Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Public Trustee

sent a letter here to my brother and I sent it on to him - and then forgot about it. I assumed it was something to do with his first wife. She died some time ago and my assumption was that the Public Trustee in this state had just caught up with that fact. Yes, it can take them years.
But it was not that at all. It was something much more unexpected. We need to go back some considerable time in the history of this family.
My maternal grandfather had a number of siblings. We had very little contact with them because my maternal grandmother was a very difficult woman who made having a relationship with anyone almost impossible. My maternal grandfather's family was also not close knit. His father had died when the children were young and his mother, unlike my paternal grandmother, was apparently not a letter writer.
We rarely saw our maternal great-aunts and great-uncles. One, great aunt whom I remember seeing twice, had one child. He was intellectually retarded. The claim was that a vaccination had made him that way. The truth was that he had been born that way - a fact told to me by another great-aunt years later on the death of her sister. The claim was used to try and prevent any of the children in the next generation being vaccinated against anything. Fortunately it did not succeed.
And I met the child. He was considerably older than me of course. I met him once at the home of his parents. He was there for the weekend from his home in an institution for the intellectually retarded. I was in my early teens and I remember him as being an overweight man who sat there rocking backwards and forwards holding a small toy car and making meaningless noises. We "played" together with the car while the adults talked. I hope he enjoyed it but I had no way of knowing.
Several years later I went with my grandfather to the institution he was living in. His mother was away. I assume my grandfather had some guardianship role because I can remember him signing a paper of some sort. We then took this "child" for a walk in the grounds and my grandfather gave him some chocolate.
I later taught in the school attached to the institution but I didn't see him again. My grandfather had died by then as had his sister and nobody at the institution seemed to know of his whereabouts. My mother, her brother and her cousins were apparently not interested. The adherence to "Christian Science" by some of the family did not help. Gradually, over the years, he was forgotten. 
And so we come to the letter. It was a sad thing. This man died in 2009. He died intestate. That should not have happened. Someone should have made provision for his death. It can be done. The Public Trustee's office was, after five years, beginning to catch up with this. He was probably buried or cremated without so much as a funeral service. There would have been no relatives there. He would have been a first cousin once removed from me and my siblings. We never knew him. I had assumed from something my mother had said that he had died not long after his own parents.
Now his "estate" is to be divided among his more distant family. The letter my brother received told him that the estate was small and not to expect a great deal.
We discussed this. That there should be anything surprises us. We did not and do not expect anything at all. There is only one thing to do in such a situation but even that is not going to relieve my conscience. We should have known. We should have visited. We should have given him some days out and seen that he was properly cared for.
I hope what's left will at least buy someone else with nobody who cares a walk in the park and a chocolate bar - and perhaps a little more than that.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The "Emergency Services Levy"

is another name for a tax which was introduced into this state in an attempt to get more revenue.
It is supposed to be our contribution to services like the Metropolitan Fire Service, the Country Fire Service, the State Emergency Service and the Marine Rescue Service as well as the state's Fire and Emergency Services Commission. The government told us, ever so nicely, that they were contributing to this to keep the cost down. (Yes, that's right - contributing with our taxpayer funds.) It also funds the rescue elements of the police service, the surf life saving service and the helicopter rescue service.
Our state government - which is run from a capital city which has been described as "Detroit with a festival" - is short of money. Our state is actually in serious financial trouble. So, among other things the government decided that it would no longer contribute to the Emergency Services Levy. We would have to pay for the entire cost. Weren't we already doing that? Apparently not - or not according to the government.
The money in the Emergency Services Levy can, by law, only be used to fund the Emergency Services mentioned above. What is more it only partially funds those. Our CFS is made up of many volunteers, so is the SES, marine rescue and the surf life saving service. Fund raising for these services is constantly going on.
Anyone who has ever needed to use any of these services will not doubt the value of them or the contribution the volunteers make. The vast majority of people do not object to contributing to ensuring those services continue and continue to be run well and safely.
But I think the government got the psychology wrong here. They have, for political purposes, tried to place the blame for the massive rise in fees (around 400%) on the Federal Government. It is actually an issue which has nothing to do with the Federal Government.  Of course many people are unaware of that so the strategy will, up to a point, work and work well. And yes, it will free up some money so it can be used elsewhere - on a project designed to shore up votes. 
But there is something more serious than that. By telling the taxpayer "we aren't contributing to this out of general revenue" they are sending a message that says, "we think so little of those who volunteer you can pay directly for the lot".
People who go out to fight fires risk their health and their lives. The people who volunteer for the emergency services are out in all weathers often doing very dangerous work. Like professional ambulance officers volunteer ambulance officers can find themselves handling a major emergency, especially in a rural area.
Oh yes, some people do it for the adrenalin rush but many - probably most - do it because helping others is something that is important to them. They do not want to see the hills behind me up in flames with nobody to fight the fire. They do not want to see a tree down on power lines or someone drown because a freak wave has turned a boat over. It matters.
So when the government tells us, however subtly, that volunteers do not matter it is not a good look. Volunteers do matter. We need them.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

School lunch

has not been to the Whirlwind's liking of late.
"Too many sprouts. They don't know how to cook them. The fish is horrible," she grumbled to me. The boarders have their main meal in the middle of the day.
The Whirlwind is not a fussy eater. She is interested in food and how to prepare it. She will try new things and will, with the rarest of exceptions, eat what is put in front of her. The sprouts must have been dire. The fish would not be wonderful. It is difficult to cook good fish for eighty girls and serve it all at the same time. They get crumbed baked fish I suspect. I did not inquire.
What, the Whirlwind wanted to know, did I eat for lunch at school?
It was a good deal less interesting than her lunches. There was no cooked lunch in state schools. There never has been. Children bring their own or they buy it from the school canteen.
My mother would make me a Vegemite (Marmite-like) sandwich and, if I was lucky, put in a small home-baked cake or biscuit. There would also be an apple, orange or banana. The sandwich would be wrapped in waxed paper and that paper had to last all week. I was expected to fold it and put it in my lunch box. If the fruit was an apple it would be cored and cut into four. The orange would be cut into four.
Very occasionally the Vegemite would be replaced by peanut paste (now called peanut butter) or tomato or a tiny bit of cheese. Once each term (we had three terms  back then) I was allowed to buy my lunch - if my end of term marks were good enough. As I usually got full marks for everything except writing this was not a problem. The Senior Cat would order me a hot pasty and a "cream" bun. The pasty was mostly filled with potato and onion and the bun's cream and jam were both artificial but, being a child, I thought they were wonderful. The same thing happened for my brother when he started school. 
Those glories did not last for long. When we moved back to the bush we lived in the house next to the school. There was no school canteen. Everyone brought their lunch to school.
My mother began teaching full time. She would leave the food for lunch on the kitchen table. We knew exactly what we were expected to do and we did it. If we did by chance not clear up or wash our plates we would be punished.  
The local children ate much the same sort of lunches as we did. The fruit was not always there and the sandwiches would be filled with mutton and, occasionally, kangaroo or wallaby. It would be moistened with tomato sauce.
The bread was always white. If my grandmothers came to stay we would get home-made bread. They could both do that. My paternal grandmother made wonderful brown bread. She would cut us a slice as an after-school snack and add a little salt and dripping. We would sit on the back step and eat it before doing our afternoon chores. I had to explain what dripping is to the Whirlwind. She was not impressed. We thought it was a treat - and no, we were not fat. We were, if anything, underweight.
Our diet would probably cause a modern dietician to turn pale but we survived with the help of the few vegetables the Senior Cat could grow in the difficult climate and red, sandy soil.
We went on to a dairying district and drank copious amounts of full cream milk. It came straight from the dairy and it was cheap.  Growing vegetables was less of a problem there. We ate more.
I wonder now how we would have liked the Whirlwind's school meals. Would we simply have grown tired of them?
I wouldn't want to eat a school pasty or one of those "cream" buns now - but I remember them with pleasure.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

There is a news site on

the internet which I like to keep an eye on. It offers another point of view about issues which should concern anyone who is concerned about issues like the environment, national and international relations, health services, research etc. Yes, it's a newspaper of international standing.
I suspect that the columnists are generally intelligent people. We wouldn't always agree but, for the most part, we could have a courteous if lively debate.
It is not the same story with many of those who comment on what the columnists have to say. Very occasionally I have put up what I hope is a measured response to something a columnist has said. I might have added another issue, raised a question or put forward an alternative.
It would probably be wiser to have said nothing. The response has always been extraordinary. The most ordinary of comments, even a genuine and legitimate question, seem to bring out the worst in some people.
The comments are politically one sided. Given the nature of the site I expect that. On the whole those who read it are not willing or able to countenance another point of view. For them the site is almost certainly about surrounding themselves with like minded people in order to reinforce their point of view.
I hope I more open minded than that - not so open minded that my  brains fall out but open minded enough to consider another point of view. For me part of the value of the site is that it has made me aware of the dangers posed by almost instant access to a vast range of information and misinformation. Now people who would once have had a very small audience for their views have a world wide audience and they can do it at arms length. It makes them bold.
And this site is well regarded by many. It is considered normal and harmless. It in no way compares with the vile, violent filth posted by extremists and hate groups.
But is the site really harmless? Are the many others, on all sides of politics, really harmless? I don't think so. There are times when I feel tempted not to bother looking at it because I am so irritated by some of those who comment. I want to respond and ask if they have ever thought that something might not be the way they see it or whether they have ever considered an alternative. I won't because I don't want to be subject to the sort of comments with which they would respond. No, I am not brave enough to do that.
Perhaps they are right too. I could be wrong.
Right or wrong I am going to try to keep a more open mind. If I don't will someone please tell me? But please, do it nicely.

Friday, 29 August 2014

One of the great and wonderful

curiosities of life is what people will spend time creating.
I spent most of yesterday at the show grounds doing my part as a "steward" for the upcoming Royal Show. It is the 175th year of the event and people had been encouraged to make a special effort to enter in all areas.
I work in the area known as Open Art and Craft which involves accepting entries on the day of judging, helping with the judging and then putting up the display in cabinets. It was, as always, a frantically busy day.
There was also the usual range of awful to lovely in the entries.
And, "awful" does not matter. No, it really does not matter. Why? People have tried. They have had the courage to enter. Some of them will try again. They will learn from the experience. They will, usually, have done the very best they can do on that occasion. Next time, if they try again, they will do better.
And there are other people who enter things and you wonder how they could possibly do better. There were two lovely entries from the same person last year, socks and mittens. Both won first prize in the relevant sections. How could that person improve? She did by coming up with another exquisite pair of socks. They were so good people crowded around to look.
There was an amazing baby blanket that turned into a poncho, into a toy racing "car" (complete with steering wheel) and a play mat - designed by the knitter.
There were two incredibly fine garments with the most intricate colour work - again, designed by the knitter. The hours of work that must have gone into those were something we could barely contemplate.
All this, from the awful to the amazing, will be on display throughout the show period. I wonder what people will think as they look. Many of them will just wander past with no great interest, others will look with interest. Some people will stop and admire and yet others will have some understanding of what went into the making of something.
And, in the end, what matters will be that people have participated. They will have created something.
We need more people to do that.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Jehovah's Witnesses turned up

yesterday. Those of you who know me at all will know that these people and their proselytising make me see red. I have no time for them.
I have no time for them because, when my parents first moved to this house, the elderly couple next door had a daughter who had converted to the cult. She refused to let her son have a life-saving blood transfusion and he died. Her husband had earlier needed another life-saving blood transfusion. He also refused to have it and died.
The husband was an adult and, while I think his decision was mistaken, he could be said to have the right to make it. The child was given no such right. The law has changed since then and the mother's wishes would almost certainly be ignored in favour of saving the life of the child.
What I do know though is that the grandparents were deeply distressed by what happened. It contributed to the further mental decline of the wife - and that added further stress. As neighbours my parents did what they could to support the old couple but it should not have been necessary.
The daughter actually tried to convert my parents - and then me.
Then, when my mother died, the Jehovah's Witnesses called. I don't know what they do in other parts of the world but here they read the death column in the state newspaper and call on at least some of the grieving families. The daughter of our neighbours admitted as much.
What is more they tried more than once. I wrote a letter. They phoned. I wrote another letter and asked them, firmly but politely, not to bother us.
Last year they called again and I sent yet another letter asking for no contact at all. They were not, I told them, to enter the premises, phone or leave any material for us.
I saw them out and about this morning and, on looking out our window to see if the car which had arrived was someone we were expecting, I saw them grouped at our gate. One of them was consulting a folder. Oh yes, they know our property is private. To enter it is trespass.
They saw me watching - and left hastily.
I went out a little later to greet our visitor and pick up the mail.
In the letter box there was a flier from the Jehovah's Witnesses.
This afternoon I put it in an envelope along with a letter and sent it back to them. No contact means no contact. It does not mean trying to come through the letter box.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Community nurse came to see

the Senior Cat yesterday. No, there was nothing wrong. This is part of a project designed to save money by keeping older people safer in their own homes.
It has been going for some years now and this is the second time the Senior Cat has been visited. The last time was, from memory, about five years ago.
A lot can happen in five years. A lot can happen to anyone, but particularly if you are very old - or very young.
I was out when the nurse was supposed to arrive. She, like many others before her, got lost trying to find our small street. She phoned the Senior Cat and said she would be late because she was lost. Could he give her directions?
He asked her where she was and said, "It would be easier if I came and showed you." He then dashed off in his gopher and led her through the streets!
I heard about this when I arrived home. The two of them were sitting at the dining room table in fits of laughter. The table was littered with books ("which might be useful") and a conjuring trick.
I looked sternly at the two of them and asked if they had actually done anything? Er, no. She had only been there almost an hour.
Right. I put the kettle on because the Senior Cat needed a cup of tea.
I made tea and kept an ear on the conversation. The Senior Cat is still mentally agile and, if slower and more unsteady on his feet, physically able despite using a walker/wheeler.
I think the nurse was surprised to find a senior who still eats three proper meals a day. I see to that. He also eats well. I also see to that. We both know it is good for both of us to eat plenty of vegetables and fruit and, at least in the way I shop and prepare food, it is cheaper.
I think she was also surprised when I said, "He gets up every morning with a list of things he wants to do that day."
The Senior Cat reeled off a list of things he still has to do for other people.
He knows he is lucky he can still do things. If it worries me sometimes that he has taken on too much I remind myself that, like his father before him, he does not believe in "retirement". Even if the weather keeps him indoors he is planning and doing. I would worry far more if he sat there and did nothing - or watched television.
The nurse eventually left and, as she went, whispered to me, "Isn't he marvellous?"
Yes he is - and I know it. I also know I am fortunate. I know so many older people who would be much harder to care for.