Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My teaching is done here

'What is necessary for the public realm is to shield it from the private interests which have intruded upon it in the most brutal and aggressive way'
--Hannah Arendt, c. 1973 

Oh, that Hannah Arendt were alive today and enduring the 21st century tertiary education sector. The above quote is attributed to a speech she gave at a Columbia University conference on the topic of 'Private Rights and Public Good' (see 'Quote of the Week', Hannah Arendt Center, Bard College, 1 October 2012). As 2013 closes and 2014 approaches, I am 'retiring' from teaching and aspects of that decision are tinged with regret while in other ways it comes with huge relief. 

Closing the office door, December 2013
For me, 2014 will largely be a year away from the classroom, for the first time in about fifteen years in this instance, and a career that began in the English conversation classes in Japan in 1984. There is a family legend that at the end of my first year of Harbord Public School in Sydney I sat down with my grandmother and decided then at the age of five going on six, that I would become a teacher. I recall my grandmother's encouraging words about my decision, mainly for the holidays and pay. In the intervening years, everything I did was directed towards that goal: my choice of university was based on an innovative (for then) joint Bachelors/DipEd program over four years. 

As I completed each level of education so too did my aspirations of teaching level: in primary school I wanted to be a primary school teacher like Mrs Day or Miss Turner; at high school I imagined myself teaching my two passions, Japanese and biology; at university I learnt the state education department had rather strict guidelines about teaching combinations and Japanese and biology didn't fit into the pro forma arts/humanities OR science/maths requirements. At the entry point to university, I had to choose between Science and Japanese...we know which way that choice went. 

I surprised myself in the mid-1980s when the first thoughts of becoming an 'academic' began to emerge. Not ever really the done thing for a kid from my side of the tracks...'bit above yer station isn't it?' as some were wont to say. But pursue an academic road (albeit rocky at times) I did and here I be...(as some are wont to say). 

I have gained far more than I could have ever imagined from what seems to be a life of teaching. There are no greater rewards than seeing students have their 'light bulb' moment. I've been privileged witness to students who eyes have seemingly lit up upon 'getting it'; guiding them through those 'big questions' of politics and philosophical prognostications. As with most 'teachers', my students have remained constant sources of inspiration and learning for me too. 

1. Teaching and knowledge gathering could be collegial
Cai Guo-Qiang, Heritage, 2013; QAGOMA. Author pic
However, as Arendt identified forty years earlier, the intrusions on the public education sector are such that I can no longer be the teacher I want to be nor can I be the teacher I know I can and should be. The moments of 'dread', though few, outweigh the magic moments to the point that it is better I take off my teacher's mask. The autonomy of the academic has been under attack for some time. The 'value' of academic contribution is now determined by quantitative formulae which privilege big prestigious grants; it is determined by a demeaning competitive race for 'tier one' journals and publishers regardless of the genuine merit. The collegial approach of the academy which once sought to pursue knowledge for knowledge's sake, to question, to ponder, to think, is now condemned by and large, to compete against each other to earn a faux prestige...as a number of sincere colleagues have noted, the emperor truly has no clothes. Or, as some might see it, there seems to be a privileging of mediocrity in the academy (and I am simply not sufficiently mediocre).

2. But now feels like this...a pack of wolves
Cai Guo-Qiang, Head On, 2006; QAGOMA.
Author pic, 2013.
We are therefore made to contrive research projects which become complex and complicated and expensive beyond all necessity. In recent years, as I have reluctantly given in to 'playing the game', I have tried individually and in an even more contrived 'research group' to get on the funding merry-go-round. Inevitably I fall off because my research consists largely of sitting, reading, thinking, translating and writing. It is not the the sort of research which requires annual funding of five or six figures on high rotation. Indeed, I have estimated that my annual research budget would require less than the fortnightly salary of a typical vice-chancellor. There is much waste in research funding and distribution...a courageous education minister would stand on the brakes to purge the sector of the neoliberalism which has poisoned our path to expanding our knowledge universe. A redistribution of funding according to need and not ambition could in fact result in far greater knowledge outcomes than our contrived system extrudes. Counterintuitive to the bean counters I guess. 

I am taking time out in 2014 to research, write and think. I have the safety net of a teaching-free semester followed by long service leave, and I am grateful that I am in that position to do so (though it has come as a result of too many hours teaching...it's a kind of performance management thing in fact so it is imperative I 'perform' in other ways next year). 

But I see this as the end of teaching in any formal way for me. As I reach the half-century with no prospect of career advancement, I have made that decision, as difficult as it is for me to do so; as difficult as it has been for one who has envisioned a career of teaching and learning for most of my life. There is disappointment but also anticipation of what might be ahead. I have much to write about: on Australia-Japan relations, on Northeast Asian security, on Japanese adventurers of 120 years ago and on Hannah Arendt, a new project for 2014 which will explore evil, brutality and our human condition. I have wanted to return to Arendt's work since being introduced to her thought as a wide-eyed undergraduate some 30 years ago by a lecturer whose key tool was passion...what goes around... Arendt's work has been on my shelf ever since, bubbling away in the subconscious, knowing but not knowing; one day seeking understanding. 

I think I may have found a way to understand the emotions emergent in the Thai-Burma railway experiences as exemplified in two recent interpretations: the movie The Railway Man and the novel by Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North. It won't cost much financially, but hopefully it will add to our understanding of who we are and why we, as humanity, do what we do. It is a timely confluence of events, and decades of research and thinking I've done on various topics, nothing more. It may be the one 'big work' that, as a naive undergraduate, I once imagined that was what one did. 

I look forward with eagerness and trepidation to the challenge as I step outside the formal institutional structure. Outside that structure there remains a space where these things an be explored and discussed and I am grateful for the opportunities provided through the blog and twitterspheres...and other media. I will have more time for this blog and I look forward to that.

Arguably, the public university is effectively dead...we need to see it for what it is, quasi-public-private 'partnership' with the authority weighted heavily in the wrong elements. The public realm remains, just not at the university. I remain committed to upholding the value of the public realm, but for now, my teaching here is done. 

See you in the new year. Cheers, and thanks for being interested.






Saturday, November 16, 2013

CarrRudded: The sound of our 44th parliament

Men in general judge more by the sense of sight than by the sense of touch, because everyone can see but few can test by feeling. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few know what you really are; and those few do not dare take a stand against the general opinion. 
Niccolò MachiavelliThe Prince

KRudd resigns : bloggers blog

And so, on the evening of Wednesday 13 November 2013, Mr Rudd resigned...and we have now all blogged about it. Well, blog we must, and here is my contribution to the record. 

Not so quiet now, the local paper seeks out
 the member for Griffith
Southeast Advertiser October 2013
Those of you who have read my previous posts about Kevin Rudd will know that I take something of a 'view from Griffith' approach. That is, I am a constituent of this electorate. Not only that, I hope to bring to my view a slightly different take on my local member, as one who shares a similar educational and background (Asian Studies), a short stint in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as one whose profession it is to observe politics at its very heart and one who has, over some two decades or so encountered elements of the Rudd career trajectory via his report into studying Asian languages from the early 1990s, to encounters in federal parliament when I worked for a Queensland senator, to active constituent in electorate events. It is an interesting mix.

Mr Rudd, as we know, was re-elected as the member for Griffith in September. He regained his seat on the back of second preferences and had a 5% swing against him. Interesting that his swing went against him, while Labor candidates in neighbouring electorates had swings towards them...we good burghers of Griffith had mixed feelings methinks. In looking over the individual booth results (ah, yes, I do that sort of thing...occupational hazard of psephologists everywhere), I noted with interest that my local booth was one of the few in the electorate to show an increase in first preferences since the previous election...but I digress. 

At Troy Bramston's book launch,
in the electorate, 16 March 2013, the
prime ministerial ambition burned then.
There was a sense on the day of the election that, frankly, we were likely to head to a by-election within months, perhaps weeks, despite assurances otherwise. That may have gone some way to explaining that interesting swing against. In the event of the ALP losing government, it was highly unlikely Mr Rudd would stick around to go back from whence he came--an opposition back bencher. 

Those of us not playing in the ALP pick-a-leader playground for the month after the election were getting a little frustrated that the 'Rudd reform' of the party was dragging out over a month while a new government with wobbly training wheels was afforded an almost scrutiny-free month to settle in. All eyes were on the Shorten-Albanese sideshow. Meanwhile, our local member went on a two-week holiday overseas with family to rest and recover. Well, fair enough I suppose. Dr Glasson went back to his surgery. 

After a long, long wait, the 44th Parliament opened at the beginning of this week with all the pomp and ceremony that accompanies that. It is an exciting and deserved time for new members and territory senators (other new senators will join next July...). It is when the first (or maiden) speeches begin...each new member rising for the first time in this place to put on the record, in Hansard, their aspirations, their dreams, their political philosophy, their reason for being there in this place...first speeches are truly a joy to read. They are each and every member and senator at their most heartfelt (well, mostly). 

I was driving home after a long day at work (nine hours of exam workshops), listening to some of the first speeches replayed on the radio; the reactions of family, friends and communities to their new members, particularly the more prominent ones, the ones with high public profiles and even higher expectations. 

And so, it was not surprising on this important evening to hear the breaking news that Kevin Rudd, the member for Griffith, the immediate past prime minister, sometime foreign minister, opposition leader etc, was entering the chamber to announce his resignation from parliament. There were the usual paeans to family and colleagues on both sides of the House; the emotion-filled first draft at establishing one's legacy in what had really been a rather tumultuous few years; the speech of one who polarised his party, the Cabinet, his constituents. Members from both sides rose to offer valediction...he had been prime minister, twice, after all. 

By the time I reached the outskirts of Brisbane, the radio was abuzz and 612ABC's Rebecca Levingston and producer Lachie Mackintosh were in full-on live coverage mode. By 8.05, it was my turn to contribute and so from the car park of the home of the whopper (I had to pull off the main road) I had a chat with Rebecca about the by-election, what is to come and what of the member for Griffith's legacy. 

Former Senator Bob Carr had announced just a few weeks ago that he intended to retire from the Senate, his decision to remain as an 'elder statesman' was merely 'irrational exuberance'. While it came as little surprise, the resignation was met with the usual cynicism that is the public's response to our parliamentarians. The resignation of a senator doesn't require a by-election in the same way the resignation of a member of the House of Representatives requires (notwithstanding what is about to unfold over in Western Australia). 

The public, by and large, do not like unnecessary by-elections (well, I don't mind the opportunity to go all psephologist again of course). The resignations of Messrs Rudd and Carr though, call into question the vocation of politics. What these resignations suggest to the public is that some politicians, given the privilege to represent constituents in the highest of democratic institutions, mistake the purpose of politics to be beyond self-interest and self-aggrandisement. And it is here, dear reader, that I think we arrive at the nub of our broken contract (yes, this post was always going to return to my Kantian rhythms...). Not all the action happens on the front bench, in question time, on the evening news...places where those who seek very public acclamation play out their game plan. Unfortunately, the very public expectations nowadays now put the emphasis on the 'game', on the superficial over substance. 

What is wrong with being a 'backbencher'? Nothing actually, indeed the backbench is a vastly underrated space from where a parliamentarian can make a huge difference to the lives of individuals, their constituents, case-by-case. Some do that very well. Some indeed, satisfy themselves career-wise with the focus on the micro, rather than macro. There are committees as well, where a backbencher can channel their efforts to craft and influence the legislative process, quite out of the spotlight. Indeed, perhaps our politics has reached its nadir because high-profile and experienced politicians find the work of a backbencher mere drudgery. Indeed, it was my former Minister who is attributed with coining the expression 'relevance deprivation syndrome', and in doing so, he gave the 'pass-out' for others who have followed in his footsteps, the justification for the departure they feel they deserve. 

I'm not suggesting that all elected members should remain in parliament forever. But the position of parliamentarian shouldn't be seen as a stepping stone to a second or third career. Our polity can only benefit from the experience that experienced politicians can offer, whether from the government or opposition backbenches, our parliament can thrive on a judicious mix of youthful idealism and hardened experience. 

It is something I hope they think about. 

In closing, as I write, we good Griffith burghers are none the wiser over likely candidates, probable dates (sometime in the new year) and our new member. The insurmountable dialectical polarity of Kevin will be likely be his lasting legacy in the end. Triggering a by-election in these circumstances will ensure that. Seeing out the current term at least, as mundane as it might have been, might have gone some way, just a little, towards repairing that ailing social contract of ours. 




Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Me on twitter: who'd have thought...

'Dare to know [sapere aude]' 
Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment

I was asked to give a presentation today, on twitter...me, yes me. Now a few of you will be laughing, or L[Y]AO as we say in the twitterverse...but present I did. My university has been promoting Open Access Week and as part of that one of our librarians asked me to offer a few pointers about twitter and research. Well I wasn't sure about that. My twitter account started as an adjunct to my research but it has turned out to be so much more and nearly all for good. How might I compact all that into ten minutes? 

We thought it best to simply show by example and get my twitter page up and walk people through it. It didn't occur to me to formalise it in anyway until I tweeted about what I was doing. A couple of tweeps, including Belinda (@zimgrrrl) said they'd like to *read* my paper...oops, paper, what paper? 

So here is the post I promised. I'm post-teaching, almost post-marking and I've missed my regular writing so thanks @zimgrrrl, here we go. 

One of my early posts was about how and why I ended up on twitter, by accident and reluctantly. I don't engage with any other social media platforms (Facebook etc) and it took about 18 months between starting up the account in 2010 before I really took to it and began to appreciate its value and potential. Yes, the plan was to use it to gather information and clues for my research in Australian and Japanese politics, follow accounts that related to that and probably remain somewhat passive, a 'lurker' as they might say. After all, it's not as if I would have all that much to say and in just 140 characters...

What I came to appreciate very quickly with twitter was the importance of 'engagement'. Simply sitting on the sidelines seemed to be almost cheating...leaving others to do all the hard work while I was simply reaping the benefits. I eventually got up the courage to make my account public and began to offer a few comments, a few responses. Dare to know? Dare to engage, more like it and doing so has added layers to my academic contributions but also, as many of us on twitter find, I think, just added layers to life in general. 

Connecting via twitter has given me the opportunity to trial and develop research ideas with a wide range of people. It has prompted this blog (something I never imagined I would do!). Writing a blog has returned me to the 'routine' of writing and articulating ideas. That can happen because tweeps begin an exchange with me about something from a Japanese source that I might retweet; it might come from a comment I make about the topic of the day; it might come from a simple 'thought bubble' I put out in the twitterverse to gauge a reaction. It is a concrete way to get ideas down in a print form in a way that might not necessarily happen with a passing comment in the corridor at work...yet so many tweets can be just that, a passing comment but someone might catch it and a dialogue begins. I now use this and one or two other blogging spaces to write up first drafts of articles and next year, a book or two I'm working on. 

I'm endeavouring to use twitter as part of my teaching practice. I use twitter to link articles of interest to students in my politics and Japanese classes. These links in turn, generate conversations and tute discussions and hopefully, access to materials with a sense of immediacy sometimes needed in politics. That element is still a work-in-progress.

There is the inevitable question, as an academic with twitter training wheels: just what is the right balance between academy seriousness and alter-ego? For me, a funny thing happened on my initial excursions in the twitterverse which shifted my perceptions, and my approach quite dramatically: a tweet about a storm on the SunCoast to 612ABC (which I stream at work to keep up with the politics of the day). Something about the tweet caught the eye of the Drive presenter Tim Cox, we had a chat about it--on air--and the rest, as they say, well, you know what they say. 

In other words, my timid beginnings on twitter have expanded beyond 'for research purposes only' to a wider 'media' exposure which, for an academic in my field at my university (which is unable to support my research endeavours in any substantial way), has diversified and exposed my work in ways I can't get through the more orthodox peer-reviewed journal pathway. It is not an either/or situation of course, the journal articles and books must appear too; however, twitter has provided a platform for disseminating my work to a broader audience and an audience that, in many ways, I think is more important to speak to about my line of work. 

The presenters and producers at 612ABC Brisbane (and ABC Gold and Sunshine Coasts) have been extraordinarily generous in this regard. 612ABC has a great twitter following and from that, my twitter engagement is further enhanced by the group we call the #612tweepsters, a number of whom I have met in real life and we offer a great support network on and off twitter. Similarly, I engage with a group of tweepsters throughout Australia and the world on a range of topics. It is like a virtual barbecue gathering, shifting in and out of conversations. 

There are the usual cautions and potential pitfalls on twitter as there are with other forms of social media but I've found a carefully curated following/followers list can skirt some of the more unpleasant aspects. I aim for a diversity of views and opinions because it matters for me as a political scientist that my views don't get caught in echo chambers. 

Once I got started, it was hard to keep my enthusiasms to ten minutes today. I have certainly surprised myself. In sum, yes we can use twitter as an innovative research tool but I think to get the most out of it we must also engage with it. To do that, we have inject a little of our own personality too, and not be afraid to do so. In that respect, the information I put in my twitter-bio is quite important; it's taken a bit of tweaking, but it indicates the range of interests--work and play-- you are likely to encounter on my timeline. 

Having said that, I am conscious of my public profile and the responsibility that comes with being an employee of a public institution. I wouldn't say anything on twitter that I wouldn't be prepared to say to my vice chancellor if I found myself having to explain a 'rogue' tweet. It's a simple observing of common sense really. 

I was asked a question at the end--where do I find the time to engage like this on twitter? Actually, I hadn't really thought about that and I don't know how much time I really spend on twitter. In the end, I said I don't have a TV which seems to give me some extra time that others might not. I don't know, I might have to rethink that. 

I have to thank my Politics and Media class of 2010 and in particular, Todd Winther (@toddocracy), a USC graduate and now Griffith Uni PhD candidate in political science, for getting me here. His guest lecture back then about this 'new' social media platform was instrumental setting me up. He is in no way responsible for the 34,000 tweets that have happened since (well, maybe some, but not all).  (^o^)/*

So that is today's presentation in a nutshell Belinda. Hope it helps, and let me know if you'd like to continue the convo, via twitter of course!







Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Juggling elections...

Election day, 2010
Japan's Upper House election: why does it matter?



I've managed to time my annual research trip to Japan to coincide with the Upper House election in Tokyo in 21 July. Well, it's a little borderline, classes actually start on 22 July this year. Oh well, I consider it good up-to-date material to present...

Of course, currency with my field of teaching is just one reason why I like to make a regular trip to Japan. This time however, the outcome of the Japanese election could be quite important. Should the Liberal Democratic Party win a majority in the House of Councillors (a weaker version of the Australian Senate) then it will have the numbers to make major changes to the 1947 Constitution. This could have serious ramifications for the region. 
Candidates board, 2010

The incumbent Prime Minister Abe is said to be keen to 'take care if some national security business left unfinished' when he left office last time (Asahi Shimbun editorial, 8 July 2013). The proposed changes to the Constitution might lead to a stronger military interpretation of Article 9.

There are a couple of other reasons though why this election might be interesting from an Australian point of view. In Prime Minister ABE Shinzo, we have a former prime minister returning for a second go after being humbled out of office six years ago. PM Abe is building a high profile on social media using both twitter and facebook. Indeed, this is the first election where previously strict rules governing use of media have been somewhat relaxed. A number of politicians and candidates have taken up twitter as have their supporters. People still angry with the fallout from Fukushima are active users of twitter and have run a strong high profile campaign. The twitter map below (courtesy of BillioMedia and Asahi Shimbun) show tweets about nuclear energy outweigh others which include tweets about the internet and campaigning, economic policy and 'Abenomics'.
Mapping tweets... (Source: Asahi Shimbun)

We will also be watching the outcome of electronic voting.

Of course, all eyes will be on Abe as he negotiates his second term at PM, not unlike the political situation here in Australia. In a fit of party reform some years ago, the LDP also shifted its voting system for party president (who then becomes party leader/prime minister) to incorporate rank and file party members to be included in the voting process. This was also seen as trying to open up the party to its broader membership.

I will also be watching with interest how successful women candidates will be this time around. There are some high profile women in the Upper House and their success or otherwise will also tell us much about the current state of Japanese politics. Women have been quite prominent across a number of issues in Japan especially around Fukushima, nuclear power and the future health of their children. How will this translate to voting intention and voting outcome.

Engaging young people in the process is also key. One of the more high profile candidates, actor Yamamoto Taro, has been attracting large crowds to his stump speeches around Tokyo, I hope to see some of this activity over the next few days. Voting is not compulsory in Japan, unlike Australia. The activities of younger, charismatic candidates like Yamamoto are generating a new level of engagement.

Much is to be anticipated in this election for Japan. I look forward to reporting from the frontline next week.







Sunday, July 7, 2013

The view from here: Griffith in 2013 (2.0 in a series)

I could not stand idly by...

The good burghers of Griffith find themselves being represented by the nation's prime minister again. Kevin Rudd has made the comeback he clearly thought he had to make to save the nation from a Tony Abbott-led government, or so he determined. I discussed the events as they unfolded on 26 June over at the twelvepastsix blog. 


The local paper (cheekily) sums it up.
We've been enduring a rather questionable period in our nation's politics, and it is now well beyond the apathy v. distrust questions which triggered this blog originally. 

There has been an underlying visceral combativeness that has not advanced our public discourse. In a forthcoming post, I will look more closely at the speech Kevin Rudd made on the day. This passage of politics has been a most interesting example of the intersection between politicians and the media, both social and 'mainstream'. There are elements of his speech which had me raising my eyebrows. How do I as a political scientist explain with conviction to students that when a politician says no, they mean no, but later on they actually didn't mean that. There are many examples. 

In the same vein, much was also said about the contrast in the speeches given by Julia Gillard on the day too...there is perhaps a deeper feminist analysis to be made there. 

The Saturday following the change in leaders, the street corners here in the electorate of Griffith were again populated by volunteers cheering on Mr Rudd's key challenger, the LNP's Bill Glasson. Of course, for Dr Glasson, he has gone from challenging a former prime minister and backbencher to back to challenging the incumbent Prime Minister. 

This will be interesting. Perhaps ordinarily, a challenger might say that the prime minister will be too busy to focus on the local issues. Kevin Rudd, however, since his first attempt at gaining the seat in 1996 (he failed at the first attempt; we should never underestimate his tenacity, he came back in 1998...and succeeded). 

There is an element of the analysis about Mr Rudd that he is loved by the public and loathed by his party. In the years I've been observing him, as a constituent and resident political tragic/analyst, and asking around the neighbourhood, Kevin Rudd is a very good local campaigner. He donates bikes to schools, he established awards for language students, he famously led a charge against the new runway at Brisbane Airport. In his speeches to Parliament, he rarely missed an opportunity to talk about his school visits, his constituent enquiries and so on. His relationship with the local paper has been, we might say, 'symbiotic' and his 'Rudd Report' a regular feature. 

I've met him as a constituent; I've engaged with him professionally. I've seen the two sides to Kevin from Queensland. For all the discussion about the public wanting Kevin Rudd as prime minister, of course, our political system means that it will be up to the good burghers of Griffith  (as he is wont to call us from time-to-time) to determine whether or not he will continue as a federal representative. He holds Griffith by a margin of about 8%. Since its establishment in 1934, it has swung reasonably evenly between the two major parties. At the 2010 election, Kevin Rudd suffered a 9% swing against on first preferences, and almost 4% on two-party preferred calculations. Most of that first preference swing went to the Greens candidate Emma-Kate Rose.

Bill Glasson comes to the electorate with a reasonably high media profile as a prominent ophthalmologist and president of the AMA. He has spent much of this year, so far, on the streets and on street corners. His team is visible...on a  Saturday morning. 

Until last week, one might have expected a similar set of figures across a similar range of candidates. The Greens will no doubt stand another candidate (they've been consistent there) and we will no doubt see a range of people putting up their hands to 'have a go' against the prime minister. 

As a psephologist, I've always been hesitant to make a 'prediction'. Certainly, I like to dig down deep into the figures: the votes cast at individual polling places, for example, and I always vote at the same polling place, simply to gauge a 'mood'. The people in the neighbourhood who have previously voted for Rudd are divided over his return to the prime ministership and the manner in which it happened. Three years ago, they were pretty annoyed at how he lost the prime ministership. 

At present, the battlelines are being drawn on the street corners of Griffith each Saturday morning. We, the burghers of Griffith, are acutely aware that the spotlight is back here and that it will be our vote that returns the 'people's PM' or offer up a Maxine McKew in Bennelong experience. That is, might the challenger defeat the incumbent PM. 

It is a different set of circumstances to those of 2007. Of the 90,000 or so of us enrolled to vote here, about 84,000 or so of us cast a formal vote (about 92% turnout on average). 35,445 went Kevin's way last time on first preferences. The previous LNP candidate garnered 28,784. There was quite a strong Greens vote last time (12,378 or about 15%). There's work to be done on all sides. It will be an interesting place to go about the usual business on a Saturday morning between now and the election. 

We'll keep you updated at this spot...





Saturday, May 11, 2013

On community (in memory of Chas Bromley)

James 'Chas' Bromley

The value of community, and the beauty of the symphony.*

*This post was written in the hours after I learnt of Chas's passing on 10 May 2013. By special request, I have added the full text of 'Chas Bromley: reflection in lieu of a eulogy' read at his service on 21 May 2013, for and of behalf of his family, Jenny, Lyndon, Emma, Hannah and their families. I thank everyone for the privilege. 

“Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt” 
― Immanuel KantCritique of Pure Reason


One of my best mates died last night. Cancer. It has that habit of picking off the good ones too soon. 

[By inexplicable coincidence, as I write, ABC Classic is playing Ron Hanmer's Pastorale (Blue Hills), recorded by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. My mate Chas played in the Orchestra, a flautist and piccolo player. Ron Hanmer was the man in charge of the St Lucia Orchestra, where I play now. Chas knew Ron, he played in the SLO while waiting for his gig at the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (which he got in 1985).]

Chas was one of those people whose appearance on your life's path can be most unexpected but one of the most transformative. Chas was a professional musician in symphony orchestras and an army musician before that. Unassuming, self-deprecating, fisherman, family man and passionate and patient advocate of the power of the community orchestra. In doing so, he broke down the stereotypes of the aloof classical musician and encouraged many of us to not be afraid to accept the challenge of the beauty of the symphony (just not 20th century music, thank you; about which I disagreed with him later...). 

My first encounter with Chas goes back to 1997 when my community band (of adult starters mind you, 60 people who had only just started to play a year or so earlier) learnt that 'one of the players from the QSO was going to be our conductor'. The thought of us being conducted by such a professional led to much nervous anxiety...why would an orchestral musician want to spend his nights conducting a bunch of amateurs, not just that, but mostly beginners? 

Therein though, lay Bromley's charm. On the first night, this unassuming bloke in jeans and thongs turned up, introduced himself and took us through the grade 2 level music we had just become comfortable playing. He was fast, he was exacting, he wanted the best from us, as much as we could give. He had a strong belief that 'amateur' players could play some of the great pieces of the repertoire. 

Gradually, he introduced playable arrangements of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, military band arrangements of his favourite British music. He loved playing music from the movies. He opened up the possibilities for appreciating music of all types, all levels. He had that rare gift of being an educator without even trying, he taught us so much through conveying his love and passion for his craft. He didn't think there was anything we couldn't do. 

Perhaps the Redlands Bands greatest moment under his baton was the year the whole group got together to perform a 'tattoo' style performance on the streets of Cleveland (Brisbane bayside, not the US). Yes, closing down streets, marching bands, performances from all bands in the group culminating in a combined band and orchestra performance of the 1812 Overture, with actual canons...And us, a community group. He believed we could do it...it happened entirely on the back of his belief in us to achieve it.

He encouraged us to come and listen to the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, which we did. Now, I had been attending many of the Ferry Road concerts, the 'meet the composer'-type concerts for some years. To me, going there was much less intimidating than going to a concert hall to hear a symphony...I just didn't think someone like me could do that. I didn't 'know' anything about 'serious' music. 
But Chas broke down those barriers. A few free tickets initially drew me in. The subscriptions and involvement in the old Friends of the QSO group and so on followed naturally. It has been a marvellous informal education about the beauty of the symphonic repertoire, and even 20th century music. 

 He taught me how to 'listen' to an orchestra, how to discern just one instrument out of the whole for that fleeting moment and then hear it again as part of the whole. He taught us not to be afraid of blowing the wrong note. He introduced many of the players to us through having them play with us in our concerts. Gosh, the anxiety of having the QSO's principal bass clarinettist sit next you for a concert. But like Chas, so many of his colleagues were equally at ease with themselves and their willingness to play with us. The privilege of knowing them has made attending a concert as comfortable and natural as sitting down to read a book. I have learnt much about musicianship (and all the gossip) thanks to so many of you. 

He said I should play in an orchestra...not likely I thought. Absolutely, he said. And that's how I ended up in the St Lucia Orchestra. His enthusiasm and encouragement led me to undertake a graduate certificate in Arts and Entertainment Management one year. He loved to spend my money on getting instruments and music. On one of our music-buying days, he said it was time I bought an A clarinet to pair with my Bb and bass clarinet...since I needed it to play some of the orchestral repertoire. I'd been caught out with him like this before and just managed to resist. So, in the shop, I was very specific. Alright, I said, if they have the Buffet E11 A clarinet to match my Bb, I will. Music shops can carry a whole range of clarinets...damn, this day, this shop had that specific one. I lost...but I think he knew the shop carried it by the way he chuckled as I parted with my money. 

Chas 'retired' from the QSO just after the merger between the QSO and the Queensland Philharmonic happened. It was not pleasant. I just wish the bean counters who make these 'efficiency-driven' decisions could stop and reflect from time-to-time on the damage they cause as they ride their whirlwind of cuts and slashes. Their decisions involve people and their lives, their raison d'être. Chas never really wanted to say so, but I could tell the way he was discarded hurt enormously. 

In my job as an academic and his as musician, we shared many things in common as far as working in traditional, structured institutions goes. Universities and orchestras are hierachically-driven organisations. They are also organisations full of creative, passionate people completely engaged in their crafts, be it a flute player or violist, a scientist dedicated to the fruit fly, a political scientist intrigued by the machinations of 1893 Queensland. Such people are drawn to these organisations as the complete antithesis of the corporation. There is not much flexibility in the corporatised orchestra or the university. Chas was a man who could have, should have been a principal player...but wasn't. Externally, we are too quick to judge the value of a player, a teacher, by their title, not their actions. The corporation likes titles. 

Chas was a musician first and foremost, with all the drive, temperament and self-centredness that can come with that. We all forgave him a lot sometimes. But he also showed that the community also mattered and that making music together was one of life's important things...just because we could.  

Much is made of professional sports stars when they get out into 'the community' to do their bit. Chas was a professional musician who didn't need to play out in the community, but he did and in doing so enriched the lives of many for whom 'classical' music was 'too hard'. He showed us how to love it. The community band always mattered. 

I have missed his presence in the Orchestra for a while now, but others are there to listen to and enjoy...no really listen...that's what he taught me, do more than just listen. 'And listen to the dynamics' he would say, the 'soft' and 'loud' of music. I work very hard at that, for him and for the music. 

I will miss his self-deprecation and our competitions to 'out-deprecate' each other given our respective occupations. I shall miss his encouragement to keep playing until you can't play anymore. He did that, his flute was never far away. And he played beautifully. 

Chas was always the much anticipated cadenza in my otherwise ordinary life. He played like a principal, even if he wasn't one. 

Thank you Chas Bromley. Your music and belief in the ordinary, common garden-variety community player will sustain us for a long time. 

For his family and my friends, Jenny, Lyndon, Emma and Hannah and their families. 
~~~~~~~

'Uncross your legs and play your F and C for me' Bromley, conductor, to a band member c.1999. 

Chas was a stickler for etiquette. No-one was allowed to cross their legs during a performance, or a rehearsal. The 'F and C' were two notes that needed to be clearly articulated in a particular piece of music. He didn't realise his faux pas until we pointed it out to him...we never let him forget it.  


~~~~~~~~
Addendum


For Chas Bromley

Reflections in lieu of a eulogy

To Jenny, Lyndon, Emma, Hannah and your families; to Chas’s friends and colleagues, to all of us here today who have been touched in some way by Chas…

言いたいことありすぎて

(‘There are too many things I want to say’)

 
I thank you for the enormous privilege to stand here today to speak to you about Chas. It is both a privilege but also something I feel perhaps inadequate to really do justice to him. I cannot eulogise Chas in front of so many of you who have known him for 30 or 40 years or more, whose friendship with him dates to his days in the Qld Symphony Orchestra, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the ABC training orchestra, and perhaps even earlier in his army band days. I have known him a mere 15 years, a short time by comparison. Nor is this a eulogy in the usual sense; everything I have to say here today, Chas knew, it was the stuff of our conversations over the years.

I could regale his many stories, his experiences as he told them to us over the years. But I’m sure many of you here will have your own versions of the QSO’s northern tours, of conductors, of soloists. In the end, I thought it best that what happened on the train, stays on the train…as they say… (though I have seen the video…)

I think I am, however, able to talk about Chas Bromley, the inspiration to so many in community music and this part of his life that mattered as well.

My first encounter with Chas goes back to late 1997 when my community band (of adult starters mind you, 60 people who had only just started to play a year or so earlier) learnt that 'one of the players from the QSO was going to be our conductor'. The thought of us being conducted by such a professional led to much nervous anxiety...why would an orchestral musician want to spend his nights conducting a bunch of amateurs, not just that, but mostly beginners?

Therein though, lay Bromley's charm. On the first night, this unassuming bloke in jeans and thongs turned up, introduced himself and took us through the grade 2 level music we had just become comfortable playing. He was fast, he was exacting, he wanted the best from us, as much as we could give. He had a strong belief that 'amateur' players could and should play some of the great pieces of the repertoire.

Gradually, he introduced playable arrangements of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, military band arrangements of his favourite British music. He loved playing music from all of the movies, Dam Busters, for example. He opened up the possibilities for appreciating music of all types, all levels. He had that rare gift of being an educator without even trying, he taught us so much through conveying his love and passion for his craft. He had rich anecdotes for every piece we played. He didn't think there was anything we couldn't do.

Perhaps the Redlands Bands greatest moment under his baton was the year the whole group got together to perform a 'tattoo' style performance on the streets of Cleveland (Brisbane bayside, not the US). Yes, closing down streets, marching bands, performances from all bands in the group culminating in a combined band and orchestra performance of the 1812 Overture, with actual canons...And us, a community group. He believed we could do it...it happened entirely on the back of his belief in us to achieve it.

He encouraged us to come and listen to the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, which we did. Now, I had been attending many of the Ferry Road concerts, the ‘meet the composer’-type concerts for some years. To me, going there was less intimidating than to go to a concert hall to hear a symphony…I just didn't think someone like me could do that. I didn’t ‘know’ anything about ‘serious’ music.

But Chas broke down those barriers. A few free tickets initially drew me in. The subscriptions and involvement in the old Friends of the QSO group and so on followed naturally. It has been a marvellous, informal education about the beauty of the symphonic repertoire, and even 20th century music… He taught me how to 'listen' to an orchestra, how to discern just one instrument out of the whole for that fleeting moment—usually the second flute— and then hear it again as part of the whole. He taught us not to be afraid of blowing the wrong note. He introduced many of the players to us through having them play with us in our concerts. Gosh, the anxiety of having the QSO's principal bass clarinettist or contrabassoonist sit next you for a concert. But like Chas, so many of his colleagues were equally at ease with themselves and their willingness to play with us.

The privilege of knowing you has made attending a concert as comfortable and natural as sitting down to read a book. You welcomed me into the old Green Room; you’ve made sitting and listening to you in concert so much easier with familiar faces around. I love watching and listening, and indeed learning from all of you. I have learnt much about musicianship (and all the gossip) thanks to so many of you, through Chas.

One day, not long after the Cleveland ‘tattoo’, Chas said I should play in an orchestra...not likely I thought. Absolutely, he said. And that's how I ended up in the St Lucia Orchestra. His enthusiasm and encouragement led me to undertake a graduate certificate in Arts and Entertainment Management one year. He loved to spend my money on getting instruments and music. On one of our music-buying days, he said it was time I bought an A clarinet to pair with my Bb and bass clarinet...since I needed it to play some of the orchestral repertoire. I'd been caught out with him like this before and just managed to resist. So, in the shop, I was very specific. Alright, I said, if they have the Buffet E11 A clarinet to match my Bb, I will. Music shops can carry a whole range of clarinets...damn, this day, this shop had that specific one. I lost...but I think he knew the shop carried it by the way he chuckled as I parted with my money. He pointed to the Selmer tenor sax as we walked out the door and said, that one next…

Chas 'retired' from the QSO a few years after the merger between the QSO and the Queensland Philharmonic happened. It was not pleasant. I just wish the people, the ‘administrators’, who make these 'efficiency-driven' decisions could stop and reflect from time-to-time on the damage they cause as they ride their whirlwind of cuts and slashes. Their decisions involve people and their lives, their raison d'être. Chas never really wanted to say so, but I could tell the way he was ‘decommissioned’ hurt enormously. 

Chas was a musician first and foremost, with all the drive, temperament and self-centredness that can come with that. We all forgave him a lot sometimes. But he also showed that the community also mattered and that making music together was one of life's important things...just because we could.

Much is made of professional sports stars when they get out into 'the community' to do their bit. Chas was a professional musician who didn't need to play out in the community, but he did and in doing so enriched the lives of many for whom 'classical' music was 'too hard' or ‘too high culture’. He showed us how to love it. The community band always mattered. For the few years he and Jen lived at the Sunshine Coast, he conducted the SunCoast Symphony Orchestra, played in Margaret Taylor’s superb productions in Maleny and other opportunities as they arose.

Up at the Coast, he also spent a lot of time driving his tractor and cutting branches off trees…I worried he’d injure his hands…that didn’t seem to occur to him.

On the Saturday morning just after I received the news of his passing from Jenny—the news we knew would come one day, but never wanted to hear—by inexplicable coincidence, ABC Classic FM played Ron Hanmer's Pastorale (Blue Hills), recorded by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Ron Hanmer was, for many years, the man in charge of the St Lucia Orchestra, where I play now and Blue Hills is one of our ‘signature pieces’. Chas knew Ron, and even today we play arrangements Ron did for Chas in his time in the Orchestra. Thirty years later, mention of Chas’s name among many in the SLO lights up the faces of many of us, those times he returned to play with us mattered to us, mattered to him. It remains a mystery to me that a rank amateur like me could be seated in the back row among so many wonderful musicians. I’m there because Chas believed enough that I could.

I have missed his presence in the Orchestra for a while now, but I still go along to listen and to enjoy...no really listen...that's what he taught me, do more than just listen. 'And listen to the dynamics' he would say, the 'soft' and 'loud' of music. I work very hard at that, for him and for the music. I think of him every time the conductor up front of my bands shows just a touch of frustration when we don’t quite get the dynamics. I try really hard, really I do.

I will miss his self-deprecation and our competitions to out-do each other on that front given our respective occupations—institutionalised musicians and academics have a lot in common. I miss comparing notes on our aches and pains and medications. I shall miss his encouragement to keep playing until you can't play anymore. He did that, his flute was never far away. And he played beautifully, every time.

To Jenny, I want to thank you publicly too for your strength and your courage. Much of what I have had to say about Chas today would not have been so without you. To leave your home and your family in England to travel around the world, the work you’ve undertaken along the way in support of Bromley the musician, has been just as significant. Your generosity in welcoming amateur bands people unexpectedly into your home on a whim of Chas’s on Sunday afternoons, I thank you. Your strength and support for Chas since his diagnosis was first realised is inspirational. That you also had the joy and sadness of Scott, your first grandchild along the way… retirement wasn’t supposed to be like this. Now is your time though, and please don’t ever feel you can’t reach out to us, your friends, as you need to do so. The Bromley family is one I feel incredibly privileged to know and trust, and care for. Rarely did we not have a conversation where Chas mentioned you all, his love and his pride in who you are and what you have all achieved. Thank you.

Chas, farewell my friend. We miss your smile; I miss your skill in getting me to pay for the coffee and buying instruments I don’t deserve to own. I’ll miss your bragging about this week’s red wine bargains. I will miss your constant nagging about changing jobs and getting my life back…to spend more time practicing my scales and my music. I won’t miss you nagging me about clearing the leaves out of the gutters of my roof, but I promise I’ll get around to it…eventually. Chas you were, and remain, the inspirational cadenza in our lives. We shall remember you for so much.

In the relatively brief time I knew you, your musical life and belief in the ordinary, common garden-variety community player will always be with me, you instilled in us the confidence in ourselves you thought you didn’t have in yourself. Your gifts are immeasurable and for that, I can never thank you enough.

 

Donna Weeks

21 May 2013






Sunday, March 24, 2013

The view from here: Griffith in 2013 (no. 1.5 in a series)


So just when you though it was safe...

I don't think anyone was surprised by last Thursday's leadership shenanigans. I think many of us were surprised about the way they unfolded however. That's the disappointing aspect I think. 

In the washup, this has not ended leadership speculation. In my political lifetime/timeline, I have watched and witnessed Fraser/Howard/Peacock, Howard/Peacock, Hayden/Hawke, Hawke/Keating, Howard/Costello and now Rudd/Gillard. Perhaps it is a function of the egos at this level, what it becomes is a frustrating turn of events for voters of both sides. 

Anyway, with Kevin Rudd's 'declaration' that he will not, under any circumstances, contest the Labor leadership again, the focus of this series of posts as planned last week will change. I will take a few more days to review what I had ready to go this evening. 

I still think it is worth looking at the history of the seat and at Kevin Rudd's figures, as much as one can retrieve them from the data base. What I am now interested in though is the state electorate overlays. Rumours are already around that he might well be 'drafted' for the state premiership, to take on Campbell Newman and the LNP.

The seat of Griffith also covers prime inner city state seats including Greenslopes, Bulimba, Chatsworth, South Brisbane and Yeerongpilly. From the figures, we might be able to glean which of these seats might be his strongest bet, should he go that way. I shall rejig the posts to account for these changed circumstances. I will also be keeping my ears out in the local places to gauge the feeling of Mr Rudd's constituents. I'm expecting to see many more giveaway bikes and local media pieces.

The bigger lesson one draws from this however, is the sadness one feels as an observer and commentator and, as a voter, a participant in the political process. On one level this past week, what we witnessed was a sad corruption of process. The leadership struggles come across as nothing more than personal aggrandisement and selfish pursuit of power. This is not what our politics should be about. 

I couldn't help but fear this week that Hobbes might have been right...but the Kantian struggle continues regardless. Anon.