of my generation, learned off by heart in school:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.

But last night I saw something that truly shocked me. It was an aerial view of the reservoir of a small town in NSW. The reservoir was half empty, and the water was an unpleasant green.

But that was not what shocked me.

Snuggled up next to the reservoir was a huge tanker. It was pumping water into the reservoir because the town had run dry:

https://iview.abc.net.au/show/7-30/series/0/video/NC1901H153S00

But that was not what shocked me.

What shocked me was the realisation that much of the precious water going into the reservoir would soon begin to evaporate. Even as it was being pumped in, it was starting to evaporate out. And all of Australia’s dams and reservoirs are like that – open to the air, the wind, the sun and the heat. Water wasted by the gigalitre.

Open reservoirs were the only way water could be stored in the past. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It would take money, a terrifying amount of money, and a political will that has not been seen since World War II, but those outdated, primitive reservoirs could be updated into underground water storage units.

It is possible. If we can build concrete swimming pools, and massive damns like the Snowy Hydro scheme, we can build concrete reservoirs for the most threatened, inland towns of Australia. Or perhaps we wouldn’t use concrete at all. Maybe we could repurpose all that plastic waste and use it to line those underground water storage reservoirs.

We could also stop giving away the life blood of our rivers to mates with deep pockets. Our food security relies on irrigation. The water for that irrigation comes from our river systems. But instead of protecting those river systems, we’ve allowed them to be plundered for cash crops like cotton:

Part of why cotton takes up so many nutrients from the soil is its extensive root system. In order for the roots to develop enough to obtain those nutrients, lots of moisture is needed, especially early on.

Could someone explain to me why cotton is being grown [by huge agribusinesses] in an arid country like Australia? Without massive irrigation, taken largely from our rivers and flood plain harvesting, cotton could not possibly survive in inland Australia. Yet it’s happening, and it’s generating huge profits for multinational businesses such as CS Agriculture Pty Ltd:

“….(which owns Cubbie Station) in Australia. Shandong Ruyi is the ultimate shareholder of this new Australian group…”

“Since CS Agriculture took control of Cubbie Station, the struggling cotton property has been transformed by a major reinvestment into the business, including upgrades of water-saving infrastructure…”

https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/rural-news/2016-06-21/cubbie-ownership-changes/7517058

The ‘water-saving infrastructure’ includes massive damns that harvest flood plain water. I should also point out that Shandong Ruyi is a huge Chinese textile company:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shandong_Ruyi

Australia needs foreign investment, but as one of the most arid countries on Earth, exporting cotton via Shandong Ruyi is akin to exporting our water. In my not-so-humble opinion, that is insane. Allowing this to continue when said export is destroying land and communities in the rest of Australia is…criminal.

Every Australian needs to understand that the flood plains of a river are vitally important to the river and the land, both above and below:

‘The layered sediments of many flood plains can create important aquifers. Clay, sand, and gravel filter water as it seeps downward.’

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/flood-plain/

When you harvest the water of a flood plain, you starve the river and the land. You also starve the towns that historically relied on that river for their water. One such town is Broken Hill.

Broken Hill is not some small country town with a pub and not much else. Broken Hill is a major inland centre, and it too is running out of water. It used to supplement its water from the Darling river, but the Darling is almost dead so a ‘hurry-hurry’ pipeline is being built to the Murray river:

“The Wentworth-Broken Hill pipeline will fix things for Broken Hill, which can no longer rely on the Darling for its water supply. It will also ensure secure water supply for two new mines, Perilya Mines and Hawsons Iron Project.”

https://www.smh.com.au/environment/sustainability/cry-me-a-river-mismanagement-and-corruption-have-left-the-darling-dry-20180226-p4z1uc.html

Makes you wonder whether the pipeline is actually for the town or the mines…

The biggest problem with the Broken Hill pipeline, however, is that the water it takes from the Murray will impact all the communities south from there, in Victoria. Victorian communities rely on the Murray too, as does South Australia. Allowing the Darling to be destroyed up north in Queensland and northern NSW will have a knock-on effect all the way down the line, with each ‘fix’ creating problems further south.

There is one ‘fix’ I haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s desalination. We built a desalination plant here in Victoria, after the Millennium Drought. That desal plant may stop Melbourne from running dry, but what of the inland?

Australia currently has six desalination plants – one for South-East Queensland, two in Western Australia near Perth, one near Sydney [NSW], one for Melbourne [Victoria] and one for Adelaide [South Australia]. All of these desalination plants are on the coast…dah…because they make fresh water out of seawater. All of the communities supplied by those desalination plants are on the coast as well.

Now imagine how much it would cost to pump water inland from those desalination plants…

All of Australia’s water problems are of our own making, and could be fixed properly, but it would take serious nation building by a succession of Federal governments. It hasn’t happened.

Now ask yourself this: if we can’t fix the problems we created, what are we going to do when climate change truly starts to bite?

Sadly, the answer to that question appears to be ‘nothing’. Successive governments have sat on their hands, denying that we’re destroying the rivers, denying that climate is changing, denying that anything needs to be done. And we, the voting public have allowed them to get away with it because we’re scared our cushy lifestyles will become a little less cushy.

I truly hope I’m no longer around when life stops being ‘cushy’ and becomes a fight for survival.

Meeks


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