R – E – S – P – E – C – T

Between the cancer treatment, the stroke and the broken hip, nurses have been pretty much continually on call for my mother during the past couple of years.

Daily they wash her, help her to the toilet, comb her poor thinning hair, dispense the pop of pills, plump her pillows and pick up the loose threads of strangely embroidered conversations.

Once, when she had the morphine meemies and became convinced an imaginary cat had given birth to kittens on her head, I arrived for my afternoon visit to find one of the nurses earnestly inspecting her scalp.

“No Thel.” he’d said with a wink to me, “I can’t see any fleas.”

It is no exaggeration to say that the nurses who look after my mum have kept my whole family from collapsing in a screaming heap. If they were not there to support mum, I would have to give up my job which would cause obvious additional financial stress.

My father, who has a serious heart condition, would probably not survive having mum home even with my help, and my brother would be paralysed by guilt because work and distance prevented him from doing more.

Multiply this one case by tens of thousands who, at any given moment, count on the consolation of nurses for the treatment of minor injuries or brief ailments to the catastrophic, chronic, intractable and ultimately terminal.

Now, imagine a world without nurses!

If pay and work conditions were determined by a group’s true value to society, their quantifiable usefulness, it would be politicians on the bottom rung, not nurses.

Respect their work Ted Baillieu, so that we might respect yours.

the lovers, the dreamers & moi

They’re back and – judging by the huge hoarding on the freeway – they haven’t aged a bit.

It’s hard to believe he’s 57 now and that she first karate chopped her way out of the chorus line in 1976.

I catch myself beaming at a billboard, absurdly pleased at the return of these much-loved old friends.

It is funny how a foam frog and a pig in a wig has come to define a generation.

Generation Y can keep its adenoidal spike-headed boy with the chronic liver condition and eat his shorts.

For those of us who hail from kinder, gentler times it’s Kermie forever.

Who knew when Jim Henson created the first Kermit out of one of his mother’s old coats with ping pong balls for the eyes he was pulling a philosopher prince from the primordial pond?

An amphibian with attitude who taught us that while it wasn’t easy being green we should cherish individuality and embrace our diversity.

Of course Kermit’s voice was always Henson’s and when he died it seemed for a time The Muppets lost their way.

Now, just when the world seems to need a little Mahna Mahna, Kermit, Miss Piggy, The Swedish Chef (bork, bork!) Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and the rest of the crew have returned.

It is a film very much in the spirit of Henson: emphasising the importance of community, family and friends over material stuff.

It offers the reassurance that “someday we’ll find it.”

La dada de dada, da dum

La dada de dada de doo

some gongs more equal

The question: Is the honours system in need of an major overhaul?

The facts: This Australia Day two people in the entire western region – an area housing more than 16 per cent of Melbourne’s population – made the general honours list.

In Toorak, one of Melbourne’s most privileged suburbs, with a population of little more than 13,000, there were six recipients of Order of Australia gongs – three within just a couple of tree-lined blocks of each other.

A study of awards by postcode during the past seven years shows just how unequal the distribution is.

Since 2006 there have been Australia Day and Queen’s Birthday OA accolades bestowed on 20 people in the Hobsons Bay area, comprising Altona, Altona Meadows, Laverton, Altona North, Newport and Williamstown postcodes.

In the east there have been 62 people so honoured in the suburbs of Balwyn, Camberwell, Canterbury, Kew and Kew East – an area of marginally less population.

The tally for these cherished discs of distinction awarded to the residents in the single postcode of Toorak during the past seven years is 44.

Based on these figures the chances of bumping into and OAM on the streets of Toorak are one in 300. One in every 2000 people in Toorak got a gong on Australia Day this year. In the western region the ratio was one to 350,000

What conclusion should we draw from this? That the people of Melbourne’s western region are less honourable?

Or that the people on the other side of the Yarra have more time and – in the case of political parties and big corporations – the paid staff to fill out nomination forms.

a cautionary tail

Sometimes renovations have unintended consequences.

So it was with Albert  J. Peacock.

Albert arrived just as the tradies were finishing the bathroom.

The builder’s parting words were: “You want to get rid of that peacock. They’re a menace.”

Albert had other ideas. Having lumbered in from we know not where, he decided to take up residence on the deck, admiring himself endlessly in the windows.

We discovered peacock was a misnomer – the deck was soon covered in poo which the dog would alternatively eat or roll in, given the slightest chance.

We started to hope Albert would go away.

As autumn leaves started to fall so, too, did Albert’s beautiful feathers. He abandoned the deck and took to skulking in the darkest corner of the shed.

As the days grew colder Albert would descend from his roost in the gum early each morning and make an embarrassed bee-line for cover, leaving a trail of feathers in his wake.

We pondered the logistics of getting a 6kg bird with spurs to the vet and started to give him little treats to cheer him up. Fruitcake was his favourite.

Come September Albert started stepping out from the shadows and, almost overnight, it seemed his magnificent tail was restored.

We congratulated ourselves on our fabulous fruit cake remedy, until someone pointed out this is what peacocks do … they lose their showy plumage each year.

Now we have a permanent resident who has a penchant for fruitcake, poos prodigiously and whose strangled cry for a mate can be heard a half a kilometre down the road.

He’s both beauty and a beast.

You could call it a cautionary tail.

stopping rebels without cause

The run by the Rebels Motorcycle Club sent chills down the spine.

It wasn’t the bearded bikies rumbling purposefully down the highway that caused disquiet as much as the number of police, many heavily armed, dispatched to intercept them along their journey.

The Apple Isle contingent, for example, were stopped as they rode off the Spirit of Tasmania.

No offences were detected.

Those same bikers were among the growing pack stopped at a roadblock outside Wedderburn in northern Victoria.

There police issued a number of traffic infringement notices and charged a couple with drug possession but by Acting Assistant Commissioner Jack Blayney’s admission, this was “not what I would say would be significant offending”.

The pack, by now grown to about 500, was stopped again in Mildura where the Rebels’ stay had been “incident-free”.

If 500 footballers or even 500 high-performance Holden drivers had converged on the city, it is odds-on the level of offending would have been higher.

But would they have warranted calling out police from every state, the AFP, the air wing, the operation response unit, road policing specialists units, the dog squad, taskforce detectives and the Sheriff’s office?

OMG! Outlaw bike gangs are guilty of vile and violent crimes. And – though they don’t have a monopoly on that – to think otherwise is to believe the guy found outside their Sunshine West clubhouse really had self-inflicted his injuries with a knuckeduster.

Just try that at home!

What is alarming is the singling out of one group regarded as unacceptable by the broader society.

Have we really become a country where people are summarily stopped and searched because of what subset of society they belong to … for who they are, rather than what they have done?

not so lonesome as a cloud

It was an idle remark in an unguarded moment.

Nice cloud I observe to no one in particular. It’s apparently way too imprecise for my companion. “That’s a cumulus mediocris,” says he, smirking knowingly.

Great! Like, it’s not enough that we booked our tickets through Qantas. I get to sit next to the nebula nerd for four hours … in the sky.

Hey, you, get off my cloud.

“No seriously,” barometric boy says, “if you like clouds you should join the Cloud Appreciation Society.” Right, sure. Do I look like one of those gullible every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining types?

“Honestly it exists. There are a couple of us in it at work.”

I am thunderstruck. Who?

“Well, Cathy, John … me.”

You think you know someone and all of a sudden wham! A bolt out of the blue.

Turns out there’s a whole city in the sky. The Cloud Appreciation Society has 28,173 paid up members around the world including 1526 in Australia.

The Melbourne chapter includes at least one commercial airline pilot – obviously an occupational requirement to have his head in the clouds so to speak.

The society’s manifesto proclaims it to be a group dedicated to “fighting the banality of blue-sky thinking”.

This is a group you won’t hear bemoaning clouds on the horizon.

They know the truth about Wordsworth who “wandered lonely as a cloud” mainly because he wrote awful poetry.

Looking out the window onto rippling a ocean of white, backlit by gold as the plane dips its wing and turns toward home, a hand steals across mine. “A mix of cumulus and stratus,” my knowledgeable neighbour murmurs.

Really, I’d call it cloud nine.

no picnic for publishers

This February marks the 112th anniversary of the most famous picnic in Australian history – one that never actually happened.

Despite many believing that Joan Lindsay’s Picnic At Hanging Rock was based on a real event, the best-selling mystery was wholly a work of imagination.

Even today Lindsay’s prose is so eloquent, so vividly alive you can almost hear the rustle of long skirts, the crunch of wagon wheels on the drive and the drone of cicadas as the party of schoolgirls set out on their ill-fated Valentine’s Day excursion.

That you can still go into a bookshop and buy a $9.95 popular Penguin copy of this Lindsay novel first published in 1967 owes much to Peter Weir’s luminous film adaptation.

So many other great Australian novels have – like the ethereal Miranda – vanished seemingly without trace.

It’s been no picnic for local publishers in a scene dominated by multinationals and driven by the all- pervading Neilson BookScan which monitors sales in minute detail.

But if today’s Twilight-obsessed teenagers are so quick to fall for a vampire with a heart of gold and a native American werewolf, surely the Nargun – an authentic home-grown Dreamtime creature made of rocks – can’t be that much of a stretch.

It seems credulity is less of an issue than access.

The National Year of Reading presents the perfect opportunity to buy local so to speak.

Text Publishing is preparing to release a series of affordable Australian classics which it is hoped will save the endangered literary novel from all-consuming genre fiction and sports star autobiographies.

Cricketing Zombies at Hanging Rock should do it.