Cultural Comment Sport

Collingwood and Manly – Loving the Enemy

This weekend, the AFL and NRL have an unusual alignment of stars – grand finals that feature the two most disliked, reviled and downright hated clubs in their competitions. As a result of this turn of events, both Sydney and Melbourne will feature the phenomenon of having a hardened group of supporters cheering loudly against the rest of their respective cities. The cries have been – Anyone But Manly or Collingwood. However, the presence of these teams in their respecting grand finals illustrate the health and passion of their competitions – in terms of the loyalty of the fans of the hated clubs, as well as in the heat of the opposition.

Being from Greystanes, in heart of Parramatta territory, I grew up knowing clearly about the reason Manly should never win the rugby league competition. They were “silvertails”, a term coined by Roy Masters in the lead up to the 1978 Grand Final – as in Fibros (Western Suburbs) against the rich toffs of Manly. They were a club who were known in the 1970s for buying players from poorer clubs. They were, in the 1980s, the main opponent for Parramatta, even if they never won a grand final against them in that decade.  Since that time, Manly have been accused of a variety of crimes, such as “killing off” the North Sydney Bears through the Northern Eagles debacle and having power over the rugby league competition when their former boss, Ken Arthurson, took over the ARL.

It also doesn’t help, perhaps, that this man is from the area:

These reasons have all combined to leave Manly where they are now – a deeply reviled and hated club. This is despite the presence of a salary cap eliminating any monetary advantage ; their near disappearance of a club before the appearance of property developer Max Delmege in 2002 ; their teetering on the edge of solvency, partially because their home ground, Brookvale Oval, possesses the unenviable place of being one of the worst appointed grounds in the NRL.  Part of the dislike would still spring from the relative affluence of people from the region, when compared to supporters in Penrith, Parramatta, Campbelltown and Canterbury – but in a city as prosperous as Sydney, those differences would be seen more in housing values than necessarily disposable income.

In schools and workplaces across Sydney, there is usually one Manly fan in every class, every office. They have, in my experience, developed a hard outer shell to the criticisms that are thrown their way. They aren’t silvertails – that’s the Eastern Suburbs Roosters, they’ll say. There’s a salary cap now. This is probably why if they win on Sunday, there will be some heavy triumphant celebrating continuing for some time, to the disgust of people around them.

The same can be said for Collingwood supporters. Being a Sydney boy, I was dimly aware of a general dislike for Collingwood, but never really heard anything beyond a group of anti-working class barbs from the likes of Carlton supporters. Almost a Fibros-Silvertails style rivalry, which puzzled me as both communities are next to each other. Then I went to a Sydney – Collingwood game at the Olympic Stadium and was seated next to the black and white stripe that went from behind the goal posts to the top of the stadium. They featured the rudest, most contemptible opposition crowd members I had experienced – a label that continues until today. I’ll never forget the sight of Collingwood supporters standing near the eating stands at half time, swearing at Swans supporters, claiming we knew nothing of football and clapped behinds.  It was not a good first impression.  It is an impression that continues for many who have to catch trains with loud, triumphant Collingwood supporters. “Without teeth” as opposition supporters like to say, in a continuing piece of anti-working class stereotyping.

The club has had that type of stereotyping for a long time – and the dislike for Collingwood has been longer in developing than that for Manly. The helpful people at Things Bogans Like tweeted me this article from last year, illustrating that dislike for Collingwood springs from their status as a powerful club from the 20s to the 40s, like Manly’s dominance of the 1970s. That can be seen as smacking somewhat of jealousy of a more successful club more than any other reason.  There is also a good case for the hatred to being part of a Protestant / Catholic sectarian rivalry, springing from the idea of Carlton and Melbourne being affluent, Protestant clubs and Collingwood being the rough, anti-establishment Catholic scrappers.  These elements have created, like with Manly’s fans, a tough outer shell for its supporters as well as a perceived triumphalism when they win.

Also not helping Collingwood’s cause is the open mouth of their President, Eddie McGuire, who seems to have a number of problems with the way the AFL is run. That has included a long running diatribe against salary cap concessions to Sydney and Brisbane – though, to be fair, that was in response to Collingwood being defeated by a better resourced Brisbane side. It also didn’t help that he was seen to wield too much power as host of the AFL Footy Show and President of its biggest club. It’s not a criticism delivered against James Brayshaw currently, though that’s possibly because North Melbourne are a club constantly on the brink of disappearing.  McGuire attracts criticism mostly because his style drips of an arrogance and machismo that repels people – his hosting of the Winter Olympics in 2010 was evidence of that, as were his absurd “footy tax” comments in relation to poker machine reform.

What perhaps doesn’t help, in terms of politics, is this man being counted as a supporter:

I have found, however, that there are sane, reasonable and personable Collingwood supporters – people who have all their teeth and gainfully employed – who are humble, serious supporters of the game and dedicated to their club. They have shown me the anti-Collingwood hatred is mostly built on hot air, irrational reasons and the actions of a few supporters who were either fools to start with, or have had enough of the anti-Collingwood hate.

In the end, though, it’s not necessarily a bad thing having the pent up, irrational rage against the two more hated football clubs in the country. It gives people a reason to tune into the matches and get involved, cheering on Geelong and the New Zealand Warriors. It also demonstrates that the two football codes go beyond just being a television cash cow and being about genuinely held feelings, even if most people have no idea why they hate these two clubs with such vehemence.  But, in the end, it is there to remember that the supporters of Manly and Collingwood are true, loyal fans to their club and to their football codes – they would have to be, in order to be hardened against the abuse and stereotyping.

This doesn’t mean, however, that I want Collingwood or Manly to win. I have had a soft spot for Geelong for many years and I think it would be good for NZ to win the NRL. But if the hated clubs win, it won’t be that bad a thing in the end.

Cultural Comment

It Really Is About the Beer

These holidays, as with most school holidays, I will be spending some time in Melbourne. I like the place and my partner likes spending time with her mum. Winning all around. In addition, I will be tweeting up with some good people I have met through twitter. We are planning to meet up for a Wednesday night of drinking and general gasbaggery. The arrangement was for the Provincial Hotel on Brunswick Street. But then I asked the awkward question – what about the beer?

This is an important question to me. As I grew up with taste buds, I quickly realised as an adult that VB tastes like it has been fermented from the disgusting offcuts from a rancid barrel, and the other usual offerings for drinkers of western Sydney – Toohey’s New and Carlton Draught are as bland as Wayne Swan (come to think of it, so was Swan Lager). There is a good reason Carlton Draught is advertised as being “made from beer”, because that’s all that can be said of it. Same for VB being “real” and “the drinking beer”. That’s tell us that it’s wet and can be consumed. Tremendous. And then there is XXXX. I drank XXXX as an act of solidarity with Queenslanders after the floods. It came from a tap that told me how cold it was coming out. I’m glad it was that cold – that way it masked just how godawful the drink is. As a result, for most of my adult life I have only ever consumed Toohey’s Old – the only ale available on a lot of taps (to this day) – and usually then only consumed by old blokes.

Sydney’s pub taps have developed a little bit of variety over the past 10 years, with some adding overseas brands made here, like Stella and Beck’s, others the major Australian brands’ attempt at craft brewing, Toohey’s James Squire and Carlton’s Matilda Bay. While these beers are reasonable (though I am not a fan of Squire’s Golden Ale or IPA), I still have some issue with the fact that these beers are produced by cynical beer corporations and for every schooner that passes my lips, gone is a possibility for me to support small craft brewers who produce superior tasting beer. The reason virtually all of Sydney’s pubs don’t offer a revolving tap for these beers is because they are owned by Toohey’s or Carlton, or at least have some arrangement with the two major brewers.

What bothers me even more is that the people around me seem not to care – they often think I’m nuts that I think TED stands for Totally Execrable Dishwater and Crown is just VB in a different bottle. Most people I know think a pub is fancy if they serve Stella. They think I’m even more insane that I like black beer, even room temperature beer. To them, beer is there to get them drunk or quench thirst – not to be savoured or appreciated. It is those people’s lack of interest in the alternative as well as the lockdown of Sydney’s pubs by the major brewers that have forced brewers to make it a part of their pub – places like the Lord Nelson Hotel and the Rocks Brewers in the Rocks, the bizarrely located Paddy’s next to Paddy’s Markets in Flemington, the brilliant 5 Islands in Wollongong (again, bizarrely next to the WIN Entertainment Centre), Four Pines and Murray’s in Manly. Little wonder that we are often seen there as well as the Melbourne import, the Local Taphouse.

But then there is Melbourne. My beloved partner has introduced me to a world of taste and variety in beer – exploring the infinitely different varieties of pale ale, IPAs, pilsners, porters, stouts, wheat beers and the rest that are sold in bars throughout the inner city suburbs of Melbourne. On tap. A city that supports an increasing array of excellent craft brewers, putting maximum effort into their brews, so they can be appreciated. And brewers who don’t need to manage pubs in order to gain a market share. This is one reason why I enjoy going to Melbourne. I know that I am supporting a local business whilst enjoying the taste. Winning all around.

That takes me back to the original point, the pub in Melbourne being lined up for the meeting. The Provincial. Like a number of new, funky pubs, they have a Twitter account and they proudly tweeted that “they serve James Squire”. And then later, tweeted that they have different beers in bottles. Yes, a Tooheys pub. A Sydney style pub. That is not what I go to Melbourne to experience. If I wanted a beer in a bottle, I’d buy one from Purvis’ or Slowbeer and drink it at home. I might as well be in Newtown, a town with no decent beer on tap. As a result, I had a little rant and said I wouldn’t be happy in going there. I know this would be annoying to most people, though the people organising the shindig are two of the loveliest, nicest tweeps one could possibly know.

I enjoy people’s company and beer isn’t the only thing I enjoy about social interaction. However, to me, the beer is important, both in terms of taste and of supporting small business. And if I like the beer, I will consume a goodly amount of it. Problem is, though, that the result might be my Peter Garrett impersonation. Or my Tony Abbott. So, maybe restricting me to James Bloody Squire might be the best outcome after all.

Cultural Comment

Western Sydney Icons 1 – Panthers

With all the to-ing and fro-ing about the asylum seeker policy, it is very tempting to just run away and ignore the stupidity and narrow mindedness of both sides, as suggested by Annabel Crabb last week. And that is what I am doing with the blog for a while. I am going to address what I think is lacking a bit in our “national conversation” and that is an actual working understanding of what is called “the western suburbs” in the media and by politicians.  It is hard to escape the conclusion at times that we really an amorphous mass and easy to pigeonhole by journalists who, for the most part, seem to rarely venture by choice beyond Leichhardt – unless it’s for a one off visit to write a broad brushstroke piece about people who live near train stations or stand in Panthers watching a visit by Tony Abbott or Julia Gillard, as happened in the 2010 election. It was pretty amusing to watch the tweets of journalists having to come out our way those days. So, these blogs will seek to provide some details about the cultural icons of the western suburbs of Sydney. The first will be that club deemed so important to Gillard and Abbott – Penrith Panthers.

Penrith Panthers was a new style of club in Sydney – the super club. The canny directors of times old bought a vast tract of land west of Mulgoa Rd, when it was disused farming land and not used for very much. They waited until the 80s to build what became a massive entertainment complex, of a size that threatened to dwarf even the St. George Leagues, Parramatta Leagues and Souths Juniors, then the benchmarks for club behemoths.  They had more land to play with than any of those. Therefore, they built a mini golf course, aqua golf, a 9 hole Par 3 course, a cable water ski park (which was originally going to have bungee jumping, before it was deemed illegal by the NSW Government, forcing all the bungee jumpers to go to NZ for the experience) and a water slide park. Eventually, the land also contained a marquee that doubled as a convention centre, a set of cabins called Nepean Shores, the Penrith Tourist Information Centre, Australia’s first Krispy Kreme franchise, McDonalds, KFC, a Lonestar Steakhouse, a Sizzler Restaurant and a 216 room hotel.

In other words, an entertainment smorgasbord for the people of Penrith and surrounds. And I haven’t even mentioned inside the club as yet.

The club has changed a bit over the years, reflecting the money that has poured into the region over the decades. It used to be a functional brown building, but has recently become a glass fronted “classier” joint

Inside, however, is the real business. In the 1990s, it was the place to be for young men and women out for a good time on a Friday or Saturday night. It still is. But in the 90s, it was almost the only option. The Penrith Hotel tried to get a nightclub going, but it faded quickly. Panthers had a number of nightclubs in the 90s, with named like – Reflections (otherwise known as Infections) for the slightly older crew (with a significant number of cougars), Reactor One, the Evan.  Reactor One was the place to be for the young, hot and sexy.  It breathed fire, it seemed to me, and was a heaving meat market.  It wasn’t the place for me. I instead was inspired by Reactor One to write this poem, where I imagined what it would be like if poets were at that place. The spirit of Reactor One is now revived in a club called Minx, which is just as fuelled by alcopops and premixed bourbon and cokes as Reactor One. Only now it has added orange and Ed Hardy.

The Evan was a curious nightclub space, as it was designed for concerts, musical theatre and plays. I once saw a fantastic production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream there. However, not many plays were on in the Evan nightclub in the 90s – there was too much money to be made by converting it into a nightclub space, where the girls dressed to impress and the blokes didn’t dance until Khe Sanh was put on. Khe Sanh was a song every single nightclub space had in common. The DJ would put away the beats and on it would come.  These days, the Evan is a place where concerts of cover bands, faded Australian Idol contestants and the like are put on – a similar roster as Rooty Hill RSL’s fare.  For example, there’s the upcoming Buble Meets Sinatra concert and for all those Taylor Dayne fans out there, she’s performing there.

I remember from my days as a drastically unsuccessful babe catcher from those times seeing Penrith footballer Mark Geyer walk through the club after a match across the road at Penrith Park (now Centrebet Stadium), into a special room with the rest of the Panthers. Someone called out his name and he turned around, giving a look that I imagined at the time was the same look a gorilla gives when a noise confuses and slightly aggravates him. I have since realised that the bloke must have heard his name called out a lot, everywhere, and he must be been a little tired of it. These days, his face can be seen everywhere – in the vast lobby, on advertising on club merchandise. He is a local hero, more recognised than pretty much every Penrith resident – and not necessarily a bad thing. He is a positive role model for people in the community and his statements on the MMM breakfast show are mostly positive and non-judgmental – if he is negative, it is usually when he feels that changes need to be made to protect his family. In that, he represents the views of his Penrith brethren.

The rest of Panthers caters for a range of people these days, especially families. There is a vast array of video games for kids to play, bistros, a Panarotti’s franchise, a Chinese restaurant, an outdoor BBQ / play area as well as an excellent gourmet restaurant, Osso, which is the best restaurant in Penrith, complete with a knowledgeable sommelier, aged steaks and desserts equal in quality with many one hatted restaurants in Sydney. There’s also function rooms and other facilities that make other clubs unable to compete.

Fuelling all this, however, is a feature that has remained virtually unchanged since the building of the club. The poker machines. In Panthers, they sit in a vast pit that can be seen from most of the club, except from Osso or from the kids’ video game area. My mother, when asked what she thought of Panthers at first sight, likened it to hell – from everywhere you could see the slavering gamblers.  As a result, I can’t help but think that no matter the shiny facade, the thing that drives it is a diseased beast – the gamblers. And these aren’t family people you see around the rest of the club. These are the same middle aged to elderly people (some younger people) that have always been there. It’s a horrible sight to behold and a lot of the patrons scoot very quickly past it.

But it is that reality that gives the current campaign against Wilkie’s push for Pre Commitment legislation such weight. The families that go into Panthers know that people in that pit have gambling problems. However, their money funds the facilities that the families enjoy as well as the sporting competitions their children play each weekend. That is not excusing their indifference, but for people who rarely display an interest in federal political issues, the possible impact on kids’ sport and local entertainment facilities is a strong point to make.

Panthers stands as a symbol of the modern Western Sydney on many fronts. It does show an emerging interest in culture and food, the ways of entertaining people in the western suburbs as well as a local meeting point for people of various ages. It also shows just how the poker machine growth in the state has created a club that staggers the visitors from interstate that visit.  It acts as both a positive and negative force for the region and will continue to do so, no matter what happens in Canberra.


Striking Whilst the Iron’s Cold and Angry – Why the NSW Teachers Federation Need to Change their Approach

I used to be a teacher in the NSW Department of School Education once upon a time. I started my career there. Teaching casual and temporary blocks. I waited three years for a permanent placement somewhere in the Western Suburbs. Exasperated, I opened up my availability to teach to anywhere in the state. Christmas Eve, 1998 they offered me Canowindra. By then, however, it was too late – I chose security of a position I could apply for and have an interview for over waiting by the phone.  Even now, it has been next to impossible for me to return, due to administrative nightmares.

In my time in the state system, it occurred to me that the NSW Teachers’ Federation were a stern, strident lot who went on strike quite often, especially in my first year of teaching in 1996. I was told that as a casual, “I couldn’t come in on a strike day” by a Deputy Principal. So I didn’t – even though at that stage I hadn’t bothered to join as yet. That’s because no-one asked me, no-one mentioned how to join.

Tomorrow, the NSW TF are going back to that mode they know well – to strike. To cause disruption to parents and shopping precincts to make their point. This time, as with other times, it a worthy point to make. The O’Farrell Government, completely without mandate or having mentioned this in their election campaign, have ensured that any pay claims made above 2.5% per annum by any public sector workers (other than the police) have to be accompanied with “economies” – which, in terms of schools, is usually government speak for less sick days, bigger class sizes and less release times for teachers. As a result, teachers’ pay rises will be less than CPI increases. O’Farrell has also circumvented the NSW Industrial Relations Commission by making sure parliament is the final arbiter of the pay claims, not the IRC.

The problem with the strike, however, is in the timing.  This strike is about the legislation and the strictures it places on all public sector workers, not just teachers. That is why nurses and members of the fire brigade will be joining them for a rally.  That makes this strike, however, a difficult sell for the people the NSWTF are trying to get onside – the general public.  That’s because the legislation was passed some time ago, with the Greens and ALP attempting to hold up its passing with epic speeches made by David Shoebridge and John Kaye, amongst others.  It was introduced with such breathtaking speed that the NSWTF were caught unawares to an extent, unable to call for a strike at the time.  However, it is when they should have called the strike. Now, it’s old news.

The strike is also a mistake because it isn’t tied to an actual pay claim. That is why Adrian Piccoli, the Education Minister, can say to the public that the strike isn’t actually linked to a specific pay claim, it’s just a partisan political activity that would have no bearing on the quality of education in schools. That makes it easy for the opponents of unions in News Limited, amongst others to characterise teachers as politically partisan people who just like disrupting the lives of parents for political motives and a chance for a rally with their unionist mates. Not a good look for the union movement.

What has also happened on this occasion is that the NSW IRC, in performing their job as independent arbiter, have been forced to do their correct role and deemed that the strike is illegal and told the NSW TF to call it off. The TF have replied that they will defy and ignore the IRC and go on strike anyway. What this in effect has done is shown that the TF are quite happy to defy and ignore the same IRC that they want to maintain as an independent umpire. It’s a contradiction that is hard for them to justify.

What would have worked better for the NSWTF is to put in a pay claim – say 5%, like the NSW IEU has put forward. Then they could wait to see what “trade offs” the NSW Government would insist upon in response – such as increased class sizes, decreased sick leave or decreased release time. Then they could have gone on strike, showing what kind of unreasonable demands the NSW Government has placed on them, showing how unfair it is that the government has circumvented the IRC.  They would tangible proof of the negative impact the unreasonable demands would have on students in schools. Then it would be easier to garner public support, which could then put pressure on O’Farrell to at least make compromises. By going ahead with tomorrow’s strike, though, the TF will probably have to put on two strikes, which will test the patience of a lot of the community they are trying to recruit as supporters of the cause.

The NSW TF really need to think of something other than strikes to get their point across. They may have worked somewhere in the past, but now they are a blunt instrument that feeds their enemies.

Classical Music

Preston Classical Radio – Night Music

There are many Twitter people up quite late at night. Including me. I often prefer the stillness of the night as opposed to the rush of the day. It’s probably why I find nightclubs so absurd – trying to extend the rush of the day to the evening.

The nighttime Twitter companions are also connecting on a lovely, personal level at night, whether it’s about their days, on Words with Friends or sharing Craig Ferguson. Not literally, of course. Though I suspect many women would love to get a bit of Ferg. Or at least appear as the back end of Secretariat.

The night time has been well served by classical music over the years. There’s always the “Moonlight” Sonata by Beethoven, which has been played by many, many pianists over the years. Here are two versions – one by Wilhelm Kempff

And one on a replica of a piano from Beethoven’s time – which makes for an interesting comparison for just how much of a “night” piece the sonata movement is to our ears:

One of my favourite memories of my life as a piano accompanist for my mother was playing Mondnacht (Moonlight) by Schumann. It is one of the slipperiest, most difficult of songs to nail for a singer and a pianist. Deceptively simple.  Here are two interesting versions – one by one of the greatest singers of all times – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (and, apparently, a 2 pack a day smoker!)

And, remarkably, a school student, Emily Turner.

And then there is Mahler, who spent a lot of his compositional life in the midst of dark. There is equal parts madness, cheesiness and flights of fancy.  No wonder Paul Keating rates him so highly. Here is the second Nachtmusik movement from his Seventh Symphony, conducted, appropriately, by the Paul Keating of the conducting world (only insofar as a physical resemblance), Claudio Abbado. Note the cheesy mandolin bits.

Then we have poor Franz Schubert. The man under appreciated by the society and the women of his time. His last sonata, the D960, has always been to me about his struggle with the night and how to capture it in music. Here is the first movement, played by Alfred Brendel.

And finally, my favourite night music. Bartok, who was shamefully underestimated by many in his adopted World War 2 era home of the US and by the time he was writing his 3rd Piano Concerto, he was suffering from leukaemia and near death. But the second movement of this concerto, to me, really tells us what it is like in the night-time.  It is played by one of my favourite modern pianists, Helene Grimaud. This music needs to be listened to with the lights off and the heart slowed.

I had originally intended to write a post about music for those who suffer from depression, especially in the light of a post written some months back by Ben Pobjie. But I think the night is the place where depression has its greatest attacks on those of us who suffer. And music gets me out of it so often.

Cultural Comment

From Closing Off Major Arterials to the Lice Treatment – Our Evolving Sense of Money

Today’s Preston Institute blog comes from a guest blogger – Nicola, who describes herself as a political staffer from Melbourne, mother of one, 30 next year. I introduce her as a blogger who delivers us a thought provoking view of our current perception of money.

I have to announce that I am not rich. I am not even comfortable. Neither am I impoverished, though I’m occasionally skint. I’m less so the older I get. A decade ago some meals were comprised entirely of rice, and petrol tanks had an awkward habit of emptying suddenly on major arterials, creating a rear-vision horror of frustrated drivers very unhappy at my unscheduled closure of the left-hand lane. In retail and hospitality our fellow workers held the casual-labour begging bowl to our Beadles, plaintively asking for more work please, sir.

I’m not personally complaining about this. In my undeniably middle-class family the 18 to 20-something years were spent in tertiary study and casual work; in depressed rentals and dead-end relationships – but we were never near collapse. It was our home-grown back-packing European Spring break, but confined to Melbourne. And if we could scrape together enough fare to get back home, there was always a home-cooked meal. If we’d been living like this indefinitely it would be much more depressing, and many do. The man who is dead at 76 years old,  bashed to death on a Sydney train last week while sheltering from the cold at 3am, had presumably not graduated from a miserable treadmill of worthless jobs, exploitation and disenfranchisement. The middle-class, however, will accept their apprenticeship on the understanding it isn’t terminal.

What fascinates me about money is the individual’s evolving attitude. As children we have no concept of money, or the cost of things comparative to the labour exerted earning the stuff. Our appreciation of money on first developing our independence usually gives way to a complacency about others’ hardship, if we are lucky enough to become comfortable in further years. And it fascinates me too that these imbalances are still vociferously denied as having any bearing on class – at least the second filthiest C-word around.

Back 4 decades, in the days when money didn’t come from a card, a computer or a phone, My Dad Graham (you’d like him) was among a junior crew of academics, one day seen chatting in a cluster, anxiously awaiting the outcome of union discussions on a possible strike. Their money came only as coloured paper, painstakingly withdrawn over a counter at your local branch; or in a cheque, even then a laughably arcane exchange of currency. Amazingly he still prefers cheques.

Overhearing them from a separated office a senior-associate-dean-or-other, 20 years the senior, surprised the young’uns with a shriek. ‘Oh bloody hell, I didn’t even think!’ Walking out he was brandishing his own cheque book, a real life George Bailey, James Stewart’s heroic Bedford Falls banker from It’s A Wonderful Life, the picture of generosity.  ‘I forgot about you guys. Things WOULD be difficult eh? What do you need to tide you over?’ My Dad Graham promised to remember this kindness and not succumb to the amnesia of upward mobility.

Back in the present, I have a favourite student who broke a piece of my heart away when he told me he couldn’t go to university because his Mum couldn’t afford to keep him once he’d passed 18, and his only option was the workforce. With his scores, brightness and grit to breeze through year 12 I looked forward to sharing in the highlights of his academic career. Horrified as I was to hear of his mother’s lack of appreciation of his tertiary opportunities, I also sympathized with her position: if you haven’t got the cash you’re near breaking point. For a single mother with no qualifications and two teenage children, a text-book working class family living in a regional area, money was never going to transform into ‘easy’ for her. While I don’t want to get into the more complicated categorization of society into sub-sets of cashed up bogans; cultural elite with cash-flow issues; and the cultural in-elite with generational cash-flow issues, there are some people forced to make poor choices for simple lack of money. The cold reality of the boy’s situation stuck with me. Especially as it’s a contrary choice to make: university will afford the kid greater opportunity in the long run, adding greater mobility to him than to me, considering our relative positions in life and fortune.

Now with a child of my own, and at no real risk of sinking into destitution, I wince slightly at every minor cost levied on my daughter’s school extras. A uniform, a swimming program, a school barbecue, a lice treatment (without which she would have been prohibited from attending school), school shoes, shoe polish, matching socks – there really are hundreds of expenses. I don’t personally resent the costs, I only worry about the expectation there is that every family can absorb costs like these. But further there are costs we are all expected to absorb no matter whether we’re breeders. And every time a user-pays model is introduced there is someone going without, and possibly not functioning as they should. Politicians bleat a great deal about costs and expenses, and set against the carbon tax it’s become an obsession, but more immediately our society is being characterized by a consumer model where the base offering is sub-standard, and value begins where the dollar changes hands.

When I contrast my father’s struggle-era with current day I notice a generational change in attitude to cash and ‘having things’, probably owing a great deal to that improvement in the technology of money delivery. There is now little social acceptance of a lack of immediate money. Everyone should have a credit line, everyone should have savings, being able to absorb unexpected cost is a sign of maturity. My Dad Graham, a full-time professional, in cohort with others, was rescued without question by a colleague, when today to even offer to pay someone’s salary during industrial action would be seen as patronising, meddling and maybe a breach of privacy.

I hope that favoured student gets to university, and that he finds some financial security in the long run. I’m guessing that his hardship will last a bit longer than mine did, and be more than the difference between a three-course meal or a working car, and being reported on radio as the morning’s traffic hold-up. And I hope that someday there’s another George Bailey to save him.

Cultural Comment Sport

A Farewell to the Swans – A Western Sydney AFL Supporter’s Tale

Today we are off to see the Swans’ last regular season home game. The first for the part time family this year. The car will be packed, we will hopefully find a parking spot in Surry Hills, walk across Anzac Parade and go to the SCG. Or relent and park in a parking station somewhere. The train trip and bus journey is just too annoying and long for us, we have discovered through past

This is my last game I will be attending as a Swans supporter. I am going to be a Giants supporter next year -I have the membership and I want to be a part of the new push into Western Sydney. That makes today especially bittersweet, as I have supported the Swans since their arrival in 1982 – a very unusual thing for a 10 year old growing up in Greystanes to do. It sprung from watching the VFL on a Saturday afternoon from 1980 and 1981. Though, I didn’t go to a Swans game in those years – my parents weren’t that interested in any kind of football and going to the SCG solo wasn’t really an option, especially when we moved to the Blue Mountains. VFL support was tough in a Blue Mountains high school in the 80s. No kid was interested in fairy football, aerial ping pong. Same went during my marriage, when AFL support and attendance was the occasional, fleeting thing.

It is different in the Blue Mountains these days – whenever I wear my Swans gear, I am almost always stopped in the street by someone wanting to talk AFL. Trains containing Swans supporters can be seen each time they play. I was even at the Blaxland barber shop, and the conversation was about the last game of Tadgh Keneally. Another end of something.

People keep saying to me that “you can’t change teams” – especially Victorians, who think that it’s like choosing to have different children or parents. But it’s not like that – it’s about enjoying the game of AFL. It will be considerably easier for us to get to games next year – especially as the home games will all be at Homebush and, I suspect and hope, during the day. If the Giants and the AFL are serious about attracting families from the greater west, then daytime games will be better for that.

I have heard some people in Blacktown grumble about the fact that games won’t be played at the partly council- funded ground at Blacktown – but that is pretty much an impossible option for a major sporting team of any code to consider. The train station is too far away, the local privately owned bus routes are pathetically under resourced and the road outside would gridlock in seconds if 25,000 people were there. Homebush – which is in western Sydney – was the only realistic option.

But back to the Swans. The team has a fully fledged niche in Sydney culture and will continue to have with the new team. They are largely a team for people from the North Shore, Northern Beaches, Eastern Suburbs and Inner Western suburbs to support and cheer. The people for whom rugby league has soured or AFL is one of the sports they follow because they have an open mind about following sport. For those people, the SCG is easier for them to access and it has a wonderful atmosphere that won’t ever transfer to ANZ Stadium. I do love the SCG for football. We will still get to Swans games next year – after all, they do have the Local Taphouse just up the road and the games will be of better quality. And my partner prefers red to orange. Being of an inner city sensibility, she also likes other Swans supporters. There is also an abiding admiration for the culture of a team that has always performed better than it appears to be on paper. A club that has boasted the inclusion of fine men like Brett Kirk, Paul Kelly, Jarrad McVeigh, Adam Goodes and Tadgh Keneally. The clear “no dickheads” policy. The club that civilised and boosted Tony Lockett.  As do I, to be honest.

That is why today is a special one for me – the end of a 29 year supporting journey, of sorts. Just of sorts. I’m not giving away the jumpers, scarves or shirts. But I won’t miss the kicks backwards and the sitters missed from in front. Apparently Folau can kick with great accuracy in set shots. That will make a nice change.


Malaysian Solution Torpedo – Good for the ALP’s Soul

Yes, an odd title for many people. Inferring that the ALP has a soul. But it does have one. Many people in the ALP must have privately loathed and detested the Malaysian Solution. And why wouldn’t they. It was out-Howarding Howard, by presenting a “solution” so diabolical that even Scott Morrison was saying, with relish and accuracy that it wasn’t humane and Andrew Bolt nodding his approving. That should have rung alarm bells at ALP Soul HQ. Morrison looking caring and humane for a start – that was an almost impossible achievement. The other is what the ALP should be running – The Bolt Test. If Andrew approves, people, it means that the policy is not from the ALP.  It’s instead from a horribly compromised husk of that party. Or, in reality, from the 1900s model – the one that wanted to keep the cheap yellow workers out of the country – the ones who were threatening the jobs of the unionists who started the ALP.

Today we have had the Member for Lindsay, David Bradbury, pop up (that was nice, we don’t seem him that much out Penrith way) and say that the decision was a “torpedo” for the offshore processing of asylum seekers and that the High Court justices don’t have to “answer the phone” when boats arrive.  I’m surprised he didn’t say there needed to be a “probe” into the high court or that there needed to be some “proper law and order decisions” that needed to be made by the high court. It was also telling to see a member of the NSW Right wing refer to “phones” – I can imagine the phones of every single ALP parliamentarian were running hot with outrage, bile and brimstone as they realised that the media and the Liberals actually had something tangible to criticise.  Not even Stuart MacGill could spin them out of this crisis. Of course, the reality is that the contemporary ALP spin team get as much turn as Nathan Hauritz (or Michael Beer, Cameron White or Xavier Doherty – take your pick).

The fact it was Bradbury that we saw on TV this morning indicates what is wrong with the ALP’s compromised plans in terms of asylum seekers.  This was an outer-suburbs pitched media-centric issue from the start. An advertising campaign designed to “send a message” (oh, I do hate that phrase) to “the world” and “break the people smugglers’ business model”. Using Youtube to promote how nasty Australia can be.  All the talk of “business models” is reminiscent of Ruslan Kogan using the internet to break Gerry Harvey’s business model.  In addition, Bradbury talking about phones and torpedoes – evoking the language of both tabloid newspapers and Tony Abbott- to point his point across to the Telegraph reading and 2GB listening denizens of Penrith shows that the issue is truly captive to the narrowly focused world of media spin.

And it was ever thus on this issue. Since the Tampa episode of 2001, John Howard and his dog whistle – and its enduring success – has ensured that this issue has been fought on the terms he framed. And now, the Migration Act amendments composed at that time have bitten the ALP.  The Malaysian Solution has showed that when it tries to play the game of going away from any idea of principles and soul, what happens is that it doesn’t play the game very well.

The solution smacked of the type of compromise, cynical politics played by the ALP NSW Right over many decades. The same NSW Right that has members who think climate change is crap and have tried every which way to try to manipulate public opinion by appearing to do something about it but with the least amount of impact on votes. This is why there would be NSW Right people with pictures of various Greens on their dartboards, because their presence forced the ALP to come up with a comprehensive carbon pricing scheme that will assuredly lose them votes but win them long term kudos. The Malaysian Solution, however, shows that when the NSW Right have the lead, they stuff things up royally.

If nothing else, this episode shows that the NSW Right playbook should be put away forever. What should happen, but won’t, is that the ALP gets its groove back and turn to the Progressives – for some ideas, not disgraceful, value free compromised Howard-lite policies.  The ALP need to draw up a truly compassionate and sensible asylum seeker approach that would involve spending money in Australia on immigration processing centres, more people in DIAC to process the claims, ensuring that the process is quicker and more in keeping with our status as a wealthy and generous 1st world country. No, no – there will be panic and gnashing of teeth and the left will be kept quiet. Let’s see what wackiness will come next. If not TPVs, then maybe the Cronulla Solution. Now, who wouldn’t want to see that?