Archives: September 2007

30 Sep 2007, Comments Off on Animeme


Author: Helen

Tigtog tagged me…

An interesting animal I had

When I was about eleven, my best friend and I decided to keep rats. Our parents were soooooo forbearing. Mine was called (unimaginatively) Ruth, and I can’t remember my friend’s rat’s name. They were white albino rats, and they had gentle and patient personalities- putting up with being carried everywhere, for instance. I only ever got bitten once, and that was my fault.

Our school had a St Trinian’s-style blazer and one day we thought it would be fun to take our rats to school in our pockets. We took them out halfway through a class, and cleared the classroom. What brats. I don’t remember how much detention we got.

When the fashion for keeping rats surfaced in the punk era, I felt gently nostalgic, but my ratty days were over.

An interesting animal I ate

If reptiles count, Snake soup, in a spooky little alleyway in Taipei. It was supposed to be for men, but I tried some anyway. As they always say, it tasted like chicken.

I’ve got to defer to Bora, though, who passed this meme on – I’ve never gelded a horse and eaten the, er, results.

Image from

An interesting animal in the museum

When little I was taken to the Adelaide Museum quite often and I loved the giant whale skeletons which at that time filled the large windows in the front facade of the building (My memory might be quite wrong, but that’s how I remember it.) We had a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories at home, an old edition with spoooooky illustrations. The whale skeletons reminded me of those illustrations, especially in the story How the Whale got his throat.

Googling, I find that “The South Australian Museum has the most technologically advanced facility for the preparation of animal bones in the Southern Hemisphere.”

An interesting thing I did with or to an animal

This heading sounds vaguely indecent. Can I count birds? As a child, I became obsessed with falconry after reading The Once and Future King and a little-known, fascinating american children’s book called My Side of the Mountain. There was as much opportunity to learn falconry in 1960s Adelaide as there would be to fly to the moon, but one year my father had a temporary job change which meant that we spent the best part of the year in rural Oxfordshire. Touristing about, we happened to visit Chilham Castle in Kent, where Alan Oswald kept the art of falconry alive and gave public displays. That led to three wonderful weeks learning to handle hawks, a very sweet owl, a Wahlburg’s eagle called Wally, and (once) a terrifying spanish Imperial eagle called, unromantically, Bugsy. I loved the technicality of it; the gloves, the jesses, the complicated rules.

Wally belonged to a little girl called Emma who went on to make falconry her profession and went to the Emirates to handle the princelings’ hawks for them. I lost interest in later life after thinking through the animal welfare issues, both for the captive predators and their prey, and the impossibility of maintaining this demanding pursuit in a busy urban working environment (Kes notwithstanding).

An interesting animal in its natural habitat

When do we get to see animals in their natural habitat? Ususally only in documentaries, because when I see them in the flesh it’s usually in the interstices between the natural, the natural-corrrupted-by-urban, and the man-made habitat. The beautiful chocolate-coloured wallabies in our local Organ Pipes national park are hopping around an environment that was degraded in the twentieth century and has been restored to a simulacrum of its natural state from the 1970s. There is the echidna which grumpily digs itself straight down into the sandy soil in the car park of the surf beach, as you scrabble for your camera to try and capture it. There are the possums and bats who argue and bicker in the gum trees next to our suburban house at night. There’s the wombat who calmly stumps around the campsite at Wilson’s Promontory. And what about the peregrine falcons who live in the concrete-and-glass canyons of the CBD, nesting in the tops of skyscrapers and feeding on the pigeons which are themselves brought there by the human activity? Some animals and birds eat scraps from the humans’ diet, and almost all of them live in a habitat which has been shaped by people. Logging, land clearing and development destroys more of their “natural” habitat every year.

The line between natural and man-made, after all, has always been blurred in a country which until 220 years ago, had an indigenous culture living off the land for tens of thousands of years.

So with all those hedges and caveats, as an-interesting-animal-in-its-natural-habitat, I recommend the dingo, Australia’s largest carnivore, a native dog who may have come to this country thousands of years ago in canoes from the Indonesian archipelago; a ghostly creature who will follow you just out of sight, a presence felt rather than seen in the landscape. If you camp out in the inland, they howl in packs together at night, an eerie sound which amplifies the loneliness of that country. They are also very likely doomed, as the burgeoning population of feral domestic dogs can’t be prevented from diluting their gene pool.

It would round off this post nicely to mention that my rat-owning friend Anne (Annie) Taylor grew up to study and make art about dingoes. I can’t find much more about her work on Google to show you; sadly, she didn’t have much of a web presence when she died. Dingoes are more appreciated now, I think, rather than just treated as baby-eating vermin- although we might not be able to save them, unless by some high-tech DNA saving technique – and I like to think she played some part in that.

They’ll hate me for it, but I’m tagging Link, Barista and Bernice.

27 Sep 2007, Comments Off on School Bullies

School Bullies

Author: Helen

There are quite a few very nasty examples of corporate bullying about at the moment, but I think this takes the prize.

Catholic schools have been urged to withdraw their support from Amnesty International, after the human rights group changed its neutral stance on abortion.

The director of the Catholic Education Office, Stephen Elder, yesterday wrote to principals at all 328 Catholic schools in the Melbourne archdiocese, advising them to cut their longstanding ties with the organisation.

The letter called on schools to “convey their disappointment” to the organisation, after the human rights group decided earlier this year to ditch its long-held neutral stance on reproductive rights and lobby governments to decriminalise abortion.”

As many people have pointed out before me, when it comes to taking away lives, it’s hard to beat these pro-lifers. In some areas, an abortion is forbidden even for an ectopic pregnancy, which, as you’ll know, usually means the death of the mother. Catholic doctrine on abortion kills women, full stop.

We’re not even talking about universal abortion rights, which, as everybody knows, would lead to Girls gone Wild having abortion parties just for the hell of it.

The group will now campaign for the abortion rights of women who have become pregnant through rape or incest.
…One impetus for the change is the fact that rape is now acknowledged as a widely-used weapon of war in many of the countries where Amnesty operates.

It’s only possible to take the Vatican’s line on abortion if you privilege an unborn foetus over a real, live, breathing woman. The fact that many already-born women and girls are condemned to death by this doesn’t seem to worry the likes of Stephen Elder. It’s made even crazier by the fact that the Catholic religion forbids contraception, as well. Pregnancy as a punishment for sexual activity.

What a miserable, bullying attempt to pull the Catholic school system into line. And let’s hear it for maintaining our free and secular public system.

Crossposted at Road to Surfdom

25 Sep 2007, Comments Off on I’m changing my name to Harriet. Or Fanny

I’m changing my name to Harriet. Or Fanny

Author: Helen

Image from - a woman after my own heart

I chose this image because I’m taking Girlchild and her cousin to Sydney for three days in the school holidays. So I feel very much like one of those Ladies of a certain age who would chaperone young ladies to Bath in a Jane Austen novel. I’m sure the Travelodge won’t be as ritzy as this, though.

This is a question for all bloggers, lurkers and Sydneysiders in particular: what are good things for sixteen-year-olds to do in Sydney?

I’ve had some good suggestions from Facebook:

Catch the Manly ferry to Manly and walk around there
Hang out at Bondi Beach
Ice skating at Fox Studios if they’re into ice skating
Paddington or Balmain or Glebe markets on a Saturday
Powerhouse museum (“sneakily educational”)
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert musical (this met with great approval, but they’ll be coming here to Melbourne in that week; Murphy’s Law.)

Thanks for those suggestions. Any others? We’ll probably be going to see the Cops. Yes, I know, if we’d gone during APEC we could have seen thousands of cops for nothing. Anyway, I expect them to be exceedingly diverting.

23 Sep 2007, Comments Off on The kids are all right

The kids are all right

Author: Helen

Ships Piano at Fubar- 16 Belford st St Kilda 6:30 $4

I’ve seen the future, and it’s Ship’s Piano.

They play tunes with the old traditional influences: Buzzcocks, Pistols, the Fall, Clash, Ramones.

They write all their own material.

They are all 14 years old.

23 Sep 2007, Comments Off on Liveblogging my tax return

Liveblogging my tax return

Author: Helen

1:25 PM: I always have problems with the question on page 1: Will you need to lodge an Australian tax return in the future?

Jeez, I dunno. I always tick Yes, because I intend to be still alive and compos mentis and employed next year. But who knows if they’ll be around to lodge an Australian tax return the following year? Life is precarious. What if I’m knocked off my bike (that’s assuming I get on it enough to be knocked off it) under the wheels of one of the B-doubles that our new local MP won’t be banning from our local roads? What if I have a massive great haemorrhage or an unfortunate car accident and I’m in a persistent vegetative state?

Unfortunately, the only options are binary, or rather, quadrinary. Yes, no, don’t know, and last return. There is no text option for long philosophical discussions.


2:00: Do you think I’m being too anal putting $460 in the Supplementary section against Personal Services income (PSI) for occasional services rendered to Tess Mckenna at the Brunswick Green?

2:18: 20% Tax offset on net medical expenses over the threshold amount

You’d think they’d find it in their hearts to put in brackets what the threshold amount actually is.

Murphy’s law says I’ve managed to lose the booklet for the supplementary section. A search on the ATO website for “medical expenses threshold” comes up No pages match your criteria.

4:15: Abandon the Deductions for now. I’ve done everything else on the Tax return, now for middle-class welfare family tax benefit.

Spouse details:
Spouse number 1

Dear God, how many am I supposed to have? Surely one’s enough.

The garden needs a water. This is NO WAY an attempt to procrastinate.

Tomorrow for sure.

21 Sep 2007, Comments Off on Friday dog blogging: I haz a bucket

Friday dog blogging: I haz a bucket

Author: Helen

Niece’s Australian bulldog puppy. Squee!

I’ll get her to send me another one showing her lovely face with the splotch of brown over one eye.

Her name’s Bessa, after the brick, evidently.

17 Sep 2007, Comments Off on How soft have we become

How soft have we become

Author: Helen

When scraping off last year’s rego sticker and putting on this year’s is a job I so dread that I put it off until September?

16 Sep 2007, Comments Off on Someone spifflicate that whinger

Someone spifflicate that whinger

Author: Helen

Someone on Crackbook asked: “What’s your favourite word?” One of the replies was spifflicate.

When I was growing up, my Dad would often threaten to spifflicate me or my brother if we didn’t get a move on and, well, do whatever. Or conversely, stop doing whatever it was we were doing. I hadn’t heard it used in any other context, so up to that day I’d thought that it was a nonsense word he’d invented.

If I’d thought about it more I would have decided that this wasn’t very likely, as my Dad wasn’t a consumer of nonsense literature at all. But it turns out that the word comes, not from Lear or Carroll, but from the very kind of Manly Fiction which he enjoyed. After doing a double-take on finding out that spifflicate was a real world, of course, I googled.

Originally spelled spiflicate, the basic meaning is one of hurt or harm, even to the point of death, and was originally coined some time in the 18th century. Possibly a conflation word, from stifle, suffocate, spill and castigate, it quickly developed from meaning “confound, silence or dumbfound” through a reference to rough treatment, and thence came to mean the bringing of death or destruction.

Examples from and Languagehat:

I won’t tell ye a second time – hand me that stick, or I’ll spifflicate ye” – Ernest Seton
Of the enemy, about 500 were killed, and more than 1500 made prisoners; and of the remainder, who made their escape over the walls, the greater part were cut down by the Dragoons, or spifflicated by the Lancers. – T.W.E. Holdsworth, 1840
So out with your whinger at once, and scrag Jane, while I spiflicate Johnny! – Ingoldsby Legends, 1856

The next generation of use softened the meaning and the threat somewhat, and by about 1900 it could be used in a wholly comic way to threaten punishment of unknown nature and extent, especially of children. Although the meaning was generally some sort of spanking, in our family, it had the meaning of a severe tickling, and to be threatened with spifflication meant one was in for a breathless, giggling few minutes.

But What’s a whinger? I did some more googling.

n. 1. A kind of hanger or sword used as a knife at meals and as a weapon.
The chief acknowledged that he had corrected her with his whinger.
– Sir W. Scott.

Well, who’d have thought? I always thought it meant someone who was always moaning. And corrected her with his whinger sounds a little, er, extreme.

But I digress. In America, spifflicated came to mean drunk, plastered, pissed as a newt, boiled as an owl.

They forced his teeth open, and, while a couple of them sat on his chest, they poured about a quart of corn liquor into his system. He was so spifflicated before they let him up that they had to lift him bodily and plant him in a seat. – Washington Post, 1904.

And it took me this long to find all this out. English is a very, very strange language.

14 Sep 2007, Comments Off on More people I won’t be voting for

More people I won’t be voting for

Author: Helen

I wish I had the fireworkz skillz to align the name of our district properly… but I think the skewwhiffness of it goes OK with the Royston Vasey ambience.

Our local by-election has thrown up the usual assortment of crazies and single-issue independents. There was a handy guide in our local paper. Here are some of the lowlights:

Vern Hughes, DLP. Vern’s a character. He ran for the last election as a founding member of “People Power“, which, to me, sounded suspiciously populist. A little investigation revealed he’d formed PP with Steven Mayne, who most people know as the founder of Crikey. This alliance seems to have fallen apart fairly quickly.

Vern is a passionate wonk whose hobby is starting up Institutes and Foundations and other kinds of thinktanks. He sure has a shitload of ’em. He’s the Executive Director of Social Enterprise Partnerships, Development Manager of the Social Entrepreneurs Network, and now Director of the Centre for Civil Society. He seems to have a strong focus on disability and carers, but he’s apparently a card-carrying member of the IPA and thinks that communities should have the right to opt out of Medicare, so I wouldn’t really want to let him within cooee of actual public policy.

This time, Vern has chosen to hitch his wagon to the (unfortunately) resurgent DLP. I really don’t know what to make of this guy; his affiliations are all over the place. The only consistent impression I get is do. not. want.

But at least he’s a local.

The same can’t be said of young Veronica Hayes of Family First.

Veronica Hayes is a Camberwell nurse who believes her party can make a difference.

Camberwell!? Are you shittin’ me?

The 24-year-old says Family First is the only party that has its attention firmly on what is most important to families and “everyday people”.

Sly and the Family First!

“People here have been taken granted (sic) for too long,” she said. Ms Hayes’ goals for Williamstown include improving housing affordability by abolishing stamp duty for first-time home buyers, getting the pokies out of neighbourhoods and limiting them to the casino and country racetracks, and increasing funding for respite care.

And a burgeoning gay and lesbian community, as well as a lot of renters and would be first home buyers who’ll only lose out again when the abolition of stamp duty pushes up the prices of houses again. Nice idea about the pokies and the respite care, Veronica, but please fuck off back to your leafy Eastern suburb and do not try to foist your idea of the nuclear family on us Westies.

There is nothing whatever about Ms Hayes on Google. She appears to have no life prior to running for office, and I’m sure Family First prefers it that way. She’s not even mentioned anywhere on their website, a day before the election. Damned poor show, FF!

I know I sound ageist; I don’t want to be, honest. They just keep sending us the wrong 24-year-olds. If one of my under-30 bloggy must-reads decided to run for office, I’d vote for them in a flash. Unless they lived in Camberwell.

Then there’s the usual motley collection of independents – most of them more or less nice people, some of them rusted-on council apparatchiks, some of them enthusiastic wonks with no hope of getting their bums anywhere close to the seat of Williamstown.

I’ll vote for Rice at the primary school and buy a cake at the cake stall.
Update 15/09/2007: I told the Labor how-to-vote card holder exactly why I didn’t vote for them. I kind of regret doing the same to the Family First spruiker, as she looked about 15. But, really.
And: No cake stall!!1! What is happening to this country?

13 Sep 2007, Comments Off on This is a local post for local people. There’s nothing for you here!

This is a local post for local people. There’s nothing for you here!

Author: Helen

Image from

Bouncing off Barista’s post about the by-election in his electorate, Melbourne Ports: we have one next weekend too, in Williamstown. We’re the electorate which used to belong to Bracksy before his resignation.

Williamstown is a safe Labor seat, a very safe seat, and there’s no Liberal candidate standing. (This isn’t the seat young Hamish got the boot from – this is State, he was feral. Sorry, Federal.) The Labor candidate is Wade Noonan of the Transport Workers Union, who has been parachuted in by Labor. This is a slap in the face to the people who live in the electorate – they have been trying to get trucks (monster B-doubles, container trucks and tankers) to keep out of the residential areas for years now.

I was never going to vote Labor anyway. They’ve been shitting me mightily lately; Tim Pallas’ arrogant refusal to even consider converting St Kilda road to allow for more bicycle lanes; Lynne Kosky’s handling of the decaying public transport infrastructure, and the government’s intention not to take back the public transport system, but instead stay with the discredited Connex corporation; the murky relationship between Labor, the CFMEU and the loggers and woodchippers; the continual privileging of roads and freeways over public transport, and Brumby, as the Murdochistas excitingly put it, crushing the proposed car-free day in the Melbourne CBD. They’re Liberal Lite, just like their federal counterparts. Oh, yes – did I mention their dirt campaign against the Green candidates?

We’ve received four. bloody. letters. each from Labor at our house – one each, so that’s eight – supposedly from the premier John Brumby, but authorisedintinylittlelettersatthebottom from S. Newnham of 360 King st. West Melbourne. Four each! Talk about overkill. (Who’s paying for it?). Barista has also received a letter from these tree-killers purporting to be from Sue Loukomitis, claiming that the Greens want to “close down” MacRobertson High school, a selective secondary school nearby. Strangely enough, that’s also authorisedintinylittlelettersatthebottom by S. Newnham, also of 360 King St. West Melbourne.

A few weeks ago I came across a grubby little website. It’s an astroturf site which is made to look like some kind of grass roots radical’s homemade effort, but which in fact is the work of – you guessed it – authorisedintinylittlelettersatthebottom by S. Newnham, of 360 King st. (If you’re incensed by this nasty little piece of work, don’t bother clicking on Comments – it’s a shell of a “blog”. Comments are disabled. Of course.) (hmm, that’ll catch on with the yoof all right) is linked to some local batshit crazies via this site.

Barista sez:

[Newnham] is the State Secretary of the Australian Labor Party, an organisation that seems temporarily to have lost both its name and logo.

That nice Greg Combet, now standing for federal parliament after being an ACTU hero, sent me a letter today as well, endorsing the local ALP candidate. The slightly eccentric layout of that letter is identical to this one. It was also authorised by Mr Newnham, who still can’t find a logo. The Combet letter is folksy and nice, with his photo on it, and its clear what he wants and where he comes from. It contains this sentence:

“The commitment to decency and justice is what defines a good society.”

Well put, comrade. Do you think you could maybe find these sleazebags who sent me that smeary letter and tell them to fuck off where they came from, so I can vote for the ALP now and in the federal election without feeling sick?

‘Fraid I can’t.

There’s more about the dirt campaign here.