from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Confusion and the Border Wars

12  January, 2021

It has been going on for so long.

At first, in March 2020, all Australians took careful note of the dos and don’ts, the rules and regulations – as a nation. There was a unity between the states.

And then there wasn’t.

On April 3rd last year, Premier Mark McGowan closed the West Australian border to the eastern states for the first time in Australian history. And suddenly, Premiers found their higher calling. Each one could now command their state like a mini-nation and this would only increase their popularity. Just too tempting.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was not slow to realise this. Her Labor government faced an election in October. In August 2020, with the LNP, the Opposition party, gathering strength and with Victoria still in lockdown, the Queensland premier closed the border. Labor won the election with an increased majority. They are calling it the ‘border wars’.

Each state premier is mirroring Palaszczuk’s statement: ‘And today is the day that we say we are putting Queenslanders first.’

The thing is the borders of the mainland states are not sharply defined, particularly between Victoria, NSW and Queensland and to a lesser extent, South Australia. The border towns are now beset with problems of access to services: to schools and hospitals. Farms extend across borders.

At no stage have the number of infected people reached the percentages of Europe or the USA but we all realise that the virus is so infectious that it does not take much relaxation in the rules for it to become uncontrollable.

So now we have 7 sets of rules and specific use of language from the 7 states and territories to be considered. And more specifically: your own state’s rules, which change regularly with the ebb and flow of outbreaks, and the rules for states where you plan to travel or where your family are.

It’s plain confusing.

South Australia: as of January 12, all travellers coming to South Australia are required to complete a Cross Border Travel Registration. Our authorities have declared areas to be ‘High’ and ‘Low Community Transmission Zones’. Rules apply to each of these if you desire to enter South Australia. There are special rules for border areas – a ‘Cross Border Community Travel Zone’. Applications are required.

Rules are changed so often and are so confusing that often the police and border officials get it wrong. And this is quite apart from mask-wearing rules.

Other government COVID-19 website travel information

Victoria has just come up with a brilliant new idea: coloured zones! They have green, orange and red zones. Like a traffic light. Which means everyone entering Victoria must apply for a permit – even from WA or South Australia. We have had no community spread cases since mid-November last year.

‘These are the rules as per the Victorian government. If you have been in:

  • a green zone, you will be able to apply for a permit and enter Victoria. Once in Victoria you should watch for symptoms and get tested should you feel unwell. ​
  • an orange zone, you will be able to apply for a permit and will have to take a coronavirus (COVID-19) test within 3 days of your arrival in Victoria and isolate until you receive a negative test result.
  • a red zone, you will only be able to apply for a permit as a permitted worker, or to transit through Victoria to another state or territory. You may also apply for an exemption. Exemptions are only granted in special cases. If you try to enter Victoria by road without a valid permit, exemption or exception you will be turned away. If you attempt to enter via an airport or seaport without a valid permit, exemption or exception you will be fined $4957. Victorians will be required to quarantine at home, and others will be sent back.
  • a NSW-Victorian cross-border community. If you are a resident, you will be able to enter Victoria without a permit, but you must carry photo ID and proof of your address. ​’

The Australian newspaper makes the comment today: ‘The extreme approaches of Victoria and WA are out of all proportion with Australia’s COVID-19 caseload. The nation had four new cases of community transmission on Monday, all of them in NSW. Nobody is in intensive care. The maze of confusing, costly, job-destroying over-regulation by some states is now intolerable…. But … the commonwealth (government) lacks the constitutional power to force states to open borders or abandon their ludicrous red tape.’

We were hoping to holiday on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria at the end of February. It’s not looking very promising. Point one: can we get through the border? Point two. When we are there, will South Australian stop us coming back home or make us go into quarantine?

To travel or not to travel, the decision awaits us.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Justinian’s Flea and the Spanish Flu…

December 27. UPDATE. So Christmas is over and we are still (holiday-less) in Adelaide while the virus bubbles away in Sydney, NSW. The numbers testing positive are low – yesterday 7, today 5 more positive cases have been diagnosed in the ‘Avalon’ Cluster that now stands at 130. NSW Health have conducted over 4 million tests. The Northern Beaches area of Sydney has gone back into lockdown. Our famous New Year’s Eve Sydney fireworks will go ahead in a shortened 7-minute form, but no public will be allowed on the foreshore lining the harbour. (Often a million people gather). Chief Health Officer, Kerry Chant, said that people are testing positive 11-12 days after infection so she justified the requirement stipulating 14 days of isolation after contact with an infected person. Serological testing is showing that the majority of cases are connected to the Avalon outbreak.

Obviously, we remain vulnerable to infection outbreaks with any international arrivals. All arrivals into Australia are significantly down but still enough people are arriving for it to be a challenge for quarantine management at ports of entry. In November 2020, just under 30,000 people arrived from overseas, divided almost equally between Australian citizens and others. (Compare with a year ago: November 2019, 746,080 Australian citizens arrived and 978,440 non-Australians arrived).

One year of Australian citizen arrivals
One year of non-citizen arrivals

Tonight, it was announced that the new strain of the virus, B117, from the UK, which is shutting international borders has been detected in six travellers arriving into Australia from the UK: two are in South Australia. These individuals are all in hotel quarantine. Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, says Australia will not be banning flights from the UK.

I note that our neighbour, Indonesia, is requiring all international arrivals to have a negative Covid-19 (PCR) test done within two days before arrival. Hotel quarantine is also required. But no international tourists are allowed into Indonesia. Australian immigration do not require arrivals to show recent test results but there is media discussion asking, why not?

All the recent news and discussions about the virus shows how we are all learning more and more: how it is highly infectious; how better to treat people; how poorer countries are suffering and their death rates are under-reported, how we need to worry about the rise of mutations. We are all learning the language of epidemiologists and vaccine research. Experts abound!

Justinian’s Flea by William Rosen

I am reading Justinian’s Flea by William Rosen, (Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe) a history more about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire under Emperor Justinian (527-565CE) than the pandemic. While only part of the book is about this bubonic plague there are many parallels to reflect on.

‘During these times, there was a pestilence, by which the whole human race came near to being annihilated.’ (Quoted by William Rosen in Justinian’s Flea by historian, Procopius of Caesarea.)

The medical treatment of the 6th Century was ‘weighted towards spells, folk remedies and charms’ including saint’s relics and magic amulets‘ (page 212). Application of cold and hot water was suggested. The only possible respite seemed to have been in the use of the opium poppy juice!  Procopius of Caesarea blamed the plague on Emperor Justinian. Other Christian leaders blamed the plague on peoples’ wickedness. Millions died: between 20 and 50% of the population over the 200 years as the waves of infection criss-crossed Europe and Middle-eastern empires.

Nowadays, we too have magic treatments and strange advice: Trump’s internal UV light treatment, alternative medications (Chloroquine), garlic, drinking water every 15 minutes to wash the virus into the stomach; saline nasal washes and avoiding 5G networks.

The Plague of Justinian arrived in 542 CE with the ubiquitious rats on the grain shipments from Egypt and thence through the Mediterranean shipping lanes to ports and onward along the Roman roads (in carts bearing grain with the hidden black rats carrying the fleas) into the interior. The main plague was zoonotic so depended on the movement of Rattus rattus.

At first, our Covid-19 pandemic spread through air travellers – so much faster than Justinian’s plague.

William Rosen argues that Justinian’s plague changed history: it weakened the waring empires of the Romans and the Persians (the Sassanid Empire). Justinian was unable to extend his initial reconquest successes in Italy. The way was open for the rise of the Islamic people led at first by the righteous caliphs.

And so with us. It is arguable that both the USA, UK and hence the EU have been weakened by recent events coupled with popularist leaders in the UK and USA. It has hastened the rise of China to world economic significance and power. But on the other hand, without Covid-19, Trump might have been re-elected. His and his administration’s mishandling of the pandemic was enough in the forefront of citizens’ concerns to persuade those vacillating voters to cast a vote for Biden.

The Spanish flu of 1918-1920 was an H1N1 virus originating in birds, probably in North America. My father, Mervyn Smithyman, (1911-2008) loved to tell stories of his childhood in Nyasaland (Malawi) where the family moved after the First World War. But before that, my grandfather was with the South African Army in German East Africa fighting General von Lettow-Vorbeck’s forces and he did not return until late 2019. My grandmother stayed in Wepener in the Orange Free State with her 7 young children.

My father was 8 years old when the Spanish Flu swept through Southern Africa. He and Harold, his elder brother, had vivid memories of those days.

Harold. ‘At the end of the war, before Dad got back, the Spanish Influenza arrived. I was a Wolf Cub and we had to go round to the Market Square where they had clothes boiling in a huge cauldron. These charity workers had a big billycan to take from door from door and people went in and cleaned out and I waited outside. I wore a little packet of garlic round my neck and then Mum said, ‘No! I had to stop!’ I was then sent away to get away from the infection.’

My Father. ‘One by one the rest of the family got sick except Mum and me. Then she got sick and I can remember she was telling me how to go the kitchen to get soup. People came to the door to help but she said that she would not accept charity. Mum told me from her sick bed how to get to the kitchen to get the soup.’

‘That was all fine for a little while and then I said, “Mum I have a headache!”’

‘Now she had to get up, otherwise there was no way we were going to survive. But she got up. She could not stand so she crawled to the kitchen. I remember she gave us some soup to bring back. Every one of us survived the influenza. The carts were passing the door with the corpses of hundreds of people.’

We are not at the end of the Covid-19 story. 2021 will be a long year as we wait for vaccination and desperately hope that a nastier strain of the virus does not develop and catch us before it is dampened down into the furthest little corners of the world. But I fear that we will all harbour a new anxiety about our world.

From Anne in Adelaide, Australia: 1,200 sheep outside my window

November 14.

Willow Springs Station

I am 530 kms north of Adelaide in the Flinders Ranges. My creative writing group is spending 3 nights at a working sheep station called Willow Springs. We booked the shearers’ quarters with its communal kitchens and close proximity to the woodshed.

This a different world controlled by the weather and long term decisions about stocking and de-stocking large quantities of sheep. The dramatic world of USA elections seems as remote as Mars.

the stock truck arrives – 3 stories of sheep

We arrived to see a stock-carrier vehicle discharging 1,200 8-month old merino lambs into an small paddock. The lambs had to be encouraged out of their confinement but once free they hurried to the piles of hay. Another 1,000 lambs arrived today.

persuading the sheep to disembark!
thank goodness it was not a hot day for their journey

The sounds of the ma-ing in all their varying tones has been the backdrop to our hours here. The Reynold family, owners of Willow Springs, are excited. They have suffered 4 years of drought with only 17 inches of rain over 4 years when the average is normally 12 inches a year. They are north of the Goyder line (north of this virtual line grain is not considered possible).

The fodder for sheep wilted and died and pastoralists in this region sold their stock. On our walk today we could see how huge numbers of the hardy native callitris pines and river red gums have also died. They stand as ashen sticks on the hillsides and in the creek beds.

Struggling River Red Gums

This year, Willow Springs has received 9 inches of rain and the hillsides are once more green with pasture. To the untrained eye the feed seems minimal but apparently there is enough for the lambs to survive our coming blast of a summer.

I have discovered that each sheep has a slightly different voice. Some high, some low. Why do they call so? It is strange to listen to them calling to one another and to watch them huddle together in the shade of the few river red gums. What I do see is how frightened they are of us and I can understand why – we are indeed a brutal lot.

Noises in the night

Mrs Reynolds told us that before the drought there were huge problems from dingoes (or wild dogs x dingoes) mauling their sheep. Distressing. The drought has decimated the dingoes – and the mobs of kangaroos that we used to see along the roads all over the Flinders Ranges. We have yet to see a kangaroo. The pastoralists are happy about this as the kangaroos competed with the sheep for the fodder.

Tomorrow morning, the sheep will be released into the larger paddocks of the station. It is forecast to be 40 degrees and they will need to find a cool spot in the dry but cooler river beds.

The dry creeks

At Willow Springs they are hoping for some sort of return to normalacy very soon. I hope this will also be the case in the USA.

Morning with the flock

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: ‘Democracy in Chains’

cover of the latest Economist

November 3. My husband tells me he doesn’t want to hear about Trump any more. Neither do. I wish he was still just one of the pantheon of narcissistic TV personalities that frequent the front pages of our weekly celebrity gossip magazine, Woman’s Day … old copies that you might pick up in the dentist’s waiting room … the junk pages you flipped over to move on to featured recipes.

For that is where Donald Trump belongs, where he started … in over-the-top gossip magazines.

I hope that after January 20, 2021 Trump can disappear into the background of the world and we will never have to hear from him. Apparently in Australia, about 25% of the population said they had confidence in President Trump trying to do the right thing for world affairs (whereas 87% supported Barack Obama during his presidency). This is very low for our country as usually we support our closest ally.

Within the USA, the trend of the population supporting the standing president has been declining since 2013 when it’s stood at 66% – being favourable support for President Barack Obama. This declining perception of the standing USA president is repeated across the Western World. I wonder to what extent American voters comprehend this.

From Australia, there’s nothing we can do about the unfolding events in the USA. We have two children and four grandchildren living there. This heightens my anxiety. And it is not just Trump and his bombastic ignorance and lies, it is the damage done to the body politic by him and his enablers: the loss of trust in the democratic system; the extent of the gerrymandering going on; the stark racial divide; the erosion of the separation of powers and the weakening of the media.

So, I am thinking about the beautiful passage in Ecclesiastes 3:1-3:22…about times in our human life. No doubt we are going to be doing some of this in a few days’ time.

(I like the old King James’ bible version. It is worth re-visiting.)

https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Ecclesiastes-Chapter-3/

‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;’

They forgot about … ‘A time to be anxious’!

I have been slowly reading People, Power and Profits by Joseph E. Stiglitz (2019). Slowly, because there is much to absorb. This is what I read today. (Page 160 in the Penguin edition, Chapter 8 on Restoring Democracy.)

‘It is becoming clearer that the objective of the Republican Party is a permanent rule of the minority over the majority. This is an imperative for them because the policies for which they had advocated, from regressive taxation (taxing the rich at lower rates than the rest), to cutting back on Social Security and Medicare, and cutting back on government more generally, are anathema to the majority of voters. Republicans have to make sure that the majority doesn’t get control. And if the majority does get control, they have to make sure that it can’t put in place the policies that it would like, and which would advance the interests of the majority. As Nancy Maclean, professor of history at Duke University put it, they have to put “democracy in chains“.

What more can one say about what is at stake in the USA?

From Anne in Adelaide, Australia: a koala closer to home

27 October.

Why is he on the ground?

I was going to write a post about the relaxing of restrictions in Victoria. They have had a very serious lockdown in Melbourne for 164 days. Everyone is so relieved that at last Victoria has had two days of no infections.

Instead, I have another story about koalas. On my way to our garage I noticed a dark shape hunched under a small eucalypt. It was a male (a buck) koala huddled over in the shade. I thought he might need water – although it is not a hot day. So, I took down a basin of water and offered it to him. He did not seem to be scared at all but drank steadily for a while.

I know that one of the signs of a sick koala is a tendency to stay on the ground. The ground is a dangerous place for them. So, I phoned up an organisation called Koala Rescue. A young lady arrived within half an hour with a large pet container. Using a towel for protection she picked up the koala from behind and placed him safely in the box. She said you have to be careful as their claws are very sharp, but they are not aggressive. Just frightened.

With koala sound effects and birds singing

She thought that he had been in a fight and also he might have a virus. Koalas often get chlamydia. So my koala was off to hospital. I will be informed of his progress and when he’s better he will be returned to our property. Koalas are territorial. There is a shortage of habitat for koalas and they have been moving into urban areas. There they come into contact with domestic dogs. Furthermore, koalas have no road sense.

My koala did not seem to mind being photographed. So enjoy some close-ups.! Nothing much happens with koalas unless they are fighting.

Lots of chomping sounds. Eucalyptus leaves are not pliable or soft. They take some chewing! Note the signs of fighting on his nose. I think a doe was involved …

For anyone who is used to the animals of Africa, it is a very subdued wildlife interaction.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: La Niña and the Rose Garden

The Veale Rose Garden, Adelaide, Australia

October 17. Two months ago, I wrote about the drought affecting us in South Australia. Since them we have received good spring rains: 130 mm. That is over the average: not a flood, not a glorious amount of rain but enough to make us delighted.

It’s all about La Niña, (the girl), weather event (as opposed to El Niño , the boy) centred in the ocean between Australia and the Americas. I don’t understand it, but it has something to do with the sea surface temperatures being below the norm and, in the way of the world, this affects Australia, Asia, Africa and the Americas. In Africa and Australia, it will be cooler and wetter; countries in Asia will receive heavy rains. The same goes for North America where snow falls will increase. South America, however, gets drought conditions along the coast of Chile and the Peru.

La Niña will last for about five months. She is welcome – bear in mind that our last summer was abnormally hot and dry and bushfires raged across our country for weeks.

So, in Adelaide this spring, our gardens are looking green and lush. The hillsides have not yet browned off. We all fear the advent of the ferociously hot spells in summer and delight in these mild mid 20 temperatures.

some of the 50 varieties of roses in the Veale Gardens

This week, for the first time in the 29 years I have lived in Adelaide, I visited the Veale Rose Gardens in the South Parkland of our city, to see the first bloom of roses. The gardens are named after a William Veale, Adelaide Town Clerk for 18 years. Our city centre is surrounded by a 500-meter-wide band of parkland: easy to get to and easy to park.

Indeed, the roses were magnificent. I am not knowledgeable at all about roses, but my companion showed me the intricacies of the blooms. It is a pity how few roses have any scent nowadays. All bending and smelling was to no avail! It appears that crafting exotic beauty is now more important.

This might be the City of Adelaide Rose – it was there somewhere and it was pink!

Some blooms were deep maroon, some pale lilac, some had darker pink stripes, some were old-fashioned climbing tea roses: rows and rows of roses – 50 varieties in all – and not a rose beetle in sight.

I cannot see roses blooming without remembering how my mother’s rose garden in Durban, South Africa, was attacked by black and yellow beetles the size of your thumb. They ate out the centre of the rosebuds. My mother employed my compliant daughter to extract them from the blooms, to gather the angry insects into a glass bottle. She was paid her for her industry.

With the benefit of Wikipedia, I have a identified those little nasties as the ‘garden fruit chafer’ in the family of scarabs. But in the Veale Gardens in Adelaide there was not a scarab beetle in sight. Every bloom was perfect. Enjoy the beauty of our Adelaide spring!

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Pinocchio and the consequences of lying

10 October.

My 1946 children’s edition of Pinocchio

“Once upon a time a poor wood carver named Geppetto lived in a country across the sea. He was little and old and he was lonely.”

So begins my copy of Pinocchio, given to me on my birthday 65 years ago when I lived in Mbeya, Tanganyika. The original story of Pinocchio was published in 1883 by Carlo Collodi of Florence. Little did Carlo realise that he had created a masterpiece that would resonate with children through the ages. Who has not heard about how the astonished puppet’s nose grew longer with each lie he told?

Pinocchio has been adapted and translated into over 300 languages and Wikipedia says it is the most translated non-religious book in the world and one of the best-selling books ever published with over 800 million copies sold.

Tonight, my husband and I went to the movies to see the 2019 film of Pinocchio, written and directed by Matteo Garrone and the featured film of our Italian Film Festival.

We booked our seats at the cinema complex in the East End of Adelaide which, being a Saturday night, was busy as anything, as busy as it used to be. Not a mask in sight. I said to my husband that we must be in one of the only places in the world where everyone is quite so relaxed. Long may this last.

We have no new cases today – but 3 active cases (returning travellers).

https://www.covid-19.sa.gov.au/home/dashboard

This version of Pinocchio was not a film for young children, in fact, I think it will be most appreciated by adults … magnificently filmed in Tuscany, Italy. It is a dark version of the tale, decidedly not a cute retelling. It also depicts poverty-stricken villages in Italy of the late 19C. At the same time the scenery and filming are spectacular. Digital manipulation was not used – instead prosthetic make-up brought the fantastic characters to life. I need to see the film again to fully appreciate the cinematography.

I remember well, as a child, being disturbed when all the little recalcitrant school boys were turned into donkeys – when they first found that their ears had grown hairy and large and they could not talk.

Going to the Land of Boobies where it’s Vacation Time all day long

“And while they were still giggling at one another, they found they now had hooves for feet, and tails. They opened their mouths, but they could only bray.”

I remember the shock when the crippled donkey – aka Pinocchio – was thrown into the sea with a stone tied to his neck. In this new film this is graphically shown. It did not worry me when Pinocchio was swallowed by a huge dogfish, after all I knew about Jonah and the Whale and it was safe and warm in the stomach of the fish! You could even light a fire!

Could a flock of woodpeckers visit the White House? Daily?

The story of Pinocchio is the story of a journey into adulthood, into responsibility, the story of our human condition. In this age of ‘fake’ news and blatant lies told by leaders of our Western democracies, it is even more poignant to watch a film about the consequences of deception. If only our world leaders could suffer some sort of immediate retribution for their lack of honesty.

And, BTW, we all sometimes need a Kind Fairy with Turquoise Hair …

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Sorry, but I don’t know either!

September 27.

Johannes Leak cartoon. The Australian 26-27 September, 2020

In late May and early June, our neighbouring state of Victoria was hit by a second wave of community infections of Covid-19. The numbers exploded rapidly, reaching over 700 a day as the authorities failed to track, trace and test to halt the spread. People started asking questions. How did this happen; where is the virus coming from? Soon it was fairly obvious: the hotel quarantine system for returning travellers had failed.

Cases continued to spread. On August 2, a state of ‘disaster’ with Stage 4 restrictions on Melbourne and Stage 3 on the rest of the state, was declared.

All other states closed their borders to Victoria. By then the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, had fielded questions about how his government had failed in their management of the quarantine process. He said he would appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the outbreak but since he was so busy handling the crisis, he would not comment further. So, the state and the country had to wait until September to listen to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

final witness – Daniel Andrews

September 26-27. After 25 days of hearings, 62 witnesses and 200,000 pages of documents, a 3 million dollar inquiry has not had the main question answered: who was responsible for appointing private security firms to manage the hotel quarantine of overseas travellers instead of the (more reliable and experienced) Federal police who had been offered by the Federal Government (these police had been appointed in other states)? The private firms had been hopeless in their job. They had subcontracted to untrained and underpaid workers. Lurid tales of security staff relaxing on the job, smoking breaks, shopping outings and co-habiting with the travellers, emerged.

“Some guards are saying they had no training,” Shah said. “Some were saying they had three minutes’ training.” (Kazim Shah, a United Workers Union organiser).

The quarantine system had failed with lethal results. Where was the culprit? Where was the failure?

Quotes attributable to the Premier Daniel Andrews on the occasion of appointing a Royal Commission. July 2, 2020, “It is abundantly clear that what has gone on here is completely unacceptable and we need to know exactly what has happened.”

https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/judicial-inquiry-hotel-quarantine-program

“The inquiry will begin promptly and will examine a range of matters including:  decisions and actions of government agencies, hotel operators and private contractors; communication between government agencies, hotel operators and private contractors; contractual arrangements; information, guidance, training and equipment provided to staff in hotels; policies, protocols and procedures.”

This weekend our newspapers tell the story. And what a debacle it is: no one is owning up. No one made the wrong decision – it just appears to have happened, willy nilly!! Be amazed! An immaculate conception-decision had emerged with no record, no minutes, no one there! Premier Daniel Andrews was the last to give evidence and yesterday he was full of ‘don’t knows’.

Everyone was waiting for Premier Andrews to appear. He was the last government minister, the final witness, before the commission. He held up the bible, swore to tell the truth – but it turns out – he did not know how or who made the decision to hire private security firms.

He said, ‘I want to say to you, Madam Chair, I await your final report, the conclusion of your work, so we can understand better what has occurred, So, I as leader of government can take appropriate action to ensure these sorts of errors never occur again.’ The Australian September 26-27.

A Monty Python moment – but remember, this is not a joke, 762 people died in the outbreak, 18,000 were infected. Only one minister has resigned – the health minister, Jenny Mikakos. Andrews blamed her, saying she was accountable. Mikakos has sworn before the commission that she did not even KNOW that private guards were being used.

Andrews is not resigning – he says he has work to do!

I will be amazed if processes change in the corridors of political power. Do Royal Commission findings and recommendations result in changes?

If my little Adelaide writing group meetings keeps minutes, why are the major decisions of the Victorian State government not likewise recorded? Nine ministers, PM Secretaries, Commissioners and Health Officers had no clue how this disastrous decision was made. Collective amnesia!

I don’t know, either! The mystery decision!

The editorial puts it succinctly, ‘Be it collective gross incompetence or a cover-up …Victorians have been treated with contempt by the government they voted in and pay …’

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Farina – travelling to an Outback ghost town

September 13.

Farina township, established in 1876, is now 7 hours due north of Adelaide, 630 kms on good roads. You can leave home at 8am, stop for tea in Port Wakefield, a lamb pie in Port Augusta, coffee and a Quandong pie in Hawker and arrive into the ghost town around 4pm. Without speeding.

But pause. Farina was once a month’s ride away or two months if you were on a wagon. Farina, for me, stands as an example of the struggles endured by Australia’s early settlers. You cannot but admire their tenacity at the same time you acknowledge their ignorance of this country.

It would have been a harsh lesson in an unforgiving land.

On our recently trip to Witchelina Nature Reserve, 30 kms west of Farina, we travelled this route north, taking in the landscape as it changed, as the green became brown, as the trees shrunk and disappeared, as the towns became smaller, as the wedge-tailed eagles (Australia’s vultures) became more numerous lifting from the roadside off dead kangaroos. Heartbreak land. Hard to love, hard to survive.

Kanyaka Station – half way to Farina – was established in 1851. Early on, there were 41,000 sheep on the property. In 1867, 20,000 sheep died in the drought.

We did not want to be depressed. This was our keenly anticipated holiday after 6 months of being home-bound thinking of little more than family and the issues of the daily news: how many new cases of Covid-19? How were our children doing in the USA? In Australia? In South Africa?

We were escaping to look at the landscape and geologyof the Adelaide Superbasin. We would have experts: geology professors and practitioners, biologists and bird watchers in our group. We would be beyond the reaches of WiFi. No TV, no shops. We were looking forward to evening discussions, communal meals and shearers’ quarters for 8 nights.

Farina landscape

Farina lasted for many years after the dreams of wheat and barley farming faded with the rain decreasing to the normal levels of 6.5 inches a year. The town, at its maximum had 600 people: Aboriginal people, Afghan cameleers and European immigrants. Once there was water at Farina but it did not last. The town only struggled on after the 1890s due to the railway line – closed in 1980.

The empty rooms of Farina

Over the years, it has become a ruin and a tourist attraction for Outback travellers in their A-Vans and sleek Ultimate Caravans. A café is being established there with an underground bakery. Winter is the time for the Outback when the days are warm and sunny and nights cold. In summer the temperatures can reach 50 degrees.

There is something that draws us in awe to these golden stone ruins, stark in the gibber plains. No roofs remain. The walls impress all who stand before them: the massive rectangular rocks that form the lintels last the longest, holding up the doorways and chimney places. You have to admire the workmanship that went into the stonework. There is confidence in these buildings as well as a warning for the hubris of those who ignore nature.

Arriving at Witchelina Nature Reserve

Our group passed through Farina in our 4-WDs, complete with spare tyres, Air-Con, Satellite phones, 2-way radios, GPs, cameras the size of a pack of cards, binoculars and bottles of spring water. If those early settlers could have seen us what would they think?

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: staying fit without Aged Care

September 11. It’s been six months since our Australian society got into panic mode over Covid-19. At first, there was the rush to secure our food supplies. Rumours abounded. A little later, we worried about exercise. As organised sport, gyms and council programs were halted we Zoomed into gym sessions or went out and walked the parks and streets.

Over time in South Australia, we have been lucky enough to relax –  a lot. We can now play tennis, go to restaurants, cinemas, play bridge and have guests at home. We can travel within South Australia, the Northern Territory and fly to Queensland.

I have resumed attending weekly yoga lessons at our local council hub. As an older person, health has become something I worry about a little bit more than before. It’s not just issues around COVID-19, but a sense that we need to look after ourselves – after all we have co-morbidities. To this end, I decided to go extend my program by going to the Pilates class also offered at my council hub. Pilates teachers talk non-stop about the ‘core’: the weakening ‘core’ as we age! No doubt, my body is in decline. Yoga is not enough.

So, I attended my first Pilates class and I enjoyed it very much and hoped to continue. However, I was told I needed approval from My Aged Care; this Pilates class was subsidised by our Federal Government for older people to enjoy. All the other attendees looked of a similar age and fitness to myself. I felt I would fit in.

My Aged Care was introduced in July 2013 by our Federal Government. The idea is to make it easier for older people to be assessed and supported with various services. I think the plan is to keep people in their homes, as fit as possible and as long as possible, so that they do not burden the old age homes or the medical system.

I already had an Aged Care number which is readily given to people older than 65.

I mistakenly thought this would be a simple process: I would phone up and explain that I would like to attend the Pilates class (citing the need for ‘core’ strengthening!). Obviously, it would make me fitter and stronger and more able to stay in my own home for years to come, thus being less of a liability on the government. Logical.

Not so fast. The kind woman at Aged Care informed me that I would need an ‘assessment’ before they would approve me for this one hour, once a week, Pilates class.

I hoped that this could be done with a few simple questions conducted over the phone. No. An appointment was made for me for an assessment in my own home.

‘Did I have a dog?

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Please could the dog be locked up before the assessment’.

‘Sure,’ I said.

I was now in the system and I did not pull out  – also I was a little curious.

So last week, Trisha, from Aged Care, came to our house. She asked me to open the door (she did not want to touch the handle) and she made sure that we were socially distanced. I offered her tea or coffee. She said she was not allowed to have tea, coffee or even a glass of water. I told her that my almost toothless one-eyed Roy dog (desperate to greet her) was locked away. She said that the interview would take approximately one hour. I was bemused.

Trisha took out her laptop and said she had to go through the whole assessment. The questions were thorough – here are just a few of them: Did I have a social life? Friends? What did I do with my time? What kids did we have and where were they? Did we talk to them? Could I shower myself? Did I have handrails in the shower? She counted all our steps in the house. Could she see our bathroom? (That surprised me). Could I drive and shop on my own? Could I cook? What pain symptoms did I have? Did I have my own teeth? What medication did I take? Did I use pill boxes? etc ….

Forty-five minutes, later Trisha told me, apologising profusely, that she could not give me a ‘package’ because if she gave me a package someone else would not be able to have one.

‘You are fit,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry – you are not isolated.’

I lamely said I did not want a package. I just wanted to attend Pilates and was happy to pay the federal government extra part of the cost ($10). Uh-huh! No way was this possible.

Trisha left after telling me that I should be pleased that I was ‘on the system’ because if anything happened to me, they had all the data about my life!!! They sure did!

The kind of services My Aged Care offer to elderly people is impressive. I had had no idea of the range and scale of the support offered. I must say that we are lucky to live in a society that has put in place such services. But I am somewhat horrified by the bureaucracy that it involves. And its inflexibility.

Recently, I read the Economist magazine’s special feature on dementia where they reported on this looming world-wide crisis. I wonder for how long Australia can afford to support their ageing population in the Aged Care way. In 2107, 15% of our population was 65 and over. (9% in 1977). Growing steadily. People are living longer as well. Our Federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, says our ageing population is ‘an economic time bomb’.

Never fear. I can go to my Next Generation club – further away – for Pilates classes but it’s not so friendly and filled with lithe young mothers in Nike and Lululemon lycra gear. So be it. I am quite pleased that I was rejected for an Aged Care package. Obviously, I am too fit, too busy. For the moment.