Cowboys and Indians

In the news this week was the story about the young American Catholic school kids mocking and smirking at the aged indigenous man in Washington DC. The picture of the young smirking kid getting in the face of the indigenous guy trying to be intimidating. Wow such a powerful and disgraceful image.

it got me thinking about education and its social impact. These were young kids coming to Washington DC to protest against abortion (I’m not sure that should even be the right of any man actually).

So their school is teaching them what? It’s a good thing to protest and have your voice heard, but only yours. They are not being taught anything about respect. Certainly they are not being taught anything about their own short history. They obviously know little about displacement and the hardships of colonialism. Quite clearly they have no understanding of how or where they fit into that history.

I’m not sure they are all that different from our own kids though. I would like to think it wouldn’t happen here, but Im not completely convinced that is the case. I have always been an advocate of teaching ethics and not religion in schools and this story only enhances that viewpoint. In Australia that is not likely to happen as long as the two major parties each rely on one of the two big religions for their support.

Envy is a New World thing

We have a thing in our house that you must not envy someone, unless you are prepared to take on the whole package, the whole box and dice, the good with the bad. It is such a useful thought bubble because it insists that you look really closely at people and not just see the superficial extremities.

Envy is quite widespread in our society some might say almost ubiquitous. It is actively fed and encouraged by tabloids and TV which has helped to normalise the behaviour. I don’t want to get too heavy, but to understand it, it is helpful to realise that it really only happens on a broad scale in modern democratic free economies. We are taught from day one that we can become anything, do anything, have anything we desire provided we work (or dream) hard enough. That is the modern fairytale and in my opinion a complete social myth. It all very successfully feeds envy as a behaviour though.

Society is constantly being bombarded with stories about Mr So and So or Miss Who-ever becoming fabulously successful, or looking amazing, or performing at a level, and all from ordinary roots. Society is being told it’s perfectly acceptable and really almost cool to envy someone else’s whatever.

But what does that lead to? An awful lot of unhappiness is what I see. We know that unhappiness sells papers magazines, TV subscriptions etc If you take only the good bits of almost any individual and compare all of your bad bits to that, you are never going to be comfortable with that outcome.

So let me return to where I started this ramble. Our rule, in our house is if you want to envy someone, you have to take the good with the bad, the crazy aunt, the outraged fan, the debt collector, the tortured school friend, the appalling self-image, the cocaine habit, the unusual sexual proclivities, the mis-shaped toes, the halitosis, the bad temper, the sexual abuse history, the disability (we all have them).

That one simple and very elegant behaviour change quickly results in us no longer envying anyone, because we take a little time to understand people before “wanting what they’ve got” which, when it’s all said and done, is a much healthier way to live.

Son of a sun

Why are we so bad at harnessing the very thing we have more of than anyone else? That’s right, I’m talking about we Australians and our collective inability to harness sunshine. And yes its a rhetorical question.

With all of this sun and so many people living in cities, surely we should have been a moral to be world leaders in Electric powered motorbikes, scooters and other small-scale transport. With most people living within a relatively short commute to their workplace, it always amazes me that we haven’t worked this out.

Picture this, a few solar panels charging a battery that you swap into your vehicle each morning. One charging, one in use. Sure there are some setup costs, but electric engines themselves are much cheaper to maintain with fewer moving parts, and therefore last much longer.

Many people are green conscious now, certainly many more than ten years ago. There would be a market just in those people not that focussed on the efficiency. That group sits on top of the market that like the efficiency and only need it to be vaguely cost comparable. There are countries in the world that have twigged to the opportunities and are making high quality small electric engines suitable for motorbikes and scooters, the battery technology has been around for a while too. So what is holding us up?

If we had any sort of foresight as a nation, we would have been investing in this stuff for the last decade or more and by now we would have been shipping it around the world. Think about all the small farm machinery, the motorbikes, the RVs, the side by sides, the three and four wheelers that every farm has. The same technology would be directly transferable to every farm in the land. Most farms in our country have an abundance of sun. I know right? Crazy thinking.

Every argument I have heard against this thinking can be overcome except for one. Lack of mileage can be overcome by doubling the battery space, or tripling it if that is what is required. “I don’t understand the electric engine” can be overcome with a pamphlet for goodness sakes. “I just love the smell of a fuel burning engine” is one I can’t overcome easily but soon enough someone will invent an aftershave like that I’m sure.

This is the sort of stuff that our Federal Government should be investing in. The research, the modelling, the tooling, the training all takes time and needs support, but we should be in a position to rule the world with this stuff. But in spite of lots of talk for the last five years about the inevitability of the electric engine taking over, this year, 2019 there is only one viable all-electric commuter scooter on the market, Imported of course. Can’t we do better than that?


It took three years of wrangling and some fighting with authorities to start our build on the block of land we purchased just outside of Dungog. I didn’t imagine for a minute that it was going to take that long. Our dream is to create an off grid, self-sufficient farm along biodynamic principles and spend the next twenty years developing that idea.

We have 160 acres of beautiful hilly land with amazing views and I’m itching to get started. We put in a new driveway, and the day after that was created, it started raining and pretty much hasn’t stopped since. We needed the rain, to be sure, but we need to build too. The three-year process has tested my patience and now the weather is just teasing me. 

We are building a very modest eco sensitive dwelling. Council rules require us to build without the view and dumb, inflexible state planning rules required us to tick so many stupid preparatory boxes it was just crazy. I understand that some of those rules are about to be relaxed, which will help people trying to do this in the future. It killed me to keep shelling out money to experts to write reports that were a complete waste of time and money. Anyhow, that part is history now.

The next few years will be filled with challenges for both Anna and I as we learn to be self-sufficient. I have zero skills with nothing other than a passion to learn and appreciation of the void I am about to try to cross. We will both continue to work part-time which relaxes the financial pressure substantially. 

The build completion is probably 8 months away. So lets say its May 2019 that we are aiming at having our first meal and sleepover. In the meantime then I have about 30 weekends in which I can plant things, compost things, mow things, dig things and generally be a nuisance to mother nature.

I let myself go

I will admit, I let myself go a little. A combination of getting close to sixty, not sleeping well and a dicky back, a constantly sore ankle along with a fair share of general laziness with a hefty dash of self loathing. I had given up glancing at myself in the mirror and certainly never side on. One day I just got too revolted. 

I needed some sort of plan. A podiatrist could probably fix my ankle, some exercise could probably strengthen my back and then maybe some regular exercise program would work away at my burgeoning girth. I quickly discounted the idea of a diet.

Eight months down the track, I have had two people tell me how healthy I look. No cash for comment or anything. I joined a small group of people four mornings a week with a local trainer. My bride had been going for a year and was looking great. Brad is quite incredible in his generosity and inclusiveness. He tailors every exercise in a way that makes me feel like I’m working hard, though I am often not doing what others in the group are doing. Two mornings of boot camp and two mornings of strength training.

I feel better than I have felt for a decade. In raw numbers, I haven’t said goodbye to too much of me, but I’m definitely a better shape, Im sleeping better and feel so much happier with every part of my day. I could probably lose more weight if I gave up drinking wine, but I have no desire to do that. If you are feeling like you don’t want to see yourself in the mirror, or you can’t see anything else in the mirror, then made its time you too broke it down into bite sized pieces and made a change.

It is so empowering to wake up in the morning, feeling like you really can do it.

I will look like a nong

I’m going to the doctors on Tuesday to get a mole removed, its sort of more like a weird freckle on my face that wasn’t there 6 months ago. It’s probably nothing, and I will spend a week with a band-aid on my face and look like a complete nong, but that’s OK isn’t it?

The truth is though, that I am worried about it. I’m not apoplectic or inconsolable, but I am not treating it like it’s a torn finger nail either. This mole appeared only recently and that is not a good thing in a person my age. Chances are, its nothing. I have said, in the past to people, “worrying doesn’t help” but that is not completely true is it. If worrying just a little, motivates you to actually do something about the situation then it is not a waste at all.

In my case, I have taken the opportunity to update my letters to my children. Because I know if I get shitty news, I’m not going to be in the right head space to write to them appropriately. I have checked and rechecked the building plans for our new house, so that all goes ahead without a hitch.

I have consulted with Dr Google briefly (not extensively) about the other options for my new mole. I have gone back to wearing my lovely hat, even thought its winter. Truth is I prefer to wear my hat, so now I have a legitimate excuse. I have invested in some SPF30 lip balm. I should be wearing this stuff every day but haven’t because I got lazy. These are all good positive things. 

Tuesday will come and go, most likely, like every other Tuesday in my life. But I’m not looking forward to it.

Living with purpose

It seems that we are happiest when we are living our lives with purpose. To some, that sounds incredibly obvious, but not to everyone. If you take a minute to look around you, many people are working toward the day when they have no purpose. That is their life plan. It would be my guess that if or when they get there, they will discover it is not as they had planned at all.

Purpose comes in all manner of shape and size. For some people, purpose is their job or their business, for some others it is their family, their children or their church. It could come in the shape of a task or a project or perhaps a journey. Without it though, people often feel lost or worse, some start to feel worthless. I see it all the time in people who have recently retired having worked with purpose all their lives. Suddenly they find themselves directionless, and often quite sad, maybe even depressed.

A task which brings me great joy is coaching coaches. Training them to be effective in their roles. One of the tasks I give them to do is work out their purpose. What drives them, what scares them, worries them and what brings them most joy. They find the task challenging but feedback tells me they also find this part of the training more useful than just about anything else they learn.

I have from time to time in my life lived without purpose and I have not enjoyed it one bit. Working a job that was meaningless to me, and not involved in anything else that gave me joy or a sense of fulfilment. Finding something that gives you purpose can be easier said then done though. By that I don’t mean something like your life’s purpose, not like “why am I here?” “who am I?” type purpose, though lets not rule that out entirely. I’m talking more about something smaller, more tangible, easier to grasp.

Having interviewed hundreds of people I am of the opinion that most people find some purpose as a by-product of their personal strengths. Is that too obvious? If someone is a super strong visualiser and a strong facilitator type, they get pleasure from and find purpose in visualising and helping others to do the same. If someone is good at building or wood-turning, they get a sense of purpose making things for other people. So what are your strengths? Do you know them? A lot of people have no idea, and some have a little bit of an idea without really knowing.

If you are feeling a bit lost, living your life without purpose, find someone capable of doing a strengths finder with you, or something similar. There are some free online versions which are worth doing but in my experience you are much better off seeking something a little more psychologically rigorous. Leadership trainers, or workplace councillors, or similar may be able to help.

Not the scarecrow

I have proof positive that I have a brain. I mean, I was always confident I actually had one, but there is something very reassuring about being able to see it in black and white. This picture was produced as part of an MRI I had earlier this week, which was part of a study into pain.

I volunteered to be a part of this great study as one of those “without chronic pain” which will help the clever scientists work out what the brain is actually doing to those poor people suffering chronic limb pain. Chronic pain is just so dreadful, so debilitating. I suffered a little nine years ago with nerve pain in my back, my leg and foot which resulted in surgery to relieve it. I was one of the lucky ones, pain-free the morning after surgery.

It is little wonder that so many people who suffer from chronic pain get themselves to a point where life is just too difficult and everything is completely coloured by their condition. Sensation discrimination is a little different for left-handers than right handers which is interesting. Lets face it, it’s all interesting isn’t it? We know so little about what pain actually is, and what the brain does in the process of convoluting those impulses, so it was really exciting to be a part of the study.

My amazingly strong bride can abseil down thirty storey buildings and walk the Kakoda Track, neither of which I could do, so it was cool to be able to do something she could not. Sticking your head into an MRI tunnel for thirty minutes is not for everyone. I am so glad we have brilliant researchers looking into this stuff. This sort of study will truly change lives.


Code words I should have understood


My council has a little catch phrase they attach to all correspondence, you know the type “Serving our community” or the like. I suspect when they were creating it, they were conscious of the need to fit it on one line, and therefore it is in ant writing. So tiny, that when i first saw it, I simply wrote it off as nonsense. This one is a little word heavy and it fooled me so I thought I would share my stupidity with you. It reads “A vibrant united community with a sustainable economy. An area where rural character, community safety and lifestyle are preserved.”

Now clearly this is written in code! I should have seen this from the start. The economy is not sustainable, the council’s current single biggest focus is in raising the rates to incredible levels, reportedly somewhere between 70% and 100%, because it is currently not sustainable. With the empty shops in their main street, I can clearly see the economy is not thriving. This beautiful little town nestled in the hinterland could only be viewed as vibrant if you were the wee hermit in the mountains and came to town once a month to do your shopping. Sleepy would be a more apt description. I like sleepy, but lets call it for what it is.

It is the second sentence that should have sent the message to me. Anytime a council is preserving anything it is clearly code for resistance to change, slippery pole politics and any other nonsense they can speak of to reduce new thinking. Let alone the terms rural character and safety.  So if they can’t get you by citing preservation of lifestyle then surely safety and preservation of rural character are cover-all statements that are irrefutable arguments against everything.

New building is not going to work, new thinking, experimenting, new ideas, no, none of that is going to be possible under this catch-all. How dare you even suggest they might be restricting their own horizons, limiting their capacity for growth, stymying input, committing economic vandalism. How could you even suggest such a thing. Oh wait, that’s right, you’re from the city aren’t you.

People from the city wouldn’t understand. People from the city don’t know beauty, or quiet. People from the city don’t know what its like. Whatever it is. People from the city it would seem, are hell-bent on ruining everything. Out out damn spot.

You just have to know the code.

My first field day

I am getting excited. Our Development Application is very close to being finalised which means the end (or the beginning) is in sight. New driveways and new buildings are not too far away now. This weekend there is a field day local to our property. I have never been to one and I can’t wait.

Farm machinery, animals, people, dust and country air, are all just one more sleep away. The last six months have been an emotional roller-coaster watching the local council waft from one position to the next on every facet of this very modest construction. Rightly or wrongly they hold the view that no new building should be able to be seen in profile, which is difficult when we own what is effectively the top of a mountain.

Sadly my bride wont be coming along as she has some HUGE work commitments on the day and she doesn’t want to miss her football team playing the next day, so I’m travelling solo. I will let you know how it goes!