Three new novels

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These three novels are not on the list on my website, and I am changing that soon anyway.  The Innings Biography Nick Carrington, a New York crime scriptwriter, is back in Australia to see his parents. He is intrigued by a request from an old friend, Ben Mitchell, to cast his eye over an almost finished biography of Ben’s grandfather, Sir Arthur Innings, an immigrant who made good in the business world. He agrees, and finds himself taken to a lovely restored house on the Hawkesbury River, where he meets the housekeeper and the research assistant. The biographer is absent,…

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Writing Fiction

By | Other | 5 Comments

I started writing fiction as a teenager, as seems to be the case for many writers. In those juvenile years I also wrote a newspaper (one issue, and one reader, my father), and tried my hand at short stories. I only ever found the skill and nerve to write two poems. One was good, I think, but I’ve mislaid it as well as the other one. No matter. A. D. Hope wrote a little book about writing poetry (The New Cratylus, I think, I no longer have my copy), whose message was that the idea for the poems might come…

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World energy consumption, and its meaning for us

By | Other | 38 Comments

For several years now I have paid attention to the supply and demand factors for the production of energy. It seems to me that the standard of living we enjoy in Australia and developing countries aspire to, is based on an abundance of cheap and reliable energy. I have mentioned in at least one earlier essay the wonderful museum in Ceduna, in South Australia, which offers visitors a working example of every machine, and there are dozens of them, used before the arrival of electricity. A lot of old guys maintain these machines, and they are properly proud of them…

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Another crisis in higher education

By | Other | 26 Comments

In 1947 the universities in Australia were trying to cope with the enrolments of former servicemen, and women, paid for by the Commonwealth Government under a postwar reconstruction scheme. The vice-chancellors, who rarely met, and there were only seven of them, wrote to the Government and declared there was a ‘crisis’. That word was going to be overused throughout the next seventy years. During that time the world of higher education grew and grew, from around 25,000 in 1947, to well over a million today (or before Covid-19). Each time there was a sharp increase in enrolments there was a…

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Erasing history

By | Other | 75 Comments

Some twenty years ago the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan, on the ground that these statues, carved in the rock in the early 6thcentury, were idols. The Taliban weren’t the first, let alone the only, destroyers of culture. In 338 BC Alexander the Great sent his army to Persepolis (‘the city of the Persians’), formerly the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. For those who only dimly remember their ancient history, it was the city of Cyrus the Great and Darius I, and was close to a thousand years old when Alexander decided to knock its central elements…

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Reconciliation and BLM

By | Other | 79 Comments

This essay was originally to be about Reconciliation Day, which appeared in the ACT a week ago, but since then the issue has morphed into worldwide protest about the extent to which black lives matter (BLM). No matter, I’ll combine them. What has fascinated me is the way in which large crowds were organised in Australia, almost overnight, with printed signs and all the rest. Here the demonstrators were combining protest over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis with protest over the deaths of Aboriginal prisoners in custody. Where did all this suddenly come from? One possible answer is…

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On ‘expertise’, ‘experts’ and ‘science’

By | Other | 54 Comments

This essay hovers around the notions of ‘expertise’ and ‘experts’, concepts used in ‘science’ that have been much to the fore in the last thirty years or so, and especially in the last few months, when competing cries of expertness and science have been uttered about COVID-19 and what to do about it. The words have Latin origins and come to us through Old French. But the core of ‘expertise is the notion of something having been tested by experience, an ‘expert’ likewise being someone who has had experience, and is skilful. In the 19thcentury an intensified sense of skilful…

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More on the culture of the ABC

By | Other | 86 Comments

Several years ago I wrote a piece for the Sydney Institute Quarterly (SIQ) on what I saw as a mismatch between the ABC’s charter and the way in which news was presented. It was a ‘more sorrow than anger’ piece, because I had a long association with the ABC, as a talking head on radio and television, an advisory committee member for NSW, and a junior organiser of concerts in a country town. I had even tried, and failed, to get my piano music played, when there was an opportunity to be heard by an expert. He said I wasn’t one,…

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Beethoven is 250

By | Other | 9 Comments

In April 1770 James Cook sailed past a large mountain on the south coast of what would eventually be called New South Wales, and named it Mt Dromedary. Later in the day he named Pigeon House Mountain, because the sight reminded him of a pigeon house. In July he was beached off the coast of what would be called Queensland, because he had discovered what would later be called the Great Barrier Reef, and it caused a hole in his ship’s hull. It took him six weeks to repair the damage. At the end of the year, probably December 16th,…

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Food miles

By | Other | 18 Comments

   The other night I was watching a cooking program, and part of it was about a restaurant where everything was locally sourced. The chef talked about ‘food miles’ and I decided that I would explore the concept, which is what it looks like: you should eat locally and avoid adding to the world’s carbon footprint. Now the ‘miles’ measurement came from the UK, and some time ago, but for someone in Canberra one hundred km would be the more sensible measure. I thought about it all while I happily ate my ruby red grapefruit. My breakfast starts with half such…

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