Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Category: Personal (page 2 of 19)

Blue Sky Mine : The Wittenoom Tragedy

Every time I hear Blue Sky Mine by Midnight Oil,  about the Wittenoom mining tragedy, I’m taken back in time.

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Asbestos Warning Sign

To 23 May 1988, to probably the saddest TV interview I have ever seen.

The interview featured on the ABC Four Corners episode called Blue Death.

Blue Death was about the Wittenoom tragedy in Western Australia which was built around a blue asbestos mine (hence the Midnight Oil song title).

Unfortunately, miners were exposed to asbestos and started becoming sick and dying.

Sadly, as this interview illustrated, they weren’t the only ones.

I can see her now. In a hospital bed being interviewed. Her thoughts are on the lingering death of her husband.

And in tears she says, “No-one should die like this.” Sadly that was her fate too.

Out of 20,000 workers and residents, over 2000 have died (See http://www.asbestosdiseases.org.au/the-wittenoom-tragedy.html).

Despite the authorities being aware of the dangers, they didn’t have the power to shut down the mine. Nor did the owners (CSR through its subsidiary Midalco)  itself comply (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CSR_Limited#Wittenoom_controversy ).

The Four Corners story was about the fate of miners and residents taking action against the company. The story stated that the company delayed legal action for as long as possible. In the hope that the litigants would not survive.

The most upsetting aspect to me was how the company stayed only focused on shareholder value only.

What worries me  is that this could happen again. And then I read and listened to this…Four degrees should be ok!

 

 

Everyone Failed Social Media : Except Mark Colvin

I knew Mark Colvin (and his kidney!) purely through Twitter! And sad at his loss.

I did read some of his interview transcripts: a gentle questioner able to get a better answer! But in the maelstrom that is Twitter, he came across as funny, intelligent, curious, never ever patronising, clever and subtle, a joy to read.

And his last tweet!!

I think every one failed social media except for Mark Colvin.

Learning Disagreement Skills

Go on, click the angry icon. Share the negative post or tweet.

Slip in and quickly criticise. Tell the other how they got it completely wrong.

They lack intelligence. Common sense. Logic.

Sit back and easily insult the unlike you.

They can’t even think. They’re Inhuman.  We should wipe them out.

Yes it’s so easy to disagree and oppose.  And easiest to offer no solution.

I thinking this as I read each tweet storm. And think even more as I click through each Facebook outbreak outrage.

I realise it is so familiar. For it was exactly the same as my experience.

For at quite close range and for quite a long time, I heard the same words for the same reason.

For to disagree, even silently through to mildly evoked white-hot anger.

Sometimes in despair, I joined in and fully embraced the proferred down spiral.

Until somebody asked, “So how did that work for you Andrew?”

I’d shake my head silent. I said no, it didn’t, it didn’t at all, it made things far worse.

“So what are you going to about it Andrew?”

(How can you make it better?).

There was the beginning of an answer.

I was learning disagreement skills.

Not the “let’s agree to disagree” cliche. That only suspended hostilities for now. And led to a ever widening DMZ!

Be silent Andrew.  Don’t interrupt the the other. Listen to the person behind the words.

Sit stock still Andrew. Don’t move and distract the other. Don’t insult them for not thinking like you.

For no-one thinks like you. Which is a wonderful thing! For everyone and you too.

Ask the question that goes beyond the question. Wait for the answer that reveals another’s truth. Not to you. To them.

Listen and bide your time, then you’ll find that it’s  the time. For the quiet and thoughtful ones to be heard.

Who speak without the intent of crushing free speech. Who speak and listen to encourage freedom of listening.

To enable those who accept truth without question (as you once did) to find their own. And others find theirs.

Otherwise it gets too dark when we all agree not to look for the light.

 

 

Freedom of Speech Doesn’t Exist

Freedom of speech belongs to the loud and aggressive.

Freedom of speech is their cacophony of voices shouting all at once.

Freedom of speech is their smothering words that silences all  other.

Freedom of speech is the preserve of  the crowd that excludes all but them.

Freedom of speech is not our freedom extended to the foreign other.

Freedom of speech is not  our freedom to accommodate a new point of view.

Freedom of speech belongs to  the true listening of the quiet and thoughtful, the ones crushed underfoot.

The Third Whisper Of Love

Safe between the cold clouds and their rain 
How can I ever want for heat again?
This warmth will always be enough for me
No longer tepid and lukewarm I'll be.

And to hold one breath and another
That is yours as our spirit melds together
Who would want ever to speak to be heard
When all is listening already and always?

Yet how can I ever be silent
When in you there is all that is yet to be said?
Yet when I speak from you I hear another
The voice one of a third infinite lover.

But not one that would rend us asunder
No that's earths unjust storm and thunder
It's a soft whisper louder than breath
Louder even than that last drawn before death

But this soft trill is no harbinger of hate 
No this quiet voice heralds love's true fate
Which is to salve and heal the solitary one
And weave together untorn two once alone

And much more like the quiet gardener still
Plant unkillable seeds, water, wait and till
And reap fully a love once merely finitely
That embraces all enjoined in an everlasting trinity.

The Happiest Dental Patient Ever

Was this the last one? I went to the surgery door and called his name.

He looked up at once. And his eyes twinkled at me. And he smiled as if he had been in last week! 

He walked in arms swinging by his sides as if it was too easy. Tall, thin and vaguely familiar. But he wasn’t on my books at all. He couldn’t be. He was a walk-in as far as I was concerned. 

I didn’t know him from elsewhere in this town. Today was just my second day. I still was remembering more important matters. Such as which room was mine, the name of the receptionists, where the autoclave was, in case my assistant forgot to bring in the instrument tray. Which saving my anxiety, she did.

But this guy! He swings into the chair like a test pilot promoted to astronaut! And I think to myself, is he another one too? Another professional? If he is he’s pretty confident in what we all do!

Unlike me. I make a bad patient. And I’m even worse, now that I lecture. And  worst of all, provide expert advice when things go badly. If it was me, I’d be jelly.

And I ask,”What can I do for you?”

He says, “Just a check-up, ma’am.”

And I laugh, and ask, “ma’am. No one says that anymore!”

He says as unbidden, he swallows, swishes and spits, “The school librarian made us say it.

And while he’s drawling, he puts on a posh accent, “Don’t call wimmen Miss, Ms, Mrs unless you know if they’re married or not. And she said never call them Madame. And never said why. Reckoned I worked out that one!  But our French teacher wouldn’t answer to anything else! Reckoned ma’am is the least worst thing to say. Yeah. no. It’s okay most times except when I say it to the really young girls. They hate it. They scowl at me and swear under their breath while they’re texting!!”

Between us the ice is broken. And it seems familiar somehow. I laugh, and ask, “What do you do?”

He said leaning back and opening wide, still talking like a Northern Texan, “Professional bludger. Tell people stuff they don’t need.Write documents no one ever reads. Better get started, eh?”

And that’s the giveaway. He’s from the deep north of Queensland like me. Even with his mouth wide open, he still makes each word twice as long like a native. And that “eh!” That’s a deadset giveaway right there! And then I laugh to myself. Sometimes I still lapse back, I think. Just because I shifted states.  Another lapse now too.

Meantime, the work begins. I peer into his mouth with my mirror and sickle probe. I check and call the numbers and state to my assistant who scribbles dutifully. He’s as patient as Job. Except a lot more silent!

I say, “There’s a small hole in your back molar. We could leave it for another appointment. Or we could whiz through it now. It will only take another half hour.”

It didn’t matter, I thought. He was my last patient for the day and I was running half an hour early. My husband still had his lectures tonight so time didn’t matter.

He nods me through.

Drill, chip, wash, clamp, check, double check, tighten the clamp, fill, let set, wash and clean. It’s like doing dentistry on the Dalai Lama, I suppose. He’s so composed and relaxed. Simple and straightforward. By the book, I thought, the textbook. Which made a refreshing change from the day I had. 

And then a memory returns to me. “Didn’t I do a root canal on you?”

He just laughs, “Yep you sure did, wasn’t the once-off either, took a couple of goes, if I rightly reckon.”

And I remember, he didn’t flinch an inch that time either. That’s why I know him but he’s not on my books. 

I say, “You would have been my easiest patient.”

As the filling sets, he laughs and tells me why (out of the corner of his mouth of course). 

“It was easy,” he says, “I had the full metal jacket as a kid, a couple of teeth removed, wired up, that mouth guard thing and braces. Thought it would never end. Always knew this would!”

The Lingering Look (of a Book Lover)

It’s no task at all. Simply take the books you don’t want and put them into the two spare boxes. But to succeed at this meant I had to be a zombie bricklayer. Pick up a book, one in each hand from the first pile. Then with closed eyes transfer to the outgoing book box.
Book Pile
Then I said to myself, “Don’t look down. Don’t make eye contact with the books.
But books tend to gaze back like long lovers.
And when it happened, I had that second and recurrent thought. “I like that book. I might need to read it sometime.”
My counter-thought. “I haven’t read that one. It’s unlikely I’ll read it now.
And then the thought trap closed shut. “I know I haven’t read it but some day I just might.”
Back and forth it went until I wore myself down. Finally, I could only complete the task the opposite way. I filled the boxes allocated for the books I wanted to retain. To overflowing. I could not fit another book.
 And then I thought. “Perhaps that paperback could just squeeze into that space between the hardbacks.
 Not a chance. No space even for a bookmark. That was the finish. I was done.
Two boxes filled. The next part should have been easier. All I had to do was lift and shift my gift to a charity book depository four train stops away. I picked up one box. Then the other. Suddenly those two boxes were leaden heavy. I couldn’t budge either of them. Spare Book Box
I then chose a course of action calculated to deceive myself.  I grabbed two large IKEA carry bags. And filled each with books. Now I could carry both over my shoulder.
Then on the street, I saw a man with two small black bags. He had just crossed the road. I recognised the bags from Abbey’s : a well known Sydney bookshop.
I thought to myself. “We have something in common”. But  the lucky man was adding. I sadly was subtracting. In truth we were opposed. I let him walk ahead of me. I tried not to imagine his joy at unpacking those bags of books.
Arriving at the station, I dumped the two bags. And sat with my back turned away from the books. But I peeked didn’t I? There was that thought again. “Perhaps I should keep Made to Stick?” I closed up the bag as the train arrived.
On the train, I ensured I sat near no one. I worried that someone would realise what I’m doing and stop me.
Until I alighted at the station. I avoided everyone and stayed unnoticed. I guarded my anonymity carefully, ensuring no one could possibly remember a man staggering with two full blue and yellow bags.
However, during the escape, I noticed a boy who was asking his mother questions about everything. I knew what would happen next. I moved quickly out of sight so he wouldn’t turn his curiousity towards me. But what I really was dreading was her answers. For she spoke with that curt finality that still irritates me even as an adult. I thought, “Perhaps a book would help her?” But that would mean I would need to look down.
Then followed the short climb up the steep street. Over the intersection was the charity’s office. But no book shed in front, or behind or on any side. I thought, putting the bags down, now that downhill trek to the station is a much better option than lugging these now even extra heavy books any further.
I decided to follow the internet directions. I looked for and found the car park. And shaded by trees was an ordinary garden shed. Unlocked. And three quarters full of books, with only some in boxes.
 I opened the door wide. I stepped back and swung one bag and then the other into the shed.
Then I stopped still. I didn’t look down. The shed smelt like a library. It was that semi fresh scent that had always carried knowledge from page to brain!
I was transfixed. I lapsed. I lost control. I looked down.
And I thought as I saw the first book, “Why would anyone throw out books on world geography? That’s fascinating!”
I shut the doors quickly before my gaze was held again.

Captured By An Audience

You never really wanted to go out there. You’re outnumbered for one thing. You know that any false move in front of them will be the last and final one. You’re thinking that the light is too bright, your  voice will be too soft, your tread too heavy, your stance too awkward. You’re really scared to death, deep down. You don’t know why what starts you on those first steps out there. You shuffle tentatively at first. Then you’re puzzled as to why you then confidently stride forth. It’s as if you’re already a success. Like you’ve already been applauded and called back for more. And then you meet.

 

You’re all alone, just you and them. You never expected them to listen, even for a moment. You start as you always do. You focus on relaxing yourself. Or you’re trying to look relaxed. Or acting as if you already are. But now you don’t have time to be confused. You’re already speaking. And listening to your tone, your rhythm, your timbre and your breath.  For it’s as if to your great relief, at the very last moment, someone far more confident than you’ll ever be has stood in for you. And saved you. And for that you silently give great thanks.

 

But in all of that you kept on speaking. And you never think that ten seconds in, they’re looking you in the eye. And that after eleven seconds, you can look straight back at them. And that after thirty seconds in, they’ve stopped fidgeting, all of them. You watch extra carefully and realise you’ve never seen so many people sit so still for so long, ever. You start to become aware that perhaps these people may have started to listen to you. You’d never think that there could be such a thing as an inviting silence. And you’re in it,far too involved now to realise how rare and precious is the privilege they have extended to you. And you meditate upon that and think perhaps you really do have something far more to say than your trite rehearsals. And you keep on speaking amazed and astonished.

But you were waiting for the whisper, the voice too loud, just  enough that will silence you and your words forever. But it never speaks. It is struck silent by the silence.  It never speaks because there’s nothing for it to say. Yet you say it just the way you’ve said it before. And in the reality, it’s better than you’ve ever heard. You never think the pause for breath, which seemed in practice so short and now is an everlasting chasm of time, is perfect comic timing.  You make the joke that you’ve heard far too many times before. You know they’ve heard it for the first time. As now do you.

 

You find yourself unexpectedly relaxing and experiencing that joy of the endless moment. And you’re left wondering why you ever were afraid in the first place!

Just Grandma and Me: A Reminiscence

Perhaps I should have bought the game and computer too!

It began with Nicole Matejic. She was reminiscing about her old Apple personal computer experiences. In passing she mentioned the children’s game Just Grandma and Me (based on a popular children’s book).

 

Just Grandma and Me

Just Grandma and Me

And the next thing I remember is my daughter perched on a stool playing that game forever…

I was working in Canberra. At that time, I wanted to buy a PC or perhaps an Apple Mac? Part of my role was supporting PCs, yes 286s, XTs and ATs!

Our company owned one Apple, a soothing relief to support as it ran Adobe Pagemaker, a desktop publisher (DTP), one of the few pieces of software that made me look good. So began my fascination with DTP but that is many blogs away! My workmate too was an Apple evangelist.  Which left me wavering. Macintosh_Color_Classic

To resolve my dilemma, I decided to check the PCs and Apples out. That particular Saturday afternoon, my wife and new son needed sleep. So I took my opportunity. I thought I could take my three year old daughter, do my research, and bore her with tech stuff till she falls asleep on the drive home. That was the well thought out, yet to be well executed plan.

The last shop was an Apple shopfront near Woden in Canberra. I park the car, open the back door and unstrap my daughter. It’s late Saturday afternoon and she should be showing the first signs of fatigue. Not now, not ever as it turned out. We sidle into the shop hand-in-hand and I ask the tech guy  about the merits of the Apple! Of course he told me in detail. But I say, there aren’t enough Mac applications versus PC.

He can’t counter my point. We both look down and see that her ladyship isn’t too interested in these finer technical details. He says how’s about trying out a few children’s games. Sounds fine and fair enough to me.

I sit her on a stool while the tech guy runs up Just Grandma and Me. This shouldn’t take too long, I think. But in the moment, I was worried.

Not at how precarious her perch was. She wasn’t moving so it didn’t matter. No. It was that dreadful moment when  two eyes turn towards me and ask, “Daddy how do you work this?” That moment would have to wait until she was running Windows Millennium on her laptop!

But that didn’t happen at all. For now the mouse was gliding over the game scenes like thread through silk. Each  click on each character brought joyous laughter at each unique antic. And then she would click through to the next part of an interesting and engaging story.

Wait a minute! I have to back up and take stock now. For I’m not watching this from afar anymore. I had been taken in too. Yes there was the easy technology. But the story within the game had fascinated me (as good stories still do…)

But her ladyship didn’t care for such thoughts of philosophical grandeur. She was signed up for life. As I was just about to find out.

For it was now closing time. And time to go home. No. No. No. Yes (Me!). All right I’m lodging an official protest. And an official request. For the game and a Mac.

I relented.

I bought a PC. Windows 3.1 and Dos 3.22 powered by a 386  hamster wheel topped by 2 mega dabs of Ram.I used it to play Tetris and log in to work via terminal emulator and attached modem. ZZzz….

I relented again. I  bought the PC version of Just Grandma and Me. It was probably more to assuage my guilt as the original protest had been withdrawn or forgotten. But somehow it didn’t have that beyond cardboard cutout charm of the original…check out the interactive YouTube version!

 

Never Unknown Again

You know I'm staring at you
Though you won't look at me
Your head is bowed low
Over Candy Crush or TV

I can wait with my empty cup
You'll remember, you'll see
You'll bob your head up
And stare full back at me

And when our eyes meet yet again
We'll create our own serenity
Only for another three seconds
That last another eternity

Never unknown again.


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