Thoughts on Australia Day

There has been a lot of debate lately about the celebration of Australia day. Is January 26 appropriate as our national day? The convict settlement that was established on that date in 1788 was a savagely brutal regime. Do we still want to think of ourselves as a British convict colony? Do we even think of ourselves as British anymore?
Some might. Most prefer to think of Australia as a multicultural country.
So, if not 26 Jan, then which date? Australia became an independent nation on Jan 1 1901. This date seems appropriate as the beginning Australian nation, and it might prove popular with the bosses, as it won’t require a new public holiday. There doesn’t seem to be another suitable date.
The republican debate has been quiet of late, but it has not gone away. I consider it is inevitable that Australia will become a republic, and the day that the republic is proclaimed will be our national day from that time onwards.
So what of January 26? It is not a day that serves to unite all Australians, but it is a very important day in Australian history. We should never forget our history. I think it was Mark Twain who said, “Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.”
We should never forget the lessons of January 26. We should never forget the way people’s human rights were trampled underfoot. We should never forget that harsh penalties are no deterrent to crime. Britain in the 18th century could impose life sentences, or even the death penalty, for petty crime and crime was rampant. The jails were overflowing. Prisoners were kept in rotting hulks on the Thames. The brutal prison colony of Sydney Cove was founded to take some of the overflow.
The legacy of January 26 is not something to be proud of, but it is not something to be swept under the carpet either. We need to remember that Britain, the most advanced, the most civilised, the most democratic country in the world at the time, could treat its own citizens so very badly.
And we have to vow never to repeat the evils of the past.

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Transitioning to Retirement

I haven’t done much on this blog lately. I’ve been busy writing. I have finally finished all the books I had started. Twelve novels is enough, I think, to determine whether I can get them commercially published.
I can’t. I’m an artist and a writer. I do my best work in a room on my own. I am awkward in any social situation and thus totally unsuccessful as a salesman. Unfortunately for those of us who love literature, we seem to live in a world where the most successful books are written by the best salesmen, and quality authors often cannot get published. This is even more so for self-publishers, but I have no choice. I have exhausted all other options, so I have to self-publish. That is my project for 2018.
Although I already have four books online it is unlikely that I will get the other eight up in one year. I am, after all, transitioning to retirement, and I have no wish to make a rod for my own back. I’m sixty years old now. I was always told that I could retire at sixty. Now I have to keep trying to find work until I’m sixty-seven, despite the fact that I’ve been no more successful at selling myself to employers than to publishers.
You might think that going from unemployed to retired would not require much of a transition. It might not, if I hadn’t been working all along. I have been working. I have written twelve novels and held regular exhibitions of my paintings. All with the intention that one day I could make a living out of it. And retirement should not imply total idleness either. Retirement should be an opportunity to do the things that you always wanted to, but couldn’t justify against the need to make money.
For me retirement will still involve writing. I have an idea for a family history. They are notoriously hard to sell, but that shouldn’t matter once I am retired. I will also continue to paint occasionally, but with less of an eye to what the public wants. Retirement will not involve deadlines or regular hours of work. I need some spare time to devote to gardening and to fishing and possibly to picnics. I can’t remember even half a dozen picnics in the past thirty years, and nothing that might be called a holiday. I think I am ready to retire. I feel that I have earned it.

The Myth of Full Employment

When I was in high school, back in the 1970’s, there was a lot of talk about the upcoming Leisure Revolution. Technology was doing away with the need for everyone to work full-time. We were led to expect shorter working hours and more free time.

Since then there have been giant leaps in technology, doing away with the need for even more jobs.

So it is a surprise to find that there are more jobs now than ever. When women insisted on the right to work, I naively assumed that there would still be only one job per family. Woman who wanted to work could do so and men who preferred to stay home and do the housework would have that right. Instead we have two income families with no greater discernible wealth.

Something has gone horribly wrong. We have doubled the workforce and slashed the amount of work that needs to be done. Logically nobody should have to work more than ten or fifteen hours a week. Instead, we cut only five hours from the full-time working week and added seven years to the retirement age. Some are even calling to make that ten. I can only assume that most of the jobs created since then must be adding nothing to the wealth of the society.

And still our politicians keep promising jobs, jobs, jobs, while finding ever more draconian ways to punish anybody without one. There are no dole bludgers. Nobody wants to live in poverty.
What we need is a Statesman with the courage to stand up and say. “The leisure revolution is here. We don’t have to work hard any more. Technology is doing the work and creating the wealth that we can all enjoy. We need fewer jobs and fewer hours at each job. We need to create less crap and toss less of our irreplaceable resources into landfill sites.

And we need to value the work that is done outside the traditional employer-employee relationship. Caring for the disabled, voluntary and community work, environmental rehabilitation

Visionary PUNQ

Graeme Buckley self portrait

Graeme Buckley self portrait

It seems that I am about to become a PUNQ.
That crazy title will probably be more attractive to the young ones than an old guy like me. I am past the age where rebellion can be seen as a fashion statement.

So, what is a PUNQ? It stands for Pop Up North Queensland, and is being run by Umbrella Studio. It means that about forty artists or groups can have a shop space in the city for ten days at the end of July.

Lynn and I have been lucky enough to snag one, so we will have a taste of what it is like to run a gallery. A lot of artists harbour fantasies about having their own little gallery. I know I do. Exercises like this can be a good way to get a dose of reality without any great financial risk. Why would anyone think that an undercapitalised small business could possibly survive? And why do creative visionaries imagine that a can of cheap white paint can turn a daggy old building into an art gallery? And yet we dream. Artists are always dreamers.

We dream of bringing all our old pictures into our shop, and possibly even selling some. We dream of holding drop in art classes. We dream of doing demonstration paintings in our gallery and selling them off the easel. We dream of a stream of interested visitors who will come in to our shop and get involved in discussions of art and life and the nature of beauty.

We dream that you will share our dream at 21 Stokes Street (opp the Old Court House) from 28 July to August 8.

Snakes on the pond

two keelback snakes on a pondWe have two fish ponds in our yard. We built the dragon pond before we put in the bamboo. Shortly after that it got clogged with bamboo leaves. It has been a problem since then until this year when I built a shade cloth structure to keep the leaves out. I was worried that it would be too dark, but the ribbon-weed survived, and the fish thrived.
The other pond was larger and had a plastic liner which lasted twenty years before it started to leak. Instead of concreting it as I always intended we decided to use an old bathtub.

Unfortunately it was smaller than the old pond and we didn’t have the soil to backfill around it so I filled the hole with leaves and hoped it would compost down in time.
This pond was working well for a while but then the number of fish seemed to decline. I tried feeding them more in case they were so hungry they were cannibalizing their young. This didn’t work so I tried feeding less as excessive feeding can poison the water. I even tried thinning out some of the rampant vegetation.

The puzzling thing about it was that the largest fish were disappearing and leaving the babies. I should have guessed that it was a predator. Then one morning I noticed two tiny snakes (no more than one foot long) floating on the duckweed. I think I had actually seen them before bot not recognized what they were and assumed they were part of the vegetation. When I disturbed them they went down a burrow in the half-composted leaves. It should be warm down there, and with food laid on they should grow quickly.

They are keelbacks, specialist freshwater snakes that live on fish and frogs. They are also one of the only native animals that can eat cane toads. I am thrilled to have such valuable creatures in my garden, and don’t begrudge them a few guppies. There are plenty in the other pond I can move across if they run out.

Dragons and Damsels

Dragonflies and Damselflies (Family Odonta) have held a fascination for me since I was a child. Their bright colours and connection with water proved an irresistible lure as I struggled to come to terms with my first SLR camera. Then I learned to paint. For years I concentrated on the subject that had been the primary motif of artists in most ages and cultures except where expressly forbidden by religious decree, the human figure. My style was modernism, the style of my times, the twentieth century.

My painting has been changing lately. The pictures are getting smaller and the mark-making more constrained. I’m afraid I am beginning to conform. I have got old, even as modernism has got old. Picasso’s les Demoiselles d’ Avignon is a hundred and ten years old this year. Even de Kooning’s Woman is a respectable sixty five years old. The shock of the new has been replaced by the shock of the geriatric. It is hard to maintain the angst in the face of Victorian mediocrity.

When I was young there was a standing joke “Welcome to Queensland. Please set your watches back fifty years.” We’ve regressed from there, or at the very least not progressed. Coal power is still seen as the way of the future, and a V8 race is Townsville’s signature event. We don’t know where we’re going, we might be going nowhere, or to hell in a hand-basket, but burning fossil fuel is sure to get us there faster.

I have been involved with Creekwatch for the past two years. Visiting the local creeks every week put me back in touch with Dragonflies and reignited my interest in these colourful insects. I started doing small paintings as exercises and soon had an exhibition ready.

Unlike many of my earlier exhibitions, Dragons and Damsels has no political agenda. I am not trying to make a statement or force anyone to think. They are pretty pictures, domestic in scale, and should not offend anyone.

Dragons and Damsels opens at Gallery 48. The Strand, Townsville, on Saturday 13 May from 3pm til 5pm. The gallery is open Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, or by appointment and the exhibition runs for two months.

Chironex published in Smashwords Premium Catalogue

We decided to try Smashwords for ‘The Self-Initiation of the Witch Chironex’. It should have been easier because all the formatting is done in Word. Actually it was an ordeal, but then, everything to do with computers is an ordeal for me. Scrivener was worse and I think this will get easier with practice. They have access to more outlets too so that should work well.

I wrote that above in June last year. I suppose I should have posted it then but I wanted to be able to say that it had worked well and Chironex was up. Unfortunately I had a few problems with that. I had a health scare (Appendicitis) that required surgery and a stay in hospital. Then a major series of dental work and, in amongst all of this, a general lethargy that has left me unwilling to try anything that might prove stressful. Now it seems that we might have been very close to success when we gave up.

In the end we redid Chironex four or five times before we finally got it right. The good news is that we did finally manage to get it right. It is now available on Smashwords premium catalogue. I am relieved to have succeeded and frustrated by the whole process, but we will persevere. The original plan was to publish thirteen books in two years. It has been longer than that and we have only managed four. The plan is still thirteen books but with an unspecified time frame.

I hope you enjoy The Self-Initiation of the Witch, Chironex. I think it is one of my best.