Open Mic – Yangon

Posted in Craig Hodges, Events, Myanmar (Burma), Yangon with tags , , , on July 14, 2012 by craighodges

The invitation to speak in public for the first time here in Myanmar (Burma) has had my head in a slow spin for days.

Whilst being a low-key gathering at a new art gallery in downtown Yangon, the opportunity is nonetheless an honour; one I have not accepted lightly. The audience, from what I can gather, is an educated group of artists, business people and activists, who will be joined by a small number of expats.

Marc Scott the organizer informed me it was an ‘Open Mic’ occasion; the first of its kind for this new gallery. ‘So’ I thought to myself, ‘how do you make the most of such an opportunity in the context of the socio-political changes taking place in Myanmar at this very moment?’

‘Does one exercise a new found sense of the freedom of speech at an Open Mic night by being a political agitator, fomenting for further change and upheaval? or by playing the role of a comically crude foreigner who only aims to tests the audience’s moving boundaries of acceptability? or by adopting a more grave, judgmental sanctimonious tone?’

Not wanting to get carried away, I settled on reading two poems from Khalil Gibran;a Lebanese American artist, poet, and writer.

The first short poem read will be “Yesterday and Today”. It is a poem that explores the anguish of a rich man as he reflects back on his simpler life; a time without riches, when he was at ease among his fellow man and inspired and moved by gentleness and beauty of Nature.

The second poem “Slavery” has the poet sharing his knowledge of the suffering and slavery he has seen in his extensive travels across the world. It is sombre and hard hitting. Here is an excerpt:

“I found twisted slavery, which causes the tongues of the weak to move with fear, and speak outside of their feelings, and they feign to be meditating their plight, but they become as empty sacks, which even a child can fold or hang.”

“I found the bent slavery, which prevails upon one nation to comply with the laws and rules of another nation, and the bending is greater with each day.”

“I found the perpetual slavery, which crowns the sons of monarchs as kings, and offers no regard to merit.”

Aboriginal Tent Embassy … left in the dark by the unenlightened

Posted in Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Canberra, Canberra Festival, Events, People with tags , , , , , on March 9, 2011 by craighodges

Now listen carefully this isn’t spin, this is true: Canberra – yes Canberra – is set to come alive for two weekends over March 2011.

“Enlighten” is this year’s enthralling new theme for the Canberra Festival, and all participants have been promised to see Canberra in a whole new light.

Sounds promising… so let’s shed a little light of our own.

This year The Museum of Democracy at Old Parliament House, that august white building opposite the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, will feature as one of the main attractions. Come dark it is expected that a hush will come over the gathered crowds as a series of powerful hi-tech lights splash brilliant colours and images all over the white facade.

Those of you old enough to be nostalgic about drive-in theatres or Pink Floyd concerts are set to be in for a treat.

After being bedazzled by the lightshow, ticket holders will then be lured inside Old Parliament House to participate in an exclusive After Dark Experience that promises all manner of intrigue;

Spies, Leaks and Scandals

The event marketing reads…
“Running through much of Australia’s political life is a thread of secrecy and illicit knowledge. In the hot-house atmosphere of Parliament House, it was hard to keep any secrets. Now, some of the truth can be told – at least for the period when Old Parliament House was the nerve-centre of Australian political life. Explore some of the secrets of the House in this exclusive tour. Hear the stories this building can tell; of times when foreign spies dominated the front pages of our newspapers and when the everyday espionage of journalists provided our daily headlines – in the places where these events actually happened. This is an intriguing and unique look at some of the stories that made Australia.”

Meanwhile outside in the dark in front of Old Parliament House …

… the unenlightened will miss the following facts.

1. Long time Aboriginal Tent Embassy resident Ms Jude Kelly who renounced her Australian citizenship in mid-February 2011 was extended the offer of meals during the festival and a free single concert ticket to see either George Benson, Inxs, Chris Isaak or Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons by the event organizers.

2. Senator Kate Lundy’s office was kindly able to provide the last two Aboriginal Flags to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, thereby exhausting the Embassy’s allocated quota for the year. Several have already been issued.

3. The Museum of Democracy was able to provide free photocopies of double sided A4 black and white interpretative handouts about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

4. The CityWide gardening team kindly agreed to assist with picking up some hard rubbish which has been waiting for disposal for over a month from the grounds of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

5. ANTaR ACT representatives have called in for the second time this year with an excellent offer to help out.

6. A few dollars have been collected at the donation box thanks to visitors to the Embassy, including a senior Kuwati delegation.

7. A lady kindly donated and promptly errected a three person tent to be used as a library, to store information resources collected over the years by the Embassy and its residents.

Support?

… so as you can imagine with all this support, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy is now ready to participate in the Canberra Festival! Right?!

I wonder. Is it really ready to welcome possibly hundreds of curious visitors day and night during the festival? – or does all this support still really amount to nothing short of being left in the dark?

In all honesty, for those of you who care, or who perhaps wish to be ‘enlightened’ about the finer points, you should know that a few things are still missing after repeated calls for assistance …

1. Interpretive signage about the Embassy;
2. Full official acknowledgement as a cultural heritage site (still awaiting deliberations);
3. Recognition of the Embassy on street signage in and around the Parliamentary Zone;
4. The offer of a generator and lighting to light banners, steps and tents around the Embassy during events;
5. Inclusion in any management or planning of events that impact on the Embassy and the Parliament Zone around it.

Not to provide the Embassy and its residents with these basic requests tends to cast Canberra and its authorities in an unfavourable light to say the least.

Give it some thought. Off in the dark possibly thousands of visitors to the Canberra Festival will see fires burning in and around the Embassy. You can be sure of that. And I wonder, what will the ‘unenlightened’ visitors amongst them make of this spectacle? What will they see beyond the smoke?

And to think, in only a matter of years we – we Australians – will be having a referendum to ‘recognise Indigenous Australians’ in our Constitution. Right now, it all seems so far off … in the dark.

Canberra

Posted in Canberra with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2011 by craighodges

What I see

Canberra is filled with symbolism, flags, plaques, monuments and hundreds of institutions and organisations boasting acronyms starting with the letters ‘A’ or ‘N’, or in the case of the Australian National University both.

Unsurprisingly, as impressive as Australia’s capital is, the truth is that it is not unlike many other national capitals throughout the world. In the near 100 years since its Washington inspired conception, Canberra has been busy catching up with the ‘capital posturing’ exhibited by the rest of the world.

Washington has its National Mall, so too Canberra has its Federation Mall. Tokyo has it Tokyo National Museum, Canberra too a National Museum. London has its National Gallery, while Canberra its own National Gallery. Paris has the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Canberra its National Library. Moscow has its FSB headquarters, and so too Canberra …

Mark Twain observed of Rome, it was “a museum of magnificence and misery.”

Here in Canberra political adornments, both striking and dull, abound. There is clear evidence that the ancient and universal political tradition of employing edifice and affectation is alive and well. With gold and silver insignia, shiny coat-of-arms, robust military monuments, and flattering statues of past rulers, the subtle art of exercising power over citizens is evidenced throughout the city.

Canberra perhaps only differs from Pyongyang, in the last respect, merely in the diversity and subtlety of the symbolic political vocabulary that it employs, but is arguably similar to the North Korean capital in the frequency with which political objects and messages are embedded in the city. The commonality is the ubiquity, the decision by those in power to stamp their own political presence and their political history on geography, on place – and over time, on people.

Since ancient times generations of elites have passed down the art of securing and maintaining power and capitals, the very seats of power, have been central to this thinking. From the Egyptian, to the Roman, to our own rulers of the modern world, capital architects and builders have rigorously employed all manner of physical and psychological means possible to remind all who enter, where they are, and who they are subject to.

With this contrast in mind, when observed close up Canberra is no different. It has the power to inspire visible levels of awe in most of its newcomers. The capital’s layout and its narrative by design are intended to stir pride and deference. Buried deep into the top of a hill, Parliament House itself belies for the pessimist at least a mix of false modesty, of preparedness for siege and of concealment, while for the optimist humility, subservient grace and watchfulness. Such is the evocative power of Canberra.

Yet this constant proximity to such power, day in day out, does suggest unintended consequences. Observed over time, the city also has the power to equally inspire questionable measures of artifice, status seeking and the hunger for exclusivity in the more Machiavellian, privileged and patrician of its inhabitants. Well fed, well dressed and uniformly labelled they can commonly be found scurrying from one marble edifice to the next.

To mangle Paul Keating’s memorably utterance, “If you’re not living in Sydney, you’re camping out”, I would observe, if you’re not connected with Canberra, you’re a mere outsider.

Dorothy Rowe’s Canberra Address on Wikileaks

Posted in Canberra, Craig Hodges, Events, People, Wikileaks with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2011 by craighodges

The world media is joyfully whipping itself into a frenzy.

The hype, the hope

Wikileaks has emboldened the media world twice over. Coverage of this topic has put fire back in their bellies. First with access to startling content. Second with a sharp reminder and debate about their founding principles; free speech and protection of sources.

One can only imagine what it must be like to be the Editor-In-Chief at The Guardian, Le Monde, the New York Times, or Der Spiegel. Where do you start with all this sensitive, formerly classified information? How do you handle the issue of evaluation, the question of self-censorship, the timing of the releases and reporting, the determining of what is balanced analysis of the material and the undoubted knock-on effects divulging such information will have on wider associated events and issues? The mind boggles at the extent of the mental stresses and strains senior editorial types would be experiencing with each new Wikileak expose.

The world over publishers too know opportunity is in the air for them. This story isn’t going to go away any time soon. They are all racing to the presses with potential Wikileak bestsellers. Even at the local level, particularly in a place like Canberra, you can sense the rising levels of anticipation (and apprehension) at any number of public gatherings devoted to helping the intrigued, the bemused, or the simply curious to comprehend what this Julian Assange character and his Wikileaks is all about.

As I have recently found out, I am no exception to becoming caught up in this topic. My heightened curiousity though is now mixed with concern for the future of Julian Assange as an Australian citizen and a free and innocent individual. Equally my thoughts are tinged with the crazy-brave hope that the whole Wikileaks phenomenon, and its offshoots such as Openleaks, will gradually bring about positive change over time, by shedding light on some seriously questionable structures and practices of political and economic power.

The clarion call? Time to right some wrongs. Time to expose some lies. Time to point out a few naked (Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan) emperors.

Representative of the gravity of the Wikileak releases, Wired.com quote the now incarcerated Bradley Manning on the Cablegate release:

“Everywhere there’s a U.S. post, there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed,” [Bradley Manning] wrote. “It’s open diplomacy. World-wide anarchy in CSV format. It’s Climategate with a global scope, and breathtaking depth. It’s beautiful, and horrifying.”

The Dorothy Rowe event, the disappointing real eventuality

Thanks to the hype my media immune system ran down. I recognised that I was making a belated, almost half hearted start at looking into what is now widely accepted as a global phenomenon of considerable social and political consequence.

So the day after I picked up a copy of Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s account of his time ‘Inside Wikileaks‘ a small ad for a Dorothy Rowe event titled ‘Wikileaks and the Enemies of Truth’ caught my eye in the Canberra Times. Frankly I could not recall hearing of Dorothy, but the topic definitely had my attention.

Reading up on the event, Dorothy’s testimonal seemed convincing enough, and with a little wider research I recognise some of the titles of her psychology-based books, but can honestly say she never came to engage me like many other public intellectuals I liked to keep on my radar. It was plainly ‘the topic’ that decided the matter for me and off I went to take a closer look; my first Wikileaks public event.

Held in the landmark cafe that is Tilley’s cafe in Lyneham Canberra, I settled into a booth ahead of time and began daydreaming about all the weird and wonderful events that had been held up on Tilley’s theatre stage.

As the mostly mature and female audience slowly filled the place to almost capacity, I instinctivelystarted ‘reading’ the crowd and wondering what this might tell me about Dorothy and her talk.

Well, a few minutes into Dorothy’s introduction it became obvious that Dorothy, after many years of visiting Australia, had attracted her usual ardent fans and host of admirers. In fact I dare say this same crowd would have gathered to hear her speak on ‘gardening in arid climates at altitude’, nevermind that tonight’s topic was on Wikileaks. So here she was, I thought to myself, an acclaimed Psychologist and published author, about to perform a feat; an intellectual feat. She was, I presumed, going to apply her specialized field to analyze Julian Assange and Wikileaks, and in doing so in a sense go out on a limb. This would be good.

Well, yes some analysis did happen, and Dorothy did make some comments in relation to the universality of lying, about doing that which resonates with your true sense of self and shared a few thoughts on Julian Assange’s past, but little more. I soon became somewhat embarrassed and a tad disappointed with what was and wasn’t unfolding.

The Wikileaks content of her address really only amounted to about 10-20% of her entire talk. The rest of the time and content, to be frank, saw Dorothy return to subjects of mental health, SSRI medication and critiques of the Beyond Blue website, before she made yet another interesting (but unrelated) detour into comments about the environment and climate change denial.

Whilst all of these ‘additional’ topics were of interest to me, including a few quips about Tony Abbott, I must admit to feeling a little duped by the title of the whole event.

As the evening came to a close, one of the ladies at my stage side table leaned over and said to me, ‘I think we’ve been lied to’. This observation coming after a talk about the psychology of lying, self-delusion and the like, seemed an awkward, but nonetheless honest assessment to make.

My Lesson: Beware of how events market or position themselves. Dig a little. And seemingly the main tricks to watch out for are those events/speakers that are merely piggybacking on the popularity of other issues/subjects.

_______________________

Promo for the event below.

Wikileaks and the Enemies of Truth

Wikileaks have revealed to us that politicians and diplomats might be unfailingly pleasant to and respectful of the people they meet in their work but they gossip about them behind their backs. Wikileaks have also shown us that, given the choice, goverments will favour the rich and powerful over the poor and powerless. In short, Wikileaks have confirmed what we already knew. What is disturbing is that so many people who are neither rich nor powerful condemn Julian Assange and want to see him punished. Why are so many people frigtended of the truth? Dorothy Rowe has been names as one of the 100 women in business, politics, academia and science in the UK who ‘wield the most influence – visibly or invisibly – over our lives today.’ She’ll be in Canberra on February 23 to wield her influence over us.

___________________

The Wheeler Centre discussion: ‘Secrets & Lies: How WikiLeaks Has Changed the World’ (22nd February 2011)

Webpage: http://wheelercentre.com/videos/video/secrets-lies-how-wikileaks-has-changed-the-world/

The Interpreter (Lowy Institute) blog  (1) : ‘WikiLeaks: A Canberra Insider’s View’ (21st December 2010)

Webpage: http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2010/12/21/WikiLeaks-A-Canberra-view.as

The Interpreter (Lowy Institute) blog (2) : ‘The cables and the damage done’ (13th December 2010)

Webpage: http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2010/12/13/The-cables-and-the-damage-done.aspx

 

Sailing Andiamo IV

Posted in Cairns, Craig Hodges, People, Travel Itinerary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2010 by craighodges

Nadine on the winch aboard Andiamo IV.

During April 2010 I was fortunate to crew aboard Australian John Macey’s 43 foot catamaran Andiamo IV. Nadine Schoch from the Netherlands also joined us on this eventful 19 day trip from Seisia to Cairns Queensland Australia.

Skipper/Owner John was on the homeward leg of a 3 year sailing trip which took him up to the Philippines from his home port of Melbourne. He advertised for Crew in Seisia and Cairns.

After approximately a week of preparation we set sail on Monday 5th of April, and rounded Cape York at 3am in the morning on the 6th of April 2010. We anchored between the Great Barrier Reef and the coast, often behind islands to seek shelter from the south-easterly winds.

Nadine and I volunteered for the position thinking it would take no more than 12 days. In the end the trip took 19 days, with unfavourable winds and several breakdowns the reason for our delays. We arrive in Cairns on Friday 23rd April tired but elated.

The sailing was essentially beating; that is sailing close up into the wind, which meant we were often tacking to make progress south. Occasionally we were able to reach, but only rarely when the wind turned and came in from the east across form the Coral Sea.

With multiple mechanical and electrical complications troubling the boat, including ripped genoa (sail), flat batteries, gear problems, fuel filter blockages, electrical shortages and leaking hydraulics, we were eventually towed the last third of the way from Stanley Island in the Flinders Island group around Cape Melville down to Cairns by the fishing trawler – Nolar N. This was a 32 hour tow, requiring the three of us to go on watch on a 2 hour rotation; a watch that lasted all through the night until we safely reached Cairns the next afternoon.

Hightlights: Rich red sunsets, dolphins, sailing in 50 knot winds, ocean sunrises, the rocking of the boat, the sound of water on the hulls, good company, fresh sea air, relaxation, exploring islands in the dinghy, fresh oysters from the rocks, sea birds, warm winds, sleeping under the stars in the foredeck nets, simple nourishing food, sunny days and no phones, no internet, no advertising, no use of money, no tv, no radio… no everyday hassles.

A night in with the authors of my “travelling library”

Posted in Books, Cairns, Craig Hodges, People, reading on February 20, 2010 by craighodges

Tonight I have been with Francine Prose

She’s been taking me through her introduction to reading in a certain way that will enhance my writing. Sentences, once carefully polished, can be appealing on their own, or so she tells me. I am assured they can take on their own aesthetic appeal, much like an individual work of art. 

I am taking a break from Francine for a while. She’s now sprawled out on my bed by the side of the laptop. Paying her a glance an erogenous shape catches my eye. It’s a space between her straight spine and her colourful jacket. And from where I am I can also see a tattoo on her bottom. It reads ‘Cairns Library.’ 

I am looking at the book: Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them 

You see, I picked up Francine in the library today. She was one of four I brought back to my lodgings on the Cairns Esplanade. Francine was different though, somehow I held her more lightly and read her more gently. And the more I read of her, the more receptive I became to her ways. I saw her quality. 

Before long, Francine’s company became a little too claustrophic and I part ways. As I rolled over I realised that I had been joined by an expansive crowd. They had been gathering in my room over the last few weeks, well since both my bike and I had been off the road.

Yesterday I had Chomsky rock up with a few other notable iconclasts; Joseph Conrad, Shen Fu & his wife Yun, Skidmore the big thinker on ideologies, the indominatable Thomas Friedman (again), Brooklyn’s Paul Auster came with news of his recent follies, Rodney Hall with some borish tales of his Australian trip from way back in the 80s, Green with air of literary authority over mourned writers from Australia’s 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. 

Green actually bumped into Stuart MacIntyre earlier in the day, and had been conversing about the Reds during the same period. Somehow I think they will strike up other conversations in the days and weeks ahead. 

Over on his own Peter Singer appeared to be attracting the ethical crowd. He was talking about inhumane animal treatment. He was interupted by Karen Farington at one point when he was talking about the condition of pigs spending their entire lives indoors in pens. She pointed out that humans (prisoners) in America were now being locked up in high security Supermax prisons and were explaining this as ‘notouch torcher’. The prisoners, Farington stressed, were also undergoing 24 hour a day video surveillance in their cells too. This then brought on an unnerving response from John Parker. He brought to their attention the fact that you don’t need to be “locked up” to be mistreated, or to be put under total surveillance. It’s happening now. State security agencies are employing all means available, particularly over the internet, to keep an eye on certain people. 

Pulling away from that increasingly paranoid crowd around Parker were James Lovelock, Jostein Gaarder and Winifred Gallagher. They wanted to discuss looking at bigger picture issues, each however in their own way. Lovelock loved the macro-organism that is the earth, or Gaia as he called it. Some say he did so more than humanity itself. To him though humans were one of many life forms on this planet deserving our attention and concern, and he was forecasting doom for many of them if we humans didn’t lock up environmentally bad human activities and throw away the key.

Spiritually inclined Gallagher could see his point, but insisted that hope for change was more likely to come from a focus on enlightened people, or spiritual geniuses, who were already amongst us and in tune with more sustainable ways of living. Her insistence was largely motivated by years of spent familiarizing herself with all things scientific before more recently turning towards developing spiritual awareness. Hers was a very compassionate plea to the rest of the group.

Clever Jostein Gaarder acknowledged both Lovelock and Gallagher, but said that the urgency was such that we needed to get the message out to a younger crowd; to the next generation. And Gaarder had already started by focusing on young adults and one in particular, a girl named Sophie. Working with them Gaarder exercised their minds and appreciation of ideals encapsulated in philosophy, before then encouraging them to apply this empowered thinking to real life situations.

I was quite fascinated by all the conversations going on in the room, and noticed my attention indiscriminately shifting from one crowd to the next. I did notice though that a beareded Umberto Eco was silently listening to Lovelock, Gaarder and Gallagher. He seemed to be nodding to Chomsky to come over and listen. His whole expression became more whimsical though when he heard Skidmore launch into a short speal about the ideology behind Right Elitists. Eco seemed to know where the conversation was going to swing from one moment to the next. It was eerie. 

Close by Francine Prose was nodding frequently. She was listening to Paul Auster. At one point I was concerned Paul would move off, as she would often ask him to repeat what he had just said. With each repeat I could see her breaking into a broad grin, as if she was swooning. She made no attempt to hide her infatuation. 

Later on I noticed the whole atmosphere changed agai as a group of intellectual giants walked in. They were all Thinkers escorted by a unknown group who only went by the name the Pengiun Group. None of the intellectual heavy weights they escorted were permitted a great deal to say, but what they did say left many in the room momentary silent. Their utterances were profound literary soundbites. Towards the end I could help but notice that Seneca and Thomas a Kempis made everyone feel self-conscious about how they were spending their time and with whom. All of a sudden the gathering felt trivial, nacissicistic, even superfulous. 

Frankly it wasn’t until Joyce walked in that this air of self-doubt lifted. Joyce pranced around and did as he pleased, said as he pleased. Something changed. Seeing Joyce carry on as he liked, appeared to ease people up a little, whilst confusing and muddling a few at the same time too. 

The next attempt to silence the room came with a show of wealth and power, rather than reason. It came from a woman named Lisa Endlich. She was all talk about money, big business and financial dominance. In here world the super rich trumped all else. Well that was the implication. From start to finish she hammered on about Goldman Sachs, as if they were the kings of capitalism and the new rulers of the world. Her relatively rosy account of this wealthy firm stirred the ire of Emile Zola, who immediately launched into a counter-narrative account of a wandering mechanic in search of work in 1880s France. 

Zola wanted the few who were still listening to know that capitalism has been harsh in the past, and therefore in all likelihood still had the capacity to be harsh again. To Zola’s credit though, he acknowledged that the workers were not all angels under capitalism, just as the big employers were not always out to blindly exploit the lives of their workers. 

On hearing Zola’s story Michael Parenti spoke up and said how refreshing it was to hear a balanced account of history. He said that in modern times our television programs and flims were largely biased in favour of only a handful of ideologies, many of the same ideologies Skidmore had raised earlier. Parenti said the likes of Goldman Sach’s very own corporate clients weilded enormous direct and indirect influence over hollywood in particular. 

Stuart MacIntyre spoke up and agreed with Parenti, saying the HUAC trials in the 1950s had stiffled not only pro-communist media productions, but had also seen opposite effect, criticism of pro-capitalist propaganda nad gone relatively unchallenged. Ranulph Fiennes said it was nonsense. He argued we needed our movies about Anglo-American heroes and went on to give a few interested parties a long account of the glories of Captain Scott the british explorer. 

Listening to Fiennes in the crowd Gaarder grumbled quietly that Norway’s explorer deserved to be venerated more than Scott. Parenti took up Gaarder’s point and said he rested his case, “Fiennes’s work was exactly the type of status quo self-serving propaganda about the superiority of the West, and particularly the British Empire, that continued to this day in various guises.” Parenti said the fact 40 Scott biographies existed, meant that 40 other great individual stories were going unnoticed. “That’s a form of cultural hegemony!” cried out Chomsky unselfconciously, “Call it by its name. It has a name you know.” 

At that point I had to duck off to the toilet. My delicious Kim Chi and roasted squid lunch was starting to react to my drinking of double expresso milk and a small amount of chocolate icecream. Not a good combination. The clash of easten and western foods was literally giving me the shits. I didn’t dare joke about this observation with anyone in the room, for fear it might get back to Samuel Huntington in a derogatory way. Worse still he might use it as supporting evidence in a revised edition of his bestseller. 

Earlier in the evening I did something prosaic. I counted how many of these lettered people where present in the room with me. The number came to around 120. It was an unrulely gathering, and I knew too well that some would not get on, so I made sure they were kept in check by the weight of history in the form of the National Geographic group who were behind the publication of an Illustrated World History. 

A slightly cranky Arnold Arnold understood my ploy and said history alone wouldn’t necessarily see to it that all would proceed smoothly amongst all present. He went on to say the interpretation of history is the issue. Who uses history to justify one course of action over another is and eternal problem that goes to the heart of the academe and who leads it. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto concurred, as did Blackburn the philosopher; the later who had been breaking things down for some time into understandable philosophical concepts in order to stimulate greater interest in philosophy among not so much the crowd gathered in my room, but the self-educated general public. 

Edmund Burke said that he had “seen all this before” and warned the group that they were playing with fire. History and its interpretation was best left in the hands of those who had for centuries been groomed to appreciate it and act as sole caretaker for future generations to come. This greatly offended Susan George. She said history had not been leading towards inexorable progress and the caretakers needed to account for the horror of war in the 20th century, and that it could be repeated in the 21st century if history and the powerful were not changed. What was needed she said, were certain forms of activism, education and purposeful cooperation if another world was to be possible. John Haggai cried “Lead On!” 

In response Bob Ellis, weary from a few late nights sighed and began a (monologue) reflection on the post September 11 world. Before long though David Sanger stepped forward and took over from where Ellis left off. Sanger stressed that future leaders needed to know critical issues about the state of the world and about foreign affairs before they could even consider ” inheriting power”. Everyone in the room sensed he was drawing lessons from the recent past. 

Melissa Rossi laughed out loud, then said that it wasn’t just a matter of an appreciation of foreign policy, America being the powerful country that it is, should also be understood in terms of who is wielding the power domestically. Fareed Zakaria said that Rossi was being too simplistic. What was really needed was an appreciation of a new balance between democracy and liberty. This line then got Thomas Paine all twitchy. 

Ayn Rand asked Zakaria to define ‘special interests’ in American politics and why it was necessarily a bad thing? John Cavanaugh and Jerry Mander interrupted and said to Rand. “‘Special interests’ where blind to their impact not only on America, but to there true impact on the entire world and it was time a range of alternatives to economic globalization be considered.” This got Elaine Katzenberger and a few of her Zapatista groups clapping loudly. And before long Michael Woodin and Caroline Lucas joined in, but stated loud and clearly that, “those alternatives needed to be Green!” To which Rex Weyler whistled loudly. “And peaceful” he cried. 

As the environmental groups came together, Janet Ramage looked nervous. She understood that the matter of the environment of the earth largely concerned issues associated with energy production and use, particularly how it would come to evolve over the coming years around the planet. She moved over towards Lovelock and asked, “What are our chances of getting things right?” Lovelock pointed to Mann who had just finished chatting to Bruce Chatwin about the ideas behind The Good Alternative Travel Guide. Locklock was attempting to indicate to Ramage that people’s awareness was stirring, and their behaviour and aspirations where changing, but it was all painfully slow. 

Peter Sutton overheard Lovelock and Ramage talking green politics and said that any future plans had better not discount Indigenous development opportunities. It soon became apparent to all that Sutton had been talking to Noel Pearson, who had since left the room and returned to the library, presumably to prepare for the launch of his policy Think Tank with the Cape York Institute. 

Ever attuned to different groups, Kottak listened intently to Sutton. In particular he wanted to pick up on any new anthropoligical insights or methodologies that Sutton might bring to his field of social anthropology. Frank Brennan and Eve Mumewa Fesl also moved closer to hear Sutton. Fesl was wary, she knew that many people had been conned in the past about Indigenous matters, and it occured mostly when white men were found to be representing Indigenous people. They need only open their mouth to distort accounts of Indigenous life and belief. 

George Orwell who had been walking around the room leaned forward and said to Fesl, “We can be conned by anyone in power, no matter their background. Its their words we need to watch.” David Detmer agreed with Orwell, but took it one step further. From Sartre we learn that it is not only their words, but the development of an appreciation of the ‘authenticity’ of the whole political process. Fundamentally misunderstood leader’s were liable to be living in ‘bad faith’. And in such cases they often knew that the power they were wielding was not democratic. Machiavelli cleared his throat standing with the Pengiun group. Nietzsche gave him a knowing wink. 

Hearing this last point made by Detmer, Don Dunstan pulled up his socks, straightened his shorts and walked forward. “We always need to strive for more socially inclusive government. We also need new ideas, cultural diversity, fee expression, and an active arts community. From this the type of renaissance community, both political and public will flourish. People will have no reason to be cynical and harbour ‘bad faith’, particularly once they can see their own leaders living the lives their policies are attempting to support.”

JB Priestley looked around and asked Robert Dessaix, if Dunstan was an “Image Man?” Dessaix indicated that Dunstan was onto something. Anita Brookner overheard this question too and said, “Judging by his contribution to the art community and society at large, Dunstan appears to be a potent mix of romantic idealist and political realist.” Bob Ellis reminded everyone that Dunstan was conversant in law, and had made a capable Premier as a result.

CS Lewis shook his head. “Dunstan – now there’s a junior devil if there ever was one.” He made the sign of the cross, looked down in distain and continued with his devilish letter writing.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett moved forward, and admitted to not knowing much about either Dunstan, or South Australian politics, but indicated that if any state, whether it be in Australia or overseas, was heading towards be a polarised state, with the formation of an elite wealthy minority and a large poor majority, then the overall prospects were not going to be good.

Bob Ellis couldn’t help himself, “Adelaide! That outpost started as an elitist state from day one, and there is still a class divide.” On hearing this Wilkinson and Pickett shook their heads and spoke with their secretaries about contacting Rann about becoming Thinkers in Residence in 2011.

Margaret Atwood said that fans had written to her about a new underclass that was forming in South Australia, and that aspects of Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics where manifesting in South Australia. New forms of slavery and abuse were emerging associated with underworld prostitution and drug cartels. She said her fans had painted a dystopian picture of a state collapsing at the fringes. John Parker piped up and said, “According to my sources, you’re on the money there.”

“The political left in places like Adelaide,” said Richard Wolin “is being seduced by posmodernism. Just look at all those freaks at the Fringe Festival in Adelaide. Why aren’t they standing up for the emerging underclass?”

Joseph Sestito and Jane Gleeson-White said that much of Australia was waiting for new voices or new writers to emerge that would put a face to the suffering that still existed despite the time of economic plenty. Zola nodded and offered his encouragement if anyone was to step forward, as did Natalie Goldberg, who was always looking for “Wild Minds” to boldly express new social realities.

Jill Jepson stepped forward and said people needed to connect with their spirituality first. Matthew Ricketson disagreed, “they need to connect with a media company first, and before that they need to know how to write! No use just presenting yourself without any talent, experience and know how.” Kerry Gleeson agreed saying, “People also need to take individual responsibility for their own self-development. Its an ever increasingly efficient world out there. The business world waits for no one. People need to develop their own efficiency programs, not wait for the nanny state to give them a leg up.”

Martin Amis laughed, took a deep draw on his cigarette and said to Gleeson, “That’s enough information. I’ve got someone in mind for you Gleeson. His name is Tull, Richard Tull. His a miserable basket case with oodles of talent, but he needs a periodic kick up the arse, the occasional viagra tablet and an efficiency program for writing and life in general. I’ll send him around Monday at 10am. You won’t miss him. He’ll be unshaven and undersexed.”

Alby Mangels laughed, “That’s me!” he said vainly recognising himself in what Amis’s Tull. To which Charley Boorman muttered to himself, “You poor old has-been. Never miss the chance do you Mangles.” 

Orhan Pamuk then turned to me and saw I was getting tired. “Craig,” he said “I know you love books, but if you are to be a writer, your progress will depend to a large degree on having read good books. But to read well is to not to pass one’s eyes and one’s mind slowly and carefully over a text: it is to immerse oneself utterly in its soul.” (109)

Well put Orhan, well put.

Allen Andrews then asked if he could quote Pamuk with that one. “Of course,” replied Orhan, “but under which heading?”

“Sublime sentences,” Francine Prose offered. 

Prose made for the door and turned out the lights.

3:30am

Made – At Home On The Sea

Posted in Adventure Travel Philosopher, Cairns, Craig Hodges, People, Tourism, Travel Photography, Travel Writing with tags , , , , , , on January 29, 2010 by craighodges

Made at work on Ocean Spirit Cruises vessel Spirit I in Cairns Australia

Made [pronounced: 'Mah-Day'] spent thousands of hours on boats in Bali before falling in love with an Aussie girl and following her home to Australia.

Sadly, all that time on the water in Indonesia turned out to mean little to Australian authorities. Disappointed, but taking this news in his characteristically wonderful relaxed stride, Made started studying for his ‘tickets’ and logging his sea time on tourist boats in Cairns all over again from scratch.

I first met Made in the mid 1990s. We met at about the same time Made was aiming to take to the water again in Cairns. By one of those crazy coincidences, when we first met, I realised that I happened to know his then girlfriend’s family back in South Australia.

Often together with another Australian-Indonesian couple, Jacqui and Kardek, we all used to catch up at each other’s houses for mouthwatering, mostly Indonesian, home cooked dinners. The fragrances and flavours of these meals still leave me in awe to this day. Being a lazy culinary batchelor at the time might have had much to do with it as well.

Then this month, after perhaps more than 5 years since we last met during a previous Cairns visit, I was surprised to be reunited with Made again.

Another old Cairns friend Bret Chadwick and I decided to relive our past and take a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, and so on the day before we were set to go out, we took a walk down to the wharf to watch the “our old boat” return to its berth. 

Standing high on the wharf, we were keen to see if we could recognise any familiar faces on board. Leaning over the railing I felt the whole moment tinged with nostalgia as a stream of idealised memories of sailing, bikinis, champagne, unashamed flirtation, tanned bodies, and tranquil dives returned to me.  Then came memories of the long nights of drinking and dancing, many with more than a few of us still in our distinctive blue and white striped uniforms having come directly from the boat.

Bret Chadwick in front of Ocean Spirit I in Cairns Australia.

As the mooring lines were being thrown from the bow faces came into view. My gaze followed the crew as they went about their orderly tasks in preparation for coming alongside. Looking down from the rails, I fell into reverie again, this time recalling the weariness of this hour of the day and fragments the crew’s usual banter about plans for the coming night.

Who would be going to the pub? Who would be taking her? What where so and so’s chances?

It was carefree living I wanted to tell myself, knowing full well that there was also days of rough wet weather, passenger sea sickness, diving difficulties, jellyfish stings, sunburn, plenty of deck polishing and endless plates to clear after our guest had emptied the onboard buffets.

Most of the crew though rarely worked on board these day cruise boats for more than two years. Many drifted off overseas to bigger boats, bigger money and more advanced sailing. As a young cruise liaison officer I think I lasted 18 months. And on my final day I will never forget the ritual I was put through by the rest of the crew to mark my departure.

Doused in slops from the galley and smeared with vegemite, fat and who knows what else, I left the boat for the last time knowing I would be missed. It was the kind of fun loving send off I too had participated in for others numerous times, but had strangely never prepared to have happen to me.

Craig Hodges & Bret Chadwick on Ocean Spirit Cruises vessel Spirit I

Now over some 15 years later, standing alongside Bret, a former Dive Instructor and Japanese speaker, I caught a glimpse of myself peering into the working lives of crew standing where we once stood. And with this I was gripped by the fleeting sense of time folding full circle.

And then there on the deck a familiar smile caught my eye. It was Made. 

After more than ten years service he, the one who I had vividedly recalled starting his seatime right from the beginning again, stood on deck as one of the most loyal and knowledgeable crew.

He had proved what he wanted to have acknowledged years ago, that he was at home on the sea.

[Made works aboard Ocean Spirit Cruises]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.