February 08, 2010

Angus Douglas

Angus Douglas, original (in every sense of the word) guitarist for Sydney post-punk band Tactics died this week after a long period of declining health. That wasn't so unexpected, unfortunately, but that doesn't make it any easier or any less sad — Angus was a creative fire, an endless source of odd or unexpected riffs, ideas, phrases, and anything else that occurred to him, and a smart, likable, funny, and good-natured person in real life.

I have no idea if there's anything planned in his memory, but if I hear anything, I'll let interested parties know.

(Photo circa 1980 (?), by Stephen Hocking).

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September 15, 2009

Who He?

Today's San Francisco Chronicle made front (business) page news out of local company Chevron's Gorgon venture off Western Australia with an above-the-fold article and a photo of "Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd" and a Chevron functionary in hard hats looking at plans on-site. But they identified the wrong guy in the pic as Rudd, an easy error in a newspaper that probably doesn't have a single editor or staff writer who'd know what the Australian Prime Minister actually looks like. But as always, why should the Chron know something like that? Maybe that other Australian, our Governator, might care, but to the rest of the US, it's all a bit of a puzzle, I guess.

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June 29, 2009

No Night Sweats

Phil Turnbull's excellent Australian Post Punk site No Night Sweats is back, bigger and better than ever after moving from BigPond to new hosting (and its own domain). I'm not exactly a totally disinterested bystander, but take a look… (and check out Phil and Rob's A Slow Rip blog too while you're at it).

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June 11, 2009


The NYT's Gail Collins made a joke in an editorial column the other day about how good it feels to have a US president who knows that Australia and Austria aren't the same country. Yes, on an old joke in US and other intellectual circles — I suspect every modern-day president has (probably wrongly) been accused of not knowing the difference — but it brought back some mildly funny memories for me, for sure (yes, I've had surreal conversations where it slowly (or even quickly) became obvious that the person I was talking to to didn't know the difference. It does actually happen, you know). But in my experience it's actually surprisingly difficult to come across an American who doesn't have some idea what and where Australia is (that idea may not be particularly accurate, but it's usually at least based on fact); it's just also quite difficult finding Americans who have any idea what or where Austria is.

The sobering thing is, of course: why the hell should the average American — or even the president, for that matter — know or care about either Austria or Australia? Our Governator might, I guess, but who else?

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May 25, 2009

Blue Gum Blues

"The hated Tasmanian blue gum tree — better known as a variety of eucalyptus — has been blamed for virtually every evil short of snatching babies out of strollers […]" (the lead sentence from a front page story in today's SF Chronicle).

To an Australian, that seems a little rough, but it's essentially true (if nothing else the blue gums certainly contribute disproportionately to bush fires (brush fires) here due to the way they drop their branches and bark, and the various flammable oils they produce). Out here in the SF Bay Area, as the article says, gums "breed like rats", and you can't help noticing gum trees are everywhere, especially on the hillsides. That little thrill of recognition and familiarity disappears after a while when you realise they're deeply destructive alien species brought over here during and after the gold rush, and have basically taken over the coastal hills in large parts of California — even the native coastal Redwoods don't do as well as the gum trees. So you learn to grit your teeth and ponder your loyalties every time you walk through the many beautiful tall groves of blue gums here, and not to get too bent out of shape over your breakfast bagel or laptop latte by articles like that.

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January 26, 2009

Horse Trailer Day

Celebrate! I'll be doing my bit by taking fairy bread to work. Thanks to the ever-reliable Spike for reminding me of that great Oz (and NZ, I suspect) delicacy….

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November 26, 2008


It's one of those familiar little cultural rites for Britons and Australians in the US around this time; it happens to me every year without fail: some friendly well-intentioned American (usually a checkout clerk or someone like that) asks me how we celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia or Britain. I'm always tempted to reply with something glib and unpleasant about how we all give thanks for not being American, but it's easier to just smile and give some sort of non-committal response and ask them how they'll be celebrating their Thanksgiving. It's just one of those things here that you learn to play along with, like the assumption on pretty much every official form that everyone has a middle initial (and only one middle initial), and that every address in every country has something called a "zip code", or that all phone numbers world-wide are exactly ten digits long…

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March 25, 2008

Those Speeches

I keep returning to the apology, even after the all fuss has died down. Short, eloquent, thoughtful, moving, measured, appropriate, no weasel words, well-delivered: this is the way it should be done. Sometimes words matter, sometimes even small gestures symbolise a deeply significant change in attitude and circumstance.

After all these years I don't really think it took much courage to say it; the real question is what it took Howard's government not to say it. What took courage was living what it describes….

And that other recent speech? As many commentators have said, it's refreshing to be spoken to on issues like this like a grownup, something that augurs well for Obama as a person, but (judging by the childish response from a lot of the right-wing press here) might endanger him as a candidate. The courage in this instance wasn't talking about race per se, but doing so in ways that didn't condescend by substituting simplistic sound bytes for thoughtful complex analysis. He'll probably pay dearly for that.

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February 17, 2008


Doing my grocery shopping in Berkeley at Andronico's yesterday I stumble across something called a "Woolloomooloo Bar", and just have to buy it. It's an upscale self-described "exotic candy bar" apparently made in Chicago with a bunch of unlikely ingredients that don't immediately bring to mind the down-at-heels Woolloomooloo of earlier times, or the New! Improved! Woolloomooloo of today, let alone the University of Woolloomooloo (still remembered with affection in this overgrown college town). "Looks like something from down your way…" the checkout clerk says from the other side of the checkstand with an ironic smile (I'm sure she's thinking "Bruce!").

Well, maybe. I seem to have a studio full of American Australiana or fake Australian products now, from the Aussie Land "Blue Mountains" shampoo I found in Oakland a few years ago to the plastic boomerang I bought at Stone Mountain outside Atlanta a decade ago, through the Wallaby Yogurt in my fridge (every time I see it I struggle with the temptation to mutter the obvious slogan "made from real wallabies!") and the "Aussie Sun-Touched Shine" conditioner in my shower ("Add some Roo to your do!", as it says on the container (Urgh! I'm not making this up, you know)), to the very Californian-looking (read: clean, lean, fat-free, organic) pies advertised as "Authentic Aussie National Food!" in a local deli the other day. It all seems so exotic.

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February 13, 2008

It's Never Enough…

…but this year's "Sorry Day" was a start, at least (and a serious change in tone, at last). Now for some followup…

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November 01, 2007

A List

Es mi barrio

Angus, Andrew, Ian, Heather, Ursula, Tommy, Phoenix, Stephen, Tracey, Dan, Kim, Harry, Russ, Rick, Caroline, Jacinta, Garry, Lucy, Nicky, Daniel, Krisha, Derek… and a whole bunch of others. Thanks! I had a time…

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October 31, 2007

Street Level

King Street, Newtown

"Mate, just take a pitcha of me instead of all the shops!" ("Kenny" on King Street).

Cooper's Hotel, King Street, Newtown

Happy bloody hour.

King Street, Newtown

Deepest Africa.

King Street, Newtown

International Dreaming (this mural has miraculously survived for decades now).

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October 30, 2007

Oz Politics At A Glance

(A glimpse into the election for the non-Australians out there who aren't suffering through the contest between two of the most boring people on the planet… it's even better if you know that Rudd, Labor Party leader, speaks Mandarin).

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October 29, 2007

Erko Plus

Erskineville Rd, Erko

Erskineville Rd, Erko

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October 26, 2007

Then And Now

What a difference a decade or two makes (or doesn't)…

Erskineville Rd, Newtown

Erskineville Rd, Newtown

Erskineville Rd, Erko

Erskineville Rd, Erko

Bedford St, Newtown

Bedford St, Newtown

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October 23, 2007

The Anti-Telegraph (Lismore)

In the Co-op on the plaza at Southern Cross University I pick up a remaindered Les Murray biog; I just have to find out where that huge well of self-pity comes from. This anti-Telegraph Avenue seems to be a good place to start, surrounded by a weird mix of homeopathy schools and redneck trucks, strutting Aussie battlers, beautiful old houses, verandahs, lush greens and bright colours, backroads restaurants, cattle, heat, humidity, rainforest, fibro shacks ….

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October 22, 2007


The ghosts are thick on the ground here, names like Murwillumbah, Byangum, Goonengerry, Mallanganee, Gundurimba, Wooyung, Dungarubba, Goonellabah, Nimbin, the Clarence, the Tweed, Pimlico… (the taxi from Erko to the airport has a loud American accented GPS on the dash, which adds to the ghostliness). My Jetstar boarding pass has a coupon for $5 off Barbie products at Target. How did they know?

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October 20, 2007

Where I'm From

Lion Island from Umina Beach

Or one of the places, at any rate. And Spike does this sort of thing a lot better, but those odd little holdovers from the past (plain ugly or not) like the one below still crop up on the walks through streets now mostly populated with far uglier and much larger places that absolutely strive for mediocrity. There's no There, There, in almost all of my hometowns now.

(And no, this particular house in Ettalong was not my childhood home, but it surely typifies some part of my childhood).

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October 18, 2007


Pale skins, British faces, narrow streets, crowded footpaths, old shops with awnings, terraces, fleeting accents… not so much a homecoming as … well, what? I'm a foreigner with a native accent.

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February 11, 2007

Proddies v. Catholics

The people in the Woy Woy area when I was growing up there were — by today’s Australian standards — pretty homogenous. The main division seemed to be the Prods vs. the Catholics — and that wasn’t much, since we kids tended to play together no matter what the "religion" of the others (if someone in those days asked you what your "religion" was, they were asking whether you were Catholic, Church of England, Methodist, Presbyterian, or the like). Nearly everyone was of English, Scottish, Welsh, or Irish descent, mostly second or third generation. The Irish were invariably Catholic, the rest of us mostly Proddies. A few "immigrants" (often enough second or third generation themselves) lived in the area, mainly Italian, Greek, or Yugoslavian. Real immigrants were a bit exotic — even the Poms (like me). Pretty much everyone was white — there were virtually no Aboriginals or Africans at all living in the area. When Gary Sobers visited the area on a friendly cricket promotion (and played for Wyong, if I remember correctly), he was treated as a God — black or not, he was just exotic and absolutely revered as a cricketer. (Of course there were black American servicemen all the time in Sydney, but Sydney was another world to most of us…). The only Asians at that time and place were upper middle class people like doctors (in fact several were friends of my parents); they were almost all ABC’s with broad Australian accents.

Churchgoing was pretty rare and not taken terribly seriously by most people, except the ritual Christmas, Easter, and wedding (etc.) services. I really never knew anyone whose parents went to church more than once in a blue moon — and that includes people of all social classes. Religion simply played no part in public life there (except the Catholic vs. The Rest thing, which was more tribal than religious); it typically played a very minor role in private life, if at all. Lots of kids sports were played on Sunday mornings in any case, making churchgoing for us a little unlikely (until I left for Canberra, I really never went to church more than perhaps four times a year). The population was split about 60 / 40 Protestant / Catholic (I think); most Protestants were Church Of England, with a strong second going to the Methodists and Presbyterians (the Scots influence…). There were a smattering of Lutherans, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc., but they were almost universally regarded as a bit eccentric or off the beaten path, a little… strange (including the Lutherans). In retrospect, there were also a couple of Jewish families, but at that time I wouldn’t really have been able to tell you what "Jewish" meant (an ignorance that vanished overnight when I was sent to Canberra…).

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January 02, 2007

This Isn't Woy Woy

(With a nod to Spike…) just a little morsel from a recent evening's walkies around my immediate neighbourhood:

The Estuary and the ConAgra grain silos from Alameda

(Now pop on over to Spike's This Isn't Sydney Cafepress store and buy some Woy Woy cards. I especially like the "No 97" cards from Booker Bay — I'll be buying a few more soon, I suspect…).

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