The twenty-first century: white noise?

In the opening lines to the BBC series Torchwood, Captain Jack announces that the 21st Century is when everything changes, but he might have added that it’s when everyone panicked and forgot how to act in a time of change.

And there is much to panic about it seems – global warming, the war on terror, coming plagues, cybersafety, obesity epidemics, interventions and bursting global bubbles.

Some of the threats are only too real – Sept 11 and 7-7 is scarred into all our memories and who in Canberra could ever forget January 2003, nor the Victorian fires.

But it’s not like this is the first period in history where there has been widespread change and uncertainty.  The first fifty years of the 20th Century were, by any measure, mired in war, depression, calamity and hate of an intensity not seen before or since.

But while the attitude of those times might have been to ‘keep calm and carry on’, the 21st Century sees us mired in a persistent “tone” of crisis that is not always anchored in reality and has us baffled and paralysed.

Talkback radio is all around us screaming that crime is “out of control”.  Elderly women shut themselves inside their houses – bolting, locking and alarming – despite the statistics telling us that the victims of crime are most likely to be young people or caused by people you already know.

Antiseptic handwashes, washing powder, gels and dishwashing liquids proliferate as we scrub and salve away the coming bacterial nightmare.

Television dramas, reality shows and movies surround us with images of vast post apocalyptic terrors and survivalist scenarios.  On Pay TV there is a whole Channel devoted to crime – a serial killer for every day of the year.

The language of risk has invaded every space – even the most mundane project plans in my line of work in the community sector must now include sections on risk management, crisis management and a “what if?” worst case scenario plan.

The tone was set early on.  Remember Y2K?  When every computer, mobile phone and internet connection was set to come to a grinding halt at the strike of Midnight at the turn of the new millennium.

In Canberra circles I remember dire mutterings that computer records would be lost, electricity would shut down and Australia would be run by a small shadow government of public officials churning out letters on typewriters by candlelight while huddled around walkie talkies.

And where there is fear there is anger too.  Much was made of the tone of the recent Alan Jones interview with Julia Gillard where he admonished her for being late to an interview, but I was more amazed at the tone of the talk-back caller “Brian” played at the interview.

Literally screaming with incoherent rage – Brian seemed symptomatic of a society that is confused, furious, overloaded and angry – but not quite sure why.

Part of it is surely the “Sydney syndrome”, where bad planning decisions, an imploding government, overcommitted mortgages, overpopulation, culture shock and hellish traffic congestion have combined with venomous shock jock radio to create a coarsened, vile public discourse.

But I think there is something broader going on too.   A similar tone can be found on the anonymous posts on most major blogs.  A mean spirited angry thread of bitterness, disappointment, bile and triumph in others misfortunes – but ones instantly carried on a sea of tweets and posts though a 24 hour news cycle.

Put simply, public participation is happening like never before but we are not, in the words of John Laws, being kind to each other.

We are becoming a culture that is drowning in overload, feedback and political white noise.

And in the 21st Century there is so much too panic about that it is hard to know what to start fixing or if it is better to hide.

The responses are the obvious ones – gated communities – real and virtual.

Communities like Facebook offer a way to interact where everyone, well almost everyone, uses their real names and where there is only a like button to share the love.  Home theatres mean you never have to go out.  The kids are only a mobile phone call away and there are even phones for three year olds.

But the real impacts of all this wasted energy and retreat from real engagement is an inability to strategise long term and commit to lasting changes.

Where is the room in this cacophony for polished, deft approaches to big long term national problems?  For policies which might involve risks?  For things that might fail, but need to be tried?

Like the nation building of a Bob Menzies who calmly constructed Canberra; a John Gorton who invested in the arts and laid claim to our natural resources at sea; a Gough Whitlam who addressed the needs of those in the suburbs; a Jeff Kennett who imposed his bold vision on the city of Melbourne or a Hawke-Keating Government which steadily opened up Australia to the world, implemented progressive responses to public health and introduced Medicare. Or John Howard banning guns and stabilising the tax base with a GST.

Crisis management is not about these long term solutions – which might involve allowing things to get worse while allowing time to plan a real response to make it better – it demands an instant response.  A need to be seen to act.

The current hour is a bad context for public policy and I worry for the future of Australia.

Why I love Australia: Reclaiming nationalism from the far right

The right don’t own our nationalism or our history but it’s about time the left stopped being wimpy and equivocal about it as well.

If Australia were being invaded I would happily use every means human and material to drive them into the sea and protect our country.  I’d buy war bonds, work for free and push gunpowder into little bullets if the government needed me to.

\r\n\r\nAnd in the end – if they were winning – I’d take a gun, strap it to my little wheelchair and fire (badly) at whoever was coming over the hill until I ran out of ammo before they claimed one frostbitten blade of Canberra grass.  And then I’d throw pebbles or spoons or whatever was left in an effort to make them buy a return ticket.  Alamo here we come.

I get sniffy when I hear the Skippy theme tune.  The flag can stay as it is – although I wish Waltzing Matilda were our anthem.  I like our egalitarian easy going culture (and I hate those who are trying to spoil it with bile and rancour).  I am proud of the story of our traditional owners, our settlement, the way we turned Australia from a penal colony into a progressive society and the work of our earlier colonial thinkers like Macquarie and even Bligh, who was grossly maligned. I think it’s remarkable that people shoved out of Britain managed within one generation to form a society that was better, fairer and more open and that a forger became our printer of money!

I also think caring about Australia means we have to own and take control of our history  That’s why it was right to say sorry and its right to undo the injustices to first peoples.  Its also right to admit we got things wrong like child migration; stolen children; keeping children in special schools; Vietnam; bomb tests.

Being progressive isn’t about endlessly apologising for who we are, its about making Australia better, believing in a positive future, righting wrongs and backing it up.  Until we get that balance the far right will continue to wear the cloak of Australian nationalism despite the fact that it fits badly with their underlying messages of hate, intolerance and disregard of the core values of the Australian settlement such as a fair go and support for the underdog.

Spare us the wandering UK aristocracy

What is it with our fascination for UK academics with medieval titles?

Like many Australians I watched in wrapt stunned awe as the astonishing show that is Lord Monckton careened around Australia.

Now I would imagine that it is actually possible to put together a proposition that climate moves in long term cycles and to tap into the default sceptism that accompanies many discussions on complex issues.

The best salesman for this position might be akin to the approach taken by Richard Dawkins when talking about religion – a dry, sceptical, cynical person armed with facts and figures.

Instead Lord Monckton approached it with flamboyant transcontinental legerdemain not seen since Oscar Wildes tour of America or Khemanli’s career as an international loan broker.

Like the star of his own mockumentary, Lord Monckton managed to compare Ross Garnaut to Hitler, mock the PM’s accent and call her ‘’darling” and make himself the story through a series of comical media encounters.

One can hardly imagine that this was what the heavies behind the anti-carbon tax movement imagined they were buying, which begs the question of what role his (cough) peerage had in the minds of those make these decisions.

This is not the only example of hat doffing we have seen lately.

One of the many zealous tongue lashings I received during the Special Schools debate on the ABC’s Ramp Up was that I hadn’t crumpled in the face of the received wisdom of one Dame Mary Warnock, formerly a UK advocate of mainstreaming who has changed her mind on the issue.

Now Dame Warnock is in an entirely different league to a Monckton.

But I still find it bewildering that some people would weigh the shifting views of a UK academic in front of the lived experience of people who have first hand experience of actually being to special schools in Australia.

And if the Dame changed her mind on the issue once, who is to say she won’t do so again or that she wouldn’t see the Australian experience in different terms?

All in all one wonders if there isn’t a loyal corner of the Australian heart that still flutters on the approach of titled gentry.

Downfall – you’ve seen the Youtube parodies, now watch the rest

We are all familiar by now with the ever growing YouTube internet meme that uses one or two clips from the German movie Downfall.  The most commonly used scene from the film is the situation briefing where the Fuhrer realises that his third army has vanished into the ether and he is effectively trapped in Berlin.

My favourites are Hitler phones his ISP to complain about his internet being down and Ruddfall which splices together many scenes from the film to give a witty take on Julia Gillards overthrow of Kevin Rudd.

While the makers of Downfall attempted to purge the parodies a few years ago they are more popular than ever and in a strange way have come to provide a tribute to the power of the original movie and the performance of its star.

Given the Nazi’s penchant for the straightforward in art, it is somehow fitting that this mad leader who thought to create a thousand year legacy has entered the 21st Century recognisable to most people as a victim of parody and sly humour.

Downfall in its gripping entirety is probably as close as we will get to a real account of Hitler’s final days in the bunker.  It is the story of what happens when a modern industrial state is taken over by a right wing suicide cult and the feds comes knocking to take the guns away.  It doesn’t need over narration. It’s strange and unbelievable as it is.

There are great setpieces, from the remarkable impersonation by Bruno Gantz to the final scenes.  It is also a breakthrough as a German film which portray’s a realistic Third Reich in a country which has never really known how to portray these dark times in its own past.  It leaves films like Hitler: The Last Ten Days with Alec Guinness looking like a G rated Disney film.

What the film strives to do is to show National Socialism as a cultural faith based machine – one at its most raw and true at the end – and explain how it ground on, even after the death of Hitler.

There are images in this film that will haunt you forever.  The mundane reality of workers throwing boxes of files out of windows as the Government of a large modern state disintegrates.  Hitler being kind to his staff during a job interview.    Magda playing solitaire after poisoning her children, her and Josef shooting each other and then the rash of suicides – the desperate need to die rather than a face a world where their faith has been defeated.

The most telling moments of the film arrive after Hitler shoots himself as we follow the narrators of the story through the last remnants of the Reich and witness its desperate desire to take everyone and everything with it.  The Jonestown defence writ across a whole country.

We should never forget that National Socialism was a surrogate state religion and so we can add its death tally to the millions killed, twisted and tortured dating back to the inquisition.

So yes have a laugh at those witty YouTube clips but be sure to see the film.

All Andrew needed was the right tagline

First a confession – I have a disability and I like Andrew Peacock.  I think he is Australia’s lost Prime Minister.  Here was a politician who is jovial, witty and urbane, with an exotic name and a touch of Camelot.  Who could resist the possibility of Hollywood star psychic Shirley MacLean becoming Australia’s first lady?  Or the Lodge bedecked with sunlamps and copies of Horse and Hound? The possibilities for ripping political caricature were endless.

While Andrew dutifully trotted out the usual dreary lines about working harder and raising productivity, one sensed that here was a sensible man who loved the good things in life and really could make Australians “relaxed and comfortable”.

An Australia with Andrew in charge would be one where we could all happily slip off at lunchtime to place bets at the local TAB before a round of tennis or a spot of tanning under the sunlamp.

Even the political scandals would suggest rest and relaxation.  Andrew’s greatest brush with infamy involved his wife advertising a luxury brand of bed sheets.   No 24Kevin here.

Now, it’s a strain I know, but cast your minds way back to August 2010 (the endless election, Latham, leaks, debates about debates – see it’s coming back in a post hangover, cloudy sort of way) – and imagine my angst when I heard Andrews’s gaffe where he said that “you’d have to be pretty handicapped not to appreciate this Government is dissolving before your eyes daily”.

Worse still he compounded it all during a cracking interview on 666 ABC Canberra by trying to explain it was actually … a horse racing metaphor.   Oh, Andrew.

With hero worship pushed to breaking point, I decided that maybe he was just a bit confused.    After all there are a lot of different things to call us – physically challenged, impaired, disabled, handicapped and more.  And people use different ones all the time.   It’s classic brand confusion.

So as a marketing professional with personal experience of disability, it struck me that maybe what we needed to do was to “redefine our brand” and – in true, Gruen Nation style – look at the taglines which best made our pitch and when to use them.

Well, here goes:

Physically/mentally challenged.  On the plus side this sounds inspiring and positive.  I mean isn’t it wonderful what these poor folk can do?  Life is a challenge and we just have to … move forward.  Set to the strains of “Climb Every Mountain” or a Whitney Houston concert this cannot fail to move you, if only to the nearest bucket.

Verdict: 4/10 – use with anti-nausea medication.

Crippled. While unloved it is clear, direct and has impact.  If it’s a reaction you’re after, using terminology like this will get you one.  Probably with a 100 kiloton warhead attached.  Also has negative baggage from broader use i.e, “industrial action has crippled the State’s electricity supply”.

Verdict: 2/10 – use only after consulting focus groups, resigning your job and hiring a PR crisis management firm.

The handicapped. The one that started it all.  This is not intentionally derogatory as much as strange and anachronistic.  Summons up memories from my childhood of bright yellow buses on the way to special school plus social workers and therapists with horn-rimmed glasses who just wanted to help.

Verdict: 4/10 – use only if the 70s come back into vogue again, you are old enough to remember them and so old that you really do clearly recall what you were doing at the time.

People with impairment. Used a lot by Federal pollies.  Certainly accurate, inclusive and harmless.   A bit technical sounding with science-fiction overtones.  Imagine a Dalek with putty smeared over its eyestalk screeching “Ass-ist-ance-required!  My-vision-is-impaired!  I-can-not-see”!

Verdict: 7/10 – use for that extra PC boost or when trying to pull at the bar of a Doctor Who convention.

Deformed. Favoured usage of 60 Minutes journalist and third way commentator Mark Latham, who called former Liberal Party President Tony Staley a deformed character.  This term is certainly memorable.  It’s also evocative …  if you want to evoke elves, Charles Laughton pulling on church bells and social attitudes during the time of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Verdict: 0/10 – use only when you have nothing left to lose. Like Mark.

Person with a disability. Puts the person first, makes sense and easy to remember but sounds vaguely uncommitted, as if you need to be persuaded that we are still people.   Lacks the colour and punch of some of the other options but is simple and b) gets the message across.

Verdict: 8/10 – ticks most of the boxes for a good tagline but lacks commitment.

The disabled.  Frowned on but still in use and coming back.  Unlikely to get you fined by a Human Rights tribunal.  Sounds heavy and vaguely menacing i.e, “the disabled are massing at the borders and something must be done”.  Often used in relation to disabled toilets – presumably meaning that the toilet has a problem requiring support.

Verdict: 9/10 – OK and flags a disability identity but needs a lighter tone and sexing up.

It’s too late for Andrew but I’m off to design the logo, the social media strategy and the theme song!

Over to you and cue offended people and humourless bloggers to complain about spending time worrying about language when we should be scribing about serious issues.

Kevin Rudd – doing it Gorton’s way?

I have long been fascinated by the power struggles surrounding Australian politics in the late 1960’s.  These were volatile times with intriguing parallels to 2013.

Not least of these is the career of John Gorton, who is one of the few Prime Ministers to be successfully displaced from office by his own party prior to Kevin Rudd.

Diamonds in the rough

Both Prime Ministers have interesting personal histories and their career paths sit outside the mould of their parties.

Gorton’s life story reads like a Biggles novel.  An illegitimate child he joined the Airforce in World War Two, and was injured following a dogfight with facial mutilations so severe they left him with a lifelong “lived in” face.  On his way back for medical treatment Gorton’s ship was torpedoed and he was left on a raft in shark infested waters until being picked up by a passing ship.  Gorton’s war saw him somehow survive two more air crashes.

Aside from the military, Gortons working career saw him running an orchard and his initial loyalties were to the Country Party rather than the Liberal Party.

Rudd’s early life, while less colourful, was also severe and marked by illness.  At an early age he contracted rheumatic fever and spent a considerable time at home convalescing. It damaged his heart, but this was only discovered some 12 years later. When Rudd was 11, his father, a share farmer and Country Party member, died and the family was required to leave the farm amidst financial difficulty between two to three weeks after the death.  At school he boarded at Marist College Ashgrove in Brisbane although these years were not happy due to the indignity of poverty and reliance on charity.

A diplomat and hard nosed senior official in Queensland his career State Government also followed a different track from the usual Labor Pedigree of student politics and trade union officialdom.

Outsiders & populists

Gorton and Rudd were both highly popular during their opening days in office but their outsider characteristics also helped their downfall.\r\n\r\nGorton was initially very popular and was the first leader of the Liberal Party not to be directly anointed by Menzies, who allegedly favoured Paul Hasluck.  He was an outsider in the most literal sense as the first Prime Minister to come from the Senate. Miles from the urbane conservatives of times past, he liked to portray himself as a man of the people who enjoyed a beer and a gamble, with a “larrikin” streak.  Later these issues of style would play against him, with rumors of affairs and late night parties at the US embassy swirling around Canberra.\r\n\r\nRudd came to office with a reputation as a highly pragmatic hardworking leader with a distinctive style of his own based on his work habits born in the Queensland beauracracy and a quirky but distinctive turn of phrase – often referring to himself in the third person and posing questions.\r\n\r\nAn incident where he was bundled drunk out of a strip club served to enhance, rather than diminish, his popularity.

Almost everyone has commented on Rudd’s lack of a support base within the ALP. When Rudd’s leadership fell apart it did so in the space of a few weeks and he had so little support he did not contest a ballot.  In office he sought to strike a bipartisan note, appointing liberals to key positions and ambassadorships.  His open contempt for the Labor machine and its factions is barely hidden.

Rudd’s quirks would also come to work against him as his 24Kevin style came to be seen as obsessive and imposing unreasonable and chaotic demands on all those around him.  Rumours of a hidden face came to work against Rudd, most notably in a David Marr essay which alleged a deep seated anger at his core.

Ambitious reform agendas

Rudd was an ambitious reformer who attempted to tackle big issues like climate change, tax reform, a digital education revolution, the NBN, healthcare changes and also took on dangerous vested interests – union ties to labor in his own party and mining magnate through the mining profit tax.  Many believe that Rudd simply tried to do too much, too quickly without proper planning.

Gorton also broke with the past in ways that were surprising to many on his own side.  He began to pursuing independent defence and foreign policies and distancing Australia from its traditional ties to Britain. He also fostered an independent Australian film industry and increased government funding for the arts.  He appointed the first Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the mercurial William Wentworth who took the first steps towards granting Aboriginal Land rights against the wishes of the Country Party.  Some of these reforms, as well as Gorton’s preference for centrism, alienated people in his own party and journalists of the day, like Alan Reid.

Others, like a film and television school, stalled against lethargy from his own side of politics, only to be revived under his successors.  Shades of the Resources Tax and climate change.

Remaking Federation

Both Rudd and Gorton sought to reshape Commonwealth State arrangements in forms of their own choosing.

Rudd believed he could seize the opportunity presented by eight simultaneous State and Territory Labor Governments to make massive reforms to housing, health, education and indigenous affairs, using COAG as an engine room of the Government with various agreements and mechanisms between governments (and their officials) becoming a primary tool of policy.

Gorton favored centralist policies at the expense of the states, which alienated powerful Liberal state leaders like Sir Henry Bolte of Victoria and Sir Robert Askin of New South Wales. He remained a Centrist.  When I met him at a function in 1999, he seemed even more adamant and said he thought the States should be abolished.

Adrift in a world of trouble

Both Rudd and Gorton found their reform agenda’s tossed in a sea of external events which quickly stripped away some political and financial capital.

Rudd found himself in the middle of a global financial crisis which forced him to abandon fiscal restraint and rush to inject billions of dollars into the economy through a series of sometimes clever, sometimes hasty measures which would ultimately come to backfire on him.  The GFC also effected Rudd’s international agenda as he tried and failed to convince a world community to sign onto carbon pricing at a time when most leaders were worried about rising unemployment and their support at home.

Gorton came to power on the crest of huge Liberal Country Party majority won in 1966 by Harold Holt but found his political capital peeling away as the result of the increasingly unpopular Vietnam war, a war entered into by his predecessors.

Kitchen cabinet

Both Rudd and Gorton became deeply unpopular within their own parties and were attacked for their leaderships styles, most notably for relying on a small coterie of advisers.  Gorton was criticized for forming an unelected kitchen cabinet and relying on an unelected circle, most notably his private Secretary Ainsley Gotto. Rudd was also viewed as failing to consult the cabinet and relying on a set of youthful advisers within his own office, especially Alister Jordan.

Enemies within

Rudd and Gorton came to grief through their closest supporters.  Rudd came to alienate what was by all accounts a loyal Deputy and partner in Government in the enormously capable Gillard, and Gorton was ultimately brought down by Malcolm Fraser – a steely operator who was his closest backer for the Prime Ministership in 1968.

More popular with the people than their own parties

Both Gorton and Rudd were replaced by leaders who seemed unable to connect with the Australian people, yet were more popular within their own parties.

After being deposed both leaders held onto sizeable followings determined to get them back. “Get Gorton Back” T shirts were being sported by Liberals well into 1972 as they realized how diminutive McMahon stood against Gough Whitlam. Gorton went on to run as an independent candidate for the ACT in the 1970’s, appalled by the dismissal of the Whitlam Government.

Polling consistently shows that Rudd is preferred Prime Minister and he may yet make a comeback.   When Tony Abbott sought to disparage Julia Gillard at the National Press Club In 2012 he, invoked academic Robert Manne dismissing Julia Gillard as ‘the least impressive prime minister since Billy McMahon’.

And yet Rudd still has major detractors within his own party, such as Simon Crean and Nicola Roxon.  Gorton too gathered strong public detractors like maverick MP Edward St John. Unlike Rudd, Gorton retained a strong support base in his parliamentary party even on his ousting when half the party voted for him.

Stayed on

Both Rudd and Gorton defied the traditional expectations of former Prime Ministers and hung around in the Parliament after leaving the leadership of their own parties.

Both had short tumultuous post leadership Ministerial careers.

Gorton became Deputy Liberal Leader after standing down as leader forcing McMahon to make him Defence Minister until being sacked for disloyalty by McMahon 6 months later during a series of articles titled ‘My Way’ (after the song by Frank Sinatra).

After Rudd’s resignation, he successfully recontested his seat and subsequently promoted back to the Cabinet as Minister for Foreign Affairs, a post he remained in until he resigned on 22 February 2012 in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to challenge Gillard for the leadership.

Rudd’s story is ongoing, yet one wonders whether historians will look back and find two individualistic leaders favored by the people, yet divisive and adrift in their own parties.

Is season 3 the apex of modern Doctor Who?

Modern TV can be like a bell curve where series climb, get grounded, lose ratings, get experimental and then falter. While I think the current run of Doctor Who has some way to go Season 3 is amongst the best that the series has ever produced for my money.

This is a complex statement because while the series is more uneven now I also think that Matt Smith is up there with Troughton, Pertwee, Baker and McGann as having best captured the spirit of the lead character.  Something about Tennants portrayal to me felt workmanlike.  Matt Smith seems filled with the bonkers joy of the character in a way that no actor has been since Tom Baker in his first season.

Yet against all this Season three simply shines for the quality of its writing, production and values.  It makes the best use of Tennants Doctor through a narrative freed from the complicated and by then somewhat tired tale of the Tyler family.

While I loved Rose, Martha is a very different companion and the show seems freer to explore good stories through her eyes.  Stories like these:

Gridlock is a marvellous jewel of a story about faith, honesty and hope.  The scene at the end where the Doctor  if forced by Martha to tell the truth about his life is touching and gripping.

Human Nature is probably the single best hour of drama given us since the series returned.  It’s a riveting storyline, the Doctor turned human – really human – in an English school.  The backdrop of Martha’s crush on him makes this all the more powerful.

The three episodes which begin with Utopia represent the high water mark of the Russel T Davies formula of story arcs working across a series.  This one is relatively uncomplicated – YANA – yet it is pitch perfect and Utopia – a stories that starts off being about nothing in particular – rises to a crescendo of suspense.

Derek Jacobi may only fill the shoes of Delgado and Ainley for a few minutes but he shines in the role, switching from light to shade in the moment it takes to cut a cable. Is this not the best return of a villain in Doctor Who? Or indeed in any program ever?   Was there ever a better cliffhanger than the moment he regenerates in the Tardis and takes off leaving the Doctor stranded in Utopia?  John Simms master is properly psycho and his plan fittingly bonkers and the story which unravels across the next two episodes is epic, taught and adventurous.  An example of this scale and adventure is allowing Martha to journey on her own for a year.

So yes – there is some way to go on our Who journey yet but Season 3 is the best all round experience of the series since its returned.  It’s the one I would pull out to convert a non fan to the series if asked – always a litmus test!

My wheelchair is a clunker (and I like it)

A confession: my wheelchair is a clunker.  It is old, it’s made from stainless steel and it’s heavy.

If there were a cash for clunkers scheme for wheelchairs, I’d be picked out of the line for the photo opportunity with Julia Gillard.

It’s so old I can’t actually remember when it arrived and, like a historian piecing together human history from the Civil War, I have to consult dates scribbled on the back of pictures in my photo album to construct a rough genealogy.

It’s also no longer the wheelchair it was as I have slowly rebuilt it using bits of borrowed technology.

The seat uses a special fabric designed for use in the warm climes of the Northern Territory (which I have had resewn so its stronger); the axles were designed by an industrial metal engineer out of high strength billeted steel so they are unbreakable (except for one time when the chair fell out of the cargo hold of a plane) ; and to guard against rust I have recently had the frame taken out, rewelded and reinforced with rods of tempered steel.

It’s heavy and it looks like something from the 1980’s – and it is – but it’s durable, has survived endless battering by airlines and is very stable, sturdy and reliable.

Like George Lucas’s original vision for the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars it’s no long a single entity as much as collection of bits of different vehicles glued together, which looks like a garbage hauler – or something that’s fallen out of one – but somehow works really well.

So why is it that every person I meet somehow believes that they are an instant disability transport expert and are obliged to impart their pearls of wisdom every time I venture out the door.

Suggestions from random people over the years have included that I buy a scooter (and get that on top of the car how?); a motorbike driven from a side car (Batman & Robin eat your heart out); and those silly looking long low seated bicycles with the flags on them (ummm, no I don’t think so and – a small point – if I could cycle with my legs then why would this be an issue at all?)

Worst of all is the occasional advice from fellow wheelers and who on occasion feel the need to dazzle me with their new you-bute-super-lite-weight synthetic/plastic models, with shiny modular handle bars, plastic pushrims, tiny front wheels and aluminium frame (that’s what they make beer cans out of right?).  These modern fancy wheelers feel obliged to turn tricks, chortle heartily and show me just how crap my wheelchair is.

Mmm … it’s great that you’re an early adopter but we’ll see who’s laughing when some clod drops your wheelchair 10 foot off an airport tarmac in a distant hole – try welding plastic.

Now don’t get me wrong, all these helpers are well meaning and trying to be nice in their way.  And hey at least they are not coming up and calling me a welfare cheat, trying to steal my wheelchair, stick pins in the tires or push me off a curb (all things that have happened).

But do these nice folks seriously believe that – in this one small area at least – I don’t have a whiff of acquired expertise or that I haven’t devoted some time and thought to the subject? Do they imagine that I ran into the wheelchair shop one day, say on the way to dropping back a DVD, and did an impulse buy – “Oh, that’s pretty – I’ll have one of those.”

My favourite ever piece of gratuitous transport advice surely came about a year back when I was out pushing around a bike path past a group of friendly construction workers doing some strange inexplicable thing to one of those green Telstra boxes with graffiti sprayed on.

The oldest worker – who was clearly the leader of a team of around five supervisors involved in watching one apprentice fiddle with wires – stopped what he was doing and came over.

He carefully looked me up and down, chewed on a piece of grass and then pointed to the playing fields opposite:  “Mate, I reckon what you really want is one of those”, he said, pointing.

Now Aussie blokes in green flouro engineering outfits generally know their gear so I was genuinely curious & open to advice this time.  Bring it on.

I followed his gaze and his broad arm and saw that lo he was pointing to … a fantastically large ride on lawnmower merrily chewing through swathes of overgrown grass from the recent Canberra deluge (and anything else in its way, including what seemed to be small trees).

We’re not talking an ordinary Victa lawnmower here.  We’re talking a huge monster machine that wouldn’t look out of place in the Bjork surrealist video Army of Me.

Speechless, all I could think of to say was a quiet ‘Wow’.

Now I may one day choose to scoot around Canberra in my business suit on a souped up ride on lawnmower.

In fact it could be quite useful in some situations: like difficult meetings, grant processes or performance reviews with employers.

“You don’t like what we’re doing?  You’re not going to fund us?  You gave me a rating of what???? Well, try some of this”.  [Cut to screams and sound of intense mowing]

But if I choose to morph into an aggressive differently-abled version of Ellen Ripley in the final scene from Aliens (you know the one with the forklift and the Alien Queen) – this will most likely be a careful, considered decision that I make on my terms after weighing the pros and cons.

Or seeing one I like in my colours in a shop.

Welcome to On the Record with Craig Wallace

Welcome to On the Record, which is my personal website and a place for some witty rants large and small about Australia, our 21st century lives, my home city of Canberra, history and Doctor Who.

When someone suggested I think about blogging the words “indulgent”, “what will I say” and “where will I find the time’’ came to mind but finally – in a Risky Business style what the (…ffff. family audience) type mood – I was persuaded that it might be time to put a few things on the record to explain an eclectic and eccentric world view built from decades of reading, arguing with people in pubs, having managed to join and leave both major political parties in the space of a few years, having spent over a decade watching the paint peel off the walls from inside of government and then fleeing into the arms of the community.

It is in the end the combined result of having read far too many books and an eruption of desire to write something original and connect with public conversations after 15 years recycling words and writing other peoples briefs.

Australia is a great place but I think we could be even better.  We’ve dodged a few bullets but also opted for the mundane, the mediocre and a place of safety  rather than taking the big decisions and reaching for the sky. Even our progressive dialogues manage to behave in a conservative way and has become stuck in a groove or moral relativism and a reluctance to acknowledge the things we do well and embrace change.  At the other end, there are dark and gruesome forces which can only see backwards and delight in confusion and error.

In the end it is reason, passion and optimism that wins out and what could be more optimistic than Doctor Who – my lifelong obsession with this whirling, magical, multi-genre story that managed to completely reinvent itself for the 21st Century.  Always fresh, always new.  Like this site.  Hopefully.  Unless we’ve planted some virus that will deactivate your back button and leave you stuck here forever (tripping over your scarf in a recursion, like the one in Meglos).

Thanks for visiting and I hope you find something here worth reading.