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Other blogs/sites I follow: Christine Allen's // Gordon Price's // Ray Ison's // Sarah Jane's photo site // Travel Painting Blog // Roland Hemmert art site

August 27, 2008: And a final final note.

This rooftop billboard which I photographed in January, and many more like it scattered throughout Sydney, has been banned! Yes, the advertising council declared that they were offensive and ordered them taken down. A small victory for common sense and public standards!

The client/proponent was on the radio yesterday and tried lamely to explain that his product was a vitamin mix that improved general health...
August 26, 2008: A final note before signing off and leaving for France.... the blog will attempt to make a return in October.

This little bush-tailed rock wallaby, about a metre tall, came up from the gully and was grazing in the vacant lot next door yesterday afternoon. He/she sure looks like the one that was here in February, 2007 -- the week we moved to Katoomba.
-are you fed up with grey skies and cool temperatures? Maintenance getting you down? Never want to paint again?

Why not consider Coober Pedy? So what if they have to bring the water in a pipe from 400 km away. You're pretty well guaranteed blue skies year in, year out.
August 25, 2008: Australia with its 40-something medals and 6th place finish did incredibly well at the Olympics. Somehow Australian athletes have that extra something that allows them to come from behind and make the extra effort to win. And lots of funding. Anyway, enough already! We can get back to the usual preoccupations: corrupt governments, climate change and soaring prices.

The 1948 FJ Holden (above left) was the first designed-in-Australia car. In the 60 years since, General Motors Holden and Ford Australia (maker of the 1964 Falcon, on the right) have had a kind of grip on the Australian psyche. Even though most of their cars were effectively branch-plant productions, they were seen as emblems of the mature, industrial Australia that arose after the Second World War when the country was desperately trying to diversify its economy away from "riding on the sheep's back." Even twenty-five years ago, Australia's cars looked just a little different from everybody else's. Anyone who can remember the Mel Gibson road warrior movie Mad Max, from about 1982, might remember that the cars (to North American eyes) looked strange, as if they were American cars that had been parked too close to a nuclear reactor.

A report last week for the federal government on the parlous state of the auto industry has straddled the fence: cut import duties to prove Australia's free-trade credentials while extending generous industry grants into the murky future. Sales of Australian-made cars, which includes large Toyotas and, until recently, Mitsubishis, have dropped from 32% to 20% of the total market. To make matters worse, three-quarters of the locally made cars have been purchased by governments -- yet another subsidy. Most buyers don't want large-engined sedans anymore. The auto industry has globalized, yet the government is continuing to support it as if it was still the 50s, when auto tariffs effectively kept out many cars that people wanted. Export sales, like the Commodores going to Canada as Pontiacs, mentioned below, have reduced the amount of red ink but not by much.

The prime minister wants to lead a country "that makes things." One of his first acts was to offer profitable Toyota a $30+ million grant to build hybrids here. Toyota said "thanks" but has made no commitments. Meanwhile, the economy continues to prosper, more or less, but it's no longer because of either wool or any sort of manufacturng: it's iron ore and coal, going to China, that keeps the country solvent.

And speaking of sheep, the article above refers to Australia's capitulation to European wool consumers and animal-rights activists on the matter of mulesing. We raised sheep in Canada for a dozen years but I never heard that word. Mulesing is the practice of trimming the skin from around a sheep's bum, thus removing any wool that might get poo-caked (called dags) and attract flies -- leading to fly-strike, one of the grosser ways for a sheep to sicken and die. According to the dictionary, it's named for J.H.W. Mules, who invented the technique. To avoid fly-strike, you also dock the tails of lambs, which we did. But we never had to "mules" (?), because our sheep didn't have all the extra skin that has been bred into merinos to maximize their wool clip. When you look at a merino, it has what look like enormous jowls -- in fact rolls of skin, all of which produce wool. It's the same around the bum, apparently. Think of that when you buy your next Italian suit. If it's an expensive one it will be merino wool from Australia.

-the two news items reproduced here follow in the "weird Australia" mode. Both are from the "Deep North" -- Mount Isa is way out in northern Queensland, a state which itself used to have a reputation like Mississippi's or Alabama's.

The item about Pauline Hanson below will be especially interesting for aficionadi of celebrity odd-ball politicians. Her One Nation party carved out a far-right constituency in the 1990s and dragged the then-prime minister, John Howard, and his party over toward it. The wikipedia entry on her life is quite well-balanced: see this link. But her own website is more fun.

- this is probably the last entry of the blog until we return to Australia from Europe early in October. It will be well into springtime by then....

August 19, 2008: we were able to see the Canadian men's-8 rowers win the gold the other day, the only one of the Canadian medals that has happened to be covered. The rest of it has been all-Aussie, all-the-time, although to be fair the gymnastics have been very well covered and there's not an Aussie in sight there.

Further to Australia's extraordinary Olympic performance, where they're currently standing 3rd in medals (a country of 22 million vs. Canada's 33, Britain's 60), the breadth and depth of the country's commitment to amateur sport has really paid off. Predictably, the sport Establishment has focused on the poorer-than-predicted performance of the men's swim team. The women did superbly and won many golds, but the men didn't break the records and bring home the gold. And in cycling, it's the hated Poms (Britain) who are doing so well, which pricks a much deeper anxiety in the Australian psyche. Britain has done better in these Olympics than it has in a lifetime -- it has been investing heavily in anticipation of the 2012 Games in London -- and could conceivably surpass Australia's medal total before these games end. Incredibly, a steady drum-beat has begun in Australia for even more funding for Olympic athletes!! Let there be bread and circuses!

August 14, 2008:

Cockatoos socializing on the electrical lines above the railway tracks on a cloudy day last week

-time to get back to the blog after a long time spent finishing up some things from the last trip to Canada: some paintings and text about the Thompson and Fraser Rivers in British Columbia, on my travel page.

- Holden is the General Motors division in Australia, and for 60 years has produced quite distinctive cars,  as has the local Ford division. The Commodore is the best-selling non-import. It, like Ford's Falcon, are full-sized -- i.e. about the size of a Toyota Camry. The rivalry between Holden and Ford for the muscle-car market creates great interest in the V-8 Supercar series on road-racing tracks around the country. There's a similar competition within the ute market: utes are the distinctively Australian tradesmen's/hoons'* vehicles, with a Falcon or Commodore front end -- usually high-powered -- and a pickup-truck back. But the reality is that the domestic car market has shrunk drastically, down to 10 or 12% of the total from about 70% a generation ago. Most people are buying small Toyotas and Hyundais, and hybrids, to try to beat the high petrol price of $1.50 or so a litre.
(*a hoon is a punk, usually young, fast-driving and law-flouting)

 -It's been interesting being in Australia for the Olympics. The culture here is so different -- it's so sports-oriented, so competitive -- compared with Canada's laid-back, recreational, participatory ethos. Australians get the desire to win with their mother' milk, it seems, and back it up with an ongoing, intense interest in all sports and games (and the money to become the best). I believe that Australia spends about 6 times as much on Olympic athletics as Canada does, and it shows in the results. Australia was third in the medal standings at Athens in 2004 and is 6th so far in Beijing. And poor Canada hasn't got a medal yet! We were watching the rough-water kayaking the other day and one of the best was an Aussie -- this in a country where water is so scarce you think twice about having a bath. There wasn't a Canadian, from the land of wild rivers, in sight.

Not surprisingly, the public-broadcaster ABC was able to put together a panel who were unanimous that Australia spends too much on the Olympics -- a country of 22 million sending one of the larger teams. But it is nice to have someone to cheer for, then to go back to listening to Canadian musicians -- so many more, so many successful ones, compared with anything Australia's ever produced.

-finally, watch this ad: it's for men's underwear.


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