Australia is a global top-ten deforester – and Queensland is leading the way

 A chain used for land clearing is dragged over  
a pile of burning wood on a drought effected property near St George, 
Queensland. AP Image/Dan Peled

When you think of devastating deforestation and extinction you usually think of the Amazon, Borneo and the Congo. But eastern Australia ranks alongside these in the top 10 of the world’s major deforestation fronts – the only one in a developed nation. Most of the clearing is happening in Queensland, and it is accelerating.

Only last year a group of leading ecologists voiced their alarm at new data which showed the clearing of 296,000 hectares of forest in 2013-14. This was three times higher than in 2008-09, kicking Australia up the list as one of the world’s forest-clearing pariahs. At the 2016 Society for Conservation Biology Conference, a Scientists’ Declaration was signed by hundreds of scientists, expressing concern at these clearing rates.

But the latest snapshot, Queensland’s Department of Science report on land cover change published last month, showed a staggering 395,000ha of clearing for 2015-16: a 133% increase on 2014-15. As far as we can tell this rate of increased clearing is unmatched anywhere else on the globe.

Strong vegetation management laws enacted in Queensland – the Vegetation Management Act 1999 – achieved dramatic reductions in forest and woodland loss. But the subsequent Liberal National state government, elected in 2012, overturned these protections.

The current government, elected in 2015, has tried and failed to reinstate the protections. In response, “panic clearing” caused clearing rates to shoot up, in anticipation that the state election will deliver a government that will reintroduce the much-needed protection of forests.

The Queensland Parliament is now in caretaker mode ahead of the November 25 election. The Queensland Labor Party has pledged to reinstate laws to prevent wholesale clearing, while the LNP opposition has vowed to retain current clearing rates.

Picture of deforestation
Forest cleared by bulldozers towing massive chains. Noel Preece

Australian community and wildlife lose

Whichever way you look at it, there is not a lot of sense in continued clearing. Australia already has some of the highest extinction rates on the planet for plants and animals. With 80% of Queensland’s threatened species living in forest and woodland, more clearing will certainly increase that rate.

Clearing also kills tens of millions of animals across Australia each year, a major animal welfare concern that rarely receives attention. This jeopardises both wildlife and the A$140 million invested in threatened species recovery.

This rate of clearing neutralises our major environment programs. Just one year of clearing has removed more trees than the bulk of 20 million trees painstakingly planted, at a cost of A$50 million. Australia’s major environment programs simply can’t keep up, and since 2013 are restoring only one-tenth of the extent of land bulldozed just last year.

Restoration costs to improve the quality of waters running onto the Great Barrier Reef are estimated at around A$5 billion to A$10 billion over 10 years. Nearly 40% of the land cleared in Queensland is in reef catchments, which will reverse any water quality gains as sediment pours onto the reef.

Climate efforts nullified

Since 2014, the federal government has invested A$2.55 billion on reducing emissions in the Carbon Farming Initiative through the Emissions Reduction Fund. Currently 189 million tonnes of abatement has been delivered by the Emissions Reduction Fund. This – the central plank of the Australian government’s climate response – will be all but nullified by the end of 2018 with the current clearing rates, and will certainly be wiped out by 2020, when Australia is expected to meet its climate target of 5% below 2000 emissions.

Ironically, this target will be achieved with the help of carried-over results from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which Australia was only able to meet because land clearing had decreased between 1990 and 1997.

Why is this happening?

Most of the clearing in Queensland since 1999 has been for pasture. Most good cropping land was cleared decades ago. Removing trees in more marginal lands can increase the carrying capacity for a short time with an immediate, and usually short-lived, financial reward. These rewards come at the expense of long-term sustainability, which future landholders and government will bear.

Large areas of the cleared lands have been subject to substantial erosion and nutrient lossfrom the newly cleared lands, and land degradation over time, and some areas have suffered massive woody weed incursions.

This is playing out today across the north where pastoralism is a marginal activity at best, with declining terms of trade of about 2% per year, with no net productivity growth, high average debts and low returns, and many enterprises facing insolvency. Clearing vegetation won’t change that.

A recent preliminary valuation of ecosystem services, on the other hand, estimated that uncleared lands are worth A$3,300-$6,100 per hectare per year to the Australian community, compared with productivity of grazing lands of A$18 per hectare.

With a clear divide between the policies Labor and the LNP are taking to the election, now is a good time to give land clearing’s social, economic and environmental impact the scrutiny it deserves.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Noel D PreeceNoel D Preece – [Adjunct Principal Research Fellow at Charles Darwin and, James Cook University]
Image of Penny van OosterzeePenny van Oosterzee – [Principal Research Adjunct James Cook University and University Fellow Charles Darwin University, James Cook University]






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Sunday essay: when did Australia’s human history begin?

 Fossilised ancient human footprints at the 
Mungo National Park.  How are we to engage with a history that spans 
65,000 years? Michael Amendolia/AAP

In July, a new date was published that pushed the opening chapters of Australian history back to 65,000 years ago. It is the latest development in a time revolution that has gripped the nation over the past half century.

In the 1950s, it was widely believed that the first Australians had arrived on this continent only a few thousand years earlier. They were regarded as “primitive” – a fossilised stage in human evolution – but not necessarily ancient.

In the decades since, Indigenous history has been pushed back into the dizzying expanse of deep time. While people have lived in Australia, volcanoes have erupted, dunefields have formed, glaciers have melted and sea levels have risen about 125 metres, transforming Lake Carpentaria into a Gulf and the Bassian Plain into a Strait.

Australia’s Indigenous history has been pushed back into deep time. Michael Amendolia/AAP

How are we to engage with a history that spans 65,000 years? There is a “gee whiz” factor to any dates that transcend our ordinary understanding of time as lived experience. Human experiences are reduced to numbers. And aside from being “a long time ago”, they are hard to grasp imaginatively.

It is all too easy to approach this history as one might read the Guinness Book of Records, to search the vast expanse of time for easily identifiable “firsts”: the earliest site, the oldest tool, the most extreme conditions. The rich contours of Australia’s natural and cultural history are trumped by the mentality that older is better.

To political leaders, old dates bestow a veneer of antiquity to a young settler nation. To scientists, they propel Australian history into a global human story and allow us to see ourselves as a species. To Indigenous Australians, they may be valued as an important point of cultural pride or perceived as utterly irrelevant. Their responses are diverse.

Further reading: Buried tools and pigments tell a new history of humans in Australia for 65,000 years

Recently, one of us, Lynette Russell, asked 35 Aboriginal friends and colleagues of varying ages, genders and backgrounds for their thoughts about Australia’s deep history.

Many of the responses were statements of cultural affirmation (“We have always been here” or “We became Aboriginal here”), while others viewed the long Indigenous history on this continent through the lens of continuity, taking pride in being members of “the oldest living population in the world” and “the world’s oldest continuing culture”.

As expressions of identity, these are powerful statements. But when others uncritically repeat such notions as historical fact, they risk suggesting that Aboriginal culture has been frozen in time. We need to be careful not to echo the language of past cultural evolutionists, who believed, in Robert Pulleine’s infamous words, that Aboriginal people were “an unchanging people, living in an unchanging environment”.

Rock art at Nourlangie Rock in Kakadu National Park
Rock art at Nourlangie Rock in Kakadu National Park. Dean Lewins/AAP

This article seeks to move beyond the view of ancient Australia as a timeless and traditional foundation story to explore the ways in which scientists and humanists are engaging with the deep past as a transformative human history.

Memories of time

The revolution in Australia’s timescale was driven by the advent of radiocarbon dating in the mid-20th century. The nuclear chemist Willard Libby first realised the dating potential of carbon-14 isotopes while working on the Manhattan Project (which also produced the atom bomb). In 1949, he and James Arnold outlined a way to date organic materials from a couple of hundred years old to tens of thousands of years old. The key was to measure the memories of time preserved in carbon atoms.

By comparing the decaying isotope, carbon-14, with the stable isotope, carbon-12, they were able to measure the age of a sample with relative precision. The rate of decay and amount of carbon-14 provided the date.

“A new time machine has been invented”, Australian archaeologist John Mulvaney declared when he realised the implications of the method. In 1962, he used the new technique at Kenniff Cave in the central Queensland highlands and was stunned to discover that Australia had been occupied during the last Ice Age. The dates of 19,000 years overturned the long-standing idea that Australia was the last continent to be inhabited by modern humans and the artefacts he uncovered in his excavations revealed a rich history of cultural adaptation.

The following decade, at Lake Mungo, Australia’s human history was pushed back to the limits of the radiocarbon technique. A sample from spit 17 of Mulvaney and Wilfred Shawcross’ excavations at Lake Mungo revealed that the ancestors of the Mutthi Mutthi, Ngyiampaa and Paakantji peoples had thrived on these lakeshores over 40,000 years ago. Geomorphologist Jim Bowler also revealed the dramatic environmental fluctuations these people endured: what is now a dusty and desiccated landscape was then a fertile lake system with over 1000 km2 of open water.

The remains of Mungo Man. 
The remains of Mungo Man. AAP


Further reading: Mungo man returns home and there is still much he can teach us about ancient Australia

The date of 40,000 years had a profound public impact and announced the coming of age of Australian archaeology. The phrase “40,000 years” quickly appeared on banners outside the Tent Embassy in Canberra, in songs by Aboriginal musicians and in land rights campaigns. When the bicentenary of European settlement was marked on 26 January 1988, thousands of Australians protested the celebrations with posters reading “White Australia has a Black History” and “You have been here for 200 years, we for 40,000”. The comparison magnified the act of dispossession.

A mural in Redfern, Sydney, based on the lyrics of the Joe Geia song ‘40,000 Years’. Billy Griffiths

The discovery of 65,000 years of human occupation at Madjedbebe rock shelter on Mirrar land, at the edge of the Arnhem Land escarpment, draws on a different dating method: optically stimulated luminescence. This technique analyses individual grains of sand and the charge that builds up in their crystal quartz lattice over time. By releasing and measuring this charge, geochronologists are able to reveal the moment a grain of sand was last exposed to sunlight.

The archaeological site at Madjedbebe is far more than an old date; it reveals a long and varied history of human occupation, with evidence of profound cultural and ecological connections across the landscape, cutting edge Ice Age technology (such as the world’s earliest ground-edge axe) and dramatic environmental change.

Perhaps most evocatively, throughout the deposit, even at the lowest layers, archaeologists found ochre crayons: a powerful expression of artistic endeavour and cultural achievement.

Scientists Elspeth Hayes with Mark Djandjomerr
Scientists Elspeth Hayes with Mark Djandjomerr (centre) and traditional owner May Nango extracting comparative samples at a cave adjacent to the Madjedbebe rock shelter in the Kakadu National Park. Vincent Lamberti/GUNDJEIHMI ABORIGINAL CORPORATION

In the wake of the discovery, in August 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull seized upon the new date in his speech at Garma, singling out the possibilities of this deep time story for political reconciliation:

I am filled with optimism about our future together as a reconciled Australia. Last month scientists and researchers revealed new evidence that our First Australians have been here in this land for 65,000 years. … This news is a point of great pride for our nation. We rejoice in it, as we celebrate your Indigenous cultures and heritage as our culture and heritage – uniquely Australian.

Although Turnbull revels in the deep time story, his speech avoids reflecting on the more recent past. Here is a statement of reconciliation that does not address the estrangement that it is seeking to overcome. As such it opens itself up to being dismissed as simply a prolonged platitude.

We cannot engage with the past 65,000 years without acknowledging the turbulent road of the past two centuries.

A story of rupture and resilience

When Europeans arrived in Australia in the 17th and 18th centuries they were setting foot onto a land that had been home to thousands of generations of Indigenous men and women. These groups lived along the coasts and hinterlands and travelled into the mountains and across stone plateaus; they thrived in the harsh deserts and gathered in great numbers along waterways and rivers.

Although Australia is a continent, it is home to hundreds of different nations, over 200 language groups and an immense variety of cultural, geographic and ecological regions. To the newcomers these people were simply perceived as “the natives”, and despite the immense cultural diversity across vastly different environmental zones, the disparate groups became labelled with the umbrella term: “the Aborigines”.

There is a similar tendency today to homogenise the deep history of the first Australians. The dynamic natural and cultural history of Australia is too often obscured by tropes of timelessness. Tourism campaigns continue to tell us that this is the land of the “never never”, the home of “ancient traditions” and “one of the world’s oldest living groups”.

Such slogans imply a lack of change and hide the remarkable variety of human experiences on this continent over tens of thousands of years. While there is great continuity in the cultural history of Indigenous peoples, theirs is also a story of rupture and resilience.

The 1989 excavations at Madjedbebe (Malakunanja II), Arnhem Land. 
The 1989 excavations at Madjedbebe (Malakunanja II), Arnhem Land. Mike Smith

The discovery of old dates at Madjedbebe does not make the history of the site any more or less significant. It simply reminds us that science, like history, is an ongoing inquiry. All it takes is a new piece of evidence to turn on its head what we thought we knew. Science is a journey and knowledge is ever evolving.

The epic story of Australia will continue to shift with the discovery of new sites and new techniques, and by engaging and collaborating with different worldviews. It is a history that can only be told by working across cultures and across disciplines; by bridging the divide between the sciences and the humanities and translating numbers and datasets into narratives that convey the incredible depth and variety of human experience on this continent.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Billy GriffithsBilly Griffiths – [Research fellow, Deakin University];
Image of Lynette RussellLynette Russell – [Professor, Indigenous Studies and History, Monash University]
Image of Richard 'Bert' RobertsRichard ‘Bert’ Roberts – [ARC Australian Laureate Fellow and Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH), University of Wollongong]

The authors of this article will continue this conversation at a public event in Wollongong on Friday 24 November 2017 at the annual meeting of the Australasian Association for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science. There will be two other sets of speakers, exploring issues surrounding precision medicine and artificial intelligence. Register here.





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Mary Jane Exhibition

Jane Curtis

Jane Curtis has been living in and around St Kilda for the past 30 odd years. She was an art student back in the 70’s but went into hospitality out of necessity. 8 years ago she went back to her passion, painting. Back to school. Having had a number of exhibitions. The last being at the TITI Café in August 2017. She and her flat mate are having a joint showing in their 1870’s apartment in St Kilda.

She said, “We want it to be casual, colourful and joyful”.

”Mary and l have completely different styles of painting but we both use acrylic. We love the whole idea of an old fashioned/Salon style show and invite people to just come and see our art. We are excited to be part of the Arts Crawl and are looking forward to more events in the future.”

Mary Thompson 

A self-taught artist, Mary Thompson was born in Melbourne and recently returned after a 25 year hiatus.

Gifted with a small wooden box set of oil paints at age 8, Thompson began an artistic journey that would take her across the globe.

Thompson’s life, like her art, has been an adventure into the unknown. 

Her work is a response to the immensity of the landscape, incomprehensibility of nature, the inarticulate emotional self and above all the mystery that lies just beneath the surface.

A fast drying medium, acrylic is used to instantly capture, layer and rework the emotional landscape. As texture is created, even the original lines, colors and markings become a hidden entity, reiterating psychological process.


Their success was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams and before the Spice Girls, they were the biggest girl group in the world even surpassing the Supremes.

The Bands original lineup consisted of Keren Woodward, Sara Dallin and Siobhan Fahey.

In the aftermath of punk, three girls came together with no obvious qualifications, but a vision to start their own pop group. These girls next door with attitude, spent the next seven years taking on the music industry. While success was attainable, it came at a huge cost, and almost cost the girls their friendship.

All three were in girl gangs when they were 12/13 years of age.  And as with most gangs, people argue and at one point no-one was speaking with Woodward, but Dallin really liked her, so against the gang, one evening in secret, she went to Woodward’s house and the girls made a pact that they would be best friends forever and that they wouldn’t need anyone else.

As soon as Fahey left school she left home wanting adventure. She was tired of living in suburbia and shortly after moving to London, she met Dallin. Dallin saw her across a room and as they dressed identically and had similar hair and features, Dallin knew that this person was going to become a good friend.

Dallin and Fahey went on to study journalism at London University, whilst Woodward tried to get a job with the BBC in London because she thought the job would be glamorous, and was shocked to later find out that she would be working in the finance department. She was chosen for this area, after the managers were impressed with her maths results. They invited her to join the pensions department which wasn’t really what she had in mind, so unfortunately her career in television never took off.

Woodward and Dallin then later bumped into Paul Cook from the sex pistols in a club and both girls were living at the YWCA at the time. And one Sunday morning, the girls got this message over the speaker there saying Paul Cook was in reception, and being little punk girls, they were so excited, so they ran down stairs and there he was. The girls eventually were thrown out of the YWCA for keeping late hours, and Paul Cook offered them a place to stay above the ‘Sex Pistols’ old rehearsal room in Denmark Street. It wasn’t flash, but it was a roof.

After the Sex Pistols broke up, Paul Cook and Steve Jones started another band called the Professionals and they would rehearse where the girls were now crashing. Every so often the girls would join in on the rehearsals as backup vocalists and they also taught the girls some guitar chords. And from this, they got the idea for Bananarama as it was Paul who suggested the girls should get a group together.

Cook ended up producing their first single ‘AIE A MWANA’ and it wasn’t long before they came to the attention of Terry Hall. He was looking though a magazine called ‘Face Magazine’ when he saw a small photo of the three girls who looked really scruffy and they said they were a band, but they didn’t look like a band, they just looked scruffy, but regardless of first appearances, he tracked the girls down.

They met and the girls told him that they weren’t professional singers, and he said, yes I know, even though the girls had made a record with the help of Paul Cook..

Hall tried to get the girls to perform on stage together with another group ‘Fun Boy Three’ doing backups for the song “It aint what you do, it’s the way that you do it’ , and they couldn’t sing. They knew when they were suppose to come in and when it was their time, rather than sing, they would burst out laughing.

The next song they all attempted was ‘Really Saying Something’ as the girls had already rehearsed it time and time again in the studio where they were living.

Before the girls knew it, both songs are in the charts and reach #5. They went on to support everyone from Iggy Pop to Paul Weller (Weller would later pen a track that appeared on their first album) and doing various television appearances. They have their pictures plastered all over every music and entertainment magazine in London, but oddly enough, all girls are still on the dole and taking showers at the local swimming pool.

For the next ten years the girls would record some of the catchiest tunes and produce some of the wackiest video clips to sell them. They became internationally hot property after their hit ‘Cruel Summer’ hit the US Billboard Top 10. They would later meet legendary Hollywood actor Robert De Niro after recording a song ‘Robert De Niro’s waiting’ (talking Italian).

By the time the third single from their forth album was released in 1988, Fahey who had married Eurythmics frontman Dave Stewart, left the group after becoming disillusioned with the direction the band was taking. She also felt socially excluded by the other two members of the band who had been best friends longer. After her exit, Jacquie O’Sullivan (formerly from the ‘Shillelagh Sisters) would join the group. Fahey would later resurface in the award winning pop duo ‘Shakespears Sister’ with Marcella Detroit.

Bananarama would go on to record 10 albums that included ‘Deep Sea Skiving ‘(1983), Bananarama (1984), ‘True Confessions’ (1986), ‘Wow’ (1987), ‘Pop Life’ (1991), ‘Please Yourself’ (1993), ‘Ultra Violet’ (1995), ‘Exotica’ (2001), ‘Drama’ (2005), ‘Viva’ (2009).

Since 1992, Woodward and Gallin have continued to perform under the group name Bananarama as a duo. In 2013, Dallin posted on her twitter account that she and Woodward were writing new tracks together.






This is how to create social hubs that make 20-minute neighbourhoods work

 Highton Shopping Village in Geelong. 
Leila FarahaniAuthor provided

Successful neighbourhood centres are important as places to meet and for social activity. People’s access to neighbourhood centres and the diversity of buildings and commercial uses found there can significantly influence how, and to what extent, we interact.

Developing successful neighbourhood centres is at the core of Plan Melbourne’s strategy to create 20-minute neighbourhoods. These are neighbourhoods where people can access most of their needs within a 20-minute walk, cycle or public transport trip.

We recently studied the impacts of having diverse shops, businesses and eating places in suburban neighbourhood centres. Recently published in Urban Design International, our study looked at three such centres in Geelong, Australia.

Good planning can reduce suburban isolation

Often in today’s suburban communities, their only direct connection to cities is through roads and freeways. Immobile residents and people without access to private vehicles, such as teenagers and the elderly, can feel trapped in their homes. Even mobile residents can feel isolated when social interactions depend on using their cars.

Evidence suggests the design and planning of neighbourhoods have impacts on the sense of community and social life in them. Ensuring people have opportunities to interact with others, improving liveability and encouraging a sense of community are now key objectives of government agencies like VicHealth.

Neighbourhood planning and design can encourage face-to-face social interaction in various ways. Promoting diverse commercial uses in local centres is considered to be effective.

Diverse uses promote social activity

Our study mapped users’ activities through observation of how they socialised. The study explored how the arrangement and diversity of commercial uses in neighbourhood centres might better promote or affect the social life of neighbourhoods and reduce isolation. The goal of such strategies is to generate a sociable atmosphere, attract a diversity of users and create more vibrant places at night.

Pavement dining was found to play an important role in generating social activities in neighbourhood centres. Several socialising activities – such as people chatting, having a coffee or meal together – happen around cafés and restaurants. These are also the longest-lasting social interactions.

The areas of greatest social activity on pavements are the ones claimed by café chairs and shades. To encourage social activities on streets, local councils should promote the use of pavements by eateries and other traders.

Food stores and other convenience stores attract many visitors to local centres and enhance the chances of interaction among residents. Besides diversity of uses, the number of stores allocated to each group of uses is important. The right mix of stores and services provides the balance neighbourhood centres need to successfully meet local requirements.

Diversity of uses – rather than housing multiple traders in single-tenant “super” markets – can also enhance the character of a street. Diversity can give a street or a local centre an attractive, sociable atmosphere. Pakington Street, crowded with bars and restaurants, is an example of a vibrant social hub in Geelong.

Pakington Street in Geelong
Pakington Street in Geelong. Leila Farahani, Author provided

Diversity of uses also leads to a diversity of users. Co-locating different commercial uses, such as boutiques and clothing, specialty food shops or gaming parlours, can make streets more appealing to various groups of people. Planning neighbourhood centres that appeal to a diverse range of people in terms of age, gender, physical ability and cultural background can guarantee the vitality and success of local centres.

As well as planning, it’s vital that these social hubs are close to the homes of the people who use them. Suburbs can still be isolating environments if people have to get into their cars to visit their nearest social hub.

Diversity is also important in determining a street’s nightlife and evening economy. This is because certain uses are more prominent in the evening, and enhancing social activity on streets creates a safer night-time environment.

More social, happier and healthier

Why should planners work to promote social interactions? The suburban lifestyle is associated with weaker social ties and increased social isolation. The lower the density the greater these associations.

Social isolation is a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality. Socially isolated people are at risk of low self-esteem and higher rates of coronary heart disease, depression and anxiety. So people living in low-density suburbs are at particularly high risk.

Feelings of isolation in low-density suburbia are harder on some residents than others. People who spend much of their time at home, such as the elderly or those with debilitating disability, are more vulnerable. The story of Natalie Wood, found in her home eight years after her death, is a sad example.

While communication technology sometimes can reduce isolation, this does not replace the value of face-to-face interactions. By analysing and understanding the diversity of uses needed for a local centre and carefully planning a balanced mix of functions, planners can help encourage these interactions and social cohesion in suburbs.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Leila Mahmoudi FarahaniLeila Mahmoudi Farahani – [Research Officer in Urban Studies, RMIT University];
Image of Cristina Garduño FreemanCristina Garduño Freeman – [Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage (ACAHUCH), University of Melbourne];
Image of David BeynonDavid Beynon – [Senior Lecturer and Architect, Deakin University]
Image of Richard TuckerRichard Tucker – [Associate Professor and Associate Head of School (Research), Deakin University]






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    I travelled far
    It brought me here
    I went to great lengths
    To disappear
    It's gonna take courage
    To kill this fear
    That your world can go to hell
    In the falling of a tear
    I was there for you 
    Do you remember me?
    I laid down my life
    So you could finally see
    You have to lose everthing
    That you held so dear 
    For wisdom comes
    At the cost of a tear
    I was happy as Larry
    and full of beer
    Till the dice left me stranded
    At the end of the pier
    I thought of jumping
    I thought of King Lear
    Your whole life can go past ya
    In the falling of a tear
    Now I have gone
    But this ghost remains
    To forget you went to Paris
    Me? I went to great pains
    You could tell my story
    But it wouldn't seem clear
    Why I missed the chances
    That was already here
    You wrote me a letter
    And it sounded sincere
    You said you'd found God in the details
    And the falling of a tear
    I read it standing in the rain
    Misdiagnosed as insane
    Some call it falling
    But I say it's the higher calling
    Of a tear
    Of the falling
    (c) Frank Howson 2017. 
    (c) photograph by Vanessa Allan


    Opening nite time again this time for this AUSTRALIAN PREMIER fabulis production of I @ Athenaeum by Melbourne opera company. This is MOCs third in the TheTrilogy series, each being held at different Melbourne inner city venues…. back to the future now and home in Collins St Saturday nite November 11,14,16,18 at 7-30pm sharp!
    Music to dye for great set on the now-adaze tiny ATHENAEUM stage of MOC tucked away behind the Town Hall on Collins St Hill. The “curtain-down” overture went on forever setting the scene for the elaborate gothic interior of Elizabeth Queen of Englnds palace. A few of OUR old Facebook friends TENOR-Jason Wasley (LORD CECIL), BARITONE-Phil Calcagno (DUKE OF NOTTINGHAM), and TENOR-Henry Choo (EARL OF ESSEX Roberto Deveraux-our hero).and sex-istly dis-respectingly ELIZABETH QUEEN OF ENGLAND Wagnerian SOPRANO Helen Dix.
    Queen Liz the 1st is lusting after Roberto Devereux but suspects hes seeing another woman; enter the daze of our lives scenario of women competing with other women fighting other women and the men hiding n running for cover plot. Music and arias gay-lore conducted and played by Greg Hocking  MELBOURNE OPERA CHORUS n ORCHESTRA orchestra formed the rapturous racy love/hate scenario background. The old Athenaeum scrubbed up well for the nite and our old opera buddy PATRON- Lady Potter (who we thought had fled to Barcelona 2 years ago) was here in all her finery.
    Reminiscent of the old opening nites a huge adoring crowd of now somewhat-older regulars mixed easily with lots of enthralled young new opera-goers. OPERA LIVES AGAIN in Melbourne and this one especially was ONE OUT OF THE BAG – FABULIS  How MENy stars (besides us) do we give this masterpiece 10/10 gud on ya Melbourne WOOF! 11/14/16/18 NOV  what no matinee??? Bookings;

    The road to same-sex marriage support has been long – and the fight isn’t over yet

     People celebrate the results of the  
    same-sex marriage postal survey in Melbourne. AAP Image/Luis Enrique Ascui

    Wednesday’s same-sex marriage survey results represent a moment of extraordinary change. It is well within living memory that homosexuality in Australia was considered a crime, a sickness and a threat to the nation itself. The final Australian state to decriminalise male homosexuality was Tasmania, as recently as 1997. Plenty of gay men still remember the fear of prison terms that shadowed their lives.

    Plenty of lesbians still remember that, although their sex lives were never criminalised, the police and the courts found ways to oppress and harass them nonetheless. Many LGBTIQ people still carry the emotional and physical scars of brutal medical interventions designed to fix something that was never broken.

    And yet, from the birth of the Australian lesbian and gay rights movement at the end of the 1960s, through the growing inclusivity of LGBTIQ activist politics in the decades since, we have somehow reached a point in November 2017 where millions of heterosexual Australians have chosen to tick a box saying “yes”.

    In the process, they have helped a once demonised, pathologised and criminalised minority take a major step towards equality.

    Fighting for recognition

    There is a long history of Australian same-sex couples understanding their relationships as marriages and fighting for legal recognition. But for many of the lesbian and gay activists who built the early rights and liberation movements, marriage wasn’t part of their agenda.

    Feminist critiques of marriage as a mechanism of patriarchal oppression inspired many activists to condemn the very idea of wedlock. But I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to argue that the outcome of this survey began, at least in part, in the consciousness-raisinggroups, protests and parties of the 1970s movement.

    Perhaps the greatest success of early activists was convincing queer people that they deserved better; to stop listening to the harmful lies that told them they were sick, their desires were shameful and they were destined for sad and lonely lives. Instead, queer people were told to come out, be proud and change the world.

    This created happier lives for many LGBTIQ people, of course. But it also dramatically shifted how the straight world understood this evil “other”. It is much harder to fear homosexuals once you’ve discovered that the lovely women who live next door are more than just roommates. That the blokes who run the local newsagency are more than simply business partners. A generation of kids has grown up with gay uncles and trans cousins in a world where the idea of “queer” represents an expansion of possibilities rather than a terrifying threat.

    This change didn’t come from nowhere. It is a direct consequence of people who burst out of the closet in the 1970s, then turned around and smashed the damn thing to pieces.

    The other consequence of the early movement was a tradition of organising and campaigning that has stood the community in good stead throughout this survey.

    I don’t want to romanticise this activist history. The LGBTIQ community has never been a neatly united entity, harmoniously reaching for common goals. Some queer activists still argue that marriage is a force of oppression and see this campaign as a capitulation rather than a victory.

    But for me, a great joy in the last few months has been watching the campaign run alongside grassroots actions ranging from street marches to flying rainbow flags off balconies. All of these acts are part of a powerful tradition and elements of one of the great social movements of Australian history.

    Bigotry continues

    There are, of course, many good people who voted “no”, and who will be saddened by the outcome of this survey. For many older Australians, for example, I can imagine that any change to marriage feels like a loss. I hope they will come to understand that this change will not impact them at all.

    Sadly, the “no” campaign was dominated by arguments soaked in bigotry. Although attitudes to lesbian and gay couples have seen extraordinary change in recent decades, trans people still seem to comprise a scary “other” that is all too easily demonised. As a result, same-sex marriages were barely mentioned by the “no” campaign except as some kind of slippery slope that would supposedly lead to more freedoms for trans individuals.

    Also all too often, an element of the “no” campaign was the idea that LGBTIQ people are a threat to children. This deeply harmful rhetoric has a long history in Australian life. “No” campaigners have demonised LGBTIQ parents and placed at risk the safety of children in rainbow families. And they have risked exacerbating the vulnerability of young LGBTIQ people in schools.

    Our celebrations are bitter-sweet. The majority of Australians have rejected these hurtful arguments, and yet the campaign has revealed how much work there is left to be done.

    Trans and gender non-conforming people, in particular, deserve a greater voice and the support of the rest of their community, as do LGBTIQ school students. Also needing our continued activism are the gay refugees now trapped on Manus Island. These men were forced to flee Iran to find safety. They have been placed by the Australian government in a country in which homosexuality remains illegal.

    The personal is political

    Feminist and gay liberation activists in the 1970s embraced the slogan “the personal is political”, so permit me a personal reflection on this political moment. I’ve been surprised by how much this campaign has affected me. I’m a middle-aged gay man with an amazing partner and incredibly supportive family, friends and colleagues. I imagined that the “no” campaign would simply wash over me.

    But I’ve been deeply hurt by so much of what has been said about people I love. I worry for the impact I’ve seen this campaign have on families. I’m angry that the validity of my relationship was considered an open question. I’m furious that every homophobe who has ever spat offensive words at me and threatened me with violence has been given an opportunity to place further judgement.

    But I’m also incredibly proud. My community has fought a campaign that was overwhelmingly positive. Our straight and cisgender (those whose gender and biological sex align) allies have stood alongside us, offering their support in ways that I’ve found truly moving. And the majority of Australians has cared enough about this issue to find a letterbox and send in their “yes” vote. There is much to feel good about in that.

    And so this goes back to the parliament, where it should have been resolved in the first place, and the next battle for LGBTIQ activists begins. It is only since 2013 that LGBTIQ people have been protected under federal anti-discrimination laws. It is now up to the prime minister to reject any marriage bill that diminishes these protections. Right now, it is the least he can do.

    This article was written by:
    Image of Scott McKinnonScott McKinnon – [Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Wollongong]





    This article is part of a syndicated news program via


    Grattan on Friday: In 2017 Australia has delivered to LGBTI community but failed its First Peoples

     Trevor Evans, Trent Zimmerman and Tim Wilson 
    congratulate Dean Smith following the second reading of his marriage bill. 

    Important detail is being debated but for all intents and purposes the same-sex marriage issue is over. The Coalition conservatives don’t have the numbers to insert egregious amendments into the bill that’s now before parliament.

    Turnbull had a glass of champagne and, along with millions of Australians, gloried in the moment this week when the nation delivered its historic decision.

    Senator Dean Smith, one of the five Liberals who forced the issue back on the government’s agenda, told the Senate this had been “a vote about who we are as a people”.

    It has been a strange tale, when you look back on it.

    Remember that the plan for a popular vote (though not one by post) originated in a desperate “save me” ploy from embattled then-prime minister Tony Abbott in 2015. Turnbull condemned the idea of a plebiscite, but had to embrace it as part of realising his own leadership ambitions. Labor was committed to marriage equality but refused to back a February plebiscite that would by now have seen many gays married.

    Despite its dubious ancestry, the popular vote has done its job, delivering an overall majority and majorities in all states and territories.

    That’s more than you can say for most referendums (which of course this was not). And it brings to mind the contrast between the effectiveness of this vote and the exhaustive consultative process over years that was supposed to culminate in a referendum to recognise our First Australians in the constitution.

    That process stretched through governments of different hues and tapped into Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Abbott hoped for a May 2017 referendum, timing always optimistic and then overtaken by events.

    Paradoxically, the longer the consultative process went, the smaller became the prospect of a plan emerging that would be acceptable to Indigenous people, the government and the broad community.

    Finally it culminated in the Reconciliation Council’s proposal for a national Indigenous representative assembly, predictably unacceptable to the Turnbull government.

    In whatever way blame is distributed, my point is that for a variety of reasons a copybook consultative process failed miserably – there will be no referendum in the foreseeable future – while the widely-criticised popular vote on marriage delivered the goods, albeit with some downsides posed by such a campaign.

    So Australia this year has done the right thing by the nation’s LGBTI community but, despite earlier aspirations, has again failed its First Peoples. An opportunity that once seemed to be there was missed and now probably the time has passed.

    When parliament resumes the week after next for its final fortnight of the year, much of its time will be taken with the marriage bill, but it will be the citizenship declarations MPs must submit by December 1 that will be jangling the political nerves.

    Those will be followed in the subsequent week by referrals to the High Court. Several are expected already. The government has flagged it intends to refer at least two Labor MPs who moved to renounce their citizenship before they nominated but didn’t receive confirmation until afterwards. Turnbull has told the Nick Xenophon Team’s Rebekha Sharkie that her eligibility may have to be determined by the High Court.

    This week the High Court gave another literalist ruling, when it decided that Liberal Hollie Hughes was ineligible to replace former senator Fiona Nash because Hughes had held an office of profit under the Crown (she was appointed this year to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, from which she quickly resigned when the court ruled against Nash).

    The message seems that anyone sent to the High Court shouldn’t be expecting any mercy.

    Much as Turnbull wants to go into the new year in an orderly way, the parliament will start 2018 in disorder if the High Court judgements produce byelections. By the time these were out of the way, the government would be only about a year from an election, assuming it runs full term.

    If any 2018 byelections were confined to non-Coalition seats – there are two in Coalition seats currently – the government wouldn’t be worried about its parliamentary numbers but it would be anxious about the size of swings.

    The citizenship crisis and the marriage ballot have crowded out everything else, but in the background the government’s energy plan has yet to be bedded down, with the key Commonwealths meeting delayed by the Queensland election. While the win on marriage is a morale-boosting fillip for Turnbull, what he can or can’t deliver on energy is much closer to the electoral bone.

    Turnbull in late December or early in the new year will undertake a reshuffle, which is becoming more pressing with the elevation of Scott Ryan to the Senate presidency and the loss of Nash producing a now-depleted ministry. By then, Barnaby Joyce will be back.

    Some repair will be needed in relations within the Coalition. These became fractured after the blame Liberals hurled at the Nationals over their citizenship carelessness – before the Liberals’ own was exposed.

    But the tensions run deeper. The Nationals are frustrated at the government’s parlous situation. All but one of their electorates came in with a “yes” result but the Nationals believe the marriage issue won’t bring them any votes and has been a distraction from what matters to their grassroots.

    They see it as a Liberal party preoccupation. Even many Liberals regard it, in electoral terms, primarily as removing an irritant rather than being a vote magnet at the election.

    The Nationals don’t want the Liberals to change their leader. But they do want Turnbull’s attention firmly on bread and butter issues. And they despair that he can’t get a better line and length on Bill Shorten.

    For all his troubles Turnbull will go into the summer seemingly safe in his job, not least for lack of a better alternative. Anyway, who’d want it just now?

    This article was written by:
    Michelle Grattan – [Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra]





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